Monday, April 14, 2014

An Open Letter to A Troll

Dear Troll,


Since I started blogging about my son Quinn and his disability, I knew this day would come. There’s no shortage of trolls on the internet who hide behind the anonymity of a screen name with the intent to be cruel, and I’ve seen their hostility many times before. In fact, just last week, in the wake of a robbery at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston’s headquarters, in which $10,000 worth of technology was stolen, there was no shortage of ignorant comments on the news story reporting the incident. One user asked, “how will they learn to count to potato?” Another claimed that wasting computers on “retards” was stupid anyway and that the organization deserved to be robbed. These comments, while offensive, simply serve to showcase people’s hate-fueled ignorance and aren’t worth my time. I grimace when I read them, but realize there’s little to be done about such stupidity. But on Saturday, you targeted my son personally and instead of being angry, I'd like to give you some advice: don't be a dick. It will come back to haunt you.

I don't want to make assumptions about you, but I can guess from your immaturity and ignorance that you are likely a prepubescent little boy with very little life experience. With that, I can also guess that you know little about the helplessness that parents feel when caring for a sick infant with respiratory issues. Maybe remember when your mother wiped your own snotty nose yesterday (or rear end; are you toilet trained yet?) and it may help you relate. Quinn was sick last week, but was feeling much better by Friday. We decided to sit in the backyard and soak up the sun after school. There aren't many things in this world more beautiful than seeing your recently-ill child light up in a smile, and I snapped a few photos to celebrate his recovery, then posted them on Instagram with the hashtag “#downsyndrome.” I love to look through those photos myself in my spare time because damn if those kiddos aren’t adorable. Of course, you feel differently because you found this photo and left a comment with one simple word: 

Ugly.



 
























The fact that you find my child ugly is one thing. You are entitled to your opinion. But the fact that you intentionally search #downsyndrome to find pictures to insult (sadly, Quinn is not the only victim of your behavior; I came across many other inflammatory responses) is both childish and sad. Your profile is also full of offensive posts and crude statements, all of which point to your own illiteracy. In one such photo, featuring two kids with Down syndrome and the word “wiitard,” you get bent out of shape because many, MANY people called you on you prejudice. You claim it was a joke and that people should lighten up. But what about purposefully seeking out pictures of our children? What about the fact that a beautiful photograph of my son was tarnished by your hatred? That’s not a joke. That’s cyberbullying. Needless to say, I reported your profile, which was removed temporarily, but is now back up. It might be wise to remove it soon before the authorities look into your harassment; these things are taken quite seriously now.

This will not be the last time someone discounts my son because he is different. It will not be last time someone makes a joke at his expense, but to actively seek out actual people to tease goes beyond cruel. It’s inhuman. 

I recognize that you want to see me get worked up about your little “joke.” I’ll be honest, it’s hard not to be angry about it, but I can’t allow myself to carry that weight on my shoulders. I can’t allow myself to feel anything but sorry for an individual with so little tact. Because in end, you will be the one to face the consequences of your choices someday. There are few people in this world who tolerate that kind of backwards thinking, and you’ll eventually mouth off to the wrong person. My guess is that you already have, which is why you hide behind a screen name like a coward.

God knows there were plenty of cruel adolescent boys in my time: boys who took pleasure in pranks and jokes at others’ expense. There were even a few of them that were directed at me, but it gave me tough skin and I grew from the experience of facing such mistreatment. Maybe that’s why I’m willing to let this one go; I know where most of those boys ended up and it’s nowhere I’d want to be. And as a teacher, I've seen kids like you crash and burn. Hopefully you'll figure it out before you lose your front teeth (or worse); you're not the only unstable person on the internet, after all. Besides, anyone with such a feeble-minded attitude and poor communication skills should really be spending their time on more worthwhile activities. Go outside. Read a book. Compliment someone. Most importantly, enlighten yourself; there's already enough cruelty in this world and anyone worth their salt should be striving to make this place better, not worse.

I simply hope my own children learn to look past ignorant comments and actions and treat others with respect and dignity. We all deserve it, even you.


Sincerely,

A Proud Mama

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On the fragility of life and the importance of our choices


Shattered Dreams drunk driving simulation: Stratford High School, 2014

Today Stratford High School presented Shattered Dreams, in which students, faculty, and community volunteers come together to simulate a drunk driving accident in order to raise awareness and prevent these types of tragedies amongst teens. At 9:00am, all upper-classmen walked to the street along campus where two cars were positioned to look as if they had run into one another, both full of actual students. The “driver” of one car had been drinking, while the “driver” of the other car had been texting. Over the course of an hour, students and faculty witnessed fire, police, and EMS pull students from the vehicles and strap them to gurneys, zip them into body bags, or throw them in the back of police cars. One student was life-flighted to Ben Taub Hospital. As the scene unfolded, friends and parents of the participants were present to witness and grieve for the victims. A hearse came at the end to take bodies to the morgue. Tonight, the student actors will fulfill their roles further, as if they were truly involved in the accident. Parents will write obituaries for their children. Those who died in the accident will actually visit the morgue. And those students who were injured will spend the night in the hospital, their families by their sides. The rest of the student body will remain in class today, listening to the sound of a heartbeat flat-line over the PA every 15 minutes to represent the rate at which someone dies in a drunk driving accident in this country.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The R-Word



Today is the annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, in which advocates of the special
needs community encourage people to stop using the word “retard” and all its forms. It’s a day that means a great deal to me now, but wasn’t even on my radar two years ago. It’s probably not on yours either unless you know and love someone with intellectual delays. Even if you do, you might glance at this issue and shrug your shoulders, thinking to yourself that being overly-PC is more damaging to our society than the words we use to insult others. I probably would have agreed with you a few years back, to be honest. But there’s something about crossing to the other side that makes it possible for me to see where you’re coming from, but also insist that you consider a new place to go. Because using words that hurt others simply to be funny, or even because you “forgot” to check your tongue, aren’t good enough reasons to keep using them.

