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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 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 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.


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.


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.

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...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Raising Spiritually-Full Children Without a Specific Faith.

Brian and I have made no secret about our Agnosticism. We are both former Catholics who spent some time considering our own religious paths independently, only to come to similar conclusions around the time we met in college. Our beliefs are pretty simple in that we refuse to define them. We are not godless, so to speak; I believe that there is likely some greater force in this world. But I struggle in giving this force an identity. And despite what some may doubt to be true, I am spiritually full.

Interestingly enough, I teach in a very conservative and religious community. My students are church-goers and take pride in their faith. And I respect this. While it’s not what I believe, I admire the power of their convictions and the people they are as a result of their religious upbringing. These kids are honest, thoughtful, selfless, and hard-working. They are true Christians. They are, for all intents and purposes, everything I want my children to become. 

So when Atticus mentioned Jesus the other day, I realized it’s time to start thinking about faith and its role in my boys’ upbringing. I will not force them to ascribe to a certain way of religious thinking, but I will encourage them to be spiritually full. In other words, I don’t really care what they choose to believe so long as they’re thinking about it, questioning it, and ascribing to a system of beliefs that honors kindness, empathy, and compassion for those around them. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like yet; we’re still ironing out the kinks. But we do know that a few tenets that will guide us along the way:

1. Religious Education

The first step towards respect is understanding. In college, I was in the middle of a civil, yet somewhat heated debate with my devoutly-Baptist friend. When I asked him why he was so sure his faith was the right one and not, say, Islam, he plainly told me “I don’t need to know about that because it isn’t the true path to God.” I can’t abide cyclical reasoning and at that moment I ended the conversation. But I continued to be amazed by how many religiously righteous people new next-to-nothing about faiths other than their own. It astounded me. So my children’s spiritual education will involve visits to temples, mosques, churches, and other houses of worship. They will learn how people all over the world choose to honor their god(s), not just those who live in our community. I wish more young people took the time to explore other religions; those who acknowledge and respect differing outlooks are the peace-makers, the problem-solvers, and the pioneers.

2. A Commitment to service

One of the noblest aspects of organized religion is their commitment to service to those in need. Homeless shelters, food and clothing drives, and soup kitchens are often the work of religious groups because most religions preach the need for selflessness and service. My children will learn the value of self-sacrifice in an effort to help those less fortunate, and we will volunteer both our time and material possessions to see these lessons through. Because developing empathy and helping those in need is good for the soul and society. 

3. Open dialogue

I was always told to avoid conversations about money, politics, and religion at the dinner table because I could never change a person’s mind on any of those topics. And for the most part, I agree. I’m not going to debate the Book of Revelations with my colleagues over lunch, but I do want my children to feel free to ask questions. I want to erase the notion that religion is a taboo discussion, especially if it's conducted with a level of mutual respect. I want them to open their minds to the many possibilities. And if they choose to have faith in a certain dogma after exhausting every query, then so be it. I respect that. But to believe in something without questioning and searching for truth is not really believing in much at all. It’s apathy. The questions might never be answered in absolutes. Heck, they might not be answered at all, but at least they’re being considered.

4. Connecting with nature

With our over-connected world and the constant onslaught of flashing, buzzing solicitation, it’s easy to lose one’s sense of inner peace. I am a firm believer in the power of nature. In fact, I might even argue that nature IS my religion. So taking the time to literally smell the roses and find my inner dialogue is an important part of my spiritual health. I’m not anti-technology. My kids watch TV. We live in the smoggy inner-city and drive our SUV to work and school every day. But I also instill in my children the idea that nature has power. It is a reminder of where we came from and where we are headed. So we need to take time to be outside, walk to the park, hike in the mountains, camp at the lake, swim in the ocean. It’s when we realize just how small we are in this vastness of nature that we can truly begin to consider why we’re here in the first place.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quinn's Hand Surgery

I am writing this post at the ungodly hour of 5am from the lumpy armchair next to Quinn's hospital bed. Our little trooper just underwent hand surgery to release the syndactyly (fused fingers) on his right hand. While it was a relatively routine procedure, his breathing and oxygen levels are often a cause for concern, so the doctors made a last-minute decision to keep him overnight and observe his progress. True to form, he's surprised us all and spent most of the night either smiling or sleeping. Since I've been here since 7am yesterday morning, I haven't done much of either.

newborn Quinn's adorable little fingers.
The story of Quinn's syndactyly is one of my favorites. Those of you who have been following this blog for a while likely remember the chaos surrounding Quinn's birth. The Mighty was very early and arrived quickly; so quickly, in fact, that Brian almost missed it. Due to his prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis and a number of other concerning findings during my closely-monitored pregnancy, an entire NICU team was on hand in the delivery room. When Quinn came screaming into this world, he was quickly passed to the head nurse for a look over. He was, after all, early, and babies with Down syndrome often have problems with their lungs, heart, or bowels that go unnoticed until birth. Brian and I were waiting patiently but nervously for the nurse to let us know how our little guy was doing. It seemed like ages before she turned to us with a very serious look on her face: "I want to tell you what I'm seeing," she said gravely. I swear the patients three floors below us could hear our sharp intake of breath. My mind was spinning in those seconds regarding all the things she could tell us: that he was in heart failure or barely breathing or that his lungs formed outside of his chest.

