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Summer 2021: How to Stop Time

Monday, September 13, 2021

It was one of those mornings in Georgia where something about the light and the air makes you think it's chilly out and you'll need to put on a sweater. But alas, it's in the 80s today -- and likely will be into October. Nevertheless, I made both Joe and me pumpkin spice coffees this morning to feel just a hint of the fall we're not yet experiencing. 

It's not secret that I love to read. And while I love to read all year long, there's something particularly special about summer reading. Because I had Hank in June, I didn't get to read as many books this summer as I usually do, but I still got a decent amount of reading done, and for that I am grateful. 

As we close out summer reading for 2021 and look towards fall, here is sample of books I read this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with some of my favorite quotes from each. I'd love to know if you read any of these or if you plan to! 



The Midnight Library by Matt Haig 

"Never underestimate the big importance of small things," Mrs. Elm said. "You must always remember that." 

We don't have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite. While we are alive we always contain a future of multifarious possibility.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

His favourite moment, even more than the sweets shop and the single large jawbreaker she would occasionally buy for him, was the chance to look at the children's books at the library and find something new to borrow. Because -- and he still did not understand how people like his brothers could not see this -- inside the pages of each and every book was a whole other world.

"We love Jane Austen because her characters, as sparkling as they are, are no better and no worse than us. They're so eminently, so completely, human. I, for one, find it greatly consoling that she had us all figured out." 

"And that's exactly what Austen gives us. A world so part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic. Even with so many flawed and even silly characters, it all makes sense in the end. It may be the most sense we'll ever get to make out of our own messed-up world."

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

If it were up to me, every child would have a year in the library before they went to school. Not just to read, but to roam. To befriend a librarian. To bash their fingers against the computers and to turn the pages of a book while making up a story from their superior little imaginations. How lucky the world would be if every child could do that.

The Switch by Beth O'Leary

"Whereas dating, dating is full of hope. In fact, dating is really one long, painful exercise in discovering how disappointing other humans are." 

She looks expectantly at me, but I haven't a clue what I'm meant to talk about. It's easy talking to Grandma, she's Grandma, but actually I don't really know what chitchat with elderly people entails otherwise. (<- If you know me, you get why I love this.)

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

I should also say, in case it needs saying: I don't know for sure that the words I write were the words that were actually spoken. They probably weren't. But this is how I remember these things, and all we can ever be is faithful to our memories of reality, rather than the reality itself, which is something closely related but never precisely the thing.

I loved her instantly. Of course, most parents love their children instantly. But I mention it here because I still find it a remarkable thing. Where was that love before? Where did you acquire it from? The way it is suddenly there, total and complete, as sudden as grief, but in reverse, is one of the wonders about being human.

It is a popular modern idea. That the inner us is a something different to the outer us. That there is an authentic realer and better and richer version of ourselves which we can only tap into by buying a solution. This idea that we are separate from our nature, as separate as a bottle of Dior perfume is from the plants of a forest. As far as I can see, this is a problem with living in the twenty-first century. Many of us have every material thing we need, so the job of marketing is now to tie the economy to our emotions, to make us feel like we need more by making us want things we never needed, to feel poorly travelled if we have been to only ten other countries, to feel too old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren't photoshopped and filtered.

Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don't expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

When you think about it, isn't a person just a structure built in reaction to the landscape and the weather?

Occasionally, though, the worst version of someone was the actual version of someone, but it was difficult to know if one was in that situation until after the fact.

"Because the things we don't have are sadder than the things we have. Because the things we don't have exist in our imaginations, where they are perfect." 

... I am a person with an interior world you know nothing about.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

After all, the only way to absolutely ensure things will go badly is to be late.

Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin

And isn't love just curiosity at the beginning anyway? What makes a person keep reading a book? First sentence? Not bad. Chapter one? All right. By the time you're almost at three, why not keep reading? 

"I could listen to this song the rest of my life," she said. "Every time I hear it, it's different somehow." 
"Or maybe you're different?" I suggested. 

In life, Jane reflected, the most interesting things tend to happen when you are on your way to do something else.


My picks of the summer:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Just a beautiful, beautiful read.) 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (No one writes a character like Gabrielle Zevin!) 

The Switch by Beth O'Leary (A fast, fun, happy read.)

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (A great young adult book. Read if you want to cry!) 

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant (A must-read if you are close to someone with autism.) 

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (An intriguing concept, executed brilliantly.) 

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (A great pick for lovers of history and thrillers.) 

One by One by Ruth Ware (Another great one by the prolific Ware.) 

See my Summer 2016, Summer 2017, and Summer 2020 lists. And remember, you can always find an ongoing list of all my book recommendations here and here

What's in a Name

Monday, August 30, 2021

One thing I really love hearing about is why people decided to name their children what they did. Truly, naming a child is a stressful experience because there's so much to consider: initials, monogram, any weird nicknames, how it sounds with your last name. And if you're a teacher, then there are also so many names that belong to former students, and that brings up a lot of its own feelings. And if all this is not stressful enough, consider that I read somewhere once that when you name your child, you are giving them the name by which God will call them for all eternity. 

Oh, okay, cool. No pressure then. 

Today I thought I would share with you why we decided to name our children what we did, and I hope you will share, too! 

Robert David
Being our first child, this was the first real chance Joe and I had to share with each other what names we liked. As you can imagine, there were names he really liked where I was like "Ehh," and there were names I liked that he wasn't too thrilled about either. But one thing we both agreed on was that we loved our grandfathers. My maternal grandfather is Robert (still living), and Joe's maternal grandfather was David (he has died, and he was a wonderful man). I honestly don't remember exactly how or when we came up with Bert, but one day we just realized that was an awfully cute nickname. We liked that it was uncommon but not weird (because it's not 1950). And we thought it would suit our son more than the more common nicknames for Robert, like Bob or Robbie. The only thing holding us back from this name was that there is a slightly more famous Robert Kraft already. But we love my grandfather more than we cared about that, so Robert David "Bert" it was. 