You see, when you use the word “retard” you insult an entire group of people who are often unable to defend themselves. It’s probably why the word has been slow to fall out of social acceptance, unlike words like “ni**er” or “fa**ot.” The goal of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign is to make “retard” so offensive that even open-minded, censorship-hating bloggers like myself have to type it with asterisks instead of letters. But moreover, when you call someone a “retard,” you’re basically telling them that they’ve chosen to do something stupid and therefore deserve to be insulted. This word isn’t used with any positive connotation. It’s an insult, a joke, and a way to point out others’ bad choices. But what you’re really doing is taking away my son’s worth. You’re making him out to be your scapegoat for comedy. And you’re making yourself less of my friend. That’s harsh, I know. But if you can’t respect me and my son enough to stop using that word, then you don’t deserve my friendship (said with Mama Bear claws fully and unapologetically exposed).  

Friday, February 21, 2014

On Depression...

This is for my friend.

Sometimes, life is hard. I think I’m luckier than most in this world, and yet I still struggle with my own demons. I suppose that’s true of all of us, but not everyone faces the crushing weight of depression when things go wrong. For my friend (and anyone else) who is struggling to stay afloat, I want you to know, I’ve been there.

Depression isn’t something we like to talk about in our society. Mental health in general is a rather taboo topic, perhaps because for those with no history of mental illness, it seems as simple as a change in mindset. But depression is very real, and often very difficult to control.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Hodge-podge of Updates



I’ve been suffering a bit of writer’s block lately, but not for reasons you might expect. It’s not that I have nothing to say, but too much. My mind is racing of late with ideas, snippets, small iotas of information that I feel are worth sharing, but I don’t know how to organize these jumbled ideas into any sense of cohesive writing. So instead of waiting for it to all make sense, I’ll just share with you these tidbits and hope you can string some meaning from them.


Part I: Quinn

Quinn celebrated his first birthday just before Christmas and has radically changed before my eyes. There’s a moment that parents experience when they suddenly look at their babies and wonder when they grew up so quickly. I had that first moment with Quinn the other day. He’s just…bigger, you know? He’s alert and responsive. He’s starting to become more mobile and has found a way to wiggle himself across the living room floor. I won’t call it crawling just yet, but it’s close. He’s responding to signs and interacting more with us. He’s eating like a horse. Seriously, this kid can put food away. He loves to read books and actually cries when they’re over. The first time I witnessed this happen, I thought it was a fluke or that I had smacked his face with the stiff cardboard cover, but by the third time he screamed bloody murder when the story ended, I realized it’s not from pain, but anger. Clearly, he also has a penchant for the dramatic. But I can’t fault him for it; he is my son, after all. And I’m immeasurably proud of his love for the written word/pictures of cows.


Part II: Atticus

This kid is really blossoming into one of the kindest, most selfless children I have ever known. I knew some of Brian’s personality would show up sooner or later, but I wasn’t expecting it until well after puberty (boys will be boys and all that). And that’s not to say that he isn’t wild at times. He definitely has his moments where the world is falling apart because we ran out of Goldfish, but for the most part we hear a lot of “may I please?” and “thank you, Mommy” and “excuse me.”  He also loves his little brother. He absolutely adores him. Those two share a bond that I never knew could exist in children so young, and when I pick them up from school and they see each other after a long day apart, they both light up and fall into fits of giggles. It’s a pretty special thing to witness. Atticus is also a born entertainer. His dance skills are unparalleled, and he can chatter away for what seems like hours. If you try to simply nod and say, “oh, really?” and “mmm-hmmm” he’ll actually call you on it. “Don’t say, ‘okay’ Mommy. I telling a story!” He demands legitimate analysis of his tales. While exhausting, I know this will translate into something very special as he gets older.

Forgive the abysmal quality of this video. I think you'll find it's still worth watching.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Son with Special Needs Taught me More about Education than Seven Years in the Classroom



I am the product of a classical education. My mother, an English teacher, and my father, an attorney, instilled in me a respect for education that I embraced in my youth, fought like hell against in my adolescence and rediscovered in adulthood. I realized my calling as a teacher while on a backpacking trip through Europe shortly after graduating college. At the time, I had $20,000 in student loan debt, a degree in English, and virtually zero career prospects upon my return from abroad (see reference to English degree). As we wandered the streets of Prague, Florence, and Paris, I found myself unable to avoid the pull of Kakfa, Dante, and Hemingway; these men had defined my understanding of these cities, and I talked Brian’s ear off about their influence on modern culture. In those moments, my desire to teach was born.

