Thursday, August 17, 2017

Merryn's Epic Fixer Upper Party: Part 2

After months of requesting a "Chip and Jo" birthday party, and after weeks of planning, Merryn's party day had finally arrived.  

The cuisine: Chips and JoJo's (sloppy joe's) compliments of Mama Hop.  The buffet decor perfection was compliments of our wonderful neighbor, Kyle, who threatened me not to move anything a single inch!

Party favors included a child-sized hammer and birdhouse to assemble.
The "photo booth" was a huge success featuring a backdrop re-purposed from my friend, Erin's, wedding and various Fixer Upper related props.



Of course all of the props in the world couldn't make a cluster of children gather together, face the same way, and smile simultaneously.  Hey, they're cute and sweet as can be, but they're not robots; especially not mine! 
Erin, kindergarten teacher and crafty genius, came up with a super fun project where the children covered a canvas with "shiplap" (or "Chiplap," if you will).  

Then, the kids applied a magnetic strip and spelled their names with magnetic alphabet letters.
The finished products were adorable and unique - just like the party guests.
That brings us to the cake; Merryn specifically requested a "Chip and Jo" rainbow ice cream cake with the plastic balloons on it.  I flipped through the book of children's birthday cake options at Dairy Queen and shockingly, I didn't find the page featuring cakes with popular HGTV personalities on them.  But the young lady behind the counter assured me that they would make it happen.
And boy did they deliver!  The cake was executed flawlessly and it tasted delicious.
Then it was time to reveal the big surprise.  If you read the last post, "Merryn's Epic Fixer Upper Party: Part 1," you're aware of the crippling anxiety that flooded my soul when Merryn requested a party theme that required creativity, craftiness, and several trips to Michael's.  But fortunately for me, we have lots of talented friends with innovative ideas on Instagram.  So I threw it out there and requested input.  What followed exceeded any fathomable expectation.  You see, one of our InstaFriends, Marianne, passed along our information to her friend, an executive producer for the show, "Fixer Upper."  The next day, I received the sweetest email in my inbox with this video attached and I squealed at the top of my lungs!  Travis quickly lowered the volume on my phone and suggested we save this as a surprise for Merryn.  And that's exactly what we did...
And as if that personal greeting wasn't enough, Chip and Joanna Gaines sent Merryn a whole box full of gifts from their Magnolia shop in Waco, TX.  What a sincerely kind-hearted and thoughtful couple Chip and Jo are.  And they clearly work with an equally benevolent team.  So from Marianne, to Michael, to Chip and Joanna, we'd like to extend our heartfelt gratitude for making Merryn's 6th birthday extra special!  Goodness knows, our precious, little Mother Hen deserves it. 
Merryn unwrapped many additional gifts that appealed to her unique and innovative interests.  
Then, it was time for us to reveal the product of six years of love, dedication, and blessings.  I ordered an enormous poster of Baby Merryn (is it me or was she absolutely delicious?!) and Travis and I stood on either side of it.  In true Chip & Jo fashion, I said, "Merryn, when we first met you, you were practically bald, you drooled a lot, and you pooped in your pants.  Six years later, you are mobile, wise, caring, compassionate, and completely potty trained; let's reveal the new Merryn!"  Travis and I then pushed the poster back to reveal six year-old Merryn.
At that point, it was time for the customary piñata.  Except, for the life of me, I couldn't find a piñata in the shape of a house.  So I appealed to my creative genius friend, Erin, and she walked us through the steps of making our own paper mache piñatas.  And just like on "Fixer Upper," we handed the kids a hammer and let them have "Demo Day." They gleefully whacked the daylights out of that beautiful piñata with Chip and Jo in the windows...

Perhaps the most creative and hilarious idea of all, came directly from Mama Hop.  She commissioned a local confectionery to create milk chocolate cockroaches for the party.  Who could forget the episode where Chip ate the cockroach?!  Brilliant, I tell you.  Absolutely priceless.
After the party, Merryn and her friends burned off all of the sugar they consumed in our swim spa.  The perfect ending to a wonderful party.
Special thanks to everyone who contributed innovative ideas, enthusiastic greetings, and birthday love to Merryn.  This was a birthday we'll never forget!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Merryn's Epic Fixer Upper Party: Part 1


Disclaimer: While this blog is typically devoted to the chromosomally enhanced members of our family, an exception must be made just this once.

