Tuesday, September 30, 2014


This morning, amid the usual morning struggle to get dressed, get the kids dressed, fed, lunches packed, and out, I heard the pocket door rattle open as I got out my makeup kit.

There she stood, the most amazing little person imaginable.  Her sleep bun dripping fuzzy down her back, wallowed to a golden-brown frizzy twist, she gazed at me from her heart-covered gown and said something I longed to hear for a long time.

I don't think I knew I longed for it.  I don't recall completing that thought in my head.  But as far back as I can remember, it's just not a word those closer to me have used to describe me.  Smart, maybe... but not likely.  Nice, sure.  But seldom and from few did I hear that word.  Not really until my husband came around, and even he doesn't use the term that often, though I know he thinks I am.

She called me something that seems to anger some.  That maybe if that's what you call me, it's all that I am.  That it's degrading to a point.  I'd have to agree that I want to be thought of as more than that... don't we all?  I'm pretty protective of my career and my ability therein, that's for sure.

When she called me what she did, the seven year old being put on the scale as soon as she arrived at her father's house for a six-monthly visit wanted to cry.  The one hearing that everyone would call her two-ton-tillie if she didn't lay off the candy...

...that if I'd let her do so-and-so to my face and my hair or lose fifteen pounds or try this new color of hair or this new cut or if I'd just TRY...

... the one who walked in just in time to hear the stepmother's friend comment, then hear "we just wish she'd lose the weight"...

... the one who sat crying in the department store dressing room as she listened to her father apologize for her figure to the lady helping her try on dresses...

...the one who endured the family jokes about how enormous her posterior was...

...that little girl, that awkward high school girl, that still-awkward college girl... the graduate who listened to the jokes about "putting an ad in the paper for a husband"...

... she's a mom now.

She has a little girl.

Parts of that scare her to death.

So when so many people come out with the "don't tell girls they're pretty" argument, part of me shrivels further into the corner.  Taking this without a healthy grain of salt is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

No, do not tell your daughter that all her worth lies in her beauty.  But don't refuse to compliment her, either.

We want our children to find their worth in something much larger.  Something much deeper-seeded than a photo, makeup technique, hair styling, dress size... or in making first chair, winning the game, getting the scholarship, making the team, making all-state, or a test score.  They are not any of those things.

They are good enough because they are ours.

They are good enough for the same reason we are... they are covered by the love, grace, and mercy of Christ... and they are amazing.

They mess up.  They make messes.  They break things.  They annoy the heck out of us at times.  But they are ours, and they are loved.  There is nothing they lack that will make us say, "if you would... then you'd be enough."

Knowing I couldn't compete in the area of looks, I went for being good.  My grades were pretty marginal, athletics were abysmal.  Band, on the other hand... I could totally do.  In my mind, if I made the all-state band, I'd finally be okay.  I'd be worth it.  It didn't happen.  It took several tries over almost twenty years to get it into my head that none of that will make me okay.  Still trying to get it, actually.

So please, please, please... don't buy too into that "don't tell girls they're pretty" thing.  Or into the other end.  Join me in trying to find a way to encourage them to be all they can be without placing too much worth one place or the other.  It's much more than telling girls they're pretty or smart.  It's about a love that can't be shaken by a trip into the principal's office or a lost game or a bad grade.  If they're smart, tell them that.  If they've done a great job, tell them that.  If they're handsome or pretty, tell them that.  But also tell them something positive when they haven't.  Or when they aren't.  Remind them that you mess up too.

What nearly brought me to tears this morning?

She said, "Mommy, you're beautiful."  And she was serious.

Thanks be to God for making me enough... and for the ways I'm still realizing he's what makes me enough.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Crazy Honest

As I visited with a friend about the start of school, I could hear him starting to have trouble.  It's not a single-sense recognition.  When he hits, yells, cries... when he's losing control... it hurts us too.

Quickly excusing myself and taking a deep breath, I hurried down the short hall to his side.  Squatting down at the table, patting his back a bit with my hand, I heard he was having trouble getting used to a change in transition.  I thanked someone I consider one of THEE most amazing people I've ever encountered for being who he needs, and started to try to help him.  

Remember, I usually can't stop these things.  Usually, I can just stay by him, speaking in a calm voice, using few words.  Or that's the aim anyway.  I'd be lying if I said I'm a champ at dealing with meltdowns. 

Normally when this happens, whoever is around just kind of either carries on, not judging or bothering us.  Some will carry on but keep an eye on us, staying in earshot in case I need help.  Both are invaluable reactions.  

One little boy in his class approached us.  With wide eyes and the sweetest, most innocent demeanor, he said "I've been in his class before.  He gets CRAZY!"  


