Mac-a-doodle-doo!

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Keegan Joy

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Johnny

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Milestones for Mommy

I started running in September. 




There. I admitted it. 

It wasn't something I wanted to do, but it was something I very much needed. Our miscarriage left me desperate for change,  change mentally, change physically, and change in my overall attitude. I literally told myself, "If you aren't pregnant you may as well become a runner." 

What?!?

I am not sure how that logic works, but it did. I fought the logistics for awhile. I told myself it couldn't be done because kids and heat and effort. At the end of each day though, no matter how much I walked or what little exercises I did around the house, it wasn't enough. I have been carrying doubt and what I termed as leftover Johnny weight, but, honestly, some of that weight was gained after he was delivered. At least 15 pounds, if not more.  

Thus, I began. I went slowly and cautiously. I took my walks with a double stroller and added in intervals of jogging. I added in longer jogging stretches. I began waking up early to jog/lumber/run by myself. I listened to my body for distance each day rather than what my preconceptions thought was a good run. I began running longer stretches and actually began to crave it. I added in weights and missed running on the days I didn't do it. I found a few videos (check out YouTube's The Fit Law) that totally met my workout needs on days it was too rainy or Matt wasn't here in the mornings. I stretched longer and longer runs. I didn't talk about it online because I was afraid I would give it up. It was easier to slide it casually into conversation in person than have accountability in "print". 

I saw change. Change in my body. Change in my skin. Change in my sleeping habits. Change in my overall  health. Change in my motivation. Change in my ability to process. All for the better. It's, for the most part, me and the pavement and whatever issues or concerns or prayers I want to bring along. 



It's not easy. It took awhile to be consistent and to work up to longer runs. It took a lot of effort, but every grudge filled step was worth it. Most of my runs are between 2.5&3.5 miles. I set a goal for myself at New Years to run 5 miles in a single run before the end of January. I attempted it today and told myself each step of the way that I was in control. That this goal meant nothing to anyone else but myself. That this was all for me and nobody else had any say in what I did or how far I took it. I got motivated at the end and ran 5.85. 

Then I felt like I was going to throw up and asked Matt to check and make sure I still had legs and a skull. 

I am blessed to have a husband that cares enough for my health that he encourages me to get out for my workouts. It is helpful to have his support. While I would like to work up to pushing a stroller for a 5k, I wouldn't have gotten this far physically and emotionally without the time to myself. I don't feel guilty for making this time. Usually it's before the kids get up and even when it isn't, it teaches them an important lesson that Mommy's health is important too. It makes me a better mom, not just because I have had that quiet time for myself, but also because I have more energy and I'm more likely to do activities with them. We have also been getting out more as a family. Some evenings involve long walks and races and enjoying time together. All for the better again!

I have new goals, none of which involve paying for a race or running anything that ends in "-athon". I still have work to do in the weight department, but I like the progress I've made and that it is with changes I can manage. I'm not punishing  myself by forbidding foods that I love. Life still needs to be lived! I get to go shopping...in my old wardrobe that hasn't seen the light of day for four years! 

It's a big milestone, or five of them, but I'm looking forward to seeing where the health benefits go from here. 

Putting it Out There

Yesterday we joined some friends at a local burger place that has an outdoor play area for the kids. It was a decent day, the food was great, and the company better. One of the kids we were with adores Johnny and takes him off to play with him any chance she gets. I love her heart for him. As we supervised from across the lawn, we took notice of the other kids running around and all took turns counting to make sure everyone was accounted for. After some time, MacKenzie came over to me and said that a pair of older boys (9 or 10 years old) said that "Johnny walked funny". 


It's a first. 

Our first of many. 

Things have been said off hand to me, by adults. But this was the first time the girls heard a comment made by someone young. It will happen again. It will happen to our faces. It will happen behind our backs. It will be innocent comments like this one. It will also be not so nice insults. 

Honestly, I'm surprised it took this long for our first comment like this. And I'm thankful for such an easy comment to work our way into. I pass no judgement on the boys. I wasn't there to hear what they had to say, how it was said, nor did I know what they meant. And, like I told MacKenzie, Johnny DOES walk funny. Because he is learning how to walk and he is unstable. Are there different ways the boys could have worded that comment to be kinder? Yes. But, I don't think it was a taunt. Not this time. 