It all started with a little note.  Merryn, bless her heart, left me a note and $5 of her own money, asking to go on a "Mom + Merryn" date for birthday party supplies.  
With it, she left a list of her desired supplies.  You see, Merryn has been talking about a "Fixer Upper" themed birthday party for months. 
 "Fixer Upper" is Merryn's favorite show.  We don't watch much tv around here but when we do, that's what she wants to watch.   Why would a five year-old be interested in an HGTV show about remodeling houses?  Heck if I know.  The kid is essentially a 40 year-old trapped in a 5 year-old's body.  She is an old soul; mature beyond her years, considerate, intelligent, kind and compassionate.  And even though I don't have a crafty bone in my body, and a trip through Michael's gives me major anxiety, I was committed to making this happen for her because she is so deserving.  

I posted these sweet notes to Instagram asking for suggestions on how to implement a "Fixer Upper" themed birthday party for a six year-old.  So many creative suggestions came pouring in along with one incredible surprise that will be revealed in Part II of this blog post.  

 So Travis and I collaborated on this funny little invitation...
Then Travis left town for his dream vacation of golfing for a week in Scotland with his dad and brother.  He left me some birdhouse kits that he'd purchased and asked if I was confident handling the rest of the party planning.  No, not really; but fortunately, I have some incredibly creative friends who led the way. 

Enter Erin - a truly talented kindergarten teacher.  She sat down with that birdhouse kit and quickly decided that there was no way a bunch of 5 year-olds would be able to manage this craft quickly and independently at a sugar-fueled birthday party.  But this savvy woman always has a plan...

We made a list and went to Michael's and she whizzed around grabbing things from various aisles while I breathed into a paper bag and repeatedly asked "Can we go home yet?" 

Let the party planning commence.  It's all hands on deck when it comes to throwing the ultimate "Chip & Jo" party.  First project: create a pinata using paper mache.  For a mess averse mom, this process required me to dig deep into my patience reserves.  
Thankfully, Cousin Abby was in town with YaYa and she rolled her sleeves up and dove right in.  Major thanks to Cousin Abby!
 Of course you can't have a "Fixer Upper" party without shiplap (or "Chiplap," as Merryn calls it).  Erin couldn't believe that I've never spray painted before.  
 Then of course we had to hot glue the paper mache pieces together to form a house shaped pinata in honor of "Demo Day"  This was one of many late nights that myself, Erin, and my wonderful neighbor, Kyle, spent party planning.
 Of course Merryn wanted to be involved as much as possible and she did a terrific job with her assigned tasks.
 Finally, it came down to the wire, and we had all of the elements we needed to carry out this awesome soiree.  Erin even raided her wedding decor for lanterns and mason jars and photo back drops to help create ambiance.  Kyle set up the decor, adding lighting, signs, and a gorgeous display of food.  Mama Hop spent the morning of the party cooking.
Like I said, it takes a village to host a fabulous event.  Thank goodness we had Mama Hop 
 ...and Aunt Leanne in town.  
Here's your chromosomally enhanced photo.  If you need more where that came from, check out our Instagram: CatfishWithKetchup

Tune in next time where we reveal all of the party pictures and videos including the one surprise that Merryn will remember for the rest of her life. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

And People Think Having a Kid with Down Syndrome is Hard...

