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A Hug, A Tickle, and A Kiss

As another Christmas draws to a close and I put our big boys to bed and answered their calls for their nightly “hug, a tickle and a kiss” I find myself reflecting on this last year. Shooo 2015 has been a dozy of a year with countless ups and downs. I don’t even know how to express my thoughts on everything that has happened, so I think a list is the best way to get a full picture of what this year has brought; the good, the bad, the crazy and all that was in between.

In January of 2015 we were still in the middle of an often crazy case with three of our miracles and we had no idea if we would be able to adopt them or not. At the end of the month there was the last dramatic twist in the case and we knew we would officially be able to adopt them. The hearing that made this news legally official would occur in May. Allowing us to officially adopt Damien, Perry and Alize in August!! These children are such beautiful blessings in our lives and we are so thankful for chance to love them and watch them grow and shine.

In February I began to meet with Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (You can read about how and why I was meeting with them here). I am still in awe of the amazing blessings that came directly related to us welcoming those young men into our home. We had a few different Elders in and out but Elder Tengberg and Elder Woodbury have made an indelible mark on our family and our lives. I cannot now imagine life without the gospel, the church, or our “guys” as the kids call them. There are no words to express how amazing it is to have the fullness of the gospel. There are also no words I could use to appropriately convey the peace and happiness I have found since I was baptized into the church in April.

During this time we also met a young woman named Sarah (Sarsha) Irvin. Sarah changed our lives. The Elders brought Sarah to our home to join them in teaching me a lesson and I had no idea the influence she would end up having in our lives. We just adore our dear Sarsha. The Elders taught us the doctrines of the church and were such a huge influence but Sarsha walked in with her sass and her heart bursting with love and showed us a great example of what living in the gospel looked like. Sarsha will forever be a part of our family and our hearts. She was right by our sides for most of this year’s adventures until she left to serve her own mission with the church in Arizona.

March brought in many changes as well. In early March we had a miscarriage, this was our sixth miscarriage since we began trying to build our family in 2010. I wish I could say that it gets easier to lose a baby to miscarriage but every loss is heart wrenching. During this time we also had many medical scares with our youngest son, Baby Otter and we spent a lot of time racing to the hospital. In odd timing we would welcome our fifth son, Baby Otter, in a matter of two weeks from the loss of our pregnancy. I was so blessed to be present at his birth and witness the miracle of life being born. I am very grateful for that opportunity and we are so thrilled to have this bundle of joy as an addition to our family. We have since moved to the point in his case that we know we will be able to complete his adoption in the first half of 2016.

As a general note about this time, we were also doing multiple therapies a week for a few of the kiddos to include PT, OT, DT and Speech. The kids were all working so hard to overcome some challenges they were facing and these therapies and the work we did with them outside of their sessions consumed a lot of our time. We also found and hired our current Nanny, Kaitlyn, during this time and that made a huge difference in the insanity of the week. Kaitlyn does a great job with our children and she loves our children so deeply. It is beautiful.

One week after we hired Kaitlyn my Uncle passed away in Michigan and Kaitlyn agreed to make the trip with the kids and I so we could attend the funeral. This was our first long trip with all five children and it was quite an adventure. I am so glad we were able to get there for the funeral though and spend time with family.

This summer we also lost my Aunt in Tennessee and I made the trip down there for her funeral and to spend time remembering her with family and loved ones. During this visit I got the chance to see family that is near and dear to my heart, including my dear cousin Abby. You can read about my special bond with Abby here. This quick turn around trip to Tennessee was wonderful and hard in equal measures.

This summer also brought a big scare to our family. I was having some strange things occurring with my body and ended up consulting with my OBGYN. My symptoms concerned my doctor and she told me that she was worried I had developed endometrial cancer. Obviously, this was very scary news for our family, we have five young children and I was so worried about the possibilities we were facing. My doctor ordered a number of tests and we had a two week period of time while I underwent the tests and awaited news of the results. Thankfully those results all came back with no signs of cancer and with some medication my symptoms were managed. Hearing the word “cancer” come our of your doctors mouth when you are a young mother to many young children is incredibly terrifying and it took me a while to shake that feeling.