I'm thankful because my girl knew enough in her heart that, what those boys said didn't sit right with her and she made the decision to come tell me. We had a conversation about it being ok to observe differences between people, but ensuring that we are being kind about it. We discussed that she did the right thing, listening to her heart to come tell me, and that there will be times I ask her not to worry about it, times that I address it between the two of us, and other times that I talk to the others directly. I am thankful because we are equipping our kids with language that allows them to ask genuine questions out of a thirst for knowledge and encourages them to voice their concerns over injustices (both legitimate and embellished) that they observe. 

I was caught off guard by the whole interaction, not expecting, as I stuffed my face with burger and brisket cheese fries to deal with a milestone of a different kind. But I wasn't sad or upset about what happened. Look at all the victories. The reason the boys even noticed that Johnny was walking funny is because he was trying to walk. The reason he was trying to walk was to play on a typical playground. The reason he was out on the playground was to keep up with friends who adore him and beg me to let him play. The reason we were out to lunch was to spend time with friends who are (along with countless others) walking this journey right alongside us. How could I be upset?



But the biggest part of that, is the fact that he was in a place where he could be observed and interacted with. We put him out there, exposing him to the world, waiting to see what he would do, wanting him to experience as typical of a day as possible. It's a fantastic thing! And part of putting him out there is risking that he may get hurt. He may fall. He may eat dirt. He may struggle. He may fail. He may be "made fun of". For our family, that is part of growing and learning. I would never shy away from a chance for him. Does he need support and modifications sometimes? Absolutely. But there are times when he needs to experience a struggle or hardship for himself. For every offhand comment that is made towards him, there is a chance for an older sister to mature and learn. For every fall, there were stairs or ladders that were conquered. For every fail, there are days of marked progress, small progress, or even just a single step in the right direction. 

I refuse to build castle walls and dig moats around my kids to protect them from the world that exists out there. Instead I work to equip them with the tools they need- strength, courage, bravery, understanding, and communication. I make sure they know they are loved and cherished and send them on their way. 

This was the first of many. There will be harder ones to come. I'm praying for each moment that comes our way. I'm praising God for the great moments we've already had and the many more I know are in store. 

Locke

One of the first questions we got when we began announcing our fourth pregnancy was whether we desired a boy or a girl. Just as with our three, it never mattered. When my stepfather asked, I began to respond with my old fallback, "It doesn't matter as long as he or she is healthy." Then I remembered our boy, how worrisome and fretful his pregnancy was, how erratic his health is, and my realization since having him that even healthy makes no difference. So I stopped myself mid statement and responded "It doesn't matter, God will equip us to care for whomever He needs us to."


I didn't know that a mere two weeks later, I would be done caring for our child. 

It's difficult in so many ways. It feels abstract because of the lack of physical proof and evidence that we had our child with us. Two pregnancy tests are all we have to indicate that he or she was here. But I know that he or she was real, the baby's impact on my body was evident before I even missed my cycle. He or she altered me, causing me to feel woozy for hours each day and gave me increased exhaustion. But the outside world doesn't know that, even Matt, who was as ecstatic and excited as I was, knew our child as a concept rather than a physical being. Because of this, I find grief difficult. Mothers that have lost pregnancies of their own can surely relate, but many others understand that we are sad without comprehending the sense of emptiness that follows the physical presence of that child being removed. I knew he or she was within me, just as sure as if I had held that baby in my arms. 

Grief has been challenging as I celebrate others, rejoicing for their pregnancies and new children. I don't covet their children, just as I have never coveted the expansion of families around us for the past 27 months of our trying to expand ours. It is harder now though. Again, not because I covet their child or want their child, but because I miss mine so much. I think about how I would be moving into elastic waist clothing, would be saving up for teeny diapers, and would be dreadfully (and blissfully) nauseous for large portions of the day. As soon as we saw our positive tests, I began to think about the best moments of new life- the first movements especially when you aren't sure if they count or not, the large belly that becomes a clear sign to the outside world that you are growing life, and labor and delivery which peaks with the child leaving your womb and you feel the weight of him or her in your arms for the first time. I fell asleep imagining how he or she would feel in my arms. 

