Easter in Georgia

We hit the road north from Florida on Saturday. Dayquil kept me going through the early stages of the flu on the nine hour drive to north Georgia, where we stopped at Mimi and Grandpa’s for the remainder of Easter weekend. Jon carpooled down from Nashville Saturday morning with his brother and sister-in-law, which allowed me, upon our arrival, to bury my chattering, feverish carcass under mounds of covers and not emerge for many hours.

A little more Dayquil, and the Easter fun commenced on Sunday. The kids always love a visit to Mimi and Grandpa’s house, and Easter is up there on Corin’s holiday list. It’s up there on mine, too, for a lot of reasons. It’s not hard, even with a chattering, feverish carcass, to find my gratitude for the hope that grounds every part of my life, thanks to the message of Easter.








The Easter eggs say, “Aaaargh!!”











Come flu or…whatever

I had really been missing my best friend, which is why I decided a few weeks back that I was going to brave the drive to Tampa, Florida alone with my two children over spring break. We hit the road the morning after Corin’s birthday party and left daddy behind to bring home the bacon.

The kids did great. Seriously, they are champion travelers.

This trip, however, had some other unexpected elements. It turned out Lila’s family was being felled by the flu just as we arrived. I brought the virus home with me, which then bestowed the lingering gift of a massive sinus infection. Corin and Lina seem to have escaped the worst of it. I don’t know how that happened, but I am very thankful.

So, not quite the trip we imagined, but we did get some time with friends we love, and the kids and I had a great time exploring parks and museums. We even all got a few hours at the beach on Friday. As I walked along the beach with Lila, pushing a tired Lina in the stroller, we talked about the ups and downs of life and how we would remember the trip when we dragged our flu-ridden bodies along the shore. That’s the thing about a friendship like this: it spans the full range. It won’t be the last time we shake our heads and wait to laugh at the memories.


Strawberry season in Florida!




Oops. They’re all in my belly…


A walk in the neighborhood















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Shaving cream!












At the Glazer Children’s Museum







Lina’s favorite spot in the whole museum: the dance hall!


A little at-home fun




Photos Lila took of my little fish at the neighborhood pool





Lina’s impression of Anna Maria Island got off to a bad start when she rubbed sand in her eye and couldn’t get it out.



A very fast Easter egg hunt before the storm blew in


Come flu or thunderstorm…


I hope you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have friends who are worth the germs.


Start your (Mario Kart) engines!

Corin is old enough now to choose his own birthday party themes. I admit to a bit of trepidation on this front, but this year’s choice was manageable and fun, the win-win of kids’ parties. We still stick with mostly family parties, so both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins came to help us celebrate six years of Corin. The weather was COLD for the first official day of spring, but we made the most of our brief time outside and spent the rest of the time playing Mario Kart on the Wii, eating banana cake and ice cream and opening gifts. It was really fun. Seriously, I think my kids’ birthday parties are some of the best times of the year. I love watching them have a blast, and it’s such a great time with family.

But enough chit-chat, and on with the massive photo dump.










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Our newest addition, dad’s guide dog Honor, just home from training school.



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I think they love each other.

Longing, remembered and fulfilled

Last night, I tucked a five-year-old boy into bed for the last time. This morning, I woke a six-year-old up with the birthday song and made him scrambled eggs for breakfast. After he left with daddy to meet the bus, I sat down at this computer and pulled up the journal I kept for more than three years leading up to Corin’s birth. The first entry was dated December 28, 2006. I addressed the journal to our as-yet non-existent child.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at that journal and remembered what those years of infertility were like. I cried as I read back over the entries and remembered months upon months of delayed hopes and crushing disappointments, the endless prayers of longing and fear and hope and trust.