This fall brought about the adoptions of three kiddos and the celebration of the four adoptions we have completed in the last year. We also had one kiddo, Perry, graduate from all three of his therapies. He made TREMENDOUS strides this year and I am amazed by the progress he and his siblings have made every day. At the same time we went from one to four therapies for Caleb. As Caleb has aged he has encountered some new challenges and he is working so hard to overcome them all. He makes strides every day, some days they are huge achievements such as saying a new word and some days it is as small as maintaining prolonged eye contact. Damien started attending preschool at Head Start and it was a complete fiasco. The program he attended was not at all willing to meet his needs and made it very clear that they did not understand the effect of trauma on young children. We returned Damien to his small and specialized preschool and he has been thriving ever since. We also field a complaint at a state and federal level concerning the location Damien attended and that sparked an investigation. During this time we attempted to put Perry, Caleb and Alize in a developmental playgroup. Caleb really struggled with the playgroup and despite being a group that was supposed to be geared for children like Caleb, the group was unable to help Caleb. Additionally, the play group had policies in place that I felt were detrimental to our children and we decided after trying to work the issue out with the staff to pull the children from the program. The children have since thrived in the ways we were hoping the playgroup would help them with and we think we made the right decision.

Winter arrived with new adventures for our family as well. I injured my knee to the point that the doctor was concerned I would need knee surgery, I was on crutches for a week and I am still in recovery. I had an MRI and it turns out I did not need surgery but that my knee would take approximately six weeks to heal on it’s own. Our poor kiddos have been in a phase of life where they are strengthening their little immune systems and have been catching every bug that passes them by, I have lost count of how may times they have all been sick in the last two months alone. This combination of events has resulted in weeks of time where we are missing functions, appointments and, most importantly to me, church. This is hard for a variety of reasons. We miss the time with our ward family worshiping. Caleb really struggles with going church and because he does not have the ability to tell me what is upsetting him, his only means of communicating that is to have a melt down. So, missing church for several weeks makes returning all the harder on him. We spend the majority of our time in the hallways while he has a melt down of sometimes epic proportions. It is something we work on every week and I pray daily that it gets easier for Caleb or that I am able to figure out why this particular part of our week is so hard for him so I can help come up with a solution.

Earlier this week we had to make the heart breaking decision to put our dog, Lolli, to sleep. Lolli was eleven years old and I had her that entire time. She was a great dog and this was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but I know as sick as she was and as much pain as she was in that it was the right decision. Losing her the day before Christmas Eve was extra hard and we are still trying to come to terms with that fact. A day hasn’t gone by that I have not cried over her loss and been thankful for the time I had with her. Snuggling into her dark fur helped me through every cloud in life I have faced in the last 11 years and now I have to learn to cope without her there.

Like I said, 2015 has been one heck of a year. We have not had a chance to catch our breath in quite a while. There has been so much joy and much change this year. We are looking forward to 2016 and we are hoping for another year of joy and love and we would not mind if it was just a tad calmer. This year has also brought about great shifts in important relationships, some shifts were to better and closer relationships and some shifts were unfortunately in another direction. All of the adventures of this year have also lead to more self discovery than I have ever experienced in a years time before and I hope I can use that self awareness for good in the coming year.

Merry Christmas to you all and Happy New Year!!

In the last two years we have gone from zero to five kids and I have discovered some interesting differences in our lives during this transition. These are in no particular order, they are all equally true. 

1. “When are you buying a bigger house?” In our current culture it is so engrained in people that every child needs their own room and we all need multiple living spaces to spread out. We are completely  comfortable being in our “small” house and think room sharing will make our kids closer. Additionally, we want to be sure we don’t live beyond our means just for the sake of keeping up with the times. 

2. Leaving your house becomes like a long vacation- it happens rarely and you have to do a great deal of preparation.  You have to pack multiple bags to ensure you have cups, snacks, bottles, paci’s, diapers, wipes and the (inevitably needed) change of clothes for each child. After twenty minutes of prep and another twenty to get everyone in the car you are ready to run to the store for that one thing you forgot- don’t worry you will probably forget what you came for once there. 

3. The rare trips out of the house without children truly is a vacation and fills you will elation and guilt simultaneously. 

