13 September 2017


I am not a "do it all," busy bee mom. You know the type - this kid is in dance, that kid in swimming, "after Zumba, we're all going blueberry picking!" You have to get her a month ahead of time in order to hang out. You know what I'm doing after Zumba? Going home, putting to bed whomever is still awake, then I'm either watching This Is Us and knitting or reading a book. I'm going to go to bed early. I'm totally free next weekend, and the weekend after that, too. But I'd still like it if you book me a month out because I hate short notice.

Sometimes I really want those experiences for my kids or there's a really awesome event, so we try it out, the "something every day" type lifestyle. But by the week's end, I'm exhausted. Going out in public takes a monumental amount of work and I'm so done by the end of it. Packing and lugging snacks and water bottles, trying to coordinate times so we are either home or on a long car ride during nap time, staying 100% vigilant the entire time my kids are not in their car seats, breaking up fights in the backseat. On Thursday afternoon, I'm checking out next week's line up, wondering what I can bail out of. Is it because of my introverted personality? The old-soul, homebody-ness that is me? Is it because of my tiny car? Sometimes I seriously bail on things because I can't handle packing everyone in and listening to them fight, "Eleanor foot! NOOOOOO!!!!!" We borrowed a minivan for a weekend once and I couldn't believe how quiet everyone was and how much easier it was to load everyone in and out. It was amazing. Is it because my kids are just really young right now and one has special needs? I hope it's that last one, because if everyone has to work this hard and is handling it just fine, then I feel like a total pansy. But things get easier when they get older, that'd be a huge relief. For the most part, Eleanor is really good at following my verbal commands and that does make things a lot easier. But she's still three, ya know? So I can't really take my eyes off her and trust she'll look both ways for cars or realize I kept walking when she saw something interesting through another doorway.

Autumn always does seem to be the time when my schedule fills up, though, and this year is no different. So I lied earlier, I am actually busy this weekend and next weekend. I'm half excited but half nervous too. Abigail has much more energy when she gets home from school and really misses the music therapy class she took in the spring and the riding lessons she took over the summer, so I signed her and Eleanor up for little gymnastics classes one night a week. It's through our local community education program and we did this class once before, back when Abigail was an only child (or maybe Eleanor was just really tiny?) The classes run back-to-back in the same room, so I'm a little worried about how Theodore will handle the monumental unfairness that will soon come his way. In news that is super boring for you, but super exciting for me, I bought a new stroller that I hope will help make having a busy schedule easier.

It's a Phil & Ted's Navigator stroller that I found on Ebay. It's an extremely light and small stroller and navigates really well. My old stroller was still in amazing condition and handled like a dream, but it was a tad big in buildings and crowds and took up almost all the space in my trunk. There were certain doctor's offices where it literally didn't fit in the exam room. It was great when I used to take 60+ minute walks every day, but with my current lifestyle, it was no longer maximally beneficial.

So I researched new strollers, sold the orange, our cheap-o umbrella strollers, plus my first-ever stroller, and a tote of baby clothes. The whole time I scored Craig's List and Ebay in search of a new stroller that was in budget and an attractive enough color.

So far the new-to-us yellow stroller has been pretty good, it doesn't have the storage capacity that my older ones did, but it's small and light - perfect for "lockdown" when we're at the doctor and I need to focus on Abigail. Or when I need Theodore not to go bonkers at his sisters' gymnastics classes.

So, yes, we're going to give "do-it-all," busy-mom life a go, with a little support from the new stroller. As long as I have a few days per week when I spend the afternoon snuggling with a lap full of kittens, I should be able to make it until snow flies. Right? I hope.

But when snow does start to drift to the ground in beautiful little snowflakes, all bets are off. Because I hate driving in those slipper suckers.

28 August 2017

The New Additions

It has been a long and emotionally draining process that involved about a dozen applications and the sudden death of a kitten we were about to adopt. But on Saturday, we finally brought home Kalley, a four-month-old Oriental Shorthair mix (Orientals are hypoallergenic)...

She is uber shy and super scared of everything and everyone. I snuggled with her a lot during the first day, but once she escaped me, she ran under our bed and hasn't left our room since.

Then this evening I brought home Cora, an 8-week-old Russian Blue mix. (Also hypoallergenic.) Cora is a typical kitten, who was running around the house and playing within minutes.

It's basically a constant fight between the kids over who gets to play with Cora.

That moment when you're attacking the couch and you accidentally fall asleep.