Henry Joseph
This is probably a good time to mention that there are FOUR girls' names that I LOVE. But then I had to come up with another boy name! This time, along with all the other considerations relating to a child's name, we also had to consider how it would sound with Bert. Once again, Joe and I went back and forth, sharing our suggestions with each other, but nothing sounded right. I can't quite remember exactly how or when, but the name Hank was suggested. We loved how it sounded with Bert, and we also loved that, like Bert's name, it is uncommon but not unusual (again, because it's not 1950). Although Hank was the name we wanted, we also wanted to give him a "real" name and not just name him a nickname, so Henry is his real name. After thinking for a while, we decided to give him the middle name Joseph because Bert's name has such a strong family connection, we wanted Hank to have a connection, too. So we gave him the middle name Joseph after Joe, and we also thought it was fitting because in the Catholic Church, this year is the year of Saint Joseph. 


So there are the stories of Bert and Hank, two boys who are aptly named to spend their senior years drinking .50 coffee at McDonald's at 6 a.m.!

Some funny things:
- While I remember that Bert's real name is Robert, I am not joking at all when I tell you that 99% of the time I completely forget Hank's name is actually Henry. 
- The week we decided to name Bert Robert Kraft was the same week that the first Robert Kraft was arrested for his indiscretion, and the week we decided to name Hank Hank was the week Hank Aaron died. So if we have another child and you're a celebrity with the same name, you might want to watch out! 

Human Development

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The other day I saw something that made me think: what have I been doing? Let me explain. 

I have been staying at home with my children for the past three school years (this is the third one) after deciding that would be best for our family right now. I really, really miss teaching and school, and it's a sacrifice for me to stay home, honestly, as much as I'm glad I can be here for my children at this time. But when I look back over the past two years, I honestly wonder: what have I been doing?

I see other stay at home moms starting Etsy shops, learning lettering, getting certified to teach yoga. I look at myself and think, I haven't done anything like that. I haven't learned to knit or gotten an advanced certification or restored any furniture. 

But then I realized two things:

1. Staying at home with my children is a difficult, full-time job, regardless of what literally anyone (and everyone) says to the contrary, and 

2. There is something I have been doing (outside of caring for my children) that is incredibly valuable

It's the second point I want to talk about today (and I'm sure I'll address the first one another time). 

I admittedly spend a lot of time on Instagram. Several months ago I began thinking about this and wondering if I spent too much time there. But then I took a closer look at the accounts I was following and what I was reading about all day, and I discovered something: 90 percent of the time I spend on Instagram is spent reading about connected parenting, gentle parenting, attachment, child behavior, fostering a healthy relationship between children and food, mental health, the foster care system, disability, and neurodivergency. 

Since Bert was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, I have sought out not only credible CP organizations to follow and learn from, but, more importantly, adults with CP whom I can learn so much from. I have learned the terminology they prefer, the books they recommend, the suggestions they have for parents of children with CP. This has led to an even wider education about disabled people in general and their preferences when it comes to language and terminology, the struggles they face regarding accessibility, and the history of disabled people in the United States. 

I also have a close friend who has a son she believes is autistic, and she's in the process of having him evaluated now. I wanted to know more about that, so I read a book she suggested, and I also followed a few accounts on Instagram that she suggested would be helpful in learning more about autism. 

I know several people who are foster parents or who feel called to foster, so I began following some foster parenting accounts to learn more about the foster care system, and, more importantly, how I can best support foster parents, bio parents, and children in foster care. 

While it might sound like all of this following and reading would only directly benefit my own family and friends, I truly believe that what I have done over the past couple of years is put myself on a path to becoming not only a better mother, but a better teacher, a better friend, and a better human being. Furthering my knowledge on gentle parenting techniques, attachment, child behavior, the foster care system, disability, and neurodivergency will directly benefit my future students, my own children, my friends, new people I meet, etc. because I now have a much broader and wider understanding of people in general. I believe it has made me more understanding and compassionate. You may not be able to quantify or monetize this, but I feel I couldn't have spent my time doing anything better. 

I am no longer looking at my Instagram time as time wasted on social media, but, instead, as professional and human development. 

Instagram accounts to follow:





Bert in Space

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

One of the most fun parts of preparing for Hank's arrival was setting up a new room for Bert! Although Bert is still sleeping in his nursery while Hank bunks with us in our room, we had to get Bert's new room set up early so we'd have a closet and a dresser to store his clothes in so we could put Hank's clothes in the nursery. 

We knew we wanted to give Bert a space-themed room. Joe and I both love space! We love talking about space, reading about space, watching documentaries about space. We think space is really fun, and we hope Bert will love learning about stars, planets, and black holes, too! 

I also think that Bert's body would move in space the same as everyone else's, and I love picturing him up there, floating with his fellow astronauts, moving exactly the same as they, not confined to the ground with his stiff and painful leg muscles. 

I am by no means an artist or decorator of any kind, but man did I have fun making this room for my son. We lucked into a great 50% off kids' stuff sale at Target, scored some fun wall stickers on Amazon, and randomly found a constellation clock at Home Goods. Our neighbor offered us some great wall art for free that her brother had made and she had no place for, we went through our collection of children's books and found some great space-themed ones to feature, and my brother and sister-in-law gifted Bert some night sky art before they even knew we were planning a space room for him! Since I didn't have a nursery to set up this time around (Hank will be moving into the current nursery, which we made before Bert was born and is Peter Pan-themed), I enjoyed spending the last part of my pregnancy with Hank putting this room together for Bert. I hope he will love it! 





I absolutely love hanging things from the ceilings of the kids' rooms. I think it adds some interest and depth. My favorite hack? Party decorations! That "To the Moon" banner as well as the planets, star, moon, and rocket decorations hanging to its right all came in a pack of party decorations at Target for $5. They're all too high up to reach, so they'll last! 


That "Explore" sign? Target dollar spot! And the picture below it was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law, Bert's godparents, and shows the night sky at the time he was born. 