Of course, upon my return I had begun to sing a different tune and thought that I could “do better” than teach. But despite a top-notch education from The University of Texas and a set of useful skills, I couldn’t find a job. Like others from the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation, I expected the offers to come streaming in. Moreover, I was told that my college degree would be worth more than the debt I acquired to earn it. With limited options and a waning confidence, I decided to revisit the notion of teaching and applied to Texas State's graduate program in education. I earned my teaching certificate and Master’s degree in Secondary Education two years later and entered the classroom still wet behind the ears, but passionate as all get-out. I fell into my role rather seamlessly. I found I actually enjoyed puzzling through discipline problems and, even though I had practically no idea what I was doing that first year, I loved my job.

Now, in my 7th year in the classroom, the only thing that’s changed is the expertise that comes with experience. I don’t feel like a braggart admitting that I’m good at my job. I’m not perfect, but I enjoy it and I forge relationships with my students that are real and based on a mutual respect for each other and the subject matter. Most importantly, we have a good time and we learn, read, and discuss. And I’m fortunate to teach on a campus that focuses on real education, not just test scores and school data. 

But yesterday in class, my eyes were opened to something I’ve known all along: despite the aforementioned positives, I’m beginning to see the perils of traditional education. It began innocently enough. We’re in the process of reading Antigone, the classical Greek drama about a young woman who risks her life for a morally just cause. To tie in poetry and help them relate to the greater themes within the work, I decided to spend some time listening to and annotating protest music. While discussing Pink Floyd’s message of anti-establishment in “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” I described the band’s beef with traditional education and the notion that school is purely a stepping stone for one’s career. I explained this in the context of mid-century British prep schools, not realizing that everything I said was true of our own system of education until a student told me as much.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Buddy Walk 2013

I’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. In our case, it takes a village to raise a family. And this family has one hell of a village behind us. Last weekend was Quinn’s first Buddy Walk, an awareness and fundraising event held in Houston each November. I spent much of this fall organizing Quinn’s team and sending out slightly obnoxious Facebook posts in an attempt to raise money on his behalf. The result was successful. We raised over $7600 in Quinn’s name and were the 6th highest fundraising team in the city, which is no small feat! We couldn’t have done this without the help of our generous friends and family, with a special thanks to our incredible parents, Larry and Patti Mennes, who personally matched every donation from Larry’s employees. We wouldn’t have raised nearly as much as we did without their help.

When it came time for the walk itself, we had over 60 people on our team in support of Quinn. His teachers at the daycare made posters and came out in droves for our little man, and many of my own coworkers walked with us to show their support. Even my dear friend Laura, who was terribly sick at the time, braved her own illness to meander through the crowds out of love for Quinn. The Stratford National Honor Society students walked with us for their service hours and, even though I don’t know any of these seniors, they all introduced themselves to me and made a point of meeting Quinn (and fawning over his cuteness). Nearing the end of the one-mile walk through downtown Houston, I came upon Stratford’s Junior Girls, many of whom were my students last year. They watched last fall as I coped with the news of Quinn’s diagnosis and celebrated with me when he was born during finals week. They were all there with signs and banners, cheering Quinn’s name just before the finish line. At this point I didn’t even try to hide my tears.

To say that this event was moving would be a gross understatement. I am beyond grateful for these people, this village that supports my family. Their love and encouragement sustain me and create an environment for Quinn that is inclusive and celebrates his unique qualities. Because the more I learn about Down syndrome, the more I see it as a gift. For the people in my life to recognize this too means that our family is erasing stereotypes and breaking down the barriers that he would have faced even a decade ago. But most importantly, it means that we are loved, and love is all we need.

Stratford Junior Girls


Quinn and Atticus' teachers


Gamma and PopPop cheer for Quinn

Brian and his Mom (aka, Grandma)
BFF's for life



Ace and Archie decorating the tent

Paula and the man of the hour
Aunt Kelly showing Quinn his posters

SHS students represent

Atticus with his superman facepaint
Brian, Quinn, and me with Archie and Lisa


Monday, November 4, 2013

Spread Thin


October has always been my favorite month of the year. Temperatures are finally bearable in Texas, football season is in full swing, and pumpkin-flavored everything is in high supply. But this October, much like last year’s, kicked my ass. My kids were sick virtually the entire month, which meant that Brian and I took turns waking up in the middle of the night caring for unhappy children and, in turn, passing illnesses back and forth between each other. I’ve managed to deplete my already small stock of sick days and didn’t sleep more than 4 hours at a time for weeks.

I’ve approached this time as a slump; I assumed that we’re just going through a rough patch in terms of illnesses and doctor’s visits, but the more I think about the past month, the more I realize just how routine these circumstances have become. This is not a slump. This is our new reality.


Gamma and PopPop are life-savers.