4. The stages most parents dread are a way of life for you- teething, potty training, terrible twos and trying threes are not stages in your house because you have children in each stage on a continual basis. 

5. “Are you guys done yet?” Maybe. Maybe not. Every family is different and the right amount of children is also different for every family. 

6. “How do you do it?” This usually quickly follows #5. Honestly, some days we don’t know either. We have what may appear to be a somewhat rigid structure to our days and routines- sometimes the routine works and sometimes it doesn’t and life is a crazy circus. We are just hanging on tight and trying to enjoy the ride. Similar variations include; “You sure have your hands full” and “They aren’t all yours are they?”

7. “Listen Dam-Per-Cal- ALIZÉ” don’t feel bad when you mix up our children’s names- we do it at least four times a day ourselves. 

8. Diaper changing takes up a significant portion of your day. When everyone is potty trained you know you will get back close to three hours a day. 

9. Going to the store for milk looks like you are preparing for the apocalypse. “Wow, you guys sure are buying a lot of milk.” The young cashiers inevitably comment and then spend the remainder of your order in shocked silence when you tell them why you buy so much milk. 

10.Oh,the papers. In general children being a lot of paperwork but when you adopt your children from foster care paperwork begins to form mini skyscrapers in your house. 

11. Finding a sitter who can handle it all is akin to finding the lost treasure of The Templars. It’s a lot to handle as a babysitter or nanny and we get that but we all need the ability to call in help at one time or another. When you do find one that works you want to clone her to ensure you’re covered as the kid’s grow up. 

12. Yoga pants. Yoga pants for life. Yoga pants are comfortable and allow you a complete range of motion as you chase your children. Additionally, it is hard to convince yourself to dress up when you know five different bodily fluids will be covering your clothing before 9am. 

13. People are leery of inviting your family over and will sometimes extend invitations only to a subset of the family because the numbers overwhelm them. Side note, if only some of us are invited none of us will be coming- that’s only fair to our kiddos. 

14. Birthdays seem to happen every time you turn around. You are sending out so many party invites you feel like you should open your own postal branch. 

15. Christmas is an epically large event and the idea of everyone opening their gifts in turns so everyone can see what each other received is a thing of the past. There is a wrapping paper explosion that will take hours upon hours to clean up. 

16. That new little SUV that just came out is cute as can be but there is no way your family will fit in there. You need room for five car seats and the many bags discussed in #2, say hello to the passenger van. 

17. You look longingly at families with teenagers. Sure those teens may not want to help but a teenager could hold a baby, change a diaper, make a bottle or run a bath if needed. 

18. Bath nights are special days of the week. It turns into a wet, slippery assembly line of kids racing each other for the tub, splashing each other in the eyes and then screaming because they don’t want to get out. 

19. Toys. Oh the toys. We could open an independent toy store using the toys in our basement alone. 

20. Laundry never ever ends. A normal sized load of their little clothes turns into folding for 45 minutes and another hour of trying to stop the kids from running off with the clothes while you try to put them away. 

21. If you watch Rio one more time you will certainly start sprouting blue feathers. Each kid has the one movie they always want to watch and those five movies are painfully familiar now. 

22. Making dinner is a balance of early prep, cooking with children trying to climb your legs and attempting to make real meals whenever possible while accepting that sometimes dinner will be hot dogs and Mac & Cheese. 

23. At least once a day over half your children will be having a complete meltdown because they all desperately need your undivided attention at the exact same second to vital things like the fact that their dinosaur they threw over the baby gate hasn’t climbed back over on it’s own yet or because their blanket is stuck on the corner. 

24. Sippy cups can be found in every nook and cranny of your cupboards not to mentioned hiding under the couch and tucked into the toy box. 

25. Given the daily circus some would want to run away but you would not trade a single tantrum throwing, baby puff eating, spilled cup cleaning, sleepless, hectic second. 

“He came to save us” our four year old Damien said with a smile on his face and a light in his eye. I nearly fell over and had to take a few deep breaths so I didn’t start sobbing in the middle of our Family Home Evening.

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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints practice something called Family Home Evening (FHE) once a week. Family Home Evening is a time to grow and deepen our bonds as we study the gospel together. This practice of studying the gospel as a family has gone on since the dawn of time. However, in 1915 church leadership encouraged families to have one night a week devoted to studying as a family.