Kalley came right out to meet Cora, and then promptly hissed at her. They've eaten together and Cora makes sure to bound under the bed and "sneak" attack Kalley on the regular, so I suspect she'll break down Kalley's walls soon.

I am so happy to have cats again, and I can't wait until they get more comfortable with us. Although I do still really miss Belle.

21 August 2017

Just Keep Swimming

I made a rule that I'm not allowed to blog when I'm feeling depressed and emotional, so I haven't been blogging lately because I'm feeling an excess of those things. Loosing Roxy in June, having a miscarriage in July, and loosing Belle in August has really drained me emotionally. I'm 100% back on all my supplements for depression, and I'm trying to process all my emotions instead of burying them. Abigail starts school in one week; I'm excited for the therapeutic support, but, as per usual, I am feeling really guilty that I can't wait to lose one of my kids for 7 hours per day.

When she starts back up, it's going to be another two weeks of everyone adjusting to the new schedule. Monday is a half day, and then she'll have Friday and Labor Day Monday off. I can see how all this would mean theoretically that she'll be able to slowly ease back into school, but really it's just going to confuse the hell out of her. It's far better to drop Abigail into a new schedule, even an all-day one, rather than tease her with half days here, vacation days there. It is my goal to be very easy on everyone, including myself, through mid-September.

Not everything is going wrong in my life, though. Despite this summer's numerous challenges (some of which I can't discuss online, but do exist), I have had enough positive "steps forward" to keep myself sane. I re-ran last year's 5K from hell and rocked my best 5K time yet! I was the 14th female runner out of 48, which isn't objectively ground-breaking, but is really good for me.

I also went to a Mom's spa night out as part of my Down syndrome support group and had my makeup done by a profession makeup artist for the first time. I didn't even have it done for my wedding! I finally learned (at 30!) what contouring and highlighting and bronzing is all about. I picked up my own fancy contouring kit when I was grocery shopping later that week and have been experimenting to recreate the look.

I also - very excitingly - have officially lost 30 pounds since January (and remember, for just over two months during that time period, I was pregnant and couldn't lose weight as well!). I'm flirting with my pre-pregnancy weight from before Theodore and excited to keep loosing until I hit my goal weight - about what I weighed at my wedding! I actually paid to get some outside help, but I'll talk more about that in a different blog post.

I'm really proud of myself for not turning to emotional eating to deal with all the challenges of this summer. As embarrassing as it is to have gotten so heavy and to have lost a whooping 30 pounds and still have so far to go, I'm really, really proud of myself for not giving up. Which is pretty much my motto for 2017: Just Keep Swimming.

10 August 2017

The First Time

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

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

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

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

04 August 2017

The Skirt Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 August 2017


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

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

01 August 2017


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

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

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

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

Alleluia for good days.

28 July 2017

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're a lot alike, I guess!

27 July 2017

A Work in Progress

I am really struggling to find a good work/play balance this summer. Really I'm struggling to get enough work into my play. It's really difficult when you are the sole source of your daily structure.

A recent pic of me! I'm wearing, you guessed it, Lularoe! (a Randy with Maxi)
The kids don't care if I get up on time or make "real" food. Small children tend toward watching tv all day, leaving toys out, eating cereal for dinner, and vegging on the couch watching cat clips on Instagram. They don't remember that it's Thursday and I skipped the library's story time. They just want to watch Sofia at 7:03 in the morning. I'm liable to let them (okay, not at 7am, more like Abigail can at 1pm when her siblings are sleeping), because then I can crochet all day, leave crap out, and veg on the couch in peace.

I'd like to say, "I don't necessarily have to do everything perfect every day, I will just focus on one thing at a time." But when it rains, it pours, ya know? Somehow morning Rosary and dish-doing leads to leaving the tv off and playing outside, giving everyone a bath, getting the scheduled dinner made, and the next thing you know, I'm brushing my teeth twice a day! This summer, I tend to have a few good days followed by a week of laziness.

Cat assisting me in my meal plan over-haul during a good day.

"No, Abigail, you can't watch tv for a third hour, let's make homemade granola together cause I'm a good mom!"

I think what really frustrates me is that I'm not even bonding with the kids in my laziness. I'm all "Here, listen to the Frozen soundtrack or watch a movie while I indulge in my own hobbies in peace and quiet." If we're going to be lazy all summer, it should be while watching a movie together with popcorn or reading books during a rainy morning without Mommy being on her phone. If I don't get dinner made, I want it to be because we took a spontaneous trip to the library, not because I let Curious George go on repeat while I finished one more row.