When it became fairly evident that we would not be holding our child in our arms here, I prayed so many things. I began to plead with God, asking Him to protect our child because I wanted him or her to feel love. In that moment of despair, I felt what I can only describe as still. It wasn't peace or comfort because I very much fretted and cried over what I knew was happening, but God stilled my heart and gave me understanding over my plea. He assured me that my prayer for my child to feel loved was a guarantee  that He could make and one that was more assured than with my other children. My child was delivered from my womb directly to His side, to His presence, and would always know His love alone. This dear one, who was so desired, would never know the fear, pain, or anguish of this world. Selfishly, I wanted (and still want) this baby to know how much we loved, desired, and cared for him or her. But God's love is enough. 

We move, not on, but forward and carry his or her memory with us. The grief comes and go and changes depending on the day and the cause. An offhand statement from one person may cut differently than a similar offhand statement from someone else. Matt was left bewildered with a sobbing wife yesterday as I just proclaimed how much I missed him or her. I treasure my three, and praise God for each of my days with my four. 

We named our baby Locke. It had been our girl list since we were expecting Keegan and, seeing as it can be a boy name as well, felt it appropriate for this cherished one. Locke means a stronghold, I gather resolve from the knowledge of Locke's presence in the stronghold of our God and the knowledge that we will meet Locke there one day. In 2 Samuel it is written "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior- " 

We lean into God as our stronghold, our rock, and the provider of our salvation. Our time with Locke was brief, but he or she will not be forgotten by our family. 

Changing Society

There is a campaign out there to encourage more companies to include kids with special needs in their advertising. I'm not going to link their name because on one hand, I appreciate what they are doing. 


I get it. I do. I want inclusion for my son and other kids with special needs in all aspects of life. I completely agree with toy companies including kids of all needs playing in their advertisements because that is one way of showing adaptability of products. I encourage movies and tv shows that appropriately include kids and adults with special needs because everyone needs representation and to identify with film, it's one way to understand ourselves and everyone likes entertainment!

On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about this specific project. At the end of the day, these are advertisers who are trying to make money, and their choice will be the most beautiful and least shocking of all kids with special needs. These kids will be made up, dressed up, frosted and filtered, and altered as the objective of selling more product is the goal of all campaigns. And I'm ok with that, sort of...

At the end of the day, I could care less if anyone else thinks my kid(s) are beautiful or handsome or cute. Do I dress my kids in certain outfits or clothes in order to look cute or look nice? Of course. Do I lament when in an outfit doesn't elicit "likes" and "comments" from others? Absolutely not. Their clothes may often be conventional, but I have to like them and, now that the girls have a very strong voice, they have to like them too. My questions to the girls when they put together some wild outfit are- Do you like it? Are you comfortable? Is everything covered? That is what matters. There are times I say more about what they wear, for special occasions or nice events, but even then, it is about looking near and put together. Their looks are at the bottom of the list of what I want feedback from others on. 



That is why this campaign bothers me so deeply. Rather than knowing my kids are placed in a product ad that is inherently superficial, in all cases, not just inclusion based cases, I want to know what people's perceptions are beyond that. I want people to question whether my kids try hard, use the intelligence they have, are kind, and love others. I want people to report back on how MacKenzie shared about her love of science, how Keegan shared with a friend, or how Johnny learned a new word from a friend. I want a stranger to comment on how interactive Johnny is rather than how he is a "special sweet angel". I want my friends to provide opportunities for inclusion at play dates (I have great inclusive friends by the way), for inclusion at schools to be the norm when appropriate, and for accommodations to be made to help all people who need a little extra assistance. I want a campaign that is focused on changing our schools so the needs of all kids, from the highest functioning to the lowest can get an education tailored to their level. I want my Facebook feed filled with demands for resources for classroom teachers, administrative staff, and educators and therapists that are helping kids learn livable skills. I want a hashtag that urges people to change their hearts, to be kind, understanding, and encouraging to kids and adults with special needs, rather than just being ok with how they look on the outside. I spend time telling my girls that beauty is subjective, that everyone has aspects to their physical body that is beauty, but that real worth comes from inside of them, so how can I promote a campaign that is about little more than a picture in a magazine or on a billboard? My son and my daughters are worth so much more than a photoshopped smile, regardless of their needs. This campaign speaks about changing advertising, but I see it as molding and changing the most "typical" looking kids into the societal norms that are already standard. 



And really, there is nothing wrong with that. That is what modeling and advertising is, but I caution anyone who thinks they are changing anything because a kid with special needs is included in one season's print ads because of social media pressure. 


