LIfe's a day at the beach...or the pool...

>> Monday, April 27, 2009

This year has been extraordinarily stressful. Jon and I have to find jobs (both professors) in the same city. Timing has not been our friend... So, alas, next year holds yet another year of job searching, and uncertainty, and anxiety, and well, you get the idea.

So, Saturday morning, when we thought we might just explode from stress, we threw the kids in the car with nothing but our swimming bag with suits and pool/beach gear, basic toiletries, and a change of clothes, and decided to head to the beach. It's a 5 hour drive, but when you step on the sugary sand of the Florida Gulf Coast, 5 hours is a small price to pay for Heaven on Earth.

On the way, I checked out hotels on my Blackberry and hoped something would be available. Luckily, tons of locals headed to Talladega (where you couldn't catch me for a million dollars and my own talk show!).

The waves were rough, so we did most of the swimming in the pool, and I didn't even take my camera since it was so last minute. The pics are from my phone. But, we escaped and now, I think we can make it through the next month :-).

Anybody have a few hundred million dollars to give me? If you do, I'll start a new University in Destin -- I'll even name it after you :-).

(The girls at the Hannah Montana Movie last weekend).


A budding friendship...and Hannah MOM-tana

>> Thursday, April 16, 2009

For the last few months, yes months, Maren has been begging me to invite her friend Teresa over to play. And, to be honest, we've been so busy (and her room so messy!), that I've put it off.

Last night, Maren brought me the phone and told me to call Teresa's mom... NOW!... and I did. And, I had the best adult conversation I've had in months. What a great bonus!

Teresa's mom was thrilled I called, said that Teresa has been talking a lot about Maren lately, too. Funny, they were in Kindy together too, but it is only recently they've become closer. These are the times I wish I could get inside my kid's head -- why these friends? Why now? Do they share interests? Are they sitting by each other at school? Did Teresa just have a cool toy, or did she like one of Maren's share day items and it sparked a new friendship? And, what do they talk about when they hang out at school? Inquiring moms want to know.

But, of course, knowledge and nosiness has a price. This one...I'm taking the girls to see the new Hannah Montana movie on Saturday. Steep price, but I just have to know!

And, I may not get all the answers on Saturday, but I know this, I'll get time with my baby girl and Junior Mints -- you could say, I'll get the Best of Both Worlds. Cheap Shot, I know, but I just had to take it ;-).


Sharing in the lives of two adults with T21

>> Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I can't add anything to this gorgeous couple's photo gallery ; instead, I'll let them speak for the themselves. STUNNING!


Susan Boyle, Britain's Got Talent, and Society

>> Monday, April 13, 2009

As she prepared to sing, people in the audience rolled their eyes and mocked her. Apparently, kids have bullied her since she was a little girl because of a disability, and sadly, she told the Mirror, she still sees those kids as adults, and still, they shun her. She is not pretty by a media consumer's standards. And, at 48, she's old -- and we all know that old equals ugly times 2, bahhh!

As I started to watch the youtube clip a friend sent me, with the heading "The Next William Hung," I started to cry. I was devastated that anyone would send me something that deliberately targeted another human being for being different. First, I study teasing, and second, I adore my child with T21. Both of those things make a bit more sensitive than I would have been even 10 years ago.

When the woman, Susan, said she had never been kissed; my heart ached. Nobody should ever be deprived of such a joyous experience -- we all deserve love. I looked at Susan and saw a funny, slightly odd (like most of my friends are odd) woman who would be great company -- and I started to feel sad and angry as I watched this woman get set up for ridicule. What kind of society do we live in? Clearly, one that loves to find people we can ostracize to make ourselves feel better, somehow.

Yet, as Susan began to sing, the audience erupted in applause. They were shocked -- her talent was unexpected. See, we expect amazing things to be wrapped in beautiful packages -- even wrapping our female babies in "bows" to present them to world as beautiful and precious objects of attention. Yet, Susan didn't appear in bows and curly ribbon. She was wrapped, like many of us, in well-worn brown paper -- wrinkled from use and worn a bit on the edges. And, yet, when she "opened-up," her glory was revealed!

I wasn't so much surprised by Susan's talent. If I've learned anything on this journey with Miss Magic, it is to put aside my expectations and embrace the experience as it comes. But, I was stunned by the audience!

Apparently, even those hardened by cynicism, contempt, and derision can open up and experience beauty when it is presented. It provides hope for all of and reminds me that this is why inclusion is so important -- people can't see beauty if we don't share it with them. I may want to protect Maren; hold her back from the possibility of being ridiculed, yet, by doing so, I prevent those who are willing to embrace her -- who simply don't know it yet.

To all those who rolled their eyes, and subsequently wiped their tears -- thank you. I do not condemn you for being cynical; you are part and parcel of our society. But, I embrace you for your openness. It gives us hope for a more loving world. To those who were able to open your hearts to Susan and see the magic in her talent, I offer you a standing ovation.