I only have pics from my productive few days, obviously. Here is a planned, morning trip to the library.

Thankfully for me, I'm an eternal optimist with a planner and a love of goal-setting. Every day for me is a new opportunity to be and do better.

"I don't know why Mommy wants to veg without me, I promise I'm always this happy and adorable." 
The thing is, when I follow a schedule, the kids do so much better. Abigail is better behaved, they all three let me have chore time, they all three let me have computer time. They know a time is coming (or they've already had) when they will get my attention, when we'll play a fun game or paint or play with bubbles. So today is my new day, and it's already off to a good start. No matter how many crappy days I have in a row, the worst thing I can do is give in to another crappy day. The best thing is to change something, even if it's just one little thing.

Progress seems slow, but then you're taking your first solo ride, and the work seems so far in the past.

20 July 2017

Gaping Holes

I published a post yesterday talking about some struggles I've had lately in the vein of keeping the house/kids toys clean. But as I thought about it throughout the day, I realized it sounded really whiny and blame-filled. So I deleted it. After meditating for awhile, I realized that my problem is that I don't work hard enough. I've been coming back to that realization for a year or more now. For the most part, I think I'm a hard worker, but I have a few weak spots in particular with which I really struggle.

The first and biggest is during naptime. Eleanor and Theodore both nap from 1pm-3 or 4pm. I usually do school with Abigail right away, but then it is soooooo tempting to turn on the television downstairs for her, come back up to the living room, and veg. Usually I crochet while watching my own show, but sometimes (especially when I was pregnant), I nap. Once I've vegged for such a long period of time, it's really hard to get motivated to cook dinner, fold laundry, pick up toys, and bathe kids. Half-assing the evening chores, skipping as many as I can because I feel lazy, is a really depressing way to end the day. I need to find a way to recharge that doesn't lead to complete unproductivity. So far I've thought of two ideas: when I make my to-do list in the morning, I can note which tasks I'll complete during naptime. This way, they'll be in my head all day - Today during naptime, I'm going to make up the meal plan - then I'll be mentally prepared to work. The second is that my recharge time should not involve electronics. Nothing leads to laziness as well as the Internet Spiral of Doom, as Matt and I call it. I'd love to do some religious reading after school. It's uplifting, motivates me to do better, and not as addictive as a fiction novel. I put so much work into losing weight, I need to make sure I'm also putting in a lot of work in my spiritual life.

To a lesser extent, I also struggle to be productive on the weekends. I just want to relax and hang out with Matt! I don't want to work, and I encourage him not to work. I got a little better when we bought the house, because Matt and I started making a point each Saturday to ask each other, "What do you need to do today?" Then we block out time and make sure to handle the brunt of kid duty during those time slots. I think if I take it a step further and block out time on Saturday for a family activity, like an afternoon walk, a family movie, or a board game, I won't feel so bitter when I also have to sweep, wash the towels, and make bread. Plus Saturday will feel super long if I can both do chores and enjoy family time. And our neighbors will probably be happy that we're finally getting the lawn mowed on a regular basis.

There is always, always, always room for improvement, it's just about figuring out how to improve and then making the new actions a habit. I think too, it's important to talk about vulnerabilities on my blog so that I'm giving a honest picture of myself. If I just talk about the homeschooling curriculum I compiled, the equine therapy, the rearranging of bedrooms, the going to the gym, I sound really productive. I totally sound like I have my shit together and I'm rocking motherhood. You probably wouldn't have guessed that I have giant holes in the middle of my afternoons during which I completely fall apart. I don't need more hours in the day and I don't need more coffee, I just need to cut out negative distractions!

12 July 2017

A Quick Recovery

I really am completely fine. "God handed me a gift, then took it away before I could open it. It tripped me up, but I didn't break any bones. I didn't even fall all the way to the ground. I caught my balance and kept on walking." I can't express myself verbally, I can only find words when I express myself in writing. I want to record two things today: That I'm okay. And this baby's pregnancy and birth story. Because that's all I have with this baby.