Family Home Evenings can be such spiritual and uplifting times, and with five children four and under they can also be a three ring circus. With children crying because their play time was interrupted and babies wanting to eat or sleep added to the moth like attention span of children this young I occasionally have asked myself why we bother trying to teach them anything.

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Tonight for FHE we decided to talk about the birth of Jesus Christ and the true meaning of Christmas with the kids. After our opening prayer and song we read from Scripture about the night our Savior was born. We then watched a Veggie Tales clip from YouTube that showed the story briefly to engage the kids with characters they were already familiar with. To finish up before we lost our short hold on their attention we watched the breathtaking video of The PianoGuys’ “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. The video is beautiful and at one point shows Mary holding a newborn baby Jesus, I said to the kids “Look, there is baby Jesus” and that is when Damien showed me exactly why we wrestle the kids into focusing on the gospel every week when he said joyfully, “He came to save us”. It was a simple statement and one I could tell he was proud he knew and understood.

When Damien, Perry and Alize joined our family last year they had no experience going to church or knowledge of the gospel. We were kind of generic Christian attending a Methodist Church when the kids came home and since then we have found our way to the fullness of the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and we are growing alongside our children in our knowledge of the gospel. It is so important to us that the kids grow their testimony’s and this was a huge milestone moment for us all. They really are listening, even when they seem to be doing everything but listening.

Damien could sense how proud we were of him and when it came time for our closing prayer Damien was bouncing in his seat waving his arms asking if he could say it. I leave you tonight with the sweet prayer of our four year old:

“Heavenly (Heably) Father, Thank you the baby Jesus and Christmas. In the name Jesus Christ, Amen.”

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From all my reading on the subject of homeschooling I find relief in the knowledge that I am not the only Mom who has felt a bit like I am riding a merry-go-round in my head on the subject. I find myself literally mid thought changing my mind on the subject and the closer we get to our oldest being of age to start Kindergarten the more frantically the merry-go-round seems to spin.

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Merry-Go-Round

To homeschool or not is a thought that dominates my mind lately, no matter how many times I remind myself that the decision doesn’t have to be set in stone I still feel like this is the pivotal moment for the decision to be made. Damien currently attends a specialized Preschool where he receives the extra support he needs to succeed. He loves his school, loves going and his teacher is phenomenal. If this had been our only experience with preschools I would feel fairly confident (despite my original plans to homeschool) sending him off to Kindergarten next fall, unfortunately this has not been the only experience we have been through. Damien was enrolled in his current preschool before we finalized his adoption and it was part of the local county supports he was involved with before joining our family. With the idea of kindergarten looming we decided it would be a good idea this past September to enroll him in Head Start so he could experience a more Kindergarten-like setting (his current preschool only has 6-8 kids in a class and is only two days a week). Head Start was complete disaster that ended in me pulling him from the program and filing both state and federal grievances that lead to an investigation. Without getting into the specifics of what happened at Head Start the situation involved many of my main concerns with public education; lack of trauma informed care, no acknowledgement of the student as an individual, rigid policy with no reason, etc. We returned Damien to his original preschool and things returned to normal and now next week we have a meeting about transitioning him to Kindergarten and I am so worried. I worry about a repeat of the Head Start debacle. I worry about class size. I worry about my son who struggles with transitions succeeding in a traditional public school setting. I worry he will lose some of the magic that makes him Damien as he conforms to the school norms. I worry about the focus being on standardized tests and not on creating a lifetime learner.

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I love the idea of homeschooling and I could write an endless list of the reasons to homeschool so in that way it seems like a no brainer and yet I still go back and forth. I am concerned about sending Damien or any of our other children to public school and I am also slightly (sometimes extremely) worried about my ability to successfully homeschool all five of our children and meet their various needs. When I imagine us five years down the road I can picture an amazing homeschooling rhythm and I have so many lesson ideas I cannot contain myself, however when I think of getting started with school next year I get so nervous and I feel frightfully unprepared to juggle my first year of homeschooling and four younger children at the same time. I worry about the logistics of getting them all to the various extra activities I want to involve them in if we homeschool to add more diverse experiences and socialization opportunities.

