Monday, August 11, 2014

When your special needs child is about to start kindergarten.....

I remember so well the day we were told that our middle daughter had been born with Down Syndrome.  There was so much shock and so much fear.  And in those first moments after being given the diagnosis I remember staring down at this baby with so many questions about what her future would be like.

From the very first moments of Ashlyn's diagnosis, some of my very first thoughts were on what it would be like when it was time for her to go to school.  All I had ever known was what school had been like for me and what I was assuming it was going to be like for our oldest daughter, Kyla. I was trying to peer into the future and imagine a life with a child who has a disability.    

In those immediate days following Ashlyn's birth and diagnosis, we were staying in the NICU with her and word was getting out around the hospital that a baby had been born with Down Syndrome.  One afternoon, a young nurse from another floor stopped by to introduce herself to us.  She told us that she wanted to meet us because her younger brother had Down Syndrome.  I could tell she really loved her brother and was telling us about him and his life.  She made mention of the fact that when he was in the 5th grade, he was really at a kindergarten level.  I am not sure why at that time she chose to share that with me, because my heart could barely stand to hear a reality like that in the very early days of Ashlyn's life when even saying the words "special education" felt like a foreign language to me.  I know this young nurse meant no harm to me.  For her, this was her brother, she loved him and it didn't make a difference to her that his education was different or that he learned slower.  All I know is that when she left the room I fell into a heap of tears in my husband's arms.  How could we do it?  How would we ever be able to be okay with a child who didn't learn like everyone else?  These were the questions swarming my mind. 

We brought Ashlyn home from the hospital, got deep into the newborn days and life just started to keep going.  During those days, people reached out to me.  And I remember people telling me, who had once themselves received a life changing diagnosis, that the pain and grieving I was in at that time wouldn't always be that intense.  That it would let up.  And that along the journey of Ashlyn's life instead of it being an overwhelming sense of grief, it would turn to lots of joy with moments of grieving along the way.  How true I have found this to be. 

Our life with Ashlyn is such joy with moments of grieving from time to time.  Moments where you notice a child her age that is doing things she is far from doing.  Moments where you are trying to help her with something and you see her little almond eyes looking up at you and you can tell she is so lost.  And moments like kindergarten starting.  And really what I am finding this time of starting school to be is grieving and healing all at once.

First of all, anytime a mama sends her baby to kindergarten I think there is grieving.  For this mama anyway.  But, throw in a diagnosis that at its core is a cognitive disability and starting school can throw some fears and sadness at you.  My heart felt tinges of sadness when we went shopping for school supplies and I knew many of the things we were buying Ashlyn really didn't know how to use.  Or the moment I walked into her school last week to meet the person who had been hired to be her full time aide and I walked into her classroom and it hit me how it now stands out that my child is "different."  There is a vulnerable feeling to these know we are about to send this precious child into a world where her differences will be seen.  Yes, my heart feels moments of sadness at these times.

But along with those feelings are feelings of such healing.  Because I remember holding a baby in a hospital room, crying so many tears over her and fearing her future, our future, wouldn't be happy.  It is more than happy, it is joyful.  And we are more than okay, we are so good.  We are so good because God is so good.  And when you remember those moments of not knowing how you could do this and then you see that you are.....that is healing. 

Ashlyn will go get on a bus on Wednesday morning and go to the same elementary school her big sister goes to and she will sit in a kindergarten room full of other students.  She will have a full time aide with her and for some parts of the day she will go to the resource room.  She is at a loving school full of loving people who I know will care for her and help her grow.  We know that Ashlyn's path will be different and her education will be a big part of those differences.  But this week we start it and we couldn't be happier to be the ones to walk this journey as her parents.

This past Sunday at church, I was sharing with those in my discipleship class and I said that Ashlyn was starting school on Wednesday, could they please pray for her?  And the teacher of our class and our friend prayed for Ashlyn and he said, "God, we know that Ashlyn is going to be a world changer.  When she goes to school, may those around her not so much see Down Syndrome, but see the love she has for others."  Yes, that.  World changer.  That is what we pray for each of our daughters and we speak this over them.  We talk openly with Kyla about the way she can be a world changer for God's kingdom in the scope of second grade.  Because if you believe in the second grade you can be a world changer through the words you say and the actions you take, then someday when you are a grown adult you will remember that living in a way that makes God's kingdom visible, that changes the world.  And it hit me, Ashlyn is a world changer....starting with kindergarten.  Her educational path may be different, but she has so much love for those around her.  So much empathy for the feelings of those around her.  Who knows what child in her kindergarten class may need that this year?  That can change the world.

Here we are.....from the hospital room to the kindergarten room.  And we are more than okay.  And God is more than faithful and good.  Get ready, kindergarten, there is a world changer coming your way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tessa Kate Turns One

Last year when I found out that my due date with Tessa was July 28 I knew our birthdays would be close and there was a chance we could even share a birthday, but I never thought that would really happen.  Well, when I woke up last year on July 19th having contractions, I soon realized that this third daughter was going to be born on my birthday.  When Kyla was born two days before Troy's birthday we thought that was close.  Apparently, we like sharing birthdays in our family :). On the day she was born I wasn't sure what to think....I am a birthday fanatic and love to have everyone have their own special day.  But, as I am learning more and more, God specializes in giving us gifts better than we could ever imagine to even ask for ourselves.  I think this sharing birthday thing is going to be one of those kinds of gifts.....the kind only God can give because they are just that good. 