An average week in our house consists of at least one illness, a few meltdowns, physical therapy, and a visit to one specialist or another. Add this to an already-busy schedule of two full-time jobs (plus tutoring and responding to student and parent emails, which is a full-time job in and of itself) and carting the kids to and from daycare and everywhere in between. It goes without saying that I’m feeling a little spread thin. And because of our full plates, we’ve been terrible friends to the very people that can keep us sane. We’ve flaked and double-booked and avoided social outings because, at the end of the long week, we desperately need to rest and recharge. I’ve become the very mom I always loathed; the mom who uses her kids and their germs as an excuse. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid the birthday parties or the barbecues. Deep down I know they’d be good for all of us. But I sincerely don’t want your child to come down with the funk that’s prevented us from operating on even a marginal level of sanity all week. And, full disclosure, I’m tired. I’m so bone-tired that I can barely move on Saturday, but I still have to do the grocery shopping and laundry and house-cleaning that I couldn’t do during the week because of all the aforementioned duties. 

Where can I pick up my Mom of the Year award?
Of all the families I know who are raising a child with Down syndrome, ours is the only one with two full-time working parents (to be fair, one of these families is currently looking for work. If you know of anything in the Houston area, please let me know). It never really hit me until now, but I’m suddenly realizing that these parents aren’t staying home out of choice, but rather out of necessity. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. Between therapy, specialist visits, surgeries (we’ve got another this spring), and frequent illnesses, caring for Quinn alone is a full-time job, never mind that we have another child that is demanding of our attention. And so we’ve bounced around the idea of me staying home with the boys a few times. It would mean saving the $1300/month we spend on daycare costs (which is incredibly affordable for the quality of care they receive). Quinn could attend The Rise School, a preschool for children with Down syndrome whose hours and location are logistically impossible for us at the moment. We’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this program, but it’s an hour commute each day during the hours I’m at work. Leaving my job would make this a possibility (even though the aforementioned $1300 would go towards Quinn’s tuition alone, we would find a way to make it work). And it would mean that I could provide Quinn with the attention and developmental strategies that are so important for him right now and schedule doctor’s appointments before 4pm.

But in the end, there’s too much at stake to make it possible. Money would be insanely tight. If I leave my job, there goes our insurance and the boys’ transfer opportunity to some of the best public schools in the state of Texas. But what it really comes down to is that I love my job. I can’t, even for a moment, imagine myself out of the classroom. 

We’re at an impasse. Our choices are limited, so we’re forced to make the most of a difficult situation. And the end result of our full plates is a loss of all the things that could keep us sane. This post isn’t looking for your pity. It’s the last thing I need. But I guess I am looking for your understanding. It’s why I missed that very important thing you planned. It’s why I haven’t called. It’s why I’ve put on 10 pounds since June. Forgive me my trespasses. It’s going to be touch-and-go for a while, but we’ll make it back to the land of the living. And when we do, make sure that you have a drink in hand for me. I’m going to need it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Down Syndrome Awareness Month: Meet Eli

Here's another guest post, this time from my friend, Ashley. When I received Quinn's diagnosis, I immediately turned to the internet to read stories from parents who were going through similar situations. In the process, I came across Ashley's blog and quickly realized that she lived just a few miles north of Houston. I sent her an email and she responded immediately, both of us excited to have found one another. I continued to talk with Ashley throughout my pregnancy while also keeping myself updated on her adorable son, Eli, who was born in April of 2012. Since we met last fall, Ashley and her husband Barry adopted beautiful baby Ruby and are (surprise!) expecting another son this spring! Here is their story:


I remember the day we confirmed our pregnancy with Eli. I was standing in the middle of my kindergarten classroom when the phone rang. I had been waiting all day to hear that sweet sound. Our reproductive endocrinologist was on the other end and I could hear the smile in his voice. "Mrs. Newman, you are pregnant!" He went on to give me some lab instructions and tell me my odds of a full term delivery (we had already beat the odds, using IVF to get pregnant). I just stood there in the middle of my kindergarten class with tears rolling down my face. This was what we had waited two years for. Finally a baby.

Our pregnancy was complicated: bed rest, bleeding, doubt and fear. But our little miracle stayed strong with us and soon we began to believe we would bring home a baby in May 2012. During my first trimester, all testing and ultrasounds looked good. I was released to my regular OB at 12 weeks. During my second trimester, some routine thyroid bloodwork was accidentally run as AFP testing instead. The day before our winter break, my doctor called to let me know that our son had screened positive for Down syndrome. To say that I laid on the floor and cried would be giving myself too much credit. I did not react well and looked for reassurance from my doctors immediately.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Down Syndrome Awareness Month: Meet Mara B

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I've decided to share with you a series of guest entries by some of the amazing people we've met along our journey with Quinn. These posts are intended to help share the positivity that our kids bring us each and every day, while also eliminating some of the stereotypes attached to the chromosomally-enhanced. Each of our stories is as different as our individual children, yet the incredible joy they bring to our families is the same.

The first post is by my friend, Catie. Soon after receiving Quinn's diagnosis, we were given Catie's contact information. She was teaching music at Atticus's preschool and her daughter, Mara, was born with Down syndrome the previous year. It wasn't long before I learned that her job was a new one; just the year before she was an English teacher at Stratford High School, which is coincidentally MY job. When her husband passed the bar exam, she was able to take on part-time work and devote more of her schedule to her amazing kids, thus opening up a position in my current department. Whether I was hired to replace her position or not, we'll never know, as I was one of four new teachers in the English department last year. But I am certain that she and her family will be our lasting friends, as we have far more in common than the extra chromosome that Mara and Quinn possess, though that last commonality will connect us forever. She has been a priceless source of support and information, and meeting Mara for the first time instilled in me a new, positive outlook on what Down syndrome would be like for our family.

