Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 Highlights

Let's see...where were we?  Oh yes, Thanksgiving.  Last week was an adventure, that's for sure.  But we'll just focus on the parts we are thankful for - like a visit from Travis' parents, YaYa and Papa! 
We celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing in our holiday best - no, scratch that.  We had every good intention of dressing in our holiday best but YaYa and Papa's luggage didn't make it to town.  And Josie and Merryn's super cute Gymboree skirts that had been purchased months in advanced and saved for the occasion turned out to be WAY too large.  So we all resorted to our Plan B and made the most out of the resources that we available to us. 
We went out for a fabulous Thanksgiving brunch because my beloved in-laws have known me long enough to realize that I don't possess the culinary aptitude nor the emotional stability to prepare a formal 8 course holiday meal.  So we found ourselves a lovely restaurant where we would relax and indulge in all of our holiday favorites without the tedious preparation and clean up.  The waitress even came by and wiped Josie's runny nose -seriously - that's service!  It was terrific!
 Unfortunately, the bloody mary *ahem* tryptophan kicked in a little too soon and I forgot my good camera at the restaurant.  We eventually realized and retrieved it but I didn't get to document as much of the holiday as I would have liked.  I did, however, capture a few gems.  Check out this perpetually pleasant, pink-cheeked little turkey celebrating her first Thanksgiving with her YaYa:
 The little "cooker" in the family whipped up a batch of homemade cake pops and proudly distributed them to our guests.
Every year we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas between our families and since it was Thanksgiving with YaYa and Papa this year, we also celebrated Christmas together with a little gift exchange.  The adults have a tradition of purchasing one universally appealing gift.  We draw numbers and each select a gift.  The surprise element is the most fun part.  You could end up with a wine decanter from France (like I did) or you could really luck out and score a biography of Abraham Lincoln (like YaYa did).
The holiday was not without it's challenges (lost luggage, less than ideal accommodations, and a handful of ER visits) but overall we had a terrific time.  Being in the presence of loving family is a true reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Giving Thanks

Like last week, while Travis traveled back to the Tundra to oversee the movers as they packed up our possessions and moved them to storage (more on this later), my mom and sister visited to help me out in his absence.  And I was all set to blog about it and then Merryn got pink eye...and then she fell and cut her head open requiring 3 staples...and then Josie ran a super high temp requiring yet another doctor visit (yes, that's 3 in one week - a holiday week, mind you) and suddenly doing my job as a mom became so consuming that I couldn't make time to document it.  But I finally have an uninterrupted hour while my children sleep and I would be remiss not to recognize...
 Thanksgiving - a season to appreciate the blessings in your life.  Blessings like a loving aunt and grandmother who grace us with warmth, kindness, humor, and...!  And let's stop and give thanks for bossy little sisters who carefully moderate the opening of said gifts.  Because there's a right and a wrong way to open presents, clearly.  It's important to have an expert to facilitate the proper wrapping-removal protocol!
 The gratitude doesn't end there.  No siree...
 Let's toast to affectionate aunts, loving embraces, and tender moments.
 It's important to appreciate the role models along our journey; mentors who inspire, encourage, and guide us.
It nourishes the soul to stop and recognize the people in our lives whose sheer presence elicits smiles so effortlessly.
 Do you know how satisfying it is to find someone who "gets" you?  Let's give thanks for that!
And on this, the last day of Adoption Awareness Month, we give thanks for the blessing of adoption in our lives.  I didn't have a chance to blog about it as extensively as I would have liked but check out the following adoption related posts in our archive:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