Round and round my thinking goes. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Does anyone have a magic ball that can give me the exact right answer or some assurance that if I decide to homeschool I won’t fail my kids? Of course I know what I need to do in this situation, as with any situation when I am stuck, I need to take it to the Lord in prayer.

I pray for clarity.

I pray for courage and strength.

I pray for wisdom.

I pray to be sure the decision we make honors Heavenly Father and ultimately helps our children grow closer to Him as they grow into the amazing young men and woman they are becoming.

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I have learned countless lessons from my children, at least once a day I find myself humbled and amazed by the knowledge small children seem to posses that we lose somewhere on the way to adulthood.

Today’s lesson came while taking our three year old son to buy “Big Boy Underwear” because he needs a jump start on potty training. Perry knows where to go potty and how, he can go by himself even…. but he doesn’t. This morning he was playing with a toy in the living when he suddenly turned around and started grunting. I asked what he was doing and he responded nonchalantly “Oh, I’m pooping”. I scooped him up and raced him to the potty, the whole way reminding him that he knows he should not poop in his pants and that he is a big boy. He was unruffled by the whole scene and once we got to the bathroom I asked him where he was supposed to poop and again he responded as if there were nothing amiss, “Poop goes in  the potty”. That was the moment I realized, he fully gets the concept, he is just choosing not to use the potty because he thinks going in his pull-up is easier. This discovery lead us to our post dinner Mommy-Son Target run for big boy underwear.

 

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We go to Target a lot, for a variety of reasons. One reason is that I love it, I think Target is a mini vacation.It is aisle upon aisle of books, home decor, cute clothes and of course the essential we need at a moments notice.  Target is a Mommy haven, it also happens to be less than two miles from our house. With five children I try to make sure we have time one on one as often possible and this was a great opportunity for some Perry and Mommy time.

From the minute we entered the store Perry was a ball of energy and excitement, I am sure to the casual observer it must have appeared that Perry had never been in a store before in his life. Every display, sign or person we walked past was gushed over with equal zeal.

“Wow, Mommy what is that?”

“Look at the dress”

“There is Christmas on the ceiling”

“Hi boy”

“Let’s go that way”

“Look over there Mommy”

On and on he went, I really do not think he stopped to breathe the whole time we were there. I could not get over his unadulterated joy at a quick trip to the store. We were about half way through when he looked up at me eyes filled with wonder and breathed “It’s amazing. I love you”.

I wondered as I watched my son delight in the magic of a Target run when I lost the ability to see the divine magic in the everyday? Where did I lose that wonder? Possibly more important than when or where I lost it is why did I lose it? I need to get it back regardless.

We are surrounded by amazing, wonder inducing, beautiful things every day and we can lose sight of this fact as adults. We are living in a world so diverse, complex and beautifully created that one could find no end of joy if we approached our daily tasks and errands with the same joy as a three year old. There is joy in that Target run, there is joy in the sink of dishes and the piles of laundry, there is joy in the errands and the work. Everywhere you go and in everything you do there is joy, the trick is to find it.

So stop, smell the roses…or if you are near a Target hit the candle aisle and delight in the joys of the seemingly mundane. Everything in the world was created for a purpose and our purpose here is to find happiness and joy while progressing, the joy is hiding in plain sight. There is no magic formula to find joy; we won’t find it once we get that promotion, buy that house, drop those pounds or find those riches. The magic is all around us and within us, we just have to tap into it and remember what it is like to be three.

I am eternally grateful I have five little miracles here to teach me these lessons and I hope I learn them well. I don’t want to miss out on the wonder of a single moment.

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Are You Done Now?

“You’re done now, right?”

Oh, the number of times we hear that question. Anyone who has more than one or two kids hears this question often, just as families with only one child are always asked if they are adding more children. 

Our answer always makes eyebrows raise and looks of astonishment appear. We “think” after five children all brought to us through the tragic miracle of adoption (in less than two years) that we are done adopting; however, we are not sure we are done having children. We have always believed that whoever was meant to be a part of our family would show up and we still believe that. We are not willing to close the door on having biological children. We have always known Heavenly Father would create our family in the way it was meant to be created and we do not feel that he is finished with that yet. Now, ideally I would hope we have a year or two before any more little cuties arrive but I also know Heavenly Father’s timing is always perfect.