Here's Catie's story:

This is my Mara, affectionately known as Mara B (for Broussard, her middle name) or simply, the diva.  She's my second child and my only daughter.  She came screaming into the world on the afternoon of May 27, 2011, with a thick mop of black hair and surprise!  An extra chromosome--the 21st one.  Not exactly the Showcase Showdown, but I was assured it was the "Cadillac of chromosomal disorders," which I can assure you meant next to nothing to this gal, almost immediately post-partum.  There had been no indication during my pregnancy that she might have Down syndrome, so we were pretty shell-shocked.  My husband and I both had outdated ideas of what it meant to have Down syndrome, so a series of worst-case scenarios ran through our heads--everything from worrying about day care to kissing our carefree days of empty nesting retirement goodbye.  Instead of simply rejoicing over the birth of our much-awaited-for baby girl, we were thrown into a panic after being given a diagnosis and leaving the hospital with a list of imperative appointments with various specialists ranging from cardiologists to hematologists, geneticists, and ophthalmologists.  Those first heart-wrenching moments and

Friday, September 20, 2013

For the Parent who Just Received a Down Syndrome Diagnosis, on the Anniversary of our Own

Dear Fellow Warrior,

I don't know you, yet I feel that we are connected. I remember walking in your shoes and fearing for the future. I remember feeling so alone, then finding others who were experiencing the same emotions, and it helped me cope with the news that you are dealing with today. And so I write this letter in the hope that you find it. I write in the hope that you know you are not alone.
 
One year ago today, we received Quinn's Down syndrome diagnosis. I sat down in front of the computer and told the world our story in a post that makes me cringe when I read it now. In the year that's passed, I've had a chance to look back on those raw emotions and remind myself that I didn't know then what I know now. And most importantly, I hadn't met Quinn yet, whose very existence is my greatest accomplishment. He represents my courage in a time of doubt, patience in a time of chaos, and the unyielding strength of a tiny human that I took for granted.

Quinn's sweet face on the day we learned of his pleural effusion



But I didn't know this then. I was terrified, isolated, and grief-stricken. I found myself unable to celebrate this impending life, both out of fear and anger. I closed the nursery door and hid the baby clothes for months, embarrassed at myself in the process, but knowing that their very presence would send me into a tailspin of grief. I knew that I would love Quinn when he arrived, but this seemed so very far away from reality in the weeks following his diagnosis, and as time marched on, we faced new problems that made me fear becoming attached to someone who might not survive. I was an actor in those days, playing a role I remembered well from the time I was pregnant with Atticus. I knew how to answer the questions everyone loves to ask a pregnant woman: "It's a boy. He's due in January. He's my second." But those answers always felt like they deserved an asterisk at the end: "He has Down syndrome. The doctors found a pleural effusion. He might not make it." Of course, I never shared these footnotes. I gave the people what they wanted because no one knows how to reply to unexpected news like that. I joked and traded stories with other pregnant women while holding back a searing jealously because their baby would be "normal" and mine wouldn't; these women never had worst-case scenario conversations with their OBGYNs. While I was researching Early Childhood Intervention, Medicaid Waivers, and special needs preschools, these happy pregnant women were buying baby clothes and painting the nursery with stars in their eyes. I woke up at 3am almost every night, unable to fall back asleep because I was convinced I didn't have the skills to raise a child with special needs. In those months before Quinn was born, I was lost.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Conversations with Atticus



Who knew that a seemingly-mundane trip to Target could yield such entertaining results? Atticus has been making really great choices lately, from becoming fully potty-trained to displaying stellar behavior when returning to school this week, so I decided to reward him with a new toy. The trip to the store provided so much insight into my little man's personality, that I just had to share this series of events with you.


It all began on the short drive over. I tuned into one Pandora station or another without really thinking and pulled out of the driveway. Now, I should note that Atticus loves music. If I forget to turn the radio on, even for a short trip, he will demand to hear "songs." His latest favorite is "Lakehouse" by Of Monsters and Men, because it's simple enough for him to recognize and the refrain, "where we are, where we are" is easy for him to sing along to. Well, an Of Monsters and Men song came on Pandora and Atticus said, "Mommy, I want the other song like this." Not knowning what he meant,  he started singing "where we are, where we are" until it clicked. I know that this may not seem like a magic moment, but those of you that know us well know that there are few things in our lives as important and influential as music. And for a just-turned-three-year-old to recognize the similarities between two songs by the same artist...let's just say it's impressive. And as soon as I started the song, he recognized the guitar riff at the intro and immediately thanked me. That would have been enough to blog about, really. I was immensely proud of this guy, especially when he started singing along in key, but this was just the beginning. I linked a live performance (on Seattle's KEXP) of the song below so you can check it out. It's pretty catchy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Learning to Worry

We've known for a while that Quinn was likely going to have surgery to remove his enlarged adenoids, but today we got the official green light to go ahead with the procedure next Friday. Anyone who's met Quinn knows that he's a NOISY little man. Because his adenoids are so large, it's blocking his airway and the breaths he takes are rattly, strained, and snotty. The surgery itself is remarkably routine. Even though our dude is only 8 months old, it's an outpatient procedure with a quick 2-4 day recovery (if his tonsils were also being removed, it would be longer). Nevertheless, I find myself slightly terrified simply because I think that's what parents are supposed to feel when their babies go under the knife. But this worry is a relatively new experience for me, a learned behavior.