IQ Scores for Individuals with Down syndrome are on the Rise

I had the pleasure of attending a Down syndrome related conference over the weekend and a handful of people approached me and introduced themselves as blog/Instagram followers.  It's always so nice to hear from individuals who appreciate our efforts to try to spread a positive message about Down syndrome.  It also leaves me with a twinge of guilt over how infrequent the blog updates have become.  So I am hereby neglecting the laundry, dishes, my husband, and this incredible book I picked up in the airport gift shop, to dedicate this post to the new friends I made last weekend.
In addition to receiving a lot of valuable information about how I can better serve Josie, Leanne, and the rest of the Down syndrome population, I had the pleasure of meeting many inspirational adults with Down syndrome.  These adults were dynamic, engaging, and intelligent self-advocates who have jobs, relationships, and so much wonderful information to share about the bright futures that await young people with Down syndrome.
 Did you know that in recent years IQ scores for individuals with Down syndrome have risen and continue to rise?
Because medical treatments are improving, along with therapy techniques and educational methods.  I've written about how my parents' generation were the trailblazers who refused to allow their children to be institutionalized.  They proudly brought their babies home and demanded that they have access to education.
Since then, therapy services have become more specialized.  Physical, occupational, speech, developmental, feeding, behavioral (and the list goes on) services are offered to children at birth and are implemented on a much more frequent basis. 
Educational methods have been researched and customized to the way that individuals with Down syndrome learn best.  Children with Down syndrome are no longer relegated to a special education classroom in a separate wing of the school (or a separate school altogether) by default of their diagnosis.  Many children with Down syndrome now spend part - if not all - of their day in the mainstream classroom with their typically developing peers.  Not only does this offer the promise of a more equivalent education, but it also promotes an attitude of acceptance and inclusion among the next generation.  Prior prejudice resulting from ignorance and an overall lack of exposure is subsiding. 
With efforts towards inclusion the future is even more promising as tomorrow's employers will have grown up with a thorough understanding of what Down syndrome is the many positive attributes that individuals with Down syndrome possess.
Seeing vibrant, successful, and fulfilled adults with Down syndrome is so important because it demonstrates that the capability is there and it provides the incentive for those of us who are parenting the next generation to encourage our children to fulfill their greatest potential.  Our children are not destined to be mentally retarded.  They are not limited by the dismal walls of an institutional facility.  They are unique individuals who can learn, achieve, and thrive in the world.  And just like with their typically developing counterparts, children with Down syndrome will benefit most from a loving home environment, a supportive family, access to education, and the encouragement to fulfill the promise that lies within themselves.
 Speaking of inspirational adults with Down syndrome, I am thrilled to announce that this lovely young lady will be paying us a visit next week so tune in because I'm going to try and get the dirt on her love life including details about a recent date she went on with a fetching young suitor!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Josie Goes to Preschool

A couple of weeks ago Travis called me from work and I began venting about all of the things I have to do: find a new nanny, pediatrician, dentist, family physician, Ob/Gyn, pediatric cardiologist, pediatric pulmonologist, pediatric GI doctor, orthotist, vision therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech  and language pathologist...He pointed out that those last three services would be provided in our local district's preschool program.  I sighed and said that enrolling Josie in preschool was just another item on my "to do" list.  Travis "The Resolution" then pointed out that the school district would likely require a lot of formal paperwork and documentation and that he would happily go to the website and see what we needed to compile because it would certainly be lengthy and time consuming.  That was his way of taking something off of my plate so I dismissively agreed and hung up the phone.
An hour later he called me back and proudly announced "I enrolled Josie in preschool!" 
"You what?!?!" I screeched into the phone, completely shocked. "I thought you were just going to go to the website and see what paperwork they needed!"
"Well, I was..." he admitted "but then I started filling out this online form and I ran into a problem so I called the phone number and the next thing you know, she was officially enrolled.  Susan will be calling you to set up a meeting."
In that moment, the past four years flashed before my eyes.  Adopting Josie changed my life.  Her health struggles have dictated my schedule ever since.  (Check out the 2010 archives of our blog or Click HERE to learn more).  I have invested my whole heart into helping her triumph in spite of the health and developmental obstacles she faces.  And now, thanks to my "helpful" husband, I was going to have to release her out into the world - ready or not. 
I was NOT ready. 
My voice quivered as tears streamed down my cheeks. Travis immediately retreated and stammered about how I could always hold off on this...
When he got home from work that night, I was still crying.  But as hard as it was to face the thought of letting her go, deep down I knew it was the best thing for her.  Within a week, we had Josie's IEP meeting.  We decided she would start the following Monday.
We prepared Josie as much as we could.  We've been talking about preschool, reading books about preschool, and making a BIG deal out of her sister's recent preschool enrollment.  However, Josie wasn't buying into the hype...

The child certainly mastered the fine art of sarcasm.
The day before preschool began for Josie, we took her to the school and let her play on the playground.  I felt like it would make her more comfortable if she were somewhat familiar with her new surroundings. 
I ordered Josie a little backpack with her name embroidered on it...

...and I bought her the extremely important "first day of school" outfit.  I printed the "first day of school" sign and took the official "first day of school" photos.  Josie wanted no part of that stupid sign so Mother Hen stepped in to offer assistance.
Mother Hen also stepped in to draw from her experience as an experienced preschooler and to offer her wisdom about the importance of a proper introduction:

 She was all set.  We dropped Merryn off at her preschool and then we headed across town towards Josie's preschool.  We arrived early so I took the opportunity to try to reign in Little Miss Stubborn and emphasize the importance of a positive attitude and general compliance.

Turns out not only has this child mastered the fine art of sarcasm but she's also quite skilled at the fine art of BS (blowing smoke, of course).