So I think the question should be re-framed; is God done building our family? Who knows for sure, but I hope not. 

To answer some of the other oft asked questions: 

Are our hands full? Sometimes. 

Are our hearts? Always! Our hearts are bursting with all this love, but that’s the amazing thing about humans- we can ALWAYS love more. 

Are we saints? HA! Definitely not. We are simply blessed beyond belief to have all these amazing little souls as a part of our family. 

Are we nuts? Probably, but life is no fun if you play it safe. 

When our first child was oh, about four months old I decided I desperately wanted to homeschool. I had done my research and I was convinced this was the best approach to education for our family. I had my own educational background in a Special Education major and probably months of time spent researching homeschool vs. public school vs. private school (in case we won the lottery I suppose) all to back up that decision. Everything seemed great and I was confident I had time to research curriculum and co-ops to my hearts content before Caleb was old enough to begin school.

Then life happened. We went from one baby boy who had just turned one to five children. Now my oldest should be starting kindergarten in the fall of 2016. Shortly after our family grew so dramatically and I was juggling multiple therapies and case worker visits and an adjusting group of children who had all experienced a lot of trauma in their short years- I had a mommy melt down and decided there was no way I could homeschool. I couldn’t be enough Mom everywhere at one time to pull it off. I drove around in my car crying about it for awhile and just decided I just was not capable and should forget it.

Shockingly, this knee jerk, emotional decision has not been sitting well with me. If I was positive homeschooling was right before how could it be wrong now? I also have seen tremendous growth in my babies lately and I am realizing how short this time of survival mode living will be in the grande scheme of things. So where does that leave us? My oldest has started attending a traditional preschool and he loves it. I have no idea about curriculum or co-ops or homeschool groups and I have zero idea how I would start. To be honest I am not even sure which direction I think we should go in as a family. One thing I am sure of is that we need to pray about it and that soon we will be guided to the right path.

Homeschooling, can I? Yes. Will I? I’m still not sure.
P.S. I have been finding great comfort and encouragement in the homeschooling blog It’s A Good Full

We have gone from zero to five children in less than two years through adopting from foster care and that has been amazing and crazy in equal measures. It has also resulted in a life of crisis management, where I basically live crisis to crisis as our kiddos work through some very difficult challenges. I rarely have time to think too hard about tomorrow, let alone process all the big emotions I feel during the foster to adopt journey. Last Christmas Eve we were blessed to be able to adopt our first little one, who is now our middle child at 21 months old. We are now preparing to finalize the adoptions of three of our other children next month.

I recently went to complete all the entrance paperwork for our oldest child to start full time pre-school in the fall. The meeting started off as expected, lots of mind numbing repetition of “sign here”, “initial here and sign here”.  The school employee then nonchalantly told me that parent-teacher conferences happen three times a year. I felt like someone had suddenly plunged me into cold water- taking me out of the repetition and crisis management mode to give me a glimpse of the enormity of what is happening. Three times during this next year there will be parent-teacher conferences and I will be attending them as the parent. Wow. We really are becoming his forever parents- no prefix just his parents. It was not a foster parent-teacher conference but a parent-teacher conference. Suddenly the paperwork I was breezing through mindlessly took on new meaning.

We have felt they were all our children from the moment we met them but to know that soon they will be our children forever, legally, is huge. You would think that all the diaper changes, behavior talks, monster in the corner checks, snacks and cups made, boogers wiped and accomplishments cheered would make the parent word stick. Apparently it hasn’t sunk in yet. Thankfully, I have these glimpses that show me how much it hasn’t all sunk in and I can laugh at myself for being thrown by such simple phrase as “parent-teacher conference”. 

Years ago I worried we would never be parents. I was terrified of never getting the chance to see my husband tickling a squirming boy laughing and yelling “Daddy you’re getting me”. I thought I would never have small hands reaching up and eyes alight with cries of “Mama” as I entered a room. I prayed I would experience those things and part of me always felt sure I would but fear is sneaky. Fear will worm in to all of your hopes and dreams if you let it. 