And, oh Tessa Kate, how we have fallen in love with this baby over this year.

The birthday girls were ready to celebrate!

All smiles.....the brand new one year old.

However, it is her party and she can cry if she wants to.

Tessa and I both felt the love with sweet cards and gifts.

A year of memories....Tessa's month by month pictures.

Time for some cake! This teddy bear cake is a tradition......I have made it for each of our girls on their first birthdays.

Tessa wasn't really sure what to think of the cake at first so we took a break and came back to it later.  We enjoyed some time outside on an unseasonably cool day in mid July.

After that, Tessa was ready for some cake.....

We had a wonderful day celebrating our first birthday together and a year of loving a baby girl that we just adore.  Happy 1st Birthday, Tessa Kate.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Day At The Zoo

A couple of weeks ago we got back from a vacation in Florida that I have been wanting to blog about but the truth is.....I have three kids and we are going all day long and by the time they are in bed the idea of forming sentences and typing them out seems like more than I have energy for.  Plus we have hundreds of pictures from our vacation and the idea of trying to sort through them to pick which ones to include......again, by the end of the day, it is more than my brain can handle.  But I really want to chronicle our families memories.  So for today I will write about a very fun day we had in Indy and soon I will tackle the vacation blog :)

Today the weather was beautiful and we decided it would be a perfect day to spend in Indy at the zoo.  A lot of other people thought that same thing because it was very crowded, but we did have a really fun day.  I still get just as excited as a child about seeing the animals and I love seeing the excitement of our kids. 

Tessa Kate enjoyed her first visit to the zoo and was very content be in her stroller taking it all in.

After we were done at the zoo we decided to stay in downtown Indy for dinner.  We tried a new restaurant called Bru Burger on Mass Ave. and we thought it was delicious.

These are my favorite kind of days, being together as a family.  Great day in Indy today!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ashlyn turns 5

I am not sure there has ever been anyone as excited about their birthday coming up, as Ashlyn was for her hers.  In the weeks leading up to her fifth birthday she would tell anyone who would listen that she was almost five.  She talked about it at home, at church, at school, in the line at Meijer.....anywhere and everywhere.  She felt the world needed to know.  So, when it was time for her birthday party, the excitement was high.  We celebrated her birthday with family the weekend before her birthday and she loved every minute of it.

I wish this picture wasn't blurry, because this is her face seeing the presents and balloons at her party for the first time. Her mind was blown :)

Taking it all in!  We had a Doc McStuffins theme, which is one of her very favorites right now.

Waving to the balloons, which included a life size Doc McStuffins balloon. When a girl is this excited for her birthday, you might as well go all out.  

She loved opening her gifts.....

Have you ever seen a cuter waitress?  Her Aunt Heidi got her this darling costume so she can play restaurant.

I loved making this cake for Ashlyn and I knew she was going to be excited to eat it.  Starting about five days before her party she would ask many times through the day if it was time to eat cake.

One of the very best things about being at a birthday party for Ashlyn is watching her reaction to the cake coming out with the candle on it.......pure joy.

And she adores it when everyone sings Happy Birthday to her.  She loves music, so everyone singing to her makes her little heart so happy. And she thinks the lit candle on the cake is the coolest thing ever.

Make a wish!

And these next few pictures are what we call, "Ashlyn eating cake like it is her job".......

The day of her birthday party was a beautiful one, so we were able to go to the park for a little bit.....

Ashlyn loved celebrating at her birthday party and the fun didn't end then since the actual day was still coming.  In our house, on the night before someone's birthday, at prayer time before bed that person gets in the middle of the circle and everyone takes turns looking the birthday person in the eye telling them things they love about them.  After that everyone in the family prays for that person.

On the morning of April 30th we were so happy to greet Ashlyn in the morning and tell her she is finally 5!!!

The day of her birthday was full of love and evidence of what a loved girl Ashlyn is.  In the morning, we got a video from her Sunday School teacher and our dear friend, Heather, letting Ashlyn know how much she loves her. I cried watching it and Ashlyn smiled huge.

Then around noon our doorbell rang and it was Ashlyn's speech therapist, Mandi.  She said she just had to see Ashlyn on her birthday.  Mandi has been with Ashlyn since she was one and is much more than a speech therapist but a dear friend to our family and someone who Ashlyn loves deeply.

Ashlyn loved looking at birthday cards, including this hand written note from our sweet friend, Alyssa.

And at 6:26 p.m. on that day, the time Ashlyn was born five years ago, I had to pull her close.  With all of my kids, there is something about that minute they were born that I just have to hold them.  I was the first arms that ever held them.  And for Ashlyn, five years ago at that time, I was holding her and doctors were saying they thought she had Down Syndrome and my head was spinning and at that time I was begging for it not to be true.  Five years later at that birth minute, I needed to hold her close and tell her I am so glad she is here and I am so glad God put her in our family.  I remember the minutes and days when I would have given anything for it not to be true and now we celebrate her on her birthday and we would not want things any other way.

Thank you, God, for Ashlyn.  For five years of loving this gift that you gave us.