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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for the Whole Family

New Year's Resolutions are becoming harder for me to make. With each passing year, I watch myself make and break the typical goals of cleaner eating, more hours at the gym, and less screen time. According to a 2013 study by Scranton University, only 8% of people keep their New Year's Resolutions. Given my track record, this comes as no surprise. My gut reaction when I hear the word "resolution" is to roll my eyes and question the point; by February the only action my running shoes will see will be collecting loose french fries on the passenger seat of my car.

But this morning, while watching television and decidedly not exercising, my 5-year-old overheard the morning show news anchor discussing resolutions and, being the curious child that he is, he asked me what that meant. In explaining it to him, I not only remembered the importance of setting goals to better one's self, but it also dawned on me that the one way I might meet my goals for the new year is if my kids hold me accountable (and they might learn a valuable lesson on personal growth in the process). We discussed the concept of New Year's Resolutions and I told him that every year I try to eat healthier foods and get more exercise, but some other people choose different goals depending on how they want to improve their lives. Since I've never been very good at keeping the aforementioned resolutions, I decided to ask my son what resolutions should I make for myself. Perhaps he knew a better way to a better me. Given that change doesn't come from doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I shouldn't have been so surprised by his answers:

1. Take me to the park more.
2. Don't clean the house so much.
3. Be silly.

And he's right. I haven't been very good at those things on the list. I found myself trying to give excuses for my behavior. The weather hasn't been very nice for the park lately. Our house is small and crowded, so it needs to stay clean. I'm tired when I get home from work. But what good are excuses in the face of 5-year-old honesty? These are the things that matter to him and, quite frankly, these are pretty easy changes to make. So my goals for 2016 will center on ways to be a better person in my children's eyes. Considering I'll have more influence on their lives than anyone else, I should take it seriously. And no one can hold me accountable better than my kids.

But the lesson doesn't end there. I told my son that he needs to think about choices and changes he can make to improve himself in 2016. The list he rattled off was far longer than the one he made for me. I find it interesting that we develop our sense of good versus bad, helpful versus harmful at such a young age. Granted, one of his resolutions was to improve his Lego Star Wars video game performance, but the rest of his goals were quite indicative of his moral development. They include but are not limited to eating more vegetables because they're healthy, practicing soccer with Dad, and earning a 100 on all his spelling tests for the rest of kindergarten (yes, there are spelling tests in kindergarten; I could hardly believe it myself). What was even more surprising was that his list didn't require a great deal of thought; he knew immediately what was important to him. Perhaps that's the key. Perhaps we need to make our goals simpler, more attainable, and relevant to our immediate needs and wants. Or perhaps he wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible because his favorite show was about to come on TV. I'd like to believe it was the former.

This exercise was about more than setting important goals for myself; it helped me to realize what's important to my kids. It helped me remember the value of personal growth and that it's never too early to start thinking about ways to become better. But most importantly, it allowed us to create resolutions that will bring us closer together as a family. The years of raising small children is exhausting, but it's temporary. I have a feeling that when I blink and they're teenagers causing all sorts of rebellious trouble, I'll wish I spent more time cherishing these innocently messy years. And if I can instill in them the importance of self-reflection and self-growth, then maybe I won't have to drive them to court after an especially rowdy mailbox-smashing joy ride when they're 16. It's a win-win.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Quinn!

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that Quinn is THREE years old. Seriously, where has the time gone? Nevermind. I know the answer. It's been spent chasing this kid up and down the stairs, telling silly stories, making convincing and often-terrifying dinosaur sounds, and reminding him to use soft hands with his sister/the cat/my eyeballs. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. But this year's birthday snuck up on me. In years past, I've found myself agonizing over the birthday milestone and remembering that Quinn was still so very far behind developmentally. This year, that hasn't even crossed my mind. Not because Quinn doesn't still have those same struggles; he's very different from a typically-developing three-year-old, but he's thriving and happy and a true joy to be around. And that's really all I want for my kids. They don't need to fit into some mold of perfection that we create when we become parents; they just need to be happy, dammit.

And there's been a lot of talk lately about Quinn's happiness. At the age of three, kids with special needs qualify for services through the public school system, including speech therapy services and even in some cases full-time early childhood education. We waived our right to the latter since Quinn's best placement is at The Rise School, but it puts an added emphasis on this year's birthday since we need to start thinking about what we want for his educational future. As we approach these last few years of preschool and his graduation from The Rise School looms in the distance, we have to make a choice.

Do we:

A.  Push him to be a self-advocate in the sink-or-swim world of public education? Do we fight for an inclusive setting where he'll likely be one of the few kids--maybe even the only kid--with Down syndrome, but where he'll learn autonomy and have a fighting chance to attend college, get a job, and function independently as an adult? If we go that route, will he become fodder for inspiration porn? You know, those viral videos of the kid with special needs being voted Homecoming King or victorious in wrestling match that the "typical" kid threw simply because his opponent has Down syndrome. You guys, I HATE those videos. My kid is not a mascot. He's not here to make other people feel better about themselves. But he does have an opportunity to help other students understand and respect differences, and there's a great deal he can learn from typically-developing peers.