We adore this Rocket tent! It's so fun and was the perfect way to complete this corner. It was purchased by Bert's grandparents after we found it on Amazon


My neighbor knew were giving Bert a space room and asked if we might be interested in having this art her brother painted but she didn't have a place for. We sure were! It's perfect for over the dresser. 


Some great books: My Very First Space Book, I am Neil Armstrong, and Rocket Manual for Amateurs (which I actually bought for Joe years ago at a used book sale.) 


We love this astronaut lamp! It was half off at Target when we found it. (I don't see it on the website anymore, which is probably why it was so cheap, but this one would also be so cute in a space room!) 


Target artwork with the constellation clock Joe randomly found at Home Goods. 


I don't know what the deal is, but it is so hard to find a kids' hamper that is sturdy! We looked and looked in person and online, and finally Joe had the good idea to just buy a trash can. I mean, hampers are just basically clothes trash cans, right? We bought this plain black one from Target and jazzed it up using wall stickers we found on Amazon. 




Toy storage is WalMart for the win! 


Wall stickers are from Amazon (same pack that we also used on the hamper). The bed is from Amazon and was suggested by Busy Toddler. The blanket and pillow were found for 50% off at Target! (I can't find either on the website anymore, and, again, probably why we got them so cheap!) 


The constellation rug was purchased by Bert's grandparents after we found it on Amazon! 



Advice if You're Close to a New Mom

Monday, August 23, 2021




It’s all about preserving relationships.

A couple of weeks before Hank was born, a woman at church told me she wanted to talk to me about something. She and her husband will be new grandparents in September after their son and daughter-in-law welcome their first baby. She wanted to know, as a first-time grandparent invited to see the new baby, my advice on how to be the best mother/mother-in-law she could be in the situation. I appreciated her asking, and frankly I feel that the fact she asked means she’s going to do great. Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve got for any grandparent (or anyone) who is close to parents with a new baby. I also talked with a couple friends to get their input. I truly believe that these guidelines will lead to a peaceful, tension-free time for all. Graphic one is dos and don’ts for newborns, and graphic two is dos and don’ts if the parents also have an older child.

***

- Remember that you have no “right” to see the baby when you want to. If your child/child-in-law are letting you come to their house, that’s a gift, not a right. Along with that, if they ask you to delay your visit, accept that.

- Remember you are not there to hold the baby. The mother can give the baby everything he or she needs. You’re there to help. If you want to make dinner, grocery shop, or do laundry, visit. If you just want to hold the baby, delay your visit.

- If you want to do something with the baby, ASK. Don’t just say “I’ll hold the baby.” ASK THE MOTHER if you can. It’s just simple respect.

- Do not post pictures of people’s children on social media without their permission. I don’t care what your privacy settings are or how many friends you have. It’s incredibly disrespectful. And I mean ask every time, don’t just ask once and think it applies every time moving forward.

- Don’t share your problems with the mother. Her hormones are all over the place. She’s sleep deprived, emotional, and trying to hold it together. Even if it seems like she’s “okay,” still don’t. She doesn’t need the extra emotional burden of your problems at this time.

- If the parents have an older child (or children) and have asked you to be the caregiver for this child, listen to, care about, and follow any instructions or information the parents provide. No one loves grandparents more than I do (I still have a set of mine, and I adore them and have always done), and I understand grandparents spoil and indulge. They should! But there’s a time and a place. And a time of intense transition and upheaval, such as when a new sibling arrives, is not a vacation. The parents have asked you to help keep their older child’s life moving as smoothly as possible, so if you can’t respect that, or, more importantly, don’t want to or don’t think you should have to, delay your visit and allow them to ask someone who can.

- The absolute worst thing you can do is offer unsolicited advice. I don’t care how many kids you have, how great of a parent you think you are, or what your experience is, DO. NOT. OFFER. UNSOLICITED. ADVICE. of any kind, for any reason. I know you think you’re being helpful, but actually it’s insulting, and it’s hurtful. The parents also may be choosing to do things differently than you did. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong; everyone does the best they can with the information they have at the time. If you’re not sure if what you’re about to say is unsolicited advice or not, it probably is. When in doubt, keep your mouth closed. Practice saying “How can I help?” and “You’re doing great.”

Other parents, what would you add?

(Dedicated to Kathy, who breastfed five children but then accompanied me to a hospital lab waiting room where I struggled to breastfeed a 3-day-old Bert and sat there watching until I finally snapped, “Could ya help me?” at her. That’s how committed she is to not giving unsolicited advice. More importantly, I learned that the things above are as important as they are because she worked hard to do the “this” columns. Mom, your efforts did not go unnoticed.)

The Paperclip

Monday, August 16, 2021

I want to tell you a little story about a paperclip. 

It's not a particularly special paperclip; it came in one of those desk supply kits you can get that also contain binder clips and sticky notes. Truth be told, in the role of paperclips in the traditional sense, it's not that great. It's small, it's coated in plastic, and it's easily bent. It came in a collection that also housed pink paperclips, so, being gray, it's not even a great color. 

But while it is lacking in its ability to, you know, clip paper together, it has proven to shine in another area: constancy. 

I bet you didn't guess I was going to say that. 

You see, several months ago now, the small piece of plastic that was the outer button that allowed us to turn our baby monitor on and off broke. Broke beyond repair. However, we could still turn the baby monitor on and off if we could find a little item to use to press down on the inner mechanism. I told Joe I had a glass jar full of paperclips that used to sit on my desk at school, so I ran upstairs and grabbed one out of the jar. 

That's where the journey of this particular paperclip really began. 

For a while, we clipped it to the back of the monitor. Until we found out -- or, more accurately, Bert showed me one day -- that the metal paperclip would stick to the front of the monitor like a magnet. It wasn't very strong, but it was convenient, and it did the job. 

Then one day, Joe was like, "Where's the paperclip?" We discovered that somewhere between upstairs and downstairs, the paperclip had gotten lost. Truly, we were surprised that flimsy thing had lasted as long as it did. It spent overnights charging upstairs and daytime performing its duties downstairs. Up and down it was carried -- in hands, in pockets, in laundry baskets. Losing it was inconvenient, but I figured I'd just get around to picking another one out of the jar. 