On July 28, 2009, I wrote:

I find myself feeling almost superstitious as I type this entry, as if by writing out the same hopes and dreams I’ve expressed so many times before, I might chase away the possibility of a different outcome. I’ll admit, I am scared. I have moments where I can hardly breathe for fear of the crushing disappointment that may wait just around the corner. But as I said, I have hope, too. And in those moments when emotions swell, I reach for my only true recourse: prayer. I know God continues to be with us, and I am determined to trust Him with my life – and yours, little one. I plead with Him to let me now be carrying our firstborn child, but I pray that above all, His will is done. What is faith if I only trust Him in smooth waters, when I can see what lies ahead? Faith becomes real in these uncertain moments.

The next morning, I went in to our local clinic for a blood beta pregnancy test. After so many times staring at a tiny window and wishing for a line that never appeared, I was too afraid to test at home before the official blood results. On July 31st, the nurse at the clinic in Maryland (where we had gone for the actual IVF cycle) called with the news that the test was positive. Jon and I jumped with joy and trembled and cried, and then we stopped to say a prayer of gratitude and to ask for God’s protection for the tiny life that was just beginning to form.

Today, I still pray over that life, no longer so tiny. I remember the little butt that was wedged for weeks under my ribs and the tiny hands and feet that rocked my belly, and I marvel to see those parts walking around, pieces of this marvelous, challenging, growing boy. That tiny life we longed and prayed for is my six-year-old son, who throws his arms around me and says he loves me several times a day. I look at him today, and I remember the longing of those years. I remember the baptism by fire of his newborn days, and I remember so many moments of joy and frustration and exhaustion and laughter since. There is no honor in my life – no accomplishment or goal met – that will ever equal the fulfillment of being this boy’s mother. He is my firstborn, the child of those many years of longing, God’s answer to innumerable prayers.

Happy birthday, Corin.

Newborn Corin

New friends: 2 & Under at GiGi’s Playhouse

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted photos of our GiGi’s Playhouse 2 & Under group. We’ve gained some new members, and our long-time members have grown. One friend has a new little sister. A couple of our members spent some time in the hospital this winter battling nasty bugs but are thankfully healthy and thriving again. Our speaker this month was a behavior specialist who shared pro tips on addressing everything from potty training to throwing food and grabbing toys from friends to refusing to come when called. (And now you wish you’d been there…)

But really, you just want the cute pictures, right? I hear you.








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It’s springing

It never gets old, this budding and greening, these suddenly warmer breezes and that smell of something fresh in the air. It’s the cusp of spring here in Middle Tennessee. The daffodils, redbuds and saucer magnolias are blooming, the forsythia is just emerging, a mist of green is barely appearing on the hills, and the weather is suddenly, gloriously warm enough to play outdoors in shirt sleeves.

So we did.


Corin’s specialty: aggressive tractor driving



“Don’t worry, I’m going to stay right here with you and keep you safe,” Corin, aka Superman on his Super Tractor.


Our very first daffodil of the season







Crooked pigtails from a long day of playing hard

High five


Lina had her final visit yesterday with her KidTalk interventionist. (I actually don’t know if that’s the official term.) KidTalk is a research program through Vanderbilt University’s Kennedy Center. It focuses on communication development for kids with Down syndrome or autism.

Based on positive reviews from other families, we enrolled Lina in KidTalk last year. She went through the initial evaluation to qualify her for the study and was assigned to the intervention group (as opposed to the control group, which gets the intervention after the research period is over). For the intervention, we committed to four appointments a week: two in our home and two somewhere in the community, which for us was GiGi’s Playhouse and an office at Vanderbilt. During those appointments, the interventionist worked with Lina on speech development using a very specific play-based methodology honed over many years of research. For this specific study, the team was testing the use of an iPad app as an additional communication tool. The in-home visits also focused on training me in the intervention methodology. In addition to those appointments, we also committed to periodic evaluations at the Vanderbilt offices to track her progress.