Or do we:

B. Continue with private education where he's surrounded by kids like him? A place where he'll be safe and comfortable, where he'll receive the intensive interventions he's been receiving at The Rise School, but which also might prevent him from learning to interact with the world outside his special needs bubble? Will he even need those interventions beyond the early childhood classroom? Rise's model is based on the hope that he won't, and he is truly thriving there, but is he thriving enough to join a typical kindergarten classroom when the time comes? Will that social comfort be stunting to him as he gets older. Will being around his siblings and their friends be enough interaction with typically-developing peers?

All these questions come out of a genuine desire to do what's best for Quinn. I want him to determine his own path based on his goals for himself, not mine. But I highly doubt Quinn will know his goals at age 5, when these decisions must be made. The extent of Atticus's goals at this same age are to build the latest and greatest Star Wars Lego and to get fruit snacks when he gets home from school. So it's up to us to figure out what's best for him for now. We have time, but with every birthday, we get closer to that decision-making deadline.

While we weigh our options, we'll also soak up these years and enjoy the time we have with our fun, mischievous, hard-to-catch little boy. In that spirit, here's a fun glimpse at Quinn now:

  • Likes: dinosaurs, Lucy, anything Atticus likes, books, running to be chased, taking off his shoes and socks when we're already late and insisting that he be the one to put them back on, school, dancing, and ketchup.
  • Dislikes: when there's no ketchup.
  • Words: ketchup, mama, daddy, Elmo, sock, dino, "ucy" (for Lucy), "caca" (for Atticus. I know, it's tragically funny), book, car, truck.
  • Skills: running, jumping, kicking a ball, drinking from an open cup, using scissors to cut a straight line, drawing circles (though he has zero interest in this skill), following multi-step instructions, completing puzzles with little assistance, stringing beads, and walking up and down stairs.
  • Adjectives to describe his personality: stubborn, social, loving, and energetic.

Happy birthday, Quinn! We love to pieces! 

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#GivingTuesday

Today is #GivingTuesday, a time when we take a break from elbowing each other in the groin on Black Friday to save $50 on a new TV or spending the entire workday shopping Cyber Monday deals when you should be answering emails. It's a time when we consider the causes that are important to us and give what we can to help those in need.

As you know, Quinn attends The Rise School of Houston, a preschool for children with and without disabilities. It is, without question, the BEST place for his development and early childhood education. At Rise, Quinn receives speech, physical, and music therapy. He shares a classroom with 9 other children and 4 teachers (one of whom has a disability), and together they learn the skills needed to be independent, social, and ready for kindergarten. But, as the Rise website will tell you:

$24,000 – that’s the true cost to educate a child in Rise Houston’s intensive, highly effective program each year. A small price when the long-term payoff is so great. Yet the price is still out of reach for most families. To keep Rise affordable for families, tuition is set at a portion of the real per-student cost, about $1600 a month or $19,000 a year in 2012-13. Two-thirds of our families apply for and receive scholarships of 20%-70% off full tuition based on their needs, but every enrolled family pays something.

Without the help of donors like you, Rise would be impossible for many families, including our own. Can find it in your heart to give, even just a small amount, to make Rise a reality for deserving families? If so, you can donate here.

If you're still not convinced, just watch this video to see all the great things this school is doing for kids like Quinn, Atticus, and Lucy. We are so fortunate to have this amazing program in our area and are eternally grateful for the donations that make tuition and attendance possible for my children and all the others that make our great Rise School family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More Love, Less Hate



Back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about the impact of social media on the political and social climate, specifically during the Arab Spring of 2011. I argued that after tens of thousands of Middle Eastern citizens in countries like Egypt and Syria took to social media to organize protests against oppressive regimes, Facebook could save the world. I argued that social media was a platform for voices otherwise silenced. Now, I'm not so sure. Now, there’s too much noise. 

With the recent attacks in Paris, everyone with a profile picture is suddenly an expert on how to stop ISIS, how to deal with Syrian refugees, how to properly honor victims of terrorist attacks. I recently read an article that congratulated me on my “corporate white supremacy” after changing my profile picture to the colors of the French flag. Apparently I am not mourning the loss of life properly. Apparently I am an enemy worth fighting, as if we don’t have enough of those already.