But I didn't have to. 

The next day I was pulling laundry out of the dryer, and guess what I found just laying there? The paperclip! I showed it to Joe, and we were both amazed that somehow that little thing had turned up. We stuck it back on the monitor where it went back to doing its job. Until it got lost again. 

For months we have been in a cycle where we have lost and then found this one tiny gray paperclip. It has turned up on rugs, under the couch, under a dresser, in the middle of our bedroom carpet. After about the third time of losing it, the next time we lost it, I just said to Joe, "I'm not worried. It'll turn up." And it always has. Whether it takes a day or a week, I never replace the lost paperclip because inevitably, we will always find it. It turns up every time and keeps turning up. At one point in late May as we were waiting for the arrival of Hank and going through a lot with Bert, we found the lost paperclip yet again, and I said to Joe, "This paperclip is the most constant and dependable thing in our lives." Even now, sometimes, when I'm feeling a little lost or defeated, I think of that little paperclip and how it just won't quit, and I'm like -- okay, paperclip. You keep showing up, and so will I. 




I Walked In

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

As I walked in, I thought to myself: how many times in my life have I walked into a dance studio, tights rolled up to my calves, leotard on, dance bag slung over my shoulder? I walked in as a five-year-old, a new girl in a new town. I walked in when I was 10, to the same studio building but a new dancing school after my teacher retired. I walked in when I was 13, excited to see my three best friends after spending the whole school day away from them. I walked in when I was 17, knowing the clock was running out on dance as I knew it as I would soon be going off to college. I walked in when I was 26, newly back in my hometown.

I’ve walked in on happy days, excited to gossip with my best friends. I’ve walked in on sad days, after particularly hard times in middle school. I’ve walked in worried about a physics test, and I’ve walked in worried about finding a job. I’ve walked in as a Gingersnap, and I’ve walked in as Clara. 
And tonight, I walked in again, a 37-year-old mom of a toddler and a newborn, the leotard a little tighter, the nursing bra feeling strange and unwelcome underneath. But the fundamentals remained the same: leotard, tights, shoes, dance bag. And Anna. 

As I began my first demi pliΓ©, I looked in the mirror and saw how terrible my turnout is. As I went to hold arabesque, I realized how off my balance is. My turns were sub-par, my promenade shaky. 

And it felt great. 

When time came for grande jetes in zig zags across the floor, I barely made it off the ground and was particularly poor on my left side. So when we lined up to leap from the other side, I made a decision: no mirror, just dance. My jetes weren’t any higher or more graceful, but man, for one split second I was Clara again. 

As I drove away from dance tonight, I realized that for the first time in a very long time, I had just spent the last hour not worried about anything but my turnout and balance. I didn’t worry about Bert’s health. I didn’t worry about Hank’s development. I didn’t worry about our house or bills or appointments. For one whole hour, I was 17 again, doing what I loved, carrying the spirits of those I used to love to do it with. 

Dedicated to the best friends a girl could have at a time when best friends were all that mattered. The four of us: Catherine Daniel, Jenny Leidy, Kristin Williams, and Anna Lafferre. With love. 


As Bert Turns Two

Monday, August 2, 2021

Last summer, on the morning of Bert's first birthday party, I sat down with a chalk marker and the birthday sign. You know the one: height, weight, number of teeth, "I love ...", "I can ..." 

Height? Got it. Number of teeth? Counted. "I love ..."? Super simple to fill out. 

But "I can ..." 

It became a lot more complicated. 


Like many parents, I spent the first few months of Bert's life documenting his "accomplishments" monthly. I can laugh. I can roll from back to front. I can blow raspberries. But as Bert got older, "I can ..." got a little harder. Bert couldn't sit up at 8 months. He couldn't crawl at 9 months. (Or 10 or 11.) And when his one year birthday came around, Bert could neither stand nor walk. 

So as I sat in front of that birthday sign last summer, I realized something: no longer would I be charting Bert's monthly "accomplishments." And if I had any more children (turns out I did), I would never begin finishing the "I can ..." line with anything related to something my child could do. Not because I was embarrassed or upset. Absolutely not. It's for a much, much bigger and more important reason: my child is not his accomplishments. 

Whether or not Bert can walk, run, score lots of goals, write his name, get straight As ... none of these things has absolutely anything to do with his dignity as a human person. They have nothing at all to do with who he really is. We love Bert because of who he IS not what he can do. It is wonderful to be proud of your child when he or she accomplishes something, but I never want Bert (or Hank) to think that our love for him or pride in him is dependent on his ability to accomplish certain things. 

So this year, as Bert turns two on Wednesday, I would like you to know that Bert can make strangers smile, make his parents laugh, and show concern for Hank when Hank is upset. He calls popsicles "popikeeps," calls TV "TT," calls Hank "Hink," and calls the Bible "Jesus." He is a bit of a class clown. So many, many things that perhaps cannot be quantified like motor development, but, to his dad and me, are much, much more important. 

Happy second birthday my darling boy. We love you because you're you. 

A Pool Called Bethesda

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

When Bert was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy back in April, one of the biggest challenges we faced was finding supports in the community. This is a different post for a different day, but it really surprised us that a doctor could tell us our son has CP and we would not immediately be provided with a list of things to do or support groups to join or activities for disabled children. We had to do a lot of work to actively seek these things out, and, indeed, we hit a lot of brick walls when email addresses we were given for groups and activities would come back undeliverable and websites would be defunct. 

One group we learned about was called AngelFish Georgia, which is a swim instruction group for children with disabilities of all kinds. We learned through the website that the instructors are specially trained, and what we read all sounded very promising. I didn't see a summer schedule on the website, so I sent an email to the email address listed, inquiring about the schedule and if there might be a spot for Bert. 

The next morning I happened to be up very early; I can't even remember why. But I woke up to an email response from the director of AngelFish. It sounded almost too good to be true: the director was so welcoming and encouraging, the cost was very low, and the information the director provided was thorough. The director informed me that lessons were held at a pool located in a local park called Bethesda. For the first time since Bert's diagnosis I felt hopeful about a community we could become a part of, but I still felt a little apprehensive since, again, it sounded too good to be true. 