When Atticus was born, I didn't experience the fear that most first-time parents feel. Perhaps it was my years as a nanny and preschool teacher, but caring for a newborn didn't frighten me. I knew that mothers had been tending to their young somewhat successfully since the dawn of humanity and that it's actually never been easier or safer to be a parent. Diaper, change, feed, try not to drop them on their heads, repeat. It was straightforward enough that once Brian overcame the jitters of the first few days, we were passing the kid back and forth like a football with one hand. We weren't the type to call the pediatrician at 3am because munchkin had the sniffles and when it came to babyproofing, we didn't. Of course, we put the bleach and household cleaners in the higher cabinets and pushed the knife block to the back of the countertop, but that was about it. And you know what? He survived! Sure, he bumped his head on the coffee table a few times and probably poked his eye once or twice with sticks he found in the backyard (Atticus had a thing for sticks), but he came out of the clumsy stages of toddlerhood relatively unscathed. And Brian and I enjoyed parenting instead of worrying about every little microbe that could potentially sicken him, every hazard that could break his leg.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summatime

It's been a busy summer in the Mennes family and it's only mid-July. Between a trip to the cabin on Lake Michigan to see family, to a second honeymoon on Isla Mujeres in Mexico, to a spontaneous daytrip to Galveston last weekend and every fun celebration in between, there hasn't been a dull moment yet. And I love that we're instilling a genuine curiosity and sense of adventure in our children from their earliest days. May they quickly learn that a monotonous life is a wasted one...

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves.
-Andre Gide


Holland, Michigan (aka, The Lake):






 Isla Mujeres, Mexico:





Houston and Galveston, Texas






Friday, May 31, 2013

The Future of Down Syndrome



I’ve sat in front of my computer screen debating just how to start this topic, or whether I even should because I’m about to ruffle some feathers. But this blog isn’t here to magically align with everyone’s beliefs, and I refuse to shy away from controversy just to avoid offense, so I’ve decided to power through and get my thoughts down here. It’s not to make myself feel better, but to educate the public about what I see as an emerging civil rights issue, and one that affects my family deeply. You see, I am and always have been pro-choice, but everything I thought I knew and believed in regarding a woman’s right to choose has been turned on its head since entering the Down syndrome community. I know to most outsiders this may seem like a strange connection, but abortion and Ds are closely intertwined and becoming even more so with the advent of noninvasive prenatal testing.

When I was pregnant with both my boys, I remember being offered first trimester screening, which included blood tests and ultrasounds to check for chromosomal abnormalities. Because we wanted as little intervention as possible, we declined these tests and continued the pregnancies as normal. Had I done these screenings, they would have likely raised a red flag with Quinn and I would have been referred for more tests. For most women, this would be an amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), both of which are invasive, painful, and slightly risky. They do, however, carry a rather high accuracy rate in detecting chromosomal anomalies like Down syndrome or other trisomies. Since we opted out of the first screening, we never detected anything unusual until Quinn’s anatomy scan at 20 weeks. This is when the ultrasound technician noticed his slightly enlarged kidneys and referred us to a genetic counselor. 

from parentweb.com
Our GC, who was amazing by the way (this is worth mentioning because many of them are not…I’ll get to that later), introduced us to a test called Maternit21. It was a ground-breaking, noninvasive blood test that analyzed fetal DNA in the mother’s blood for the presence of extra chromosomes. It was over 99% accurate and carried no risk to mother or baby, unlike an amnio or CVS. We agreed and waited for the results, which you all know came back positive for Down syndrome. At this point, we were devastated, an emotion that I feel somewhat silly for feeling in retrospect. But we were new to this world and had preconceived and outdated notions about what Ds could mean. And we were left with an agonizing decision: do we terminate this pregnancy?

In the end, we chose to carry our little man to term, but not entirely for reasons you would expect. To terminate a pregnancy at 24 weeks (which was where we were once all diagnostic results were in) meant an induction of labor and a full vaginal delivery. I would see my baby and he would not be breathing. And it would be my fault. I knew that would be an image that I could never erase from my mind, even if I lived to be 102. So I chose life. It was my choice. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Might be Mediocre, But at Least I'm Honest.



Being a parent makes me mediocre at everything, even parenting. It’s something I’ve known for a while, but this is the first time I’m making the confession public. And I would argue most parents aren’t very good at much else either, because being a parent is tough, especially a working parent, and once the day is over and the kids are tucked in bed, all I really want to do is drink a glass of wine in my pajamas and watch mindless TV. Being a parent also makes me a vidiot. And a late-night drinker (although “late-night” for me is 9pm). I guess my attempt to be my best self takes a backseat to making sure my kids’ needs are met; it doesn’t really bother me much because I am happy and my children are in good, albeit sometimes frazzled hands.