I smiled, unsure what else to do or say, and said simply (and as kindly as I could muster), "I know."  

Because I do know. 

As I made my way to the service, all I could do was fight with the temptation to be devastated.  He called my kid crazy.  He called my kid CRAZY!  

But you know what?  Yeah.  He used the word "crazy."  But he didn't say Ryan IS crazy.  He simply walked up to me, not knowing I was Ryan's mom, and said something he thought would make me okay with what was going on.  And let's not forget that this is a little boy we're talking about here.  

Once the initial emotional ouchie of hearing "crazy" used to describe Ryan's behavior, my mind scrambled with the thought that I missed a teachable moment with that child.  What could I have said to help him understand?  

Then it hit me.  I can't explain it.  Yes, I can give the clinical reasons why I THINK he hits.  I can give all kinds of perspectives from blogs and books and doctors and therapists.  I can tell you how it feels for me to watch and hear it, and I can tell you what his chest looks like at the end of the day when he's had a rough one.  But do I really know WHY?  And why would I act like it's no big deal when this is one of the most if not the most frustrating, painful, potentially crippling part of autism for us?  

As it stands, I'm glad my response was what it was.  Not too much, not too little.  And as this child (hopefully) continues to grow alongside Ryan and our family, he will maybe not be afraid to come to me with questions.  He's obviously not afraid to get too close to Ryan, because he had to get pretty close to be able to speak to me.  

I do worry what Ryan heard and how he processed it.  But that's another reason why I'm glad I didn't make a big deal of it.  I'm definitely not suggesting that it's okay for adults to walk up to someone struggling in that way and say anything other than, "what can I do?"  This was a child, expressing to an adult what he has witnessed.  I choose to believe that he was being honest.  I choose to let go of the right to be upset that the c-word was used in reference to any part of my kiddo.  

You know what else?  I'm thankful that I can do that now.  That after years of being stared at, glared at,  and having the occasional rude comments and the more common whispers, my security in who I and who Ryan is in the eyes of God can overcome the need to defend. 

There have been times all too recently when I was half afraid to leave the house, and more afraid to be around people.  Too afraid of the pain of stares and insensitive, ignorant comments to step out and try anything.  And that still lingers in many ways.  But there is hope and comfort in realizing that my best is all I can do, and Ryan's best is all he can do.  

Thanks be to God for holding my tongue and comforting my heart, and for allowing me to see the honesty in a young boy's eyes... and that, for that moment, I experienced the most honest, pure form of empathy imaginable.

And don't you worry, church friend-parents who are reading this... I have no clue who this kid is or who he belongs to.   But I do know that he was a sweetheart.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Universal Studios

The day after we finished at Disney, we had a day at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.  Eric and I had been here on our honeymoon for just a day, and I had been here on a different band trip.  Both of us were a bit apprehensive about this one, just because we hadn't come as parents before and weren't sure there would be much for our kids to do. 

We had nothing to worry about! 

Now, remember... this isn't Disney.  There are different characters, different rides, yes.  But there is just a different feel of every amusement park, and this one isn't Disney.  But it's still very cool and worth it! 

Daddy and Richie at lunch in Circus McGurkus
 I gotta tell you... our best story about this park has nothing to do with this particular trip.  On our honeymoon, just before we were to leave to make our flight back to Texas, we found out the hard way that Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barge Adventure really will get you wet! It's not one of those rides where they say you'll get soaked then you're dry except for the seat of your pants.  This one will drench you to the skin!  So save yourself the trouble, unless you just really want to be wet.  It is a cool ride!

Ryan and Richie in the Carou-seuss-el... look at mommy, boys!  Eh, never mind.

Here's the guyzos and I on the One Fish, Two Fish ride.  I think it was easily their favorite!  It's similar to the rockets at the Magic Kingdom except you're riding in... you guessed it... a fish.  The arms go up and down, and here's where the twist comes in.  There are fish on poles that spit water as you go by!  Another one where you're going to get at least a little wet.  The guys loved it!

Then there was the Harry Potter area of the park.  

WOW.  Just wow.  This part of the park (and some good-natured shaming from my middle school band kids) prompted my reading all the Harry Potter series this summer.  What?  I hadn't read Harry Potter?  Yeah, one of the weird Crystal-things is that I just don't generally jump on the bandwagon of what everyone else seems to be doing.  I'm kinda strange like that.   

Anyway...  we took this picture because the kids are train-crazy.  Then after we read the first book with the kids, this became their favorite picture from this day.  

Richie turns out to be quite the coaster head!  I never would have thought that about him, but he loves them.  So Daddy and Mommy took turns riding coasters with Richie.  Maelynn just didn't care for them, or doesn't yet, anyway.  Ryan loves them, but wants to watch and not ride.  So there you go.  The smaller HP coaster was perfect for Richie.  Here's he and Daddy after riding that one.