After reading the email, I opened my Bible, hoping to get my day started off right. I opened to the Gospel of John to begin reading where I had left off the day before. The scripture that morning was this:

After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep [Gate] a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

- John 5:1-9 (New American Bible, Revised Edition read in the Blessed is She Bible

A pool called Bethesda ... a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled ... Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." 

I couldn't get through it without crying, just as I can't get through it without crying now. I just knew God had His hand in this, and it was yet another reminder that I might love my son more than anything, but God loves him more. 




The Birth of Hank

Monday, July 26, 2021

Sitting down to write Hank's birth story is a funny exercise because it couldn't be more different than Bert's, and we still can't believe it. 


If you remember Bert's birth story, parts one and two, or you were part of our lives during that time, you may remember that he arrived at 39 weeks after my water broke at Home Depot, and my labor was long and arduous. Bert's heart rate kept dropping throughout labor, and the only remedy was me lying on my side in a weird and uncomfortable position, not being allowed to move at all, not even to sit up for two minutes to put my contact lenses in. That labor was followed by Bert being born at a low body temperature, with jaundice and polycythemia, the last of which would cause him to go on to be hospitalized at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for several days during his first week of life. His blood sugar kept crashing, and he failed three hearing tests in the hospital. In short, there was nothing about Bert's labor and delivery that wasn't terrifying and difficult. Of course, if you've been part of Bert's story since that time, you also know that he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy in April, after having had a diagnosed global development delay since he was nine months old. 

After all of that, Joe and I were pretty terrified for Hank's labor and delivery (and life!), to put it mildly. 

We had an extra long time to be scared, as Hank wouldn't budge and had no intention to! My mom came down to stay with us and care for Bert right before I turned 39 weeks. We figured, well, Bert was born at 39 weeks and typically first children come later, right?

Wrong. 

And honestly, I should have known better. Bert constantly moved moved moved in my belly, and Hank barely ever did. I mean, he moved enough that I knew he was alive and safe, but mostly he was just always curled up. I had at least five ultrasounds for various medical reasons this pregnancy, and in every.single.one. Hank would not cooperate. In fact one ultrasound tech told me that Hank was "the most uncooperative baby" she had seen in a while. He was just always curled up and didn't want to be bothered. 

So he was not going to be bothered to come out either. 

I went to my weekly appointments, everything was fine, Hank and I were both healthy. 

So we all just kept on waiting. 

On Friday, June 18, when I was 40 weeks and 4 days, I saw my doctor, and she said she'd see me again Monday, when I'd be 41 weeks, and we'd reevaluate then. She said I could go all the way to 42 weeks if I wanted. I held steady over the weekend, and when I went in on Monday everything still looked good. Joe and I had discussed it over the weekend, and we decided to do an induction on Wednesday, checking into the hospital on Tuesday night. I do believe that letting babies come when they are ready is best, and there were a lot of factors that went into this decision (that involved no pressure from my practice), and I was super nervous about making the right decision. But the reality was that Hank had to come out sometime. And a major factor that went into our decision was that the wonderful Rachel was working Thursday and Friday, so if we had a baby Wednesday she'd be the person who cared for us both days during our stay. And knowing she would be there gave us so much peace. 

So we checked in Tuesday night at 8 p.m. (after a delish dinner of Chick-Fil-A!) The induction medication was given to me at 9:30 p.m. and the plan was to leave it in till 9:30 a.m. Joe and I both got some sleep, and I woke up around 7 a.m. I went to the bathroom and put my contacts in, then as I was lying back down in bed the contractions started. I watched the clock, and they were coming every three minutes. So the nurse took the medication out around 7:30 a.m., my water broke on its own, and I got my epidural shortly after. Joe and I played trivia (and he also said some crazy nonsense). The contractions spread out, so I got some Pitocin. (I also found out one of my favorite nurse midwives from my practice was on delivery that day, so I was pretty excited.) I was 9 cm dilated, but that's when things stalled out, and I kind of hung out in this limbo for awhile. Although Hank's heart rate dropped a couple times, it was not nearly the crazy crisis that Bert's situation was, and just some simple position changes helped him. Around 3:30 p.m. Joe and I were both listening to some music on our respective phones. I had been given a little extra medication from anesthesiology so I felt just fine. My nurse midwife came in and checked me ... still at 9. Then she told me that Hank was in a weird position; his face was facing sideways. Then she got my nurse (who was also awesome) and was like, "You know what? Let's just try a push on the next contraction, and we'll see what happens." She gave me a quick pushing tutorial, and we went for it on the next contraction. Quickly, both my midwife and the nurse were like -- "Yep, okay, stop. Get everyone in here. It's time." And Joe and I were like, "Okay?" So I basically had to hand Joe my phone and earbuds, and he put them and his own stuff aside and stood up and came over, and I kid you not, Hank was born a few minutes later after three rounds of pushes! My midwife was like, "Man, we could have done this in two if he weren't facing the wrong way!" So I basically went from I'm listening to music on my phone to look I'm holding a baby in about five minutes. There were a couple concerns about Hank's respiration rate (too high) and his blood sugar (too low) over the next several hours, but, again, nothing was nearly at the level that Bert's concerns were. His respiration rate lowered, his blood sugar regulated, he passed his hearing test on the first try, his bilirubin levels were fine. 

In short, nothing happened. No drama at all. 

Joe and I repeatedly looked at each other and said some version of, "This really happens? Like people go to the hospital, have an easy labor, deliver their babies with little trouble, and they're fine? Like, they just go home?" We are honestly still in shock about the whole thing. 

We left on Friday and just ... went home. When he saw his pediatrician on Monday, she said, "Hank is 100 percent healthy." Joe and I have never heard that from a doctor about one of our children before. 

So that's how Hank got here!