So why is it that we parents feel the need to hide our realities from the world, especially social media? Check any mom’s Instagram or Facebook feed, including my own, and it looks like we are running a regular Montessori. The kids are smiling and sun-kissed. There’s paint and legos and fresh fruit dripping from their chins. We play guitar and sing songs and frolic in the mud with abandon, only to curl up together on the couch for a midday weekend nap while the turntable plays Cat Stevens records and we read Where the Wild Things Are in monster voices. Hilarity ensues. All is right with the world. And the photos we capture are as grainy as our memories of these moments will be, because they are only a small and somewhat dishonest slice of the day.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

For Brian, on our 5th Anniversary




Five years ago today, I married the greatest man on Earth. Despite the cliché, Brian has genuinely earned this title again and again in the past ten years that I have known him. I am one of the lucky women who married her best friend. And while we have our moments of stress, disagreements, or the feeling that all romance has disappeared with the advent of parenting, we are still madly in love with one another. Those days of hours-long phone conversations, flowers, and fireworks have been replaced by a steady comfort that I think we both prefer. It can be exhausting to feel so passionate all the time. Our rock-solid relationship has become second nature. We know each other so well that I can finish his sentences and he can read my feelings with a quick glance. And our dreams for the future together are founded upon dedication, compromise, and a good sense of humor. Brian is good at making me laugh, especially when I'm taking life far too seriously. And this year has been the strongest test of our marriage thus far; fortunately, we survived it relatively unscathed. Brian is a devoted father, loving husband, and all-around amazing man. Here’s why:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Reasons Atticus is Crying (this week)

Oh boy. Our oldest son has been quite a challenge lately. To call Atticus strong-willed is akin to calling a grizzly bear soft and cuddly. It's been one melt-down after another lately and we're at our wits' end. In one of my most recent attempts to escape the screaming by perusing the internet, I came across the latest viral sensation, Reasons my Son is Crying. This tumblr features photos with a caption explaining all the silly, inane reasons one woman's son can't control his tiny emotions and, for me, it reads like a diary entry.

So I was inspired to create my own "Reasons my Son is Crying" with Atticus. And before you call CPS for gross negligence of my child's emotional needs, I do understand why young children have trouble keeping their very powerful feelings in check and we work with him to find appropriate outlets for his anger and/or sadness. But if I don't make light of it, I'm liable to lose my mind before he grows out of this phase. So enjoy the photos and explanations of his many tantrums and admit that you want 12 just like him...

Why my son is crying this week:
He doesn't want to take a bath

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Bulldog Shirt

To understand the story of the Bulldog Shirt, you first need to know a little bit about the person who gave it to us. Justin is one of our favorite people in the entire world. We met back in college and we became fast friends. We share a love of music and food (in fact, we joke that we're culinary soulmates because our tastes are nearly identical), and he's always quick to offer help when help is needed. When Brian and I got married five years ago, a huge storm blew through during the reception. Justin had the genius idea to ask our DJ, Car Stereo Wars, to play "Footloose" and turn the speakers into the courtyard so we could all dance barefoot in the rain. Now, whenever anyone asks about our wedding, we show them the pictures of the entire party getting down in a downpour while wearing their Sunday best. It was a magical moment, all thanks to Justin. Over the years he's surprised us with concert tickets and fine dining dinner dates, allowing Brian and I to enjoy rare moments of solitude while he watched Atticus (and "Yo Gabba Gabba"). So when the bulldog shirts came in the mail for Christmas, I knew they were from him. Because in addition to being an outstanding guy and babysitter extraordinaire, he's also an incredible photographer and designer, and has his finger on the pulse of all things cool.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spread the Word to End the Word

Today is the annual day of awareness about the hurtful effects of the word "retard(ed)." Quinn wants to remind you how much this word sucks, just in case you forgot...





Take the pledge to stop using the word "retard" as an insult. It's hurtful, insensitive, and makes you look like an asshole. Just sayin'.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Letter to my Son

Dear Atticus,

You've been a good sport the last few months, kid. I've got to hand it to you: you've shared your time well with your new baby brother and haven't tried to smother him with a pillow once. You've even gone so far as to comfort him when he cries. This shows an empathy and kindness that I would guess many 2-year-olds are lacking. Keep this up. These qualities will get you much farther in life than most are willing to admit, and it makes the world a better place.

My admiration of these qualities has encouraged me to write you a letter that you will hopefully read in the future (you can't read yet, sorry. While you are a genius child, you are only two. Give it another year). I want to tell your future self who you were and how this translated into the dreams we have for you. You likely won't remember much from this age, so I'm offering to document it for you. I know. I'm an awesome mom. Please remember this as your angst-ridden 17-year-old self reads this. I'm sure this teenage version of you is glowering over a recent decision I made to ruin your life, so here's documented proof that I love you, even if I don't want you hanging out with that kid who's repeating 10th grade for the third time and smells like a Phish concert. But I digress...

Here's a glimpse at who you are at two-and-a-half and why it makes you awesome:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mom of the Year and Other Happenings

Yesterday was a big day. Quinn had a follow-up appointment at his ENT, we had our evaluation for Early Intervention (EI) services, and I locked him in the car and had to call the Fire Department to come and rescue him. Yep. That happened.