First Day

On Monday, Mac started school. It was a day she, and her parents, looked forward to for weeks. She carefully picked out her backpack, lunchbox, first day of school outfit, and requested a family trip to IHOP to commemorate her next step. I could be sad, I could cry, I could voice my frustration that "it all just happened too fast". I could. But I honestly didn't feel that way. I began to feel a little like everything is happening too fast, but our journey with her isn't over, it's just different now. I was too excited to see her move on to school to be sad. And my heart spilled over with pride to see her excitement and confidence. 




As she approached the curb from the car line, she hesitated once. She turned back to the car, momentarily forgetting what her next step was. I knew she would be fine walking into the school and finding her classroom, we had toured and gone over what she should do several times. This was new however, and her looking back, was a normal sign of needed support. I didn't hesitate however, Matt and I have her a big smile from the car and out of my passenger seat I waved her on, silently urging her toward the door. She smiled back, turned, and walked in to the building. 



The reason I don't feel sad or wistful is because this is what I have been preparing her for over the past years. We have known for some time, that we would begin with mainstream schooling for our kids. As we raised her, we worked on the skills she would need to be successful in this setting. We worked to create scenarios where she could test responsibility and independence under our guidance. As appropriate and when safe, we allow, and encourage, her to push the boundaries of her limitations, to see what she is capable of. All of this was to create a confident little girl who walked into the school building by herself AND to  prepare her for obstacles she will face in her world as it grows beyond the confines of campuses in our neighborhood. 

The other day, when spending time with friends of mine, we mentioned the scene in Finding Nemo when the baby turtle, Squirt, gets lost in the current. As Marlin freaks out, the older turtle holds him back, voicing a desire to give the little guy a chance to figure it out. It's one of my favorite scenes in any Disney movie. A friend turned to me and said that the scene was "me", that the scene I mentioned described my parenting. It was an honor to hear because that is what Matt and I both try to do. To never place our kids in danger, but to allow them to grow when and explore when the situation allows. There are times we need to hold their hands and times when they can run ahead of us. There are times when we rescue them off the top of the playground and times when we push them off the diving board. There are times we guide them through friendships and relationships and times they need to figure it out themselves. Finding that balance for our family has been crucial in how we parent.

So Monday was our biggest test yet. She has her own days, her own memories, and large amounts of her own time now. We will be there to support, guide, and teach her along the way, we simply have more help from this point on with teachers, counsellors, and new friends. She WILL stumble along the way, but that's part of the process. We are so proud of her and look forward, expectantly, to hearing everything she wants to share. With a smile and a wave, we send her on her way!


School Next Year

Mac has always been an accelerated learner. We have always proudly boasted new things she has learned or skills she has acquired. We have also always struggled with a plan for her education. We do not have the income for private school at this time and after careful reflection, feel that mainstream public school is our best option. That being said, in preschool and looking forward to elementary school, I was worried about her being challenged enough. She learns quickly, she learns vast amounts of knowledge, and she just plain "gets it". Two years ago we found a preschool program that would allow her to attend the 4/5 year old class instead of the 3 year old. This past year we placed her in a different preschool program, in a 4/5 class in order to learn how to function in a larger group and in a group that would transition well into the school district. Part of the way through the year, she received one on one attention from her high school buddy teacher in addition to working on other assignments with her peers. Throughout her life we have worked on learning with her, sometimes formally with lessons and workbooks, and sometimes informally. She soaks it all up. 


It became evident, a year ago, that she may be too prepared for Kindergarten this upcoming year. After some assessments on our part and advice from several educators we know, we decided to push her further with at home teaching, focusing on reading, writing, and math skills. We looked at the standards for Kinder in our state, had her reading at every opportunity, and nourished her young mind. Simultaneously, we began the process of asking the school district and others in the community about ways a child could accelerate past Kindergarten. Many people wrote us off, told us it wasn't possible, and gave us multitudes of reasons why it was a bad idea. Many of these reasons stung seeing as I was accelerated through school and feel blessed by that decision on the part of my parents and educators. We plugged through, knowing what was best for our girl. We never cared, and still don't, what grade she goes into. We just want what is best for her and wanted to know we tried. Through hours of searching, we discovered the CBE (credit by exam) that our district participates in, even if they do not recommend it for their students. While one would think that knowing about the exam made our journey easier, it proved to remain just as difficult. Countless emails were sent back and forth between myself and the school counselor to find out details, dates, and any information about the format of the test. I never had any intention of teaching Mac how to take the test, but I also didn't want her to go in "blind" to a situation she had never been in before. All the while we prepped her by teaching what she needed to know regardless of what level she would end up in.