***
 
As I read what I wrote above, the immediate word I think of is "boring." I feel like the writing is sub-par, and the story is boring. I mean, it's exciting that Hank has arrived, but overall that story is not at all compelling. But I feel like, in reality, it really was, so I couldn't figure out what was wrong. 

And then something happened that made me realize why. 

A week after Hank came home from the hospital, I had to take him to the Saturday hours clinic at our pediatric practice because he had a little issue with his umbilical cord. (Okay, so maybe Hank did have one small health hiccup, but, and it has to be said, Bert had this same issue, but his resulted in a visit to the surgeon at the children's hospital and a chemical burn, and Hank's ended in his issue going away, so, once again, easy peasy.) I had to drive Hank there by myself because Joe had to be with Bert. I got in the car, hooked up my phone, and hit "play" on iTunes. A song came on, and I started tearing up. I couldn't figure out why, and then it hit me... 

The last time I had listened to music on my phone was minutes before I delivered Hank, so my phone automatically started playing the last song I had been listening to. That song was "The Fighter" by Gym Class Heroes. This was the last song I heard before Hank arrived, and hearing it took me right back. As I listened to it, I realized: the story of my labor and delivery of Hank is not really the story of how Hank got here. The story of Hank's arrival into the world is really about the choice we made to have him. 


The first week we took Bert to his adaptive swim class, I learned that his classmate who has Down Syndrome had a 5-month-old sister. I also learned about other families of children with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic conditions who also have children younger than the child with the disability. I told Joe I was so inspired by how these families chose to have more children even after their first child was diagnosed with a disability. It just gave me so much hope because the reason you chose to do that is hope. Then I was like, "Wait a minute. That's us. We did that too." Although Bert wasn't officially diagnosed with a disability until I was about seven months pregnant with Hank, we knew Bert had a developmental delay and required physical therapy months before we decided to try for another baby. 

As I listened to "The Fighter" while driving Hank to the doctor that day, I cried because I realized -- that's me. I am a fighter. And it's okay for me to be proud of myself for that. 

During the first trimester of my pregnancy with Hank, I spent tons of time on the phone with various people, fighting for Bert to receive in-person therapy instead of virtual. I would be lying on the couch while Bert took his afternoon nap, not napping myself, but making phone calls. Then I'd go throw up pasta while trying to take a shower because I couldn't make it out of the shower and to the toilet in time. During my pregnancy I took Bert to Atlanta (40 miles each way) to see his neurologist. One of those times Joe was out of town, so I drove him myself (at rush hour). Both of those times, I took Bert inside to his appointment by myself because the doctor was enforcing a one-parent-only rule due to COVID. At the second appointment, I was alone while I was told by the doctor that my child had Cerebral Palsy. Until Bert learned to walk in April, I carried him everywhere. I loaded him in the car and took him back out again. I lifted him into shopping carts, his bed, and the bathtub. I carried him up and down stairs. I carried him into doctor's appointments and physical therapy. I took care of him alone when Joe would go out of town for work. Every single OB appointment I had -- including ultrasounds -- I went to by myself because Joe was not allowed to go due to COVID rules. I took Bert to his MRIs, and before that, I fought to get the children's hospital to allow both Joe and me to accompany him (COVID again). I called several cord blood banks, trying to see if any of them would offer us free or lower-cost banking of Hank's cord blood because of Bert's CP. I filled out the paperwork needed for that. I sought out, obtained, and filled out over 60 pages of paperwork to apply to get Bert extra health care through the state, which required driving papers to his pediatrician to fill out (which I was doing after Hank's due date had already passed in order to meet a firm deadline). 

All pregnancies are hard. All parents work hard for their children. I believe both of those things. But when I think back to my pregnancy with Hank and all I had to do and go through, I think: that was HARD. And that was me. Me. I did that. I got up every day and did that. 

And THAT is the story of Hank. It's not really about his labor and delivery. It's that we ever chose to bring him here to begin with. 

Give 'em hell, turn their heads
Gonna live life till we're dead
Give me scars, give me pain
Then they'll say to me, say to me, say to me
There goes a fighter
There goes a fighter
Here comes a fighter 
That's what they'll say to me, say to me, say to me
This one's a fighter



Father's Day 2021

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Last year Bert and I bought these matching shirts for him and Joe for Father's Day. This year, Bert is big enough to wear it!


In the past year, Joe was told his son had a motor development delay, so Joe asked what he could do to help Bert. He was told Bert needed OT and PT, so Joe took him (and continues to take him). He learned from the therapists what he could do to help Bert at home, so he got what Bert needed to work with him. He got the orthotics, he went to the MRIs, he takes Bert to swim therapy class, and he encourages him every day. Joe has never once complained, felt sorry for himself, or acted too proud to have a son who needs extra help. He just does what needs to be done. It’s because Joe is humble, he’s kind, he’s hardworking, and he loves us a lot.

For Father’s Day this year, Joe got take out because his wife is expecting a baby (last week πŸ™„). He got no special trips or events or meals. But he acted like it was the best day ever. It’s not true, it wasn’t, but Joe is the best dad ever. Bert (and the other one) are so blessed God sent them to Joe. They will never know what it’s like to have anything but the most loving, giving, fun, adventurous, humble, helpful dad.

Father Jack

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Bert says several words that he associates with church: God, “cheech” (church), and Jesus. (I attribute this to divine intervention as well as the fact he was born on the feast day of Saint John Vianney and definitely not to anything Joe and I have done. πŸ˜‚) Lately, though, when talking about “cheech” he has begun saying another word that sounds like “dack.” Honestly, it sounds like what he says for dog and duck, and I have been struggling to figure out how dogs or ducks fit on a list with God, church, and Jesus.

Until yesterday.

As he was reciting his litany: God, cheech, dack, Jesus, I finally realized … “dack” is “Father Jack” the  outstanding priest at our amazing church, Saint Monica. I love how Bert smiles when he knows we have FINALLY realized what it is he’s been trying to tell us all along: God, church, Father Jack, and Jesus. (In that order, I’ll add!)