In times of war, our fear and anger have a tendency to mask our humanity. I’ll be the first to admit that I have strong opinions on the world’s most recent crises and I cringe when I see fear drive the political climate at home and abroad. And I won’t claim that these opinions never make it to my Facebook profile, but I try to do so in the hopes of starting a logical and respectful dialogue. Unfortunately, the recent vitriol and polarization of social media, mainly among Americans, is enough to make me close my account forever. Suddenly everyone has a soapbox, but most people don’t have the research or facts to do much but ramble up there ad naseum. I’ve read misguided opinions that we should drop nuclear weapons on an entire portion of the world. I’ve listened to interview clips from so-called experts comparing Islam to Nazism. I’ve seen memes so racist, they would make a Klansman blush. But, most disturbingly, I’ve seen people that I know and love spew hate-filled and angry rants with anyone who has the gall to disagree with their opinions.

The beauty of our freedoms as Americans is that we have the right to disagree with one another. We have the right to uphold different values and opinions. Hell, we even have the right to be complete assholes to each other, but that doesn’t mean we should, because we also have a responsibility to care for one another. And if you want to stop a terrorist regime bent on hate, then we’re not going to do it with more hate. Or as a divided front. ISIS wants us to attack each other, they want us to make each other the enemy. They want us to hate Syrian refugees, to steer our focus towards our own differences, so that we’re not paying attention before they strike again.

So I ask that we all take a moment and consider the future we want for our children. I want you to stop before you reply to a random person’s comment on a Facebook page and pretend that you’re talking with your mom, your best friend, your coworker. You’re talking to another human being, very often on the subject of other human beings. And regardless of where you stand on the Syrian refugee issue, please remember that 99.9% of these people are risking their lives to escape our common enemy, many of whom have small, hungry, and traumatized children in tow. So don’t call them monsters or terrorists hell-bent on killing us. I want you to remember the reason we’re all so opinionated on the matter: because when attacks like what happened in Paris, in Beirut, in the Egyptian skies occur, it means that hate is winning. And I, for one, would prefer the alternative. Perhaps we should start at home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall Photo Dump

Houston, meet October. October, Houston. Glad you two are finally acquainted because before this past weekend, I was ready to leave this humid swamp pit behind. And then a glorious fall front made its way down South, sending swarms of impatient Houstonians to a place we've only dreamed of since April: outside.

We decided that the pumpkin patch of Blessignton Farms in Fulshear was a good way to spend the afternoon, so we loaded the kiddos into the car and took the scenic drive west of town. I'm almost tempted to abort this post altogether, as Blessington Farms might be the area's best-kept secret and I don't want to be fighting throngs of people next year when the cat's out of the bag. But at the risk of giving too much away, I'll just say that the $10 admission includes tons of family-friendly activities without obnoxious lines, overpriced concessions, or insufficient parking. Thanks to them, we snagged some pretty adorable pictures on our visit without too many tears or complaints.

Brothers



Quinn's dream of holding a farm animal IN HIS VERY OWN HANDS becomes a reality.



Prettiest pumpkin in the patch

Left: while eating popcorn. Right: upon realizing he ate all the popcorn.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why, hello, there; it's been a while.

Apparently three kids are enough to render even basic tasks so complicated that significant strategic planning is required to take a shower, make a sandwich, or get the mail. It should be noted that I haven't had much trouble finding time enough to pour the wine, though. My priorities are appropriately aligned. Nevertheless, I sincerely apologize for my absence. It's been far too long since I delivered an update on my motley crew.

Atticus:

Atticus started kindergarten last month and has been killing it. He already has a girlfriend (ha, whatever that means. I expect their interaction begins and ends while she opens his yogurt at lunch, but we roll with it and treat it like a real thing). He's making friends and loves his teacher and has homework every night, which is about as good as I had hoped things would be in big-kid school. We're currently trying to figure out how to illustrate his favorite book character on a paper plate, which will take ages because Atticus is surprisingly meticulous, almost painfully so. If he makes a mistake, no matter how small, he wants to start over completely. He also cannot stand glue, marker, or dirt on his hands. So homework takes too long to complete and involves many trips to the kitchen sink, at which point Brian and I pour another glass of the aforementioned wine and try to convince him that Harvard could care less about his macaroni art and it won't be a part of his transcripts.


Quinn:

Quinn is...how do I put this?...hard to catch. He's always on a mission, which includes but is not limited to: climbing up the stairs with no ability to get down alone, dumping every toy out on the living room floor, repeatedly (and with no regard to our requests to do otherwise) bringing half-masticated crackers to his little sister, and stealing and hiding everyone's shoes so that we can't leave the house when we want to, forcing us to search every possible nook and cranny until hours later--oh, look!-- they're in the washing machine. Needless to say, he's a busy little boy. But he's also unfailingly curious, which will serve him well when he's older. So we'll just hold on tight and try our best to enjoy the ride.