As soon as we got out of the car and headed towards the school, the toddler 'tude emerged with a vengeance.  I present to you, the heartwarming-and-sentimental-mother-daughter-first-day-of-preschool shot:
Lucky for us, there were skilled professionals waiting to step in.  One of the things that convinced me to move to this district is the excellent program for individuals with special needs.  The district preschool is fully inclusive - featuring both children with special needs and their typically developing peers.  The children with special needs are entitled to a one-on-one aide to offer additional help as needed.  Thank goodness for Ms Stacy.  As a mother of four, she assured me that she wasn't the least bit intimidated by Josie's obstinacy.  She took Josie by the hand and confidently led her into the building where she referred to a picture schedule to begin showing her the ropes.
I took a few final pictures and then headed back to the car.  With tears streaming down my cheeks, I convinced myself that Josie would be fine.  She was in wonderful hands.  Besides, her teacher promised to call me halfway through the morning to update me on Josie's progress.
That phone call came but it was hardly a newsflash:  Josie enjoyed the song portion of the morning (you're kidding), she refused to eat her snack (you don't say) and they'd been hearing a lot of "no please no" (Gasp!  What in the world?!). 

Well, at least I knew they had the right kid!
When I picked Josie up, her teacher debriefed me even further:  Josie does great one-on-one but she needs to be prompted to participate in a group activity.  They will work on that.  Josie becomes especially non-compliant during transitions.  They will work on that, too.  We are very aware of these challenges and we realized that they undoubtedly stem from her lack of exposure to a formal preschool setting.  That's why the opportunities for socialization and learning to follow a routine are so important for Josie's overall development.

Josie inhaled her lunch and took a three hour nap.  Preschool fatigue is no joke!  While she slept, I raided her backpack and found a progress report that said "My day was GREAT".  Of course I made her pose for a picture with that first glowing report.  Here's hoping for another one tomorrow! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Preschool, Pumpkins, and Prayers

Things are gradually coming together for us in our new community.  We finally made a decision on our long-term residence (more on that to come in a future post).  I've been researching physicians, therapists, extracurricular activities, and various other resources like preschool!  That's right - the first bird has left the nest and that bird answers to the name of "Merryn".  Miss Merryn now attends preschool five mornings a week.  There was this part of me that hated to let her go.  I figured she had the rest of her life to be in school and I just wanted to spend one more year with her.  But then it became apparent that she needed more stimulation than I could provide at home.  She was eager to have new experiences, make new friends, and learn new things.
So we laid out a spiffy new "first day of preschool" outfit, practiced our introductions, and set out for this new adventure. 

Since this was her first time being away from Mom, one might expect some apprehension and maybe even a little tear shed.  But no siree - not Merryn!  Miss Independent was so enamored with the other children that she barely even acknowledged my departure.  By Day 2, Miss Popularity had two little friends standing in the doorway, anxiously awaiting her arrival.  Merryn absolutely loves school!

As if the first week of preschool wasn't exciting enough, Merryn also got to experience her first school field trip to a nearby pumpkin patch.  Since I served as a chaperone, my two additional sidekicks tagged along as well. 
Our stroller wouldn't fit on the hayrack ride so we waved goodbye to Merryn and her classmates and set out to explore the beautiful fall scenery.
There were wagons full of pumpkins and colorful gourds.  Vibrant autumn leaves cascading from the trees and the crisp chill in the air provided the perfect ambiance.  I just wanted to grab a warm apple cider spiked with some rum and gather 'round a bonfire.  Except there was no rum and there was no bonfire...
But there were goats!
Who knew goats could be so large and so friendly?!
My children sure didn't.  In fact, these little city slickers were quite confused...

As we walked away, Josie grumbled "That's a terrible pig!"  Indeed, Josie.  That was a sorry excuse for a pig.  Extremely disappointing to say the least!

I handed Merryn an antibacterial wipe to cleanse her hands after she fed the mean...goats and she immediately started wiping Josie's hands.  That's our Mother Hen!
It was so terrific to be able to spend the morning with Merryn and her friends at the pumpkin patch.
Another heartwarming display of sisterhood transpired at the corn pool(a big sandbox with corn instead of sand).  Merryn's class was busily playing in the corn and I set Josie on the side so she could watch.  Mother Hen immediately retrieved a shovel and pail and brought them to Josie so she could participate.  Josie was delighted, as was I.
Talk about new experiences, fun activities, and photo ops galore!
The other kids departed with their parents but we stayed behind and took a few additional photos.  Then we pushed the stroller back up the long gravel path to the car, and set out towards town to enjoy a hearty lunch and a nice, long nap.
 But getting back to town wasn't going to be that easy according to the service lights on my car warning me that my tire pressure was dangerously low. I called Travis who encouraged me to find a local service station.  However, in this neck of the woods, there was no AutoZone nor JiffyLube for miles!  Instead of getting on the interstate, I drove into the next small town where I happened upon an automotive restoration place.  I wandered in and was greeted by restored vintage automobiles.  I'm not exactly driving my children around in a Model T so I wasn't sure I'd found the right resource but the nice gentleman working there stopped what he was doing and came outside to help. 
Within minutes, my tire was inflated and the warning light vanished.  When I asked the kind gentleman what I owed him, he simply waved his hand and told me to drive safe.  I got back in the car and was greeted by a barrage of questions from my inquisitive little preschooler and I explained that a nice man helped us out by inflating my tire so we could make it home safely and that we should say a prayer for him.  As I headed towards the interstate, a little voice echoed from the backseat "In da name of da fader, da son, and the howee spiwit..." A tear slid down my cheek as I called to mind the wonderful men in my life who would have dropped what they were doing to help a stranger in need.  Men like my father and grandpa who have passed on but whose memories resonated so vividly in that one act of kindness.