We also discussed what "skipping" meant for her and our family. We prayed for a clear path for her and reassured her that the test was merely one measure of her brilliance. Over and over we stated how much we wanted her to do her best, no matter what results ended up presenting themselves. She walked into the test hesitant and walked out confident. She filtered out little details to Matt and I throughout the day, telling us about problems she worked and stories she read. I, unable to let it go, asked numerous questions about different topics on the test, grilling her for information, hoping it would prove insightful for how she did. It was fruitless and I eventually backed off, reassured, once again, that it did not matter. The test was one measure and she would do great in whichever grade she was placed in. 

The results came in on Thursday. To exit Kindergarten, a student must achieve 80% on math and 80% on English/reading. Mac achieved a 90% on both parts, a clear sign that she is ready to move on. We are proud of our girl, mainly because of how hard she worked. Even though learning is easy for her, she still enjoys it and focuses on doing things correctly. We also feel proud of our diligence, of pushing through the beaurocracy and negativity to find the right path for our girl. We made the system work for our family, it's a lesson that may need repeating dozens of times over, especially as we near Johnny's time entering the district this fall. 

While I am proud, my mommy heart is a little wistful. With the opening of that letter, a year flew by. A year that, more than likely, she will not be with us, under our direct care. It is a full year of classroom celebrations, lunches at the school, reading to her class, projects, field trips, class pets, and memories that are no longer accessible to us. There will be no first day of kindergarten picture and no "friends since Kindergarten" to be found. It is a quick jump in our little one's journey. For me, that is how I knew this was the right decision. It would be so easy to keep her in kinder, to have an easy year with her, to enjoy all the time and memories. While kinder would have its own challenges, it would be a smooth transition with easy lessons and less emotional strain. The jump to first means being behind, socially, emotionally, and, in some cases, mentally. But the jump is what she needs. It will be a struggle, at different times and in different ways, for her entire pre college academic career. There will be things she is left out of because of her age. There will be things she has to wait on because of her age. There will be times where more is expected of her because of her presumed age. But it is all worth it. Her mind is worth the challenges. And who better to guide her through the far fewer challenges towards the much more frequent benefits than myself. Because I know all of this and because my heart is breaking a little at that lost year, I know we have done the right thing for our girl. 



And if there were any doubts in our mind, I can just reference her reaction when we told her-
Me: "How do you think you did on your test?"
Mac: "Awesome."
Me: "Yep. You are right. You did great and you are going to move up to first grade!"
Mac: with huge smile on her face and voice dripping with the know it all attitude she got from her mom "Well, yeah. Of course!"

Beach Days!

We spent two mornings at the beach on our vacation. Both on the way to Orlando and on the way back, we stopped in Destin overnight and for a couple hours playing in the sand and in the water. We like the convenience of our hotel, the same one we stayed at two years ago, because of it's close proximity to the water. We only have to walk 100 feet or so to get to the white powdery sand which is helpful for adults and kids!



The girls love the beach and would have gladly spent days running up and down the beach, in and out of the water, and rolling around in the dry sand and the wet sand along the surf. They loved chasing birds and looking for other animals and Mac really liked finding seashells to bring home. Some of them have even been colored!






Johnny loved the water and beach too, enough that he tried to consume it on several occasions. It was slightly disturbing to hear the crunch and crackle of sand between his teeth, knowing there was no way to get it all out until we went back up to our hotel room. He would have gladly scootched into the ocean, never to be seen again, much like Keegan was when she was little. He tried desperately to keep up with the girls, scootching, crawling, and even some standing along the beach to explore along with them. He loved the water and was hardly phased when a wave would knock him over.

 



The beach provided us with some great family time, but it also provided the opportunity for the kids to get out some energy in the middle of our long road trip. We are glad we took the time, instead of pushing straight through each leg of the trip. It also meant that we could stop at Shake's for frozen custard and we discovered a great, Freebird's or Chipotle style place outside of Destin, called Burritos del Sol. Their food was crazy good, really fresh with delicious sauces and toppings (I got a baja style shrimp quesadilla with pineapple salsa). We highly recommend both places for a great treat if you are in the area.