To be honest, I never really trusted my fifth pregnancy. I know they say that every pregnancy is different, but - whatever - not for me. Of my five pregnancies, I've been sick as a dog for three of them. We're talking regular vomiting, 8-10 Tums-a-day-heartburn, and insane nausea in the first trimester. I never forget for one second I'm pregnant. As soon as the first trimester sickness disappears, I've got a belly. And three times, I gave birth to a living child. For two pregnancies, I had no or, in this case, mild nausea and tiredness. Sometimes I felt so normal, I forgot I was pregnant. Both these experiences ended in miscarriages. So I've had my reservations since the very beginning. As I said in my last post, It was a surprise pregnancy, even now, looking back at my fertility charts, I have no idea how we pulled it off, but two days after my missed period, a pregnancy test showed up positive. At first I was really frustrated because I wasn't ready to be pregnant. I'm losing weight, I want to go on a trip somewhere fun for my 10 year anniversary in the spring. But I came to terms with it rather quickly, although I still worried. Now I can finally get my minivan! But I didn't tell many people. I better put some mulch down in the gardens when I hit the second trimester, before my belly gets too big. But that's not something I shared with anyone.
I am going on a girls' crafting retreat this weekend and I was too nervous to share the news, whereas normally I can barely keep being pregnant a secret. But I wasn't sure if I could hide the tiredness being in such close proximity. I was scheduled for my first prenatal visit at the doctor this week, so I called and asked if we could tack on an ultrasound.
"We usually wait until the second trimester. Why do you want one in the first trimester?"
I had a hard time putting it into words. "I just want to see the baby." I pulled out The Trump Card. "I've had a miscarriage before, and I would just feel better if I could see the baby now."
The big M-word put the nurse on high alert. She scheduled the ultrasound and ordered immediate blood work.

The blood work results came back on Wednesday. They were bad. I knew then.

My progesterone levels were low, so the nurse started me on some medicine, but my HGC levels (the pregnancy hormone) were really low too. She carefully explained that if the pregnancy were lost by a reason not related to my progesterone, the medication wouldn't be able to help.
I went in for some follow up blood work two days later. The results were dismal. The message the nurse sent me through the doctor/patient website portal included "What to do if you have a miscarriage" instructions. And so I waited to give birth to my second dead baby.

It's really tough, waiting to have a miscarriage. Every cramp, every twinge, every feeling of wetness triggers a bit of a panic. I tried to run some errands on Saturday morning, running to the bathroom every 10 minutes to see if the bleeding had started. I treated myself to some lunch, and since I was by myself, curled up in a corner booth near a window and got a chocolate milkshake. Comfort food. Emotional eating in preparation for what I knew was coming.

The bleeding started late Saturday afternoon, the contractions that night, but the real pain didn't start until Sunday morning. The pace-around-the-house, squat-down, close-your-eyes-and-focus-on-breathing contractions. I went to the hospital for my first miscarriage when we lived in Chicago and it wasn't the greatest of experiences, so I opted to stay home this time, especially since I had an appointment and ultrasound scheduled for Tuesday anyway. This time wasn't like my first. The contractions built and built and built and then they just ended. No obvious grand finale. No tissue, just regular bleeding and then the contractions diminished, going from anxiety-building, pace-the-house pain to frustrating, I-just-want-to-get-back-to-normal pain. "I guess it's over," I told Matt with a fistful of Ibuprofen. I avoided taking anything up until that point. It's hard to explain, but every moment was all I had left with my fifth baby. I wanted to experience it, even if it was painful. But after it became obvious that the contractions had changed purpose, it all just became too much to handle. I drowned my pain and collapsed in bed in a heap of exhaustion. By the time I woke up, the contractions were over.

I passed some tissue long after the contracts had ended, but I never had an obvious "remains of pregnancy" the way I did with the first - which was even only obvious in hindsight. First trimester losses appear to be very well destroyed by the body. I imagine this makes it infinitely easier to bear. My Tuesday ultrasound revealed an empty uterus. The doctor has no concerns. There is still a lot of bleeding, but the achiness has ceased.

I spent weeks in suspicion. I had four days to prepare. I locked myself away in my room all Sunday to recover. The pain is gone, the pregnancy tiredness is gone, I'm back on my regular supplements to ease my never-went-away-after-Theodore-postpartum-probably-just-regular-old depression. Other than a maxi pad, I feel totally normal. I'm 30-years-old. I've had five pregnancies. Two miscarriages. One child with Down syndrome who had open heart surgery. I think I'm really strong. I think I'm really good at handling life's curve balls. I'm back on the "not pregnant or nursing" bandwagon. I'm headed back to the gym tomorrow, I'm back to working on my writing, I'm back to the original plan Matt and I hashed out for Baby #4 (pregnancy #6?!). I do hope to get a minivan out of this anyway, though. Phew, three kids in a mid-size sedan is one difficult life lemon to swallow.