We have one child’s case still up in the air and if these glimpses have taught me anything it is to not doubt the promises of The Lord. All things will work together for our good and the good of our children. I hope to soon to able to say we are preparing for our final adoption but I know if things turn out differently and our youngest leaves our home that as painful as that will be, Heavenly Father will have a plan for greater things for him and for us all. I am not letting fear worm into my hopes and prayers for an amazing future for any of our children, including the ones who don’t share our last name yet and I am reminding myself that I am for real and forever a parent now. Wow. Still seems too good to be true. 

Cabby and Baby Abby

****UPDATED FUNDRAISERS AT END*****

When I was fifteen I met someone who changed my life completely and irrevocably. Abby was my cousin Ilene’s fifth child and she changed life for the entire family. Abby was born with Down Syndrome and like many babies born with Down Syndrome she needed surgery to correct having her intestines separated, the hospital took Abby back for surgery when she was less than 24 hours old. Abby had an allergic reaction to the anesthetic and she coded (a cardio-pulmonary event) that resulted in her brain going without oxygen for fifteen minutes. Due to this traumatic event the labels and diagnoses attached to Abby grew to include Cerebral Palsy with Spastic Quadriplegia, Reactive Airway Disease, Sleep Apnea, GERD, Dysphasia, and significant Global Developmental Delays to name a few. After staying in NICU for a week Abby was taken back into surgery, given different meds and did great. She remained in the hospital another month before her family got to bring her home and begin adjusting to their new normal.

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Abby with her older brother Little Jimmy

During these early months of Abby’s life we spent a lot of time with them all and Abby and I bonded in a unique and special way. She opened my eyes to the world of children with special needs who fight every minute of every day to live their lives to the fullest and defy all the odds. The trauma for Abby and our entire family did not stop there unfortunately. When Abby was fourteen months old her older brother, Little Jimmy (two at the time), accidentally drowned in the family pool in the backyard. the pain and loss of this event are impossible to explain and forever changed the family once again. The next few years were full of family turmoil, as is often common after the loss of a child. Abby continued to grow and develop in the midst of this turmoil and she was still beating all the odds and doing things the doctors thought she never could, to include recognizing people, places and sounds as well as rolling herself across the floor.

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Fast forward to last year, when Abby was twelve years old and her doctors decided her scoliosis had gotten to the point that she needed spinal fusion surgery (basically placing rods in her back to keep her spine straighter). Anytime surgery and Abby are in the same sentence the family all gets a little nervous. Abby had her surgery and it corrected an 80% curvature of the spine to 40%. Abby’s one spinal surgery turned into four surgeries after she developed a severe infection. She ended up having to have an open wound vac and iv antibiotics for six months at home. In the middle of this latest struggle Abby began acting strangely and then one day her Mom couldn’t wake her up. Abby was rushed to the hospital with a blood sugar level of 1200 and in a diabetic coma. It was then that we all learned that Abby had Type 1 Diabetes. It took Abby three days to come out of the coma and she remained in the hospital for another nine days as she recovered.

Today Abby is a lot things; the most important parts of her are often overlooked. She is a fighter, stubborn as can be with a huge heart. She loves hugs, kisses, toys that make noise and being around people who love her. Currently Abby is wheelchair dependent, non-verbal and fed through a G-tube. Abby’s spine has to be supported at all times and she just received a new wheelchair tailor made for her. She clearly loves being able to comfortably enjoy the company of her family outside of a hospital bed.
Abby SmilingI got to see Abby a few weeks ago for the first time in years. I cried as soon as she grabbed my hand and the moment I saw comprehension cross her face as she remembered me and starting pulling me close for continual hugs. I also got to see how amazing she is doing and how hard her family is working to get her the best care imaginable. Abby has her new chair but her family does not have a vehicle equipped to get her around in so when Abby needs to go to the doctors (the only time she can leave now) she has to travel by ambulance. I have made it a personal mission to raise the funds to get Abby a van with a wheelchair lift so she can return to living a full and active life. If you can help me reach that goal I greatly appreciate it, if not please add Abby to your prayers and share her story of strength with everyone you know.