Let's start with the ENT. Quinn passed the initial hearing screening that all newborns get in the hospital before being discharged, but because he received antibiotics in the NICU, which can sometimes cause hearing loss, I needed to schedule a follow-up test to verify that all was still well. Last week, I bundled him up and drove 45 minutes to Sugarland, where he was given the quick screen once more and told that he failed, which would make the longer test we were planning to take that day a big waste of time, as he would invariably fail that one too. They suspected fluid build-up and referred me to a different ENT closer to home (though not after charging me a $50 copay for my 2-minute visit). So yesterday we went for our follow-up and waited 45 minutes before being seen by a doctor, who tried to look in his teeny-tiny ear canals, told us she couldn't see anything and asked that we come back in a month (and, of course, charged us $50 for her time, even though it was mine that was so carelessly wasted). And go figure, Quinn was ready to eat right when we left. I figured we would be home in 15 minutes, so I strapped him back in his car seat and trudged to the car, $100 poorer and without any real information about my now-screaming guy's hearing except to learn that we would need to wait it out.

By the time I got to the car, I gave up on trying to wait to feed him and broke out the bottle while standing next to the car in the garage. The owner of the car parked next to mine started to back out, nearly running me over (I don't think she saw me), so I closed Quinn's door to get out of her way, leaving my purse, keys, and Quinn inside.

And now the doors were locked. Shit.

Monday, January 28, 2013

6 Weeks

It's hard to believe Quinn has been with us for 6 weeks already. Despite the ease suggested in my last post, it really has been a blur of sleep-deprivation and a reorganization of priorities. Having two kids is much more challenging than one, and I would be lying if I didn't admit my concerns for the future. We know that Quinn will face delays as the months continue, and this honeymoon period of he's-just-like-every-other-baby will end. It scares me, especially as Atticus continues to grow and mature with each passing day. How do I balance excitement for one with concern for the other and vice versa? How do I manage shifting expectations? How do I find the time to maintain my own sanity? And how do I do all of that while simultaneously working a full-time job and caring for the basic needs of my family? Maybe it's the isolation of maternity leave and the fact that I'm spending lots of time caring for Quinn while the rest of my family and friends live their lives as usual, but these questions have been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

The reality is that the answers will come in time, one day at a time, so there's no sense in worrying now. Instead, now is the time to celebrate this little munchkin and his incredibly blue eyes, which I'm seeing more and more of each day. It only feels right to share them with you, too...







Friday, January 25, 2013

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

I know I owe you guys a post and I've spent the last few weeks trying to come up with something meaningful to share. I want to prevent this blog from becoming a series of journal entries because, let's be honest, that would bore the pants off most people, especially me. And so I haven't said much because I really don't have anything to say. Quinn is about as typical as a baby can be: he eats, he sleeps, he poops, he's learning to smile (that last one is worth celebrating, but I've yet to catch it on camera or even determine if it's a real smile or just gas-related. I'm going with the former). That said, he rarely cries and gives me little trouble. Atticus was the same way, so all my fellow moms can go ahead and curse my good fortune now. I will admit that I'm not familiar with the stressful, sleepless existence that most parents of newborns experience. Not that we don't have 3am feedings and diaper changes; it's just a little easier to handle than the picture I was painted before having a baby. I know, you hate me. That's fine. I promise to share the pure chaos that is chasing a toddler when he learns to walk. Now THAT is hard. Come to think of it, it still is. Atticus often ignores important instructions that are intended to keep him safe and keep my living room floor from becoming his next fingerpainting canvas. But those stories are for a different post entirely...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Photo Shoot!

I grabbed my camera the other day to shoot some pictures of the kiddos and got some pretty great shots. Granted, I had to bribe Atticus with the promise of cookies, but I've learned that parenting two kids requires me to completely abandon my ideal behaviorist tactics and take the easy route sometimes. Good thing I did, because Atticus is way cuter when he's smiling.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip it's Been

Ok, so it's only been 9 days since Quinn was born, but given all we've experienced in that week and a half, it feels like a lifetime. Shortly after my last post about Quinn's birth, the nursery pediatrician came in to let us know that he would be moved to the NICU because he had failed to get his jaundice and breathing under control. Despite expecting a long NICU stay upon our little dude's arrival, we were still pretty devastated. They suspected an infection and wanted to get him on antibiotics as soon as possible as a proactive measure. Infections and illnesses in newborns are serious business, especially in preemies and infants with Down syndrome.

Sad little guy...
One of the most challenging aspects of his NICU stay was that I had been discharged even though Quinn wasn't allowed to go home. Brian and I decided to spend that first night by our little guy's side, trying to sleep on the painfully narrow bench (Brian slept on the floor) amidst the constant beeps and whirs of the machines in the room. Because Quinn was under the billi lights, the function of which was to break down the high billirubin that causes jaundice into smaller particles for his liver to process, he wasn't allowed to eat or be swaddled. Naturally, he wasn't too thrilled about this prospect after spending the last 8 months snuggled in the dark and quiet. So in addition to the machinery, we also were forced to endure his unhappy grunts and whines. Thankfully, our nurse Priscilla was amazing and took great care of all of us (looking back, I think we needed more from her than Quinn ever did). She was constantly reassuring and positive, patiently reminding us that, despite the wires and tubes sprouting from our dude's body, he was in good shape and would be on the mend soon.