"His middle fingers are fused on his right hand."

"That's IT?!" we said together. We can do this. Hell, as die-hard Texas Longhorn fans, we were pleased to see he was born with his horns up! Those fingers became a symbol for me of all the things that could have been wrong, but weren't. Of all the things that doctors and professionals would warn me might happen. All the worst-case scenarios we'll face over the years. Because Quinn has Down syndrome, many people in this world will expect him to be a burden medically, physically, and intellectually. It was like Quinn was born with not one, but two middle fingers in the air, challenging anyone to stereotype him or his abilities.

Of course, despite my love for those fingers, the right course of action was to give him full mobility in his right hand. Five fingers are better for fine motor skills than four and, even though the surgery and 6-week recovery will be tough on all of us, it was the right thing to do. And with the help of Quinn's incredible Grandma Cathy, who is a physical therapist at Shriner's Hospital in Houston, we had one of the foremost hand specialists in the country perform the procedure. Our guy was in good hands (pun intended) and is recovering well.

Now if only they'd let us go home so Mama can get some sleep...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer 2014, so far

As a teacher, I begin every summer with a list of goals to accomplish. Some are complex, while others, like a quick blog post, are simple. And before I know it, I'm watching the end of summer approach at a break-necking pace without having done much besides building Legos with Atticus in my pajamas. Even at naptime, I struggle to simply reheat my last cup of coffee for the fourth time and check my email. That said, there are a few developments that deserve mention here, so here's my half-assed attempt at productivity.

I. Vacation:

Every other Christmas, my family decides to forgo gift-giving and spend our money on a vacation instead, because experience and togetherness beat stuff any day of the year, but this is especially true at Christmas. This year, we decided to head to Jackson Hole, WY over the summer to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. And let me bluntly say that it. was. awesome. Surreal, even. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves instead of driveling on:

II. Quinn:

Quinn's progress the past few months has left me speechless. Gone is the baby I knew. He is scooting faster than I can catch him, pulling himself to stand, and even saying a few words. I'm seeing his little personality blossom and it's incredibly fun to watch. He's social, happy, and dangerously curious. And, just like his mother brother, he has a tendency to get comically frustrated over seemingly insignificant things. But that's pretty normal for his age as he learns to manipulate the world around him.

He's scheduled for surgery in a few weeks at Shriner's Hospital here in Houston to separate his fused middle fingers on his right hand. While we've always loved that he was born with his "horns up" (hook 'em), full dexterity is imperative these next few years as he further develops his fine motor skills. The surgery is pretty straight-forward, but he'll be in a full cast for two months as he heals from the procedure. We'll keep you posted on that front.

III. Atticus

Atticus turned four in June and, like many four-year-olds, he wants to either a). do everything by
himself when we're in a mad rush to walk out the door (have you ever watched a small child put his shoes on? It's an interminable process), or b). insist that I get him something the moment I sit down. But I can never meet all his needs in one trip. First it's juice. When I finallly fill his cup and get back to what I was doing, then he wants a snack, so I get it for him and sit back down. And then he needs help with his puzzle. And then he spilled the juice. On the couch. The carpet. His clothes. You get the point. I'm never sitting down for long.

But annoying habits aside, Atticus is increasingly inquisitive and imaginative.We're pushing letters and phonics right now to hopefully have him reading by the spring. We've instituted a "letter of the day" this summer in which we focus on a letter and activities that begin with that letter. For example, on "C Day" we baked cookies for our friends and neighbors because "C" is for "cookie" and "caring." It's been a fun way to pass the dog days of summer.

IV. Brian and Me

We're gradually eating our way through our new neighborhood and loving every minute of it. Granted, our wallets and waistlines need a break before they both bust, so we're spending the rest of the summer trying to finish house projects and visit with friends. We recognize these are our last relaxing moments before school starts in the fall, and this year promises to be the busiest yet with the boys' new school schedule and insanely high tuition. But these are the sacrifices we signed up for when we became parents, so we'll take it in stride.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Has Quinn Changed your Perspective on Down Syndrome?