Cabby and AbbyIf you want to help Abby here are the ways :

Follow her story on FB : A Full Life for Abby FB Page

Donate and/or Share her Gofundme page: Get Abby a Wheelchair Van Gofundme Page

Shop the Thirty-One Fundraiser between August 1-14: Thirty-One Fundraiser

This Side of The Font

There are moments in time that irrevocably alter us, changing us at an almost cellular level. For me some of those moments include the day I married my husband, the day our first son was placed into my arms, the day I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the day I received the conferring of the Holy Ghost.

It’s been a little over a week since I was baptized and became an official Mormon. It’s taken a while for me to even begin gathering my thoughts about this experience. I have never experienced anything like it, and I know I will never forget the beauty of that day. The day couldn’t have been more perfect, the weather was perfect and so many loved ones gathered to support me and our family as I took this monumental step. In the last week I had an appointment for our oldest son and I had a very surreal experience when the provider we were meeting with asked me to identify the religion our family follows and I answered without a second thought that we were a Mormon family.

When I first felt myself being called to The Church (that story can be found here) and to the restored Gospel I was so worried that our loved ones would not be able to get behind such a radical change. I knew with the surety of an eternally encouraged child that my parents would support me no matter what, it was everyone else (myself included) that I was worried about. How foolish that fear turned out to be, something I realized fully as I looked around at the large number of people who gathered to support and celebrate my baptism. I cannot think of it, or look at the pictures without tears filling my eyes. We have friends and family from all walks of life and from all faiths and still so many showed up to support me following the path I had been called to walk. As with almost all new converts I had to physically restrain myself from grabbing everyone I knew to try to convey how amazing my baptism felt and how deeply I desired for them to feel it for themselves. I know from my own experiences on the other side of that interaction that such behavior rarely has the desired effect. So I restrained myself and just attempted to let my unfettered joy speak for itself. To everyone who came to my baptism and to all who sent me words of love and encouragement, I want to take a moment now to again thank you. The support of those you love in matters of importance to you should never be underestimated in value.

I, somehow, agreed to bear my testimony at my baptism and as the day drew nearer I became more and more terrified by the idea. I am not afraid of public speaking and I do not embarrass easy. I do, however, cry easily. I knew how deeply moved I was to be going through this experience and I was worried that my testimony would either not touch the gravity of it all or I would end up a wet mess that no one could understand. I was taught by a few combinations of Elders but the main two; Elder Tengberg and Elder Woodbury are both spiritual giants and I am continually in awe of their strength, faith and love for serving Heavenly Father on their missions. I was certain next to both of them, my testimony was going to be the linguistic equivalent to a finger painting being shown next to the works of Monet. Nonetheless, I was able to stand up and share my testimony of how I found my way to The Church;  how I came to know that this is The One True Church, that The Book of Mormon is true and that President Monson is a Prophet of the Lord.

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The day of my baptism ended with a day long picnic in the sun with friends and family. The kids got to run and play, we all got to spend some time with those we love and we celebrated me finally finding where I was meant to be in life. And somehow this amazing journey wasn’t over. I still had the gift of the Holy Ghost to receive the next morning at church.

Sunday started with its own miracle since my husband, who is amazingly supportive but not (yet) a big fan of going to church, decided to attend church with the kids and I. Every time we all can go to church as a whole family is a sacred and beautiful gift. As we were settling into the pew for Sacrament Meeting our children were all extra restless from their day of adventures the day before. I was just beginning to feel overwhelmed with trying to juggle our five children (three and under) when it was time for the conferring of the Holy Ghost. I was so blessed to be encircled by such strong and faithful Priesthood Holders as I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost and a Priesthood Blessing. This too was an experience unlike any I have ever experienced and one I feel I cannot accurately describe. There are a few things that seem to continually weigh on my mind and heart and as I was receiving the immense gift of the Holy Ghost and my blessing I felt such peace for once that everything was going to work out as it should and that there was no need to worry.

The week following my baptism was one of the crazier weeks we have ever had and I cannot imagine having gotten through that week without the joy and peace from my baptism still carrying me forward. There are no real tangible things to represent this huge change and yet from the moment my face broke the surface of the water as I emerged from my baptism, everything had changed and realigned.

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