The other night, we were having an informal cook out with the neighbors.  Merryn was running in and out of the house, filling up a dozen cups of water, dripping it everywhere, failing to shut the door 90% of the time, welcoming every fly in a 5 mile radius to come on in and enjoy the amenities like unlimited air conditioning...Lydia had cast her plate aside, chunks of hot dog painstakingly cut into choking-hazard-proof bites all over the driveway, and she was sprawled atop the yellow roof of a red Little Tikes car, having an epic threenager tantrum because our neighbors' son had the audacity to take a turn driving it and she was NOT having it.  Josie was calmly perched in a kid-sized lawn chair, politely using her utensils to happily eat the meal that had been placed before her - vegetables and all.  I looked over at my neighbor, gesturing to the little blond beacon of calm amidst the storm of chaos and joked, "And people think having a kid with Down syndrome is hard..."
I actually make this joke quite frequently as Josie's mellow temperament and leisurely pace are a stark contrast to the noisy, high-energy, demanding pace of her sisters.  
 My mom always said that Leanne was so easy to please.  As a child, she had a select handful of items that kept her happy and entertained for hours - namely, Little People and the corresponding school bus.  Likewise, Josie is content with a few simple favorites - she likes singing animals, music, and bubbles.  She never seems to get tired of any of those things.  In a world of constant consumption and instant gratification (ever read "Berenstain Bears Get The Gimmies"?) it is refreshing to raise a child who isn't as easily sucked into that culture.  Simple things make her happy.  Leanne is that way to this day.
So IS parenting a child with Down syndrome hard?  Let me level with you: parenting in general is hard.  So, so hard.  I can't tell you how many moments I've felt like I was not cut out for this job; numerous instances when I'm convinced that I'm failing miserably.  There have been scenarios when I know I have not been the image of the mother that I want my kids to remember, but rather a story that they'll share with their therapist in 20 years.  And I'm only 7 years into this journey!  I'm sure a more seasoned mother would tell me that I haven't seen anything yet!
The thing about raising kids is that regardless of chromosome count, they all have different needs.  They all have different strengths and weaknesses.  And as a parent, you don't tally all of the different ways you adapt to support each individual child throughout the day; it just happens naturally.

Sure, if I look back on it, raising a kid with Down syndrome has had many unique hardships, primarily because Josie has had many different health issues that I felt ill equipped to deal with.  But she was my child and I assumed the role of honorary medical professional; it was never a title I aspired to, but I learned because that's what was required to provide the care that Josie needed.  But all kids with Down syndrome are different.  Not every child with Down syndrome went through the buffet of health issues and took a little helping of everything.  Some kiddos with Down syndrome are born perfectly healthy.  And guess what: some typically developing kids are born with health issues.  Typically developing children can have heart defects and respiratory problems, too.  

I recently had a good friend look at Lydia endearingly and say "I miss that age."  I spewed my beverage across the counter and sputtered "You can have her."  Of course I was joking, but I've come to realize that toddlers are not my strength.  Before Merryn matured into "Mother Hen," we affectionately called her "Hurricane Merryn".  She was on a mission to destroy everything in her path, including my sanity.  Of course we managed to somehow survive, and by age four, I decided I would keep Merryn and I haven't looked back.  Of course we thought Merryn was a challenging 3 year-old...until we met Lydia.  
When Lydia tries my patience, I remind myself that I just have to make it through the year.  Age four will be better (I hope...for the sake of my liver).  
But Josie didn't experience ages three and four in the same defiant, destructive, tantrum-throwing, patience-testing manner.  Of course she didn't - everyone knows that kids with Down syndrome are perpetually happy.  Just kidding!  That's a myth.  Josie never cried much (now whining - that's another story).  Josie didn't seek out trouble; in fact her gross motor aversion ensures that she stays safely planted on her rear end for most of the day.  Balance and stability are not strengths for Josie so climbing was never an issue.  But that's just Josie.  Some kids with Down syndrome love to run, climb, and explore.
All kids with Down syndrome are different.  All kids are different! 

Isn't it funny how siblings can be raised in the same household, by the same people, with the same values and rules, and still turn out to be very distinctive and individuals - sometimes total opposites?  It's because we're all born with our own personalities - a Down syndrome diagnosis doesn't change that.  Josie is our most laid-back and mellow kid.  That's just the way it worked out.  

Kids don't come with instruction manuals.  When you enter the vocation of parenthood, you truly have no idea what is about to come your way.  But with a heart full of unconditional love and a little patience, you've got the tools you need.  (But keep a bottle of wine on hand - just in case).