Archie and Moses: AKA "How can my difficult child be so good? "

>> Saturday, April 11, 2009

So, those who know our family know that Archie is my wild child. He has all all of my bad qualities -- he's stubborn, obnoxious, opinionated, and loud; he would rather lose a privilege than lose an argument. He drives me out of my mind somedays -- I look at Archie and see all that is wrong with me in a mini-form and I get angry that I still carry so many flaws, and that I've passed them on to him.

Then, there are nights like tonight, when I realize that his good qualities far outweigh the bad. He is my child who has never left a child alone on a playground. Since preschool, his teachers have commented on his gentle heart. His best friends at the RISE school were not the other other typically developing children, but the children he connected with on others levels: it never mattered if other children could walk, talk, or even feed themselves. Archie just "connects," in a profound way with other human beings. Even in Kindy, he rarely plays with the same child 2 days in a row. Everyone loves Archie, and he spreads his time around. Very unusual for a child of his age.

Archie shares. His toys are his friends' toys. If he has money at a baseball game, he buys candy for everyone, and if he can't, he shares what little he has. He never eats the last cookie without offering a piece to Jonah and Maren. He certainly didn't get that from me: I dive for the final morsel of any sweet ;-).

And, tonight, I was reminded of this soul like I was last year. The Ten Commandments were on, and the classic film bored Maren and Jonah in moments, just like in 2008, Archie watched the entire thing intently and intensely. He talked about what he remembered from school and church. He wanted me to print The Ten Commandments for him so he could read them when Moses came down from the mountain. He was annoyed, however, by the bad special effects of the burning bush, LOL.

Of course, he donned his costume and helped act out the scenes. He takes his Moses seriously! And, this year, he even played "compare and contrast" Moses versus Indiana Jones' expeditions.

So, though Archie inherited my baggage, he also has blessings of his own -- not thanks to me. And, I wonder ~~ where did this heart and soul in my six year old come from? Was he born with this amazing spirit -- or did growing up with Maren help shape the little person he has become and the little man he is becoming?

I guess what is important is that Maren has Archie and Jonah, and Archie has Maren and Jonah, and Jonah has two awesome younger sibs, and we have three kids to be eternally grateful for -- each so different, so challenging, so wonderful, and finally ---- so sleeping. Ahh, quiet ....


Two educational tools that we are pilot testing

>> Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Obviously, for any child, a parent has a responsibility to make sure the child is being well-educated. For my oldest son, that means letting him explore a wide-range of topics and finding his unique talents. The rote memorization tasks and basic school work comes fairly easy to him, so the challenge is finding things that make him excited about learning.

For my youngest son, it entails a) finding the time to even help him with his schoolwork because I get so busy with the other two -- poor #3! And, b) at this age, letting his imagination take flight with his Indiana Jones Handbook, Lego sets, and the costumes he creates (his newest phase is the James Bond Tuxedo). He is a truly creative kid who loves to be involved and physical. I think he's God's way of reminding me I"m getting old, ;-).

For Maren, the task is not "more difficult," but different. I can have faith that the other two will "learn" at school and at home, I can supplement their education and creativity. For her, however, I know that repetition and extra involvement at home is key to making sure she masters the fundamentals she will need to have to progress as a student.

So, just eight months or so, M was crusin' with her Math Facts. I was delighted and we moved on to other things. WRONG MOVE!~!~ Somehow, poof~!~ Math Facts Vanished! As we worked on addition and carrying numbers, we started focusing on manipulatives and pictures to "see" the numbers. We failed to continue to practice the math facts. And, now, we begin again, and will remember this time to keep the practice up periodically.

We found and so far, just a couple of days in, Maren likes it. It is NOT a fun or games site like Starfall is for reading (which is truly wonderful, btw). It is simple: flashcards online! There are ready-made math cards, but we made our own smaller sets with only 4 or 5 cards at time. We have found that Maren works best if she reads the numbers with the right answers again and again. If she starts guessing without having them cold, she is likely to remember the wrong answer she gave,,,ack! This allows her to sit and practice her facts while I create time for Archie. Again, it is not exciting, but functional site. It was a 29.95 fee and for me, it was worth it!

But, our happy find is a book on CD called "Story of the World." We have Volume 1 (4 CDs) checked out from our library. Jonah grabbed it because he thought it would be interesting. It's a very basic look at history, but through narratives aimed at children. It is read by Jim Weiss who is an amazing book on CD actor -- we love a lot of his work! Jonah found it boring, but Maren and Archie are enthralled!! And, they are learning history from the beginning -- The Nomads. Imagine that...history before George Washington ;-).