Diaper Fairy

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

(I received a complimentary bag of Pampers Baby Dry diapers from Pampers US and Influenster in exchange for a fair and honest review. All views expressed are my own!)

A week or so ago, I turned to Joe and said, “So I guess we’re waiting for the diaper fairy to show up” because we were (still are!) expecting a newborn baby any moment and had not purchased one. single. diaper.

Turns out the joke was on me, as my mom showed up with a bag of Pampers size newborn and a couple days later I received a bag of Pampers Baby-Dry size 1 diapers in the mail. So I guess diaper fairies do exist?


For Bert’s daily wear, we buy the Members Mark diapers from Sam's Club. However, Bert, being the angel that he is, has been sleeping 10-12 hour stretches through the night for a long time now, and a regular diaper just can’t get the job done. For overnights, we turn to Pampers Baby Dry. They keep Bert totally dry all night long and prevent any wet pajama or bed sheet mishaps, which make for a more peaceful morning. We plan to have baby brother follow the same plan … when and if he ever gets here. πŸ™„

Oh, and the pic of Bert at 1 month old shows how well the diapers fit … and how not well his clothes fit since he was just so dang long! πŸ˜‚


Gifts for Expectant Moms

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

My life can be boiled down to one main thing right now: waiting.

I feel like hanging a sign around my neck that says “I feel okay. Yes, I’m still pregnant. No, I don’t know when he’s coming.” πŸ˜‚ What’s funny is that baby 2 isn’t even due till Monday, so I’m not even late! But Bert came at 39 weeks, 1 day, so this is officially the longest I’ve ever been pregnant.

While I’m waiting, I thought I’d write a little something about gifts for an expectant mom who is still in this late third trimester period of waiting. A year ago I wrote a piece on nine things new moms need at home, but today’s mini-list is specifically for moms whose babies aren’t here quite yet and who could desperately use a little pick-me-up.



Here’s my advice:

- A convenience bag. I didn’t even know this was a thing, but I happened to see one last month on Amazon. Essentially it’s a bag that holds everything a new mom would need for the hospital: shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. ALL IN ONE BAG! Now she doesn’t have to assemble one herself. I got mine on Amazon for less than $20!

- Meals! Sure, it’s great and very much appreciated to take new moms meals after the baby is born, but my friend Lyndsey brought us a meal last weekend, and man did l appreciate it. My worst, most exhausted time of day is dinnertime to bed time, and not having to think about dinner is GREAT!

- A gift card for a haircut. If you know where mom likes to get her hair cut, get her a gift card! Who knows when she’ll have time to get her next cut after baby gets here, so giving her the gift of one now is priceless.

- A gift card for a pedicure. Not only does the water and relaxation feel amazing, but frequently mom’s feet are swollen both before and after pregnancy, and it can make her feel so much nicer to look at those puffy, swollen feet with some pretty polish. If she has a place she likes to go, perfect. If she doesn’t or you don’t know, research something with good reviews close to her house!

Moms, what would you add? 

The Meaning of "Brave"

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

I hear adults call children “brave” or “fearless” all the time when they easily want to do new things as little ones — things like jump into the pool, slide down a big slide, or swing on the swings.

I think it’s just as brave when a child listens to his or her own body and heart and is a bit more tentative at first to try something new.

Bert is an active child for sure, but it takes him a few exposures before he is comfortable trying something new like pools or slides or swings. It’s just his personality, the way God created him. And it’s a fine way to be. It doesn’t make him any less adventurous, brave, cool, or fun.

Parents of other children who bravely listen to their bodies that say “not yet” at first — your kids are brave too. How many of us as adults don’t listen to our own guts sometimes?

The Gift of Slowing Down

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Our world puts such an emphasis on speed. We want our question answered NOW, we want our drive-thru coffee NOW, and we better not have to wait more than .001 of a second for that webpage to load.

I am so guilty of this myself. Sometimes it is harmless (although patience is a virtue, and it’s one I need to cultivate), but I’ve recently noticed a GLARING place in my life where me wanting things on my schedule is not harmless; in fact, it is extremely harmful. And that is with Bert.

Bert is a toddler, as well as a developing walker, so needless to say he is not bound by any schedule. This means that when I ask him to walk to the car so we can head to the grocery store/library/church, in my head I mean WALK πŸ‘πŸ» TO πŸ‘πŸ» THE πŸ‘πŸ» CAR πŸ‘πŸ», but in Bert’s head this means “Collect two monster trucks, say bye to Jane Austen, say ‘car’ 15 times without actually heading there, get sidetracked by three things in the garage, watch the garage door go up, ask if Owen (his friend) is coming, happen to catch a glance of an airplane flying by ...” You get what I’m saying.

This happens any number of times in any number of situations throughout the day: going to the car, walking up the steps for a nap, heading to the kitchen to eat lunch. Bert is just strolling along living his life, while I am usually looking at the ceiling and whining some version of “BERT PLEASE JUST GOOOOOO.”

I’ve been doing this far longer than I care to admit before finally realizing the other day how bad I’ve gotten. I had to take a hard look at myself and ask myself why I am so bothered by Bert’s dilly-dallying and refusal to follow my time schedule (if you ask me) or enjoying a slow pace of life (if you ask him) — the answer was in the question.

Bert is not over here trying to make us late for the doctor. He is a new little person who is learning about and noticing things in the world for the first time. My responsibility is to leave us enough time to get where we need to go on time. And truthfully, how often do we really HAVE to be somewhere on time? Church, therapy, the doctor, sure, but those things are far less frequent than nap, lunch, or playing outside with a friend.

Bert is laid back, and he likes to say goodbye to Jane, take detours to kiss his trucks good night, and touch a few things in the garage on the way to the car. It’s frequently maddening to me — someone who just wants to GET. THINGS. DONE. NOW. — but for Bert, it’s who he is. It’s not a sign of disrespect, lack of caring, or some other negative thing. It’s him enjoying the wonder of a world that is so new and fun to him.