I'll be the first to admit, I was devastated upon receiving Quinn's diagnosis because I was harboring old stereotypes and misinformation about what Down syndrome meant. If you read the post I wrote immediately after our doctor made the call about Quinn's designer genes, you can see this clearly in my writing. I assumed my life would never be "normal" again. I assumed my child would be unable to perform even simple tasks like walking, speaking, or reading. And even though I pride myself in being an educated person with progressive thoughts, I was truly ignorant about the realities of Ds until Quinn came along. And I've learned that I was not alone in this attitude. I've had students ask me if Quinn will ever be able to learn, and strangers question whether or not I intend to "put him in a home" when he's older. Their innocent questions, while cringe-worthy, are steeped in the same ignorance I had before Down syndrome became a part of my reality, hence my desire to raise awareness about what Down syndrome really is. There's nothing like experience and education to put things into perspective. Down syndrome is no longer the scary thing I thought it would be two years ago and I see Quinn's similarities to other kids his age far more than I see his differences, and I hope that I've conveyed that message to you.

So I'm curious, in the time that I've been blogging and sharing my experiences in raising Quinn, has it changed your perspective on Down syndrome? Have I raised awareness about what my son is capable of becoming in the future? And is there anything that I should add to my posts to help you better understand what Ds is all about? I'd love to read your comments below!

Full disclosure: I totally stole this idea from a friend's Facebook profile, but I figure the more of us who ask, the more we'll know (cue shooting star graphic and inspirational jingle).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Horizons

There have been some big changes here at the homestead, the most notable being our new home. When we moved to Houston in the summer of 2012, we were daunted by the task of buying a house in the city's crazy real estate market, a task made even more difficult by the fact that we were still living in Austin at the time. We were outbid on several offers, and lacked the resources or time to look in our most desired neighborhoods. Brian and I have always claimed that we could live in two places and two places only: the heart of the city or the middle of nowhere. Anything in between just wasn't for us. So we surprised ourselves when we bought a house in the West Houston suburbs where I grew up. It's a great little neighborhood and our house was a great little house, but despite its proximity to both our jobs, we weren't terribly happy there.

The Rise School of Houston
About six months later, we received Quinn's diagnosis and learned about The Rise School of Houston, a developmental preschool for children with Down syndrome. We took a tour when Quinn was very young and immediately put his name on the wait list; we had fallen in love with the school after our visit. With their integrated music, speech, and physical therapy, as well as a 3:1 student to teacher ratio and a gorgeous facility, we knew immediately that this was the best thing for Quinn's formative early years. The only problem (other than the insanely high tuition rate; that's a discussion for another post) is that it was on the opposite end of town from us, but ironically close to where we wanted to live when we first moved to Houston. Nevertheless, we went back and forth on ways to make it work from our home in the 'burbs without ever coming up with a solution. And after some reflection on where we were at the time, Brian and I made the decision to move to central Houston. We craved museums, coffee shops, and the charm of bungalow-lined streets. We missed seeing bicycles and independently-owned businesses. We missed the pulse and general weirdness that comes with an inner-city neighborhood and all its different perspectives. And, of course, it was the best decision for Quinn because it meant he could attend The Rise School.

We made an offer on the second house we saw, a darling 1928 Victorian bungalow on a corner lot in the an historic section of the Houston Heights, complete with a garage apartment (for extra income; our summer tenant moves in today) and a wrought-iron fence. We weren't exactly ready to move; we had just started looking to get an idea of the market, but just like when we toured the Rise School, we immediately fell in love with this house. When our offer was accepted, we rushed to get our other house listed. We were really lucky that the Houston real estate market was even hotter than when we bought the house less than two years prior, and we had two offers over asking price within three hours! Our agent said she had never seen anything like it.


We officially moved in to our new home last weekend and are finally starting to feel settled. We absolutely adore living in the heart of the city and being so close to all the things we love. And we love the charm and quirkiness of an historic home. Our upstairs AC is on the fritz, our behemoth dog broke the flimsy single-paned glass in our dining room window, and the water pressure makes Atticus's squirt gun look like a fire hose. But, hey, we have a clawfoot tub, an old front porch, and four capable hands that aren't afraid to get a little dirty.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Group Hug, Everybody!

Wow. Just, wow!

My recent post in response to the troll has now gone viral and I am so unbelievably grateful to the many people who have sent messages and left comments of support and love from all over the world. I can't even begin to express my gratitude; I wish I had time to respond to all your messages personally, but due to the overwhelming influx of support, this is simply impossible. So instead, please accept this post as one giant group hug. You all make this world better with your positive outlooks and selfless willingness to reach out to our family. THANK YOU!

And Quinn? He's just tickled:

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. 

I don't want to make assumptions about you, but I can guess from your immaturity and ignorance that you know little about the helplessness that parents feel when caring for a sick infant with respiratory issues. 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: 


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.