So, why do I recommend this? Well, Maren asked if we were crossing the "Tiger" river when we used the bridge over the Black Warrior in Tuscaloosa. Okay...we aren't in Turkey and no, it isn't the Tigris, but hey, she is learning the rivers of the world and enjoying it! She has asked about growing corn in our backyard (like the nomads who became farmers) and she wants to write on clay instead of paper :-). For a seven year old, I"m delighted!

Archie loves them too. He told me that Indiana Jones was an archaeologist like they talk about on the CD, and has discussed at length several concepts from the readings! Certainly, these are not a substitute for reading with my kids, or teaching them from paper books, but what an awesome and engaging supplement! We listen in the car (Jonah wants to listen to his Ipod instead), and then we can chat about what they are learning. Yeah....history is a topic I would have never "pushed" for Maren as we work on the fundamentals of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, so what a joy to find a new subject she loves! We'll keep listening and talking about history and then move to Volume II.


The morning pick-up

>> Saturday, April 04, 2009

Apparently the girls had an amazing time and they rushed me when I came in to fill me in on the party~! They learned a new dance, pigged out, and decorated craft projects. All in all, a perfect girl party. So, Maren didn't sleep more than 30 mins. at a time, according to the dance center owners. She wanted to get up and brush her teeth again, practice her dance, make a new Easter basket, oh...and drink more Mountain Dew -- and there is the answer to her sleeplessness, bahhhhhhhh......


A Catch-22

>> Friday, April 03, 2009

So, I have to be brutally honest. When Maren was born with Trisomy 21, a little part of me was happy about it ~~ selfishly happy.

I've never wanted an empty nest. I like close-knit families and in modern society, I'm terrified that my kids will live thousands of miles away. So, if Maren had T21, I reasoned, I would always have one of my kids at home. Right?

The irony of it all...she's my most independent child. Tonight, she is doing a "Pink Party Lock-In" and her dance studio. Approximately 100 girls from 1st through 8th grade are eating pizza, guzzling soda, gorging on snacks, dancing pop diva routines, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning. You can see the soda behind Maren and her friend Maddy ;-).

I cried when I dropped her off; she couldn't push me out the door fast enough. So, though I am certain we'll always live in the same town and that she will always need additional supports in her life, she's spirited and will not want to live with me forever. I guess that is a good thing, right? I shouldn't complain when I know her independence is a huge asset for her development -- but I'm not ready. I really thought she'd be a "mommy's girl." I wanted her to be dependent, in my own selfish way.

But, then I have to realize that we have been living in a town that embraces Maren and has included her in everything without question. She's been part of friendship circles, dance recitals, and soccer games, even sleepovers. Our community has nourished her and given her a tremendous foundation for learning to be a part of the community. She's never been excluded because of her extra chromosome (in fact -- the one time was in spite of it -- the ringleader could care less Maren has T21 - her sister does as well, bahhh!). So Maren's never had a reason to think there is anything she can't do.

Her friends are completely aware that Maren has T21. They simply haven't cared, to this point. They know that sometimes she is hard to understand, but there is always one child who can figure out every word she is saying. When one kid gets snotty, Maren gets snotty back -- and other kids back her up ;-). When she is treated poorly, it's in the catty way all first grade girls can treat other 1st grade girls.

And, I know that I can leave her because the other mothers or chaperones will keep better watch on her than I ever would! Her college-student dance teacher from last year, Anna, might be told to "buzz off" before the night is through if she tries to play with Maren too much ;-). For that, I will always adore this town and the people we are surrounded by. I know we have a 1 in million community for her. And, even if we move next year (I doubt we will, but certainly in the next few years), I know that she has an amazing start in life.

So, tonight, I walked her into the overnight lock-in, scared of course -- because it is a madhouse -- terrified that she might not see anyone she knows, scared that she may not be able to clearly communicate with a new group, worried that she'll be excluded, and sad that she is growing up.

But, we walked in and her friend Maddy found her right away, and after she dropped her sleeping bag off and walked into the large play room, I heard a chorus of voices calling, "Maren -- Maren's here -- Maren come over here -- Sit by me Maren." And, she pushed me out the door.

So now, to keep my full-nest as I grow old, I might just have to hope Jonah and Archie are "mama's boys." Maybe I need to start telling them "Foosball's for da devil" and that their daddy died of dehydration. It worked for Kathy Bates in Waterboy. Think it will work for me? Hmm... Where is that medulla oblongata?


Maren's first Play

>> Thursday, April 02, 2009

Maren's class is putting on a fairy tale skit for the end of the year assembly. She told me about the play, and I assumed she'd be in the "chorus." WRONG!

She is princess #3 with several speaking lines to memorize. And, she is practicing diligently already. Several of her lines are so Maren -- like offering mints to an ogre with bad breath ;-).

I'll definitely film it when they perform. First the dancing stage, now watch out Hollywood :-).


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