Friday, June 23, 2017

Aunt Leanne Turns 40

Greetings!  Happy Summer 2017 to everyone!  We kicked our summer off with the most memorable bash of the last decade: Leanne's 40th Birthday Party!
We haven't attend a soiree this awesome since...well, since Leanne's 30th birthday party.  Only this time, Travis and I came with 3 additional guests that didn't exist when Leanne turned 30 (wink).  And of course when we celebrate another decade of Leanne, Mama Hop goes ALL OUT! 
You know, she commissions personalized invitations, reserves the country club, hires a DJ, takes out an ad in the paper, rents a billboard with Leanne's picture on it...(okay, maybe she didn't go THAT far, but hyperbole is always necessary when it comes to Mama Hop).  But even with all of the aforementioned pomp and circumstance, a party isn't a party without fun-loving guests who show up ready to celebrate and cut a rug.  It's a good thing that Leanne has a tight knit circle of friends who wrote the book on how to have a ball!
There were so many handsome suitors who were ready to boogie.  You might recognize this handsome face: Mike! 

You know it was a terrific party if Travis hit the dance floor!



Our beloved Uncle Jim was there.  There are no words to describe what a blessing this man has been to our family.  When our dad (Jim's brother) died, Jim offered invaluable fatherly guidance and support and he led us through that difficult time.  He has a heart of gold and we are so glad that he could join us.
  Uncle Jim's two kids are our only first cousins and both of them traveled to be there to celebrate Leanne along with sweet cousins on my mom's side as well.

Here's a brief video clip that does a pretty good job of summing up the vibe.  No party is complete without a conga line!
In addition to celebrating Leanne's birthday, we had a belated birthday celebration for Lydia (AKA "Biddy").  Biddy just turned 3 at the end of May and Mama Hop indulged her with clothes and dolls!
As we've come to expect, The Divas had one love fest after another.

We also got to see Leanne and her friends participate in Special Olympics bowling.  I know I've said it before but if you ever have a chance to attend a Special Olympics event, please do.  The atmosphere of sincere teamwork and encouragement will lift your spirits and make your heart soar!

We got to spend a little extra time with Cousin Steve and his delightful wife, Jen.  Their two kiddos, Elias and Emily, are so much fun; it's no wonder when you're with their fun-loving parents.  Who doesn't love a 6 and a half foot grown man flying high on the swings?! 
We really enjoy their company.  Someday, I'm going to convince Jen to do a guest blog post because she will have you rolling on the floor with her smart and sassy wit.  
Perhaps the best part of the day was gathering the children for a group photo.  If I can't get 3 children to look and smile at the camera, I'm not sure why we expected better results by adding two more hot, sweaty, and sleep-deprived kiddos to the mix.  But I think we can all agree that the unstaged photos are the most frame worthy.  This is real life, Folks.  Real kids.  And we wouldn't have 'em any other way!
And just in case this one post hasn't showcased enough of the awesome personalities that we're fortunate enough to surround ourselves with, let's just blow it out of the water by adding blogosphere celebrity, Brenna Westlake, to the mix!  As geriatric as it makes me feel to admit it, I used to babysit Brenna's mother, Courtney, years and years and YEARS ago.  How cool is it that our kiddos now have an opportunity to play together?!
Brenna has the sweetest little disposition and she did something that just warmed my heart.  In addition to welcoming Leanne's generous displays of affection, Leanne told Brenna, "I love you."  Guess what Brenna said: "I love you, too."  What a cool kid!
One of the funniest videos (in my humble opinion) from the weekend involved a conversation between Merryn and Brenna.  They were discussing Kindergarten and I suggested Merryn give advice to Brenna about Kindergarten...
Those of you who know and love our "Mother Hen" can appreciate how she has apparently been cautioned by teachers to reserve her advice and allow classmates to complete their own work, without assistance.  I can only imagine how difficult it can be for Merryn to sit back and allow others to blaze their own paths and make their own mistakes, without her helpful suggestions.  But it made me laugh.  HARD!  

Overall, it was a fantastic visit and a fabulous party to celebrate the world's BEST sister and aunt.  
Leanne, 40 looks good on you, Girlfriend!