Lucy:

You guys, this kid is CUTE. She has these dimples that just melt your heart and is almost always smiling. Of course, when she's not smiling, she's screaming her bloody lungs out. We joke that she has #fomo (which stands for "fear of missing out." Don't worry, I had to ask someone, too). If she isn't being held or in the middle of the action, she's not happy. When we lay her in her bassinet, she pushes her little shoulders forward like she's trying to sit up and will babble at you incessantly. We assume this means she'll be a busy little chatterbox. Considering the boys were pretty quiet and super-chill babies, it's a definite change of pace. While it means that we'll have our work cut out for us, she's also one fierce little lady who will hold her own one day, and for that I am grateful.




Me:

I'm back at work and honestly struggling to juggle the absolute insanity that is my life right now. I love teaching. Love it. But I'm starting to question whether or not the classroom is the best place for me at the moment. My kids are at three different schools/daycare situations and it requires a small village to get them to and from their respective locations. Atticus attends an afterschool enrichment program because I can't pick him up when school lets out at 3:15, and we have nanny who takes Quinn, Lucy, and another Rise student to our house until I get home from work. When it's all said and done, I'm essentially working so that we can afford to send Quinn to Rise and I'm ok with that, but I wish there were an alternative. I wish the tuition was less or the hours longer. I wish we could win the lottery and I could stay home with Lucy, walk Atticus to school in the morning, and be a more active part of the parent community at Quinn's school. I wish I wish I wish. But this is our reality right now and I'm doing my best to make the most of it. Someday I might be in a position to run the PTA bakesale, at which point I might curse my domesticity anyway...the grass is always greener.
 




Monday, August 3, 2015

My babies keep growing (and it's breaking my heart a little)

There is one inevitability in motherhood: our babies will leave us someday. We spend most of our time as mothers teaching, nurturing, and preparing our children for this reality, but the thought of it still haunts me as I watch my babies sleep at night. But honestly, what's the alternative? I want my children to embark upon their own journeys, armed with the love and knowledge I've passed along to them from infancy. I want them to be brave, to take risks, to suck the marrow from the bones. And they'll have to leave this nest to do so.

I still have lots of time. Loads of it. I see the years stretching before me almost endlessly; years of carpool and science projects and piano lessons. And there will be times in which I will feel like it will never end.

But then it will. And it breaks my heart.

I know what you're thinking. My kids are so young. My youngest is only two months old! And this is true. But last week I packed away her newborn clothes, pausing because I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. In the past, I stored them away for the next baby, but Lucy is my last. There will be no more babies. So I started a pile to give to my friend who is expecting her first, a girl, this fall. She and her husband are entering a phase that is ending for me. Not that I don't have years of mothering ahead of me, but no one will place a squalling newborn on my chest in the delivery room again. I will never again gaze into the eyes of my child for the first time.  And those newborn clothes will never be needed in our family again.  They belong to someone else.
Atticus at his Pre-K graduation

I can imagine that the bittersweet pill would be easier to swallow if my first baby weren't starting kindergarten in a few short weeks. Just like that, he's off to school. Just like that he'll drag his Star Wars backpack (which is about two sizes too big for him, but will likely be snug on his shoulders by next year) to and from his classroom loaded with letters and permission slips and homework he'll be thrilled to complete in those first weeks and then will become a chore by October. Just like that he'll make life-long friends and form lasting memories that will stay with him forever. Even as an adult, I remember nearly every detail of my first day of kindergarten. So it will be for Atticus. And while I remember that it was my father who dropped me off on the steps of that portable building that housed Mrs. Thompson's classroom, I remember the rest of that day as an experience completely separate from my parents. It was my first step towards independence, small though it was. It was the beginning of something greater, an adventure that led me to who I am today more than any experience that came before it. Just like that.

And so it will be for Atticus. So it will be for all my children.

And while it's heartbreaking to watch them grow so quickly, to see these years of infancy slip away before they've really begun, it's exciting, too. Here are these little people (PEOPLE) that I've created, becoming their own little selves and it's so freakin' beautiful I just want to soak it all in. I can't wait to see the adults they become. I can't wait to see what they deem to be the beginning of their lives. It won't be as squalling newborns placed on my chest; that was their beginning for me, but not for them. Their beginnings might be that first day of kindergarten or college or marriage. It might be their first day as parents. The key is that I give them the space, the love, the confidence to find their own beginnings.

It has nothing and everything to do with me.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lucy Louise is here!