09 July 2017

The End, Again.

Written at 12:24am on Sunday, July 9, 2017

We were pregnant. But I'm having a miscarriage. I'm eight or nine weeks, I can't remember exactly, but the thought of looking at my planner to figure it out, and seeing all the little numbers for the next two months lined up neatly, remembering when I excitedly wrote them down, is depressing. After a long day of cramps and spotting, I'm getting contractions. The pregnancy was a surprise, I had planned to get pregnant in the spring. Studying my NFP chart, I have no idea how we got pregnant, it just doesn't make sense. I was frustrated with God at first, frustrated that my weight loss plans and 10 year anniversary trip plans had to all be shelved. But I quickly came to terms. Babies bring so much joy and those first four months are really special. I became excited to pick out names and fold newborn sizes and watch Abigail and Eleanor and Theodore love on a little newborn. But now I am feeling the familiar pain of contractions and I don't understand why God threw this at me only to rip it away.

This evening, Theodore was throwing a small ball at the bookshelf with the intention to get it stuck. When he succeeded, he toddled over to me and explained his situation in his most serious of babbles. He reached for my hands, but I stood up and walked away. He started balling. He collapsed on the floor.
"Come here, Theodore!" But he didn't. I returned from the kitchen with a step stool in hand and set it down in front of the shelf. Instantly his screaming stopped. He practically ran to the step, climbed up, and grabbed his ball.
"'Ere itis!" His prize held up in the air.
"This is a perfect analogy for God, Theodore," Matt chimed in from the kitchen. He cooked dinner. He was doing the dishes. Because I was on the couch crocheting and waiting for the contractions to start. "God doesn't always give you what you think you want because He wants to give you something greater than your wildest dreams."
And over and over again Theodore threw his ball on the bookshelf and climbed on the step to retrieve it. "'Ere itis!" Such joy. Such pride.
Matt said it to Theodore, but really God said it to me. I have no flipping clue how giving birth to yet another dead baby can possibly lend to something greater than my wildest dreams. But I'm just going to trust.

05 July 2017

Summer School Curriculum for a Kindergartner with Down Syndrome - Review

We've been hard at work doing our summer homeschool for three and a half weeks now, so I feel a bit more confident about offering a review of the materials we are using.

A. Mapping out lessons ahead of time is the most important part of summer homeschooling. It takes me less than an hour on a Friday afternoon to map out and gather materials for four days worth of work for Abigail. It makes school run way smoother and gives me accountability on days when I'm not in the mood or she isn't in the mood and we skip a subject or day.

Using my planner or a blank notebook instead of a proper lesson planning guide was a good choice. At first I regretted not having purchased one, but once I got the hang of what I was doing, I was fine. Having a place to keep everything organized is also very important. I bought this binder (under $10 at the grocery store). If you can make one at home to save money, great, but if buying a new items helps, it's worth the money.

B. Dry Erase Sleeves
These inexpensive dry erase sleeves are the second most important piece of our summer curriculum. I don't know if it's the reduced friction, how fun markers are, or just getting to erase the page when she's done, but Abigail is significantly more motivated to work when her sheet is in a dry erase sleeve with matching marker. It doesn't increase the number of pages she does a day, but she moves much quicker and more happily through her least favorite subjects this way.

Her handwriting is also better and we do almost no hand-over-hand when using these.

Ahh, that beautiful grip makes me swoon!

1. Math
Summer math is going over spectacularly. Abigail loves math and the materials I got were spot on. Her book is expensive for a math book (I paid $15 vs. $5 for other comparables, but right now Amazon has it listed for $11), but was totally worth it. It most closely follows the worksheets she brought home from school during the year, so she's very familiar with what is expected of her. She dives in and usually only needs little help and direction from me to complete the worksheet.

We also have found great success using a worksheet I found on Pinterest, and using flashcards to make up an addition problem.

Abigail loves math, so we do 2-3 worksheets from her book and one activity per day. The activity is 3-4 addition problems using counters in one of the above methods or we'll count to 100 by 1s and 10s.

Eleanor wanted me to take her picture with the poster. The poster was worth it too.

2. Writing
Writing wasn't going very well when we first started, but I modified it the materials and now she loves it. It turns out I could have put together her handwriting curriculum much cheaper. Her Handwriting Without Tears book was also pretty expensive ($14 vs $4-5 for a basic tracing book), but I sprang for it because it written by an occupational therapist and went over the nitty-gritty on how to actually write the individual letters.

