Notes of gratitude

As of this past Thursday, Baby Girl is rolling from her back to her stomach. Yesterday, we watched her inch forward on her play mat with practice crawling motions. This is on or even a little ahead of a typical developmental schedule, in case you were wondering. I am ridiculously proud.

It’s been an icy winter here on the north end of Middle Tennessee. Last week, we had freezing rain that coated everything in a stunning layer of ice – for the second time in two weeks.

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We finally seem to be clear of all croup, chest colds and other plagues (someone knock on wood, quick), and I am daring to believe having two children will not, in fact, claim my sanity. This is quite refreshing, as you can imagine. Corin seems to have settled into our new routine as a family of four, Lina’s feedings have improved with her recovered health, and I am finding time to truly enjoy my kids. (This may also be due to the cleaning lady my mother has hired to temporarily rescue me from my housekeeping shortcomings.)

I love starting my week with notes of gratitude.

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The stuff that matters, and the stuff that doesn’t

I have been thinking a lot recently about the incredible amount of societal pressure that comes with parenting. I can’t know for sure how this compares to parenting in previous generations, but I have the sense, backed up by conversations with my mom, that perhaps today’s parents face a great deal more external pressure than parents of years gone by.

I frequently see reports of new studies showing that this parenting method or that one is causing our children permanent psychological damage, or that this parenting method or that one is clearly the only way to raise high-achieving, well-adjusted children. I often see links to these articles on the Facebook pages of friends who already follow the method endorsed by the study and likely appreciate feeling validated. This is understandable, but I find it to be less than helpful.

Honestly, I wish researchers would give up studying which parenting philosophies and methods are more or less effective. The research seems awfully dubious. (So this method of parenting is the root of psychological damage? And how exactly did you isolate the parenting method from all other factors? Causality seems to be a problem here.) I am not a parenting expert. I am not a psychologist. But my experience thus far is that parents who are relatively informed and are themselves stable and well-adjusted people are best left to sense what their children need and to parent according to their instincts and the wisdom of the other parents in their support circles. And it seems to me that at-risk parents need community support and educational resources on the basics, like proper nutrition and safety. Research studies on co-sleeping or crying it out do very little to help parents of any stripe. Instead, those studies offer conflicting and questionable results that serve to confuse and divide parents.

stuff that matters

stuff that matters

But the pressure goes beyond the latest studies, and beyond parenting, for that matter. I have the strong feeling we are all getting the message that a successful life involves most of the following: a loving, still-starstruck-after-all-these-years marriage; at least one spouse with a high-powered, well-paying career; a beautifully-designed and decorated home, which is kept perfectly organized and spotlessly clean; at least two well-groomed and perfectly-behaved children dressed at all times in fashionable wardrobes  and stylish accessories, which really should be hand sewn or knit; homemade, gourmet meals made with healthy, organic and locally-grown ingredients (bonus points for having grown them yourself); fun and creative outings, play dates, crafts and organized classes or activities for your children every week, all captured with beautifully-shot photography; volunteer involvement in a range of church or community projects; a regular exercise regimen, which should include some type of adventurous outdoor activity or significant sports achievement; keeping informed of current events, key local, national and international developments, and significant achievements in science, art, literature, technology, and of course, those important parenting studies; stellar personal grooming that includes maintaining your college weight while staying current with the newest fashions and style trends; for Christians, active church involvement, at least an hour a day in prayer and private devotions, and daily family worships; regular romantic dates with your spouse; all of the above documented carefully in a well-written blog, journal or scrapbook for your children or the world to read and marvel at the picture-perfect life you have created.

stuff that doesn't

stuff that doesn’t

Yes, that’s a snarky exaggeration. But how many of us can identify with that list of completely unrealistic expectations? How many of us are trying to meet a standard of success that simply does not exist in the universe we inhabit? None of the items on that list are bad things, and many of them are truly important. But I confess that a significant portion of the frustration I have experienced in the transition to two children has originated with having to let go of unrealistic expectations for what I can actually achieve in a day. I have almost daily conversations with friends – married, single, no kids, one kid, four kids – who struggle with feelings of failure because they have gotten the message that what they are accomplishing is not enough. I honestly don’t know quite where to lay the blame. Has it always been this way? My guess is no. I suppose we have done this to ourselves, but how? And how do we change it?