It is likely that, like the rest of us, he will one day experience the stress and anxiety of a fast-paced world where everything is NOW NOW NOW. But I don’t need to force that upon him at age not-quite-two by pressuring him to walk a little faster to the steps for nap time. Even more so, I don’t need to be the cause of his stress or anxiety because he senses I am upset with him but has no idea why. Instead, it is I who should learn from Bert and slow down a bit, maybe take a look at what is just so necessary about making sure you have a monster truck in each hand before getting into the car.

I think there is a beautiful secret there that he knows and has been trying to tell me. Bert, I’m listening now.




Proof of Mom

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

I’m bigger this pregnancy than last, I’ve always hated how my nose looks in profile, and is it just me or does everyone think their hair looks better in the mirror than it actually does?! 

But I recently read busytoddler talk about #proofofmom — about us moms getting in pictures and not just being behind the camera. Most pictures of Bert are him alone or him with Joe, and I’m usually the one taking them. It’s like I don’t even exist in the record of my own family. It has to stop. Joe took these two recently, and I treasure them both. 






Bert

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Our son Robert David has been hearing since the hour he was born about all the things that are “wrong” with him: as a newborn, he had the wrong body temperature, the wrong blood sugar level, the wrong amount of bilirubin in his body, the wrong amount of red blood cells in his blood, and the wrong hearing. As he grew, he learned that he was behind in sitting, crawling, transitioning, clapping, standing, cruising, talking, and walking. 

What we know about Bert is that he excels in areas that are not measured at doctors’ offices or on growth charts. Bert is funny, silly, kind, friendly, loving, and personable. He can signal a touchdown, fake sneeze, blow a kiss, and point out his Pap Pap in a picture. Bert loves to dance, look out an open window, and play outside. 

Bert was recently diagnosed with spastic diplegia, which is a common form of Cerebral Palsy. CP is a physical disability that affects movement. This means that he has increased muscle tone in his legs, making his leg muscles stiff. Consequently, his movements may appear stiff or awkward. Cerebral Palsy is caused by a brain injury. As Bert’s physical therapist has said, his legs contain normal muscles that are receiving an abnormal message. Some children with CP have accompanying issues such as seizures, learning differences, and speech and language difficulties. We don’t yet know if Bert will experience any of those things. In most cases, CP is caused by a brain injury that occurs during pregnancy. We do not know what caused Bert’s CP, and it is likely we will never know. A wonderful thing is that CP is not degenerative, which means although his symptoms might manifest differently in the future, his brain cannot get worse. Another positive thing is that Bert’s neurologist has said that Bert is “bright and happy” and that he is “doing great.” 

Right now, Bert has no idea that he is different. All he knows is that he has “dinosaur shoes” (one foot in an SMO and one in an AFO) that will make him “strong like a dinosaur.” He knows that he and his best friend Asha both have stiff leg muscles and a hard time walking. He knows that he and his best friend Jane Austen move through the world in exactly the same way: with four limbs on the ground. (Although Bert is slowly learning to walk on his two legs!) 

While we don’t know what Cerebral Palsy means for Bert — every child who has CP presents in a different way, and it’s impossible for doctors to predict what life will be like for Bert 5, 10, 15 years from now — we know what it DOESN’T mean. It doesn’t mean that he will never go to Catholic school, play football, get married, or run in the backyard with his dogs. 

As Bert’s family and friends, here is what we need from you:

- Please do not speak about Bert’s future any differently. If you have always talked about Bert playing football for the Mountaineers, going skiing, or being an astronaut, please keep saying those things to him and about him. It’s not fair to limit the dreams of a child, especially one who is not yet two. There are lots of athletes, actors, and artists who have CP. 

- Please do not treat Bert any differently than you would if he didn’t have CP. Bert does not need extra toys or gifts, and he needs to learn manners and be lovingly disciplined. Treating him differently is not fair to him, to us, or, especially, to his not-yet-born baby brother. 

- If you have children or know children around Bert’s age, please start talking to them about children who aren’t the same as they are (if you haven’t already). Bert might not walk or run quite the same as his peers, and it would be great if he were surrounded by friends who didn’t care that he was different. There are a lot of great books for this — we’re still discovering them! —  but one we really like is called Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, which is about a giraffe who walks and dances differently than the other animals. We also like a book sent to Bert by his aunts Erin and Emma that is called The World Needs Who You Were Made to Be by Joanna Gaines.

- Don’t read everything on the internet. Many websites about CP are run by law firms that want to help parents sue their birth hospitals or doctors. If you want more information about Bert’s diagnosis, one good website is the Cerebral Palsy Foundation

Please pray for Bert. Of course, we’d love a healing miracle (we’re asking for the intercession of Blessed Fulton Sheen), but more importantly we just want Bert to have the best care and the best life. And pray for us, too. Not only do we need prayers to be the best parents we can be for Bert, but also, as you might imagine, it is a little bit scary to think of going back to the hospital to have another baby boy in a few short weeks. 

Thank you for being there for us, for asking about Bert, and for praying for us. Please don’t ever worry about saying the “right” thing — there really is no right thing. We just need you to truly listen and to care. We don’t need toxic positivity (“Everything will be okay! Don’t worry!”) or comparison statements (“You’re lucky it’s not worse!”). If you are a loved one who has a child or is expecting a child or is planning for a child, please don’t hide your child’s milestones from us. Your child sitting, walking, or talking doesn’t take anything from Bert, and we will celebrate your child’s accomplishments with you. 

We are blessed in so many ways: among many other things, we have wonderful family and friends, we have the knowledge and desire to care for Bert, we have the resources and support to help provide Bert with what he needs, we have wonderful doctors and therapists, Bert has a mother who is a teacher and knows other educators, and we have a close family member (Emma) who has a master’s degree in recreational therapy and knows exactly how to help Bert enjoy regular activities.

Our hope is that Bert’s life will be a testimony to — and a reminder of — the One who made lame men walk. 

We really appreciate all of you. Feel free to ask us any questions that you have.

Love,

Joe and Anna 

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. 
- Job 1:21

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has given me what I asked of Him. 
Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.
- 1 Samuel 1:27-28

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