Waiting to ride the train around Seuss land!

So all in all, I'd say Universal has a lot to offer, especially if you're more into coasters than shows and ambience.  As for the disability pass, theirs is (they say) accidentally just like Disney's.  You get a card to present to the ride attendant at the beginning of the line, who then writes a time to return after.  It's just like a fast pass, and was again quite helpful! 

The biggest shout-out I'd like to give is for their park security and medical/first aid staff.  Richie had a first-time reaction to something (after much testing we think it was a kind of fish) we ate for dinner, and it reached its worst when we got back to the van.  Mom ran and got a security guard in the parking garage, who then called their medical staff.  They were there within five minutes, and within another ten, Richie and I were aboard an ambulance bound for the hospital. They were caring and helpful, and went above and beyond in making sure Mom knew how to get to the hospital, since she had Ryan and Maelynn in tow while I went with Richie. 

So began our adventurous trip home.  Such a wonderful time! 

Thanks be to God for keeping little Richie safe, and for the guys who helped so much that day!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Disney Day 3

All you bloggers... if you get out of the habit of posting a few times a week, it's hard to get back in it.  Argh.  

So here we are at the Magic Kingdom.  In case you've noticed (or haven't) we don't often manage to get all three kids in a picture.  I know so many of you are nodding and amen-ing... it's hard to get three kids, special needs or no, to even stand still at the same time much less smile.  Or look the same direction.  Or look at all.  

Here's Richie all captured with the evil emperor Zurg.  He was all excited to shoot the aliens with Buzz in our first ride that day!  Great place to start.  Ryan liked the "shell rides" the most, even though he didn't wear 3D glasses or do any shooting.

Then it was off to the rockets, Richie's choice.  Here are Maelynn and Daddy under the Rockets... so cool how everything is put together at Disney!

Ready to blast off!  Richie the astronaut ready to go!

And sister's turn.  Okay, well... Ryan's turn too.  He loves carousels, and this was something he looked forward to every day of the trip.  We heard "You will ride the carouseeeeel!" about a hundred times a day, even after we rode it.  

There are some things he's so eager for, then still there are elements he can't do right away, as evidenced by his ears covered above.  Sister, on the other hand, just wanted to be able to see!

Here's the happy rider!  

After the carousel, it was time to do a bit of window shopping.  Not the boys' favorite thing... okay, not Ryan's favorite thing... but we got a sort-of shot with Minnie for the biggest fan in the family. 

Then we stepped outside to Mama's favorite view...

As I've told you before, I have a ridiculous crush on all things Cinderella's castle.  I know, I know.  But  you have to admit it's cool!

Then it was time for sister's big birthday present.  One more last hug and thank-you for Daddy, then we headed into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  

Turns out our fairy godmother, Morgan Honey, was from the fairest kingdom in all the land... Texas!  She and Maelynn chatted as they worked.  This is where the day went wonky.  My phone died. No problem, I'll just get out the portable charger Eric sent with me.  

Imagine my frustration as I reached for the plug for my iPhone 4... and it was a charger for an iPhone 5.  So all I could do was ask around, and of course no one had one.  Thankfully there was a photo package included, so there was a photographer there getting some shots of the fun.  Here's the last pic I got with my dying phone...

This experience was great.  They really go out of their way to make the girls feel special.  The best part of the whole thing was when Maelynn started to nod off!  It had been such a great day, and this was the thing she'd looked forward to the very most, and even with me tickling her, she fell asleep.  She did wake back up, but it took awhile!

After this, we went to her little photo shoot that was also included in her package, me asking the whole time if anyone had a charger.  No dice.  Then the moment came that I dreaded.  No way to get hooked back up with the rest of the family!  We wandered a bit, then when I realized how crazy it was to expect us to find them in this huge place, I looked at the dream-come-true at the end of my arm and decided that we'd just have fun and they'd find us eventually.  

A few minutes later, I found myself beside my beautiful daughter, riding the carousel in the Magic Kingdom.  The sunlight sparkled on the glittery, soft blue dress, with her sweet, soft hands clutching her magic wand and the horse's pole, and I started to get upset that I couldn't capture this moment.  Stupid phone.  

But wait... I have this treasure.  I have it in my heart.  So I took the time to drink in her beauty and wonder, to sear this memory on my heart.  She giggled and pointed at things she wanted me to see; I acknowledged them and talked with her and kissed her forehead, amazed at the goodness of God.  

It was one of those moments when the realization hits that you're truly given what you desire most.

The rest of the day, we did more fun stuff.  We rode the Ariel ride, and every other little thing we could find the kids would like.  Then we staked out our spot for fireworks.  

It had been the