Maybe it begins with a little truth telling. I keep a blog here and share photos of my family and the memories we make together. I love focusing on the beautiful things in my life. But lest I give a false impression, let me be clear: I absolutely cannot keep up with the laundry. There are often toys scattered from one end of my house to the other. I am late to almost every appointment. I am always tired, still carrying plenty of baby weight, and struggling to maintain any kind of regular Bible study or prayer life. I try to cook healthy meals for my family, but we eat an awful lot of veggie burgers from the freezer. My house is currently clean because my mom felt sorry for me and paid for her cleaning lady to clean my house, too. There is plenty more of this, but you get the picture.

The truth of parenting – of life – is that it’s messy. It doesn’t look like a picture from any magazine I’ve ever seen. We all juggle incredibly busy lives the best we know how. We prioritize. We can and do lead fundamentally happy and fulfilled lives while also feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I can love my kids with a bone-deep passion and be incredibly grateful to be their mom while simultaneously feeling bone-weary and terribly annoyed with their latest antics. That’s reality, and it’s okay.

No study is going to tell you the perfect parenting method. Here’s the truth: It’s a lot of trial and error. No one can promise that even if you do most everything right, your kids are going to turn out just as you hoped. And those other parents who seem to have it all together? They don’t. There are big problems in our society. There are fundamental things going wrong. But putting more pressure on ourselves and others to do more, to be better, to meet some elusive standard of perfection, to feel constantly happy, is not the answer. Instead, we have to find a way to know our core values and what truly matters and let the other stuff go.

That’s easier said than done, as I very well know. But it’s my challenge to myself and to you. Figure out the stuff that matters. Let the other stuff go.

Facing the ugly

I recently connected with a local group of fellow Down syndrome moms on Facebook. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but it is a goal of mine for the coming year to begin building a support network of parents of children with special needs. I know it’s going to become increasingly valuable to have that shared experience and to be able to talk to parents who understand and can offer information and advice as we navigate Lina’s growing up years.

It has taken me a little time to work up to this fairly obvious idea. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to be a part of the special needs community, but more that I was afraid of being overwhelmed and discouraged by older children facing challenges we weren’t prepared to think about yet. This may still be something I have to guard against. It seems to be important, at least for now, to focus primarily on the immediate future and not get too far ahead of myself. I will occasionally run across a mention somewhere of a potential Down syndrome issue I wasn’t aware of, and it never fails to give my heart a little jolt: “Oh. Something else to worry about.” For a moment, my reaction feels like those childhood days when I would close my eyes and cover my ears to shut out something unpleasant. The feeling passes, and I move on. But I don’t care to expose myself to too much of that too quickly.

It has been a growing realization for me over the past four months that I am not raising any Down syndrome child. I am raising my child, who happens to have Down syndrome. Somehow, that makes a big difference. Understanding challenges common with Down syndrome is helpful, to a point. I just don’t want to worry too much about issues we may or may not face in the years to come. (Confession: I still haven’t read through those “about Down syndrome” books.) I know challenges will come, but Lina will be unique, as is every child. And when they do come, we will have good resources to help and will work with all our strength to overcome them. It’s that knowledge that helps me move on from those unpleasant bits of information and has helped me feel ready to look for ways to get involved in the special needs community. And I probably will pick up those Down syndrome books some, too, at least as a reference when needed.