Lina began the interventions last June. It was a huge commitment. Honestly, the study, combined with Lina’s weekly standard therapy appointments (speech, OT and PT), pretty much ate up our entire summer. Rather than going to swimming lessons and the zoo, Corin, Lina and I spent our time ferrying back and forth to appointments. I’m not going to lie: it was hard. I was tired a lot. I worried about what it meant for Corin. But I could see Lina responding to the interventions. Her progress became apparent, and that kept me going.

From almost the day Lina was born, Jon and I felt that communication was going to be one of the most important aspects of her development. It was apparent very early that Lina was bright and inquisitive, curious about her world and eager to learn and explore. We also knew that difficulty communicating could keep the rest of the world from seeing what we saw. We were determined to access any help we could find to push her speech development. We thanked God that an infant hearing loss diagnosis (which proved to be temporary) allowed her to qualify for earlier speech therapy than the Down syndrome diagnosis alone would have. She saw a wonderful Vanderbilt therapist weekly from the time she was about seven months old.

And now here we were, slogging through a very difficult summer in the belief that it would all pay off, that all these interventions and research-based methods would give Lina the support she needed to push her speech development forward. Her final intervention appointment was in August. We have since been back to the Kennedy Center several times for periodic follow-up evaluations. The last of those was February 15th. We also received periodic maintenance home visits from our much-loved interventionist, Tatiana.

Lina’s speech progress has seemed pretty obvious to me. We estimate she now spontaneously uses well over 200 words and signs, and even just in the last few weeks, her vocabulary has been exploding. She delighted her school speech therapist just today by suddenly greeting her by name, as if she’d been hanging on to that trick for just the right moment. On the way home, I was serenaded with “Jodie, Jodie” and a wide grin. She busted out the word “railing” on the way up the stairs yesterday. Every day there are new words; I can’t keep track of them all. Her receptive language has always been well ahead of her expressive – typical for kids with Down syndrome, and one reason sign language works so well – but we’ve seen tremendous strides there, too. I can reason verbally with her in ways that seem pretty typical for any three-year-old. She can follow two-plus step directions (although her wildly independent nature sometimes interferes!). She can easily understand advanced “first, then” concepts: “I know you want to play blocks, but first you need to finish eating your apples.” “We can go play outside, but you need to clean up your toys first.” I’ve found I no longer need to focus on simplifying language and concepts for her to understand: She gets pretty much anything I tell her.

But having said all that, I still sometimes second-guess myself. What if I’m overestimating her progress? I know she’s still delayed compared to her typical peers. Are we really pushing her enough? Why is that one word sounding so muddled? The guilt sets in: I haven’t done any KidTalk play with her for days. I need to be working more on that.

You can imagine, then, how I felt when yesterday, on that final visit, Tatiana told me that she had compared Lina’s last standardized evaluation with her initial one. She said, “Lina gained five points on her score.” I had no idea what that meant; five points didn’t sound like much. But she went on to explain that they almost never see that big a change. They expect to see an overall increase in points, because children will naturally be learning and growing over the course of the evaluation period. But in order for Lina to see that kind of scoring gain, she had to show significant improvement compared to typical progress they would expect in that time.

I don’t think the news really sank in for me until I started telling Jon about it yesterday evening. I know all the flaws and problems with standardized evaluations. I know they are snapshots of a moment and place in time and not a full picture of any child. But right now, that measurable sign of progress means the world. It really is clicking; my kid is learning to talk. All the hours we and her therapists have poured into her for the past 3 1/2 years are paying off. Someday soon, the world will be able to hear all she has to say.

I wish I could bottle this feeling to share with parents who have just received a Down syndrome diagnosis. Yes, a lot of things are going to be harder. There will be times you’ve gone over the same activities 1,000 times to little response. You will all get tired. But then, victory comes. Right there in front of you is undeniable proof of the payoff, and it is so, so sweet.

Sure, I’ve always known that work brings rewards, but it turns out it’s taking Lina to really teach me the fierce joy of hard-won milestones.