I thought Abigail would benefit from the letter breakdown, but she is not. This book is her least favorite part of school. If we don't use the dry erase sleeves, we do the worksheets 100% hand-over-hand. It's slow and painful.

This $3.59 tracing book I got at my local grocery store (Meijer) for Eleanor, actually, combined with this $8 ream of handwriting paper is the most effective writing course for Abigail right now.

This one was hand-over-hand. It was also a bit long for her to complete in one sitting.
I write out a short story with sight words Abigail already knows or her name, address, and phone number. We put them in the dry erase sleeves and she actually enjoys them. Per day, we do one page that I made up and then as many of the Tracing Trails pages as Abigail wants, it's usually about 8-12 pages (4-6 pieces of paper, front and back). I decided to shelve the formal book for the year - I'm saving it for another year or another kid.

3. Reading
Reading was a mixed bag - some good calls, some bad - plus I overestimated how much work we'd do each day with reading. Overall, the materials I got were super cheap, so the bad calls weren't much of a financial hit.

This little book series was totally worth it at about $15 per set of 25 books. We could have gotten away with just one series, it turns out, since First Little Reader's Level A is harder than the set she was using in school, but, really, you can never have too many books anyway.

We read one book per day. I tried to do some activities based on the books, like matching verb flash cards to the right pages, but she wasn't understanding. I also tried to have her make up sentences using flash cards I made up or a package of inexpensive flashcards ($2.99) on Amazon, but she wasn't getting that either. I don't know how they teach reading in school, but I am not doing so hot replicating it at home.

I had to remind myself of my goal (help keep what knowledge she's got), so we've paired down reading to one book per day and then twice a week, we run through the bag of flashcards her teacher sent home for the summer, which she already knows.

Then once a week we'll do some activities with flash cards to have her unscramble the letters in her first and last name (separately) and the numbers in her house address instead of the school flash cards, and the last day per week, we'll go through the alphabet and talk about what sound each letter makes.

Abigail happily "reads" books on her own for at least an hour per day anyway, in addition to the times Matt and I read to her, so she is getting a ton of healthy exposure to books even if I've paired down the formal curriculum stuff.

4. Extras
Basically, none of the extras were worth it.

Sensory sensitive girl hates the pencil grips.

We have used this blue wall hanging about twice in 3.5 weeks. Abigail has a hard time getting the flashcards into the pockets with her fine motor skills issues, and she doesn't even really want to stand up and move around, she wants to sit at the table and get to work. In fact, I made up a word sounds game that involves walking around and rolling giant dice that she does not like either.

The calendar was cheaply made and is now completely destroyed. The girls were playing school each morning and it just took so much abuse that it gave up and died. I don't want her to lose her days of the week and months in the year, but I'm not sure what direction to go.

Lastly, we also don't need a formal school area. Since the table and chairs were something we already owned, there was no cost to be lost. But if a lack of proper school space was ever a concern, please know that I could easily move this upstairs to our kitchen table and be just as successful. School is not so loud that it would wake the baby.

We spend about 30-45 minutes per day doing school and Abigail is always the one to initiate when we're done. We do school for four days per week and then try to do a field trip on Friday. (It's pretty hit or miss on whether I feel like chasing all three of them for a few hours in public.) The girls often ask to do school again throughout the day and always on the weekend. Sometimes I break out the Tracing Trails and dry erase sleeves, sometimes we read books or play a game, or sometimes I throw them outside. I don't want anyone getting burnt out, and I don't want the girls getting bored with the books.

I tried to do some summer homeschool with Abigail last year, getting Catholic Icing's Preschool Curriculum, but every attempt I made left everyone frustrated. Now that I'm trying again and simply imitating what she does in school, I'm actually successful, and I've really come to realize how much specialized training a special education teacher really has. I cannot teach Abigail because I don't know what I'm doing. It really solidifies my confidence in our decision for her education. It also confirms for me that the more involved I can be in her daily school, the more I can support it at home.  Local public school + an involved mom is definitely how Abigail will get the most out of her potential.

It also makes me realize that I could homeschool Eleanor if I wanted to. I think I have it in me to give her a good education, at least in elementary school. But I also realize that I don't want to homeschool her; it's not my first choice. I think she would get a better education when taught by an educated, experienced teacher who enjoys his or her job. I still don't know if we'll do public or private Catholic school, but thankfully I have a few years to decide.

In the meantime, we are just going to keep chugging along this summer with the goal to keep Abigail's skills tucked safely away inside of her.