Inflating my tire may have seemed like a simple gesture to him, but it was meaningful...just like the prayer that trailed from my backseat that day..."Dear God, please bless that nice man."


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Day Merryn Saved Josie's Life

Something happened last week that I was initially reluctant to blog about.  However, after some reflection, I realized that this blog is, in many ways, like a scrapbook - a place for me to document memories.  And as upsetting as this story is for me to recall, I will always remember the beautiful display of love, loyalty, and heroism.
I know I owe you a detailed update on our big move and such, but just to get you up to speed, my husband recently accepted another position within his company which required us to relocate to a different state.  We traveled to the new state for a weekend of speed house hunting only to come up dry.  So we found ourselves living in a two-bedroom condo until we can find/build a house here.
This new dwelling is lovely, albeit tiny, and it an really start to close in on a family of five.  So most days, as the weather permits, I try to take the children outside for a change of scenery and some fresh air and exercise. 
It's not easy to shuffle all 3 kids out the door by myself.  We don't keep the stroller in the condo because it takes up too much valuable space, so I have to count on my two oldest to walk independently while I lug Lydia in this heavy car seat.  We walk down the hall to the elevator where there is always an intense negotiation over who gets to push the button. 
I hold Josie's hand and help her over all the thresholds and down the front steps and she follows me down this sidewalk to the grassy area on the side of the building where we dance, blow bubbles, or kick the ball.
Last Wednesday, we left for our outdoor excursion.  Merryn was riding her new scooter and she took it down the ramp while I helped Josie down the front steps.  Then, I headed towards the grassy area lugging Lydia's carseat in one hand and a bucket of bubbles in the other and I took for granted that the girls were following.  I didn't make it but a few steps when I heard Merryn yell "Josie NO!!!!" and I whirled around to see Merryn lurch off her scooter, grab Josie, and yank her backwards right before she stepped off the sidewalk into the parking lot where the FedEx truck was barreling right at her! 
I was overcome with emotion: shock, mom guilt for letting go of Josie's hand, and sheer awe that my little girl, who just turned 3 last month, would have the judgment, instincts, and courage to react in that manner!  Merryn literally saved her sister's life!
 And while Merryn's "Mother Hen" tendencies are well documented (click HERE and HERE), I never expected this young child to demonstrate such heroism.  So I did the only thing I could think to do: I hugged her, thanked her, and praised her profusely.  Then I took her to Starbucks and bought her a cake pop!

In Merryn's world, cake pops are the epitome of happiness.  In fact, she'll tell you her dad goes to work "to earn money to buy cake pops". 
 It took me a little while to calm down after that incident.  When I could finally set aside the panic, upset, and guilt, I was left with profound admiration for this little girl.  I already knew Merryn was special.  She's smart, funny, and kind down to her core.  She has an inherently maternal spirit that is far beyond anything I could ever aspire to.  She is a blessing to everyone in our family - especially her sisters.  And now, she is a hero as well.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Josie's Social Story

As previously mentioned, Travis has a job that has allowed us the opportunity to live all over the country.  We always saw it as a fun adventure - finding a new dwelling, exploring a new city, and making new friends.  However, now that we're parents, moving is a bit more complicated.  It's not just about a new house to decorate or new restaurants to dine in; it's about finding new physicians, therapists, childcare, playgroups, and preschools. 
Then there's the concern over the adjustment and how moving will emotionally impact the kids.  This weighed heavily on my mind especially with Josie, as her cognition is more limited than Merryn's an I'm not sure exactly how much she understands. 
Her speech therapist recommended I draft a social story.  The goal of a Social Story  is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by it's audience.  Josie loves books so it seemed like a great approach!  I got out my laptop and typed up a simple booklet, printed the pages, stapled them together, and read it to the girls.  

So far, the adjustment has been going well.  I'm not sure how much the Social Story has to do with Josie's comfort level, but it can't hurt.  More on our big move coming soon!