Lucy Louise
Born May 26th, 2015 
7 lbs. 13 oz.
19.5 inches long 

Born amidst historic flooding and with the cord wrapped around her neck twice, Lucy arrived happy and healthy. Our drive to the hospital at 5am was harrowing experience, as much of the city was underwater and abandoned vehicles blocked our path at every turn. Brian did a fantastic job of maneuvering the dangerous conditions and finding what we can assume was the only route to the hospital that wasn't underwater. Labor and delivery itself was relatively uneventful, except for the aforementioned cord issue, which delayed progress and put us awfully close to a c-section. I was determined to avoid that scenario, though, and mustered all my strength to push her out in just a few short minutes. Everyone is now recovering and we are working to adjust to our new reality as parents of three beautiful, but demanding children. What this house lacks in sleep, it more than makes up for in love. Thank you all for your well-wishes and congratulations! More pictures to come soon, I promise.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pregnancy update: she's still cooking

Today I am more pregnant than I have ever been. I feel like someone should hand me a balloon bouquet and a cookie cake in honor of this momentous occasion, but I couldn't fit even one bite of that damn cookie in my mouth. In fact, I made the mistake of eating dinner last night. You know dinner, right? Sure you do; you're not 39 weeks pregnant. I haven't eaten dinner in weeks, except for last night...and I paid dearly for it. I was up in 30 minute intervals popping Tums and stretching and coaxing the food and the baby to get the hell out of my ribs, thankyouverymuch. At a certain point, I realized sleep was futile, so I took my 287th shower this week and got ready for work. At 4am. There is no need for such preparation, especially during the last two weeks of school, a time in which my students fake it 'til they make it. I want to fist-bump them on their way in the classroom and say, "solidarity, man," but that would be wholly unprofessional of me, so I give them work and grade it and hold them accountable until the bitter end. At least it gives me something to do until this baby decides to arrive.

But at this point, day-to-day interactions are becoming painful. Yes, I am still here. Yes, I know I am huge (thanks, asshat). Yes, I too am disappointed that she has not been born. No one is more disappointed than I am, I assure you. No, I will not do jumping jacks down the hallway, drink castor oil, or deliver the baby in the stairwell. But if my water breaks spontaneously, I hope it's all over your shoes.

I'm a little pissy (see lack of sleep above).

The reality is that this level of discomfort has shattered all previous records and, even though I am not due until next week, I'm already thinking of planning an induction for the very near future. Those who knew me well even 5 years ago realize how ridiculous that sounds coming from me. When I was pregnant with Atticus, we hired a doula, took every step possible to avoid unnecessary medical intervention, and knew that the baby would come when he was ready. We even tried to plan a water birth with a midwife, but our insurance wouldn't cover it. Now I'm willing to perform my own elective c-section if it means I'll no longer be pregnant. I'm joking. Kind of.

So to those of you waiting for me to announce that the baby has arrived, I'm sorry to disappoint. She's still taking her sweet time. But I promise to post here when she does (and it will be riddled with typos due to lack of sleep and one too many margaritas). Until then, please stop commenting on my size, asking if she's here yet, or giving me the sad eyes as I waddle down the hall like an obese penguin. Seriously, I love you, but stop.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

VW Vans and Walmart Parking Lots: A Love Story

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. Not falling asleep, but staying that way. 35 weeks into pregnancy means I’m up at least twice each night to use the bathroom, and getting comfortable enough to drift back off is becoming impossible. So I find myself lying awake, thinking. Sometimes these nocturnal thoughts are simple musings on day-to-day tasks, the kinds of things all moms think about: did I pack Atticus’s homework folder for tomorrow? Will I have time for a quick load of laundry between work and speech therapy? Did I turn in the signed permission slip? But then those thoughts take on a more significant theme: when did I become such an…adult? Legally, it’s been a while. But I’ve felt relatively young until the past year or so. And now, not so much. So then I find myself comparing my current circumstances to those of, say, 10 years ago, 15. Was I that different then than I am today? In many ways, yes. But what has made the past decade slip away so suddenly? In large part, I think it’s been the constant presence of the person dearest to me, the person who makes the mundane more exciting and the exciting all the more fun. Sharing all the moments of my adult life with this one person makes it all feel like one shared experience, like nothing has changed in our lives, even though so much has. 

we were just BABIES!
Brian and I fell for each other in a flurry of chaos. He was about to move from Austin to Los Angeles at the time and, considering we had just met, it didn’t seem right for him to change those plans. We got to know each other over the phone, which in 2003 meant astronomic long-distance charges since “unlimited minutes” didn’t exist quite yet. I was finishing my senior year of college at UT and he was working long hours at a retail job at REI in Orange County. By the time he got off work in California time, I was ready for bed, but always willing to stay up late and get to know this man who, even at the time, I knew was going to be a significant part of my life. Eventually the miles between us felt too far, and Brian showed up at my doorstep barefoot and disheveled, with a single backpack and a giant burlap bag of rice (which served as his only source of nutrition for practically his entire time in LA. On payday he’d add tuna fish. It’s odd what we considered luxuries once). My roommate probably thought he was homeless, which, now that I think about it, he was. I told him he could stay with me until he found a place of his own. We’ve been living together ever since.

Blueberry
When he was on the West Coast, he sold his small but functional truck in order to buy a 1971 VW bus, which he had left behind in a rush to get back to Austin. It wasn’t ready to drive yet and I somehow thought that graduate school tuition in California made sense, so we both flew back a couple months later to visit college campuses and pick up the bus. What was supposed to be a five-day trip became ten. The bus, it seemed, had other plans for us and broke down twice along the lonely stretch of I-10 in West Texas. The first was the result of a busted fuel pump that took two days to repair. So we rented the cheapest hotel room within walking distance of the dusty El Paso service station where the bus was being repaired. We stayed up late drinking Tecate from the can and playing Gin Rummy. The other breakdown occurred after being pulled over in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. The officer approached us to let us know that the light over the rear license plate was out. Except that it wasn’t. After a quick question-and-answer session about drugs and guns (we were in a VW bus in conservative West Texas, after all) and a half-hearted apology for pulling us over for no real reason, the cop hopped in his car and sped away, leaving us at the bottom of a hill in a questionably-reliable vehicle. About halfway up, it was no longer questionable. Blueberry, as we came to name her, threw a rod and needed to be towed. Of course, it was nearly midnight and we spent a few hours stranded on the side of a quiet highway before eventually being towed to a Walmart parking lot in Fort Stockton, where we spent the cold November night in the back of the bus, eating cereal and listening to an old Willie Nelson cassette tape on loop. I’ll never forget how the sound warped during “Pancho and Lefty,” creating an odd distortion when Merle came in. We never figured out if this intermittent resonance was the result of the tape or the tape player; that was the only cassette we owned in 2003 and the bus was the only place we knew to play it. We eventually had to rent a U-Haul large enough to tow Blueberry home, where Brian got her working again, at least for a few months. Most of her life was spent collecting leaves in the backyard of our first house, where Atticus loved to store sticks and Legos in her tailpipe.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Our culture of parenting: the fine line between support and meddling,independence and negligence

The other day, I picked the boys up from school and headed to the unholy land of Target, the one place that usually has everything on my list. I want to buy local, I really do. But I also want to pay the mortgage and spend less than 6 hours running basic errands. So Target it is. We have Atticus on what we call the "star system": good behavior earns him stars, while rotten behavior means we take stars away. Once he's built up 5 stars, he gets to pick out a new toy (read: Legos. It's always new Legos). This particular afternoon the boys were in especially good spirits for obvious reasons, and the sun was warm and shining for the first time in weeks. We traversed the aisles jovially, making small talk and singing songs with one another in our quiet voices so as not to annoy the many 20-something hipsters that frequent this particular central-Houston Target, and we were having a very low-key and low-drama excursion.

While we're in line, I notice a woman about my age with a toddler in the front of her cart (with one of those shopping cart covers designed to keep the germs away from precious Johnny's little hands), happily munching on organic, non-GMO mountain-air-popped corn and dressed in what I can only assume cost hundreds from the local baby boutique. If you've got it, flaunt it. No criticism here. But just as I'm realizing how put-together this darling pair appears compared to my dishelved brood, Quinn has decided to lick the safety bar on the shopping cart (which is decidedly NOT covered in an adorable Pinterest-worthy cart cover) while Atticus sings "Everything is Awesome" using fart noises instead of words.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Waiting Game

I've learned something about myself this past month that everyone else probably already knew: I am a control freak. And lately, my skin is crawling with all the things I can't control. We're in a strange limbo land, where all major decisions and events in our life are completely out of our hands, and we're forced to wait for answers to our most burning questions:

1. Where will Atticus go to Kindergarten? The answer to this question is hinged almost entirely on the results of the Houston ISD magnet lottery system, a game that sounds way more fun and Vegas-y than it actually is. Our top schools have anywhere from 900-1500 applicants, but less than 30 spots each, meaning we'll likely send him to our neighborhood elementary school. It's not a bad choice, but also not our top one, so we wait...

2. When will this baby be born? Atticus was two weeks early, Quinn, five. According to my doctor, this means that Little Miss will arrive early as well. Or not. It depends. And when she arrives affects my decision to stay home for the first part of the next school year or start right back up in mid-August (as does whether we can find a daycare spot for her since our current preschool won't take her until she's 6 months old). Added to the stress of what-ifs is that we are supposed to attend three separate out-of-town weddings for dear friends/family in April and May. Given that Quinn arrived so early and quickly, my doctor will deliver her final say on whether or not I can travel to attend these events, but she hasn't said definitively yet. So we wait...

Friday, January 30, 2015

On parenting girls

I've always wanted a little girl. Probably because I am a girl and was once a little one at that. But after nearly five years of raising messy, noisy, yet sincere little boys, I'm starting to panic a little. Part of it is the sheer terror that comes when I realize that someday she will be fifteen and I will probably hide from her when her ex-best friend decides to steal her boyfriend or her favorite pair of jeans didn't get washed and the world is over. But I have a lot of time before those days, right? I think right now I'm more terrified of the things that will be projected onto this precious little creature, whom everyone assumes will be sugar, spice, and everything nice. Will people coo at her in high-pitched voices or treat her more gently than they did my boys when they were babies? Will her closet look like someone took a bottle of pepto bismol to the dresses and skirts and bows that line the shelves? Will she become obsessed with princesses? Barbie dolls? Beauty pageants?

Maybe it's because I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, or because I'm now a bit of feminist, but these prospects terrify me. And yes, I know I sound like the cliche modern hipster screaming "gender neutral!" and "girl power!" over the pleasant hum of my own satisfaction, but I'll be damned if my kid ever says that Legos are for boys. So how do I avoid what seems to be an inevitable fate? How do I nicely tell people not to buy her little toy vacuums and Disney princess-themed attire?

No, seriously. How?

This isn't some lead-in to my solution for little girls everywhere (and their parents) to avoid the stereotypes that keep them thinking they have to be soft and sweet and gentle. I'd rather prefer my daughter to be hell on wheels. I know. Famous last words. But I don't have the answers except to say that we'd like to instill in our daughter the sense that she is just as strong and fierce as her brothers without erasing the femininity that naturally exists in most girls. I'd like her to grow up believing that there are no "girl toys" and "boy toys." That the damsel-in-distress act in far too many princess stories is both silly and dangerous. That she doesn't have to like the color pink. That her interests, her skills, her future should in no way be determined by her sex.

And when she becomes a teenager, I hope she doesn't fall victim to the cliquish nature of many young women. I hope everyone is her friend. I hope she doesn't gossip, or take duck-face selfies, or worry too much about what other people think. I hope she enjoys reading and sharing ideas with her peers and playing an instrument and being goofy without being vapid.

I can't help but feel like parenting a girl will be much more challenging than parenting a boy, not because girls are so much different than boys, but because the attitudes we have about girls are so different than the ones we have about boys. And while we've come a long way since the 1950's, we still have a long way to go. Maybe my kids will be part of the first generation to embrace true gender-neutrality. And maybe, as a way to get the ball rolling, I'll dress my boys in something pink tomorrow. You know, for good measure.








Sunday, December 21, 2014

I'm growing a tiny human GIRL!

In all the excitement of the holidays and Quinn's birthday, I forgot to share the most exciting news of all: #3 is a girl! More details to come, but in the mean time rest assured that we are over the moon, despite my still-frequent bouts of nausea and recently-developed thunder thighs. Thanks, little miss. I still love you.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quinn is TWO

Today my baby turns two years old. Two. And it's with bittersweet emotion that I type those words; bitter that the days are slipping by too quickly, sweet because there was once a time when we weren't sure we'd be celebrating two years with Quinn. There were so many "what ifs" and "how longs" in those early days before he arrived, and when he got here, I couldn't stop holding him. Now he's too busy to stop and be held. And for that I am thankful.

But there's something that happens when you raise a child with special needs that I try so hard to avoid. In fact, I hardly admit to myself that I'm doing it, but today it feels like it's very much at the forefront of my mind.

I compare.

I compare him to other kids his age. I compare him to his brother. I compare him to other children with Down syndrome. It's not fair, I know. But I do it anyway.

Here's Atticus on his second birthday. He's standing on a chair next to his cupcake. He blew the
candle out all by himself and even sang the words to "Happy Birthday." I remember how he carefully licked the icing from his cupcake and then peeled the liner away to take little bites before he tore from the table toward his pile of presents, impatiently awaiting permission to rip each one open. When he did, he thanked the giver before turning to the next one. These were gifts like toy golf clubs and remote-control cars, art supplies and soccer balls. In other words, typical gifts for a typical two-year-old. And I was blissfully unaware that the celebration would ever be different.

Yesterday I brought cupcakes to Quinn's class to help celebrate his special day. We had so much fun stuffing sugar-laden icing into our mouths and singing "Happy Birthday." But I also can't help but feel a twinge of sadness that Quinn really didn't know it was his birthday. He couldn't walk to the sink to wash the chocolate from his face without someone's help. He couldn't sing the words to the songs. Instead of daintily dissecting his cupcake, he shoved the whole thing, wrapper and all, into his mouth. To be honest, it looked more like a first birthday than a second one. And when we open presents this weekend, the gifts will be toys from the baby aisle that light up and whir and sing songs.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mennes, Party of 5

It's hard to believe it, especially since Brian and I were taking steps to avoid this very circumstance, but it seems I am knocked up again. Surprise! Trust me, we're just as shocked as you are. Yes, we know how these things happen. Yes, we also know how small our house is, how full our schedules are, and how crazy our lives will be with three kids under the age of 5. I spent a good two weeks crying fat, irrational, hormonal tears over these realizations (Brian, on the other hand, was trying to hide just how over-the-moon he was about this recent development, likely to avoid what typically follows hormonal tears: hormonal yelling and demands for odd combinations of food from across town at 3am). Now that the news has had a chance to sink in, I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that I will soon have a whole litter of children. At least they're cute.

This isn't to say that I didn't want another child eventually. Brian and I have talked at length about how we weren't finished, but we didn't intend to even consider the possibility of maybe trying for a third for at least another few years. Ideally, both boys would be out of preschool (and the tuition that comes with it) and we'd be more able to focus our attention on a newborn. Best laid plans, I suppose. And I can't help but feel terribly guilty that I have friends who are trying desperately to get pregnant and I can't NOT get pregnant. It just seems unfair. But also a good reminder that a baby is a blessing.

This particular pregnancy is so different from my first two. First, I'm pretty darn sick this round. I remember bouts of nausea with Atticus and Quinn, but nothing like this. Of course, this has everyone speculating girl, but I don't want to get my hopes up there. I would LOVE a girl, especially since this is definitely my last, but I kind of resigned myself to the idea that I would never escape a house full of testosterone and penises. So while a girl would be most welcome, I'm anticipating another boy. Brian's paternal grandmother had six boys because she kept trying for a girl. The last two were twins and she understandably gave up.

Second, I'm remarkably calm this time around. Since Atticus was my first, I naturally worried about every little thing. I avoided soft cheeses, deli meat, nail salons, and hot showers. I panicked if I didn't feel him move every few hours and read every baby book obsessively. With Quinn, I worried about some pretty serious and life-altering stuff following his diagnosis because our massive medical team insisted we should. So it stands to reason that I would worry that things would go wrong this time, but I haven't. What will be, will be. And even though we've done genetic testing to verify that all is going as expected (results should be in any day and I'm anxious for both what they'll tell me about this little one's health, and also the sex...the wait is interminable), we're pretty even-keeled about the whole process. It's odd. And maybe it's because we had the whole book of prenatal problems thrown at us last round and survived that we figure we can take what comes our way this time.

Third, I'm already showing, have a face full of acne, have gained a whole mess of weight in my hips, and cannot stay awake past 8pm. I was tired with the first two, but this kind of exhaustion takes on a whole new meaning. Exercise is supposed to help give me energy, but the thought of doing any kind of manual labor makes me want to vomit. So I'm in a holding pattern of first trimester misery, even though I'm already 14 weeks along and should be over it by now. Last week I did have entire stretches of time when I didn't want to puke all over everything, but then I smelled what the neighbors six houses down were cooking and BLEH.

All in all, we're taking this news in stride. We'll somehow manage to survive this pregnancy, which I do not do well. Seriously, who are these women who actually enjoy being pregnant? It's so miserably uncomfortable and stressful and the one thing that can ease said stress is one of the many things I can't have. So I turn to food and gain 40 pounds and complain about how fat I got and WHY can't I stop eating? My poor husband...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another school year started and already thinking about the next one



It's been a while since my last post and I've actually received a few emails asking what gives. Well, life gives, it seems. Not that things are going poorly, by any means, but new school schedules just mean transitions and adjustments, none of which are necessarily easy. But now that we're in the swing of things, it's starting to go a bit smoother. Juggling the therapies, pick-up times, and occasional illnesses has always been tricky with a full-time job, and this school year is no exception. But I'm lucky to have a great job with an understanding administration that makes it possible for me to keep working, a luxury that I refuse to take for granted. And even though one of my 10th graders just made a joke about poop that was alarmingly similar to the one Atticus made just last week, I really do love my kids and my job enough to work my butt off and balance them both. So far, so good!

Quinn and Atticus are doing great and loving their new school almost as much as I am. I've seen a vast improvement in not only their cognition and development, but in their general desire to learn. Quinn is walking with the help of push toys and cruising on furniture with ease. It's only a matter of time before he lets go and starts walking independently. He's learning more signs everyday and using them without prompting from us and starting to repeat sounds and words. He still has a way to go, but we're in the process of finding new private therapists to reinforce this development outside of school. Other things, like drinking from a straw and holding a toy phone to his ear, activities that most parents of toddlers take for granted, are starting to emerge with the help of occupational therapy (and teachers with more patience than rocks. I can't even imagine giving 8 toddlers open cups of milk at lunch time, especially since Quinn is prone to throwing said cup across the room).

Atticus is currently working on sight-reading and can't ride in the car without spotting words and letters that he knows. Our dinner table sounds like a quiz show: "Pumpkin does start with P! What else starts with that letter? If I had 4 pumpkins and gave two to you, how many would I have left?" Pumpkins are big right now, as are ghosts, candy, and pirate costumes, the combination of which makes for a rousing game of make-believe that leaves my head throbbing from the noise, but I digress. He's also writing his name, doing simple math, and coming up with creative solutions to his problems in a way that makes me confident in his future success. Of course, how he'll reach that success is a topic of lengthy discussion in our house...