But to get back to the moms’ Facebook group… One of the members recently posted a link to this video, from Houston, Texas: Waiter stands up for special needs child

I know I’m still rather naive about these sorts of things. Lina is small enough that her diagnosis is not immediately evident to strangers. And in her short few months of life, we have been insulated and surrounded by people who love us and love her and have helped us believe the world will be a safe place for her. It gives me a whole different kind of jolt to realize there are actually families out there who would say something so baldy hateful, so terribly ugly, as “Special needs children need to be special somewhere else.” I understand people who are generally uninformed about Down syndrome and who may say things that are unintentionally hurtful. I can cut them some slack and hopefully help broaden their views a bit, just by coming in contact with my sweet girl. (Not that I won’t still feel a bit defensive and angry.) But I do not understand the kind of willful ignorance and prejudice that would cause parents to say something like that, apparently in front of their children. But thank God, that story is really a hopeful one, where the instinct of the waiter, and apparently of many other people, is to soundly reject that sentiment and to embrace the little boy and his family. I don’t know if we’ll ever find ourselves in a situation like that. We may. It would hurt me deeply, and I might have a very hard time turning my cheek in biblical fashion. I look at my little girl, and I see someone so beautiful, so infinitely precious, who has burrowed her way so deeply into my heart that we are forever intertwined. What a gift that is, and what a gift to know that God feels that same way about her, multiplied a hundred-fold and more. With that confidence, I can face the world and hopefully equip my daughter to face it, too.


That sweet face – 4 months


Eline at 4 months

  • Weighs a little over 12 lbs. and is outgrowing a few of her 0-3 month outfits
  • Smiles a lot more (she stares and grins at lights and brightly-lit windows!), responds enthusiastically to anyone who gets in her face, locks eye contact for extended amounts of time, and loves to be tickled and cuddled
  • Sleeps in her cradle and goes to bed for the night at 10 p.m. (with one last “dream feeding” around 11:30) and sleeps until 6:30 or 7 a.m.
  • Naps in her swing for 30 mins. to 2 hours after every feeding
  • Gets 4 1/2 oz. mixed breast milk/formula six times a day but is inconsistent in finishing the bottle and in the amount she leaks during feedings
  • Tracks objects with her eyes, grabs (and tries to chew!) lightweight toys and blankets
  • Still likes to be swaddled for sleep
  • “Talks” a lot, with a wider range of sounds, and seems to try to imitate sounds we make
  • Has made big improvements in head control and can sit propped up for short periods of time
  • Is still a generally easy-going and happy baby

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Christmas retrospective

Christmas is over and a new year has begun. Every single year, this takes me by surprise. How is it that we have tucked another holiday season under our belts and girded ourselves for 2013? 2013! That still sounds impossibly futuristic to me. I do love the beginning of new years, though. Jon and I rang this one in very quietly, at home on our couch, watching the latest Batman movie on our new Blu-ray player and tuning in to a time-delayed NYC broadcast just in time to see the ball drop and to share a sweet kiss. I’m okay with that start to this year. Quiet, at home with the things that really matter. Maybe next year we’ll dress up and find somewhere exciting to go. But this year, quiet was just right.

It was a good Christmas. We spent a week with Jon’s family in Georgia. Corin spent long hours roaming the cold, wet outdoors with Grandpa, and I enjoyed the freedom to get down on the floor and really soak in Baby Girl. Lina is smiling and cooing like nobody’s business, and it makes me happy. Sometimes I feel as if she might be getting gypped with how divided my attention often is at home. I do make time to cuddle and talk to her, to get down to her eye level and cheer for her tummy time achievements, but often I’m stopping to tickle her for a moment or to get in her face for a quick smile and hello as I pass on my way to put away more laundry or to help big brother with his pants for another potty break. (Ah, potty training, there’s a topic for another day. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?!)

In any case, this Christmas, the riches of family willing to entertain my children meant I got to spend some good one-on-one time with each of them. And then there was the glorious food, the gifts, the holiday movies, the church musical, the telling and re-telling of the Greatest Story until Corin could recite it back to us. (By the way, if you don’t have it, this is now my very favorite kids’ Christmas book.)

We made a stop to see friends in Knoxville for one night on our way home, and then it was New Year’s on the couch and a second Christmas with my family, which was complicated by sickness that has since taken up dwelling at our house. (Croup? Really? I had the clearly mistaken impression that only happened in Anne of Green Gables novels.) But Corin and his cousin still got some good time together to play with new Christmas treasures, and as always, the memories are the very best thing we take from the holidays into the new year.



Watching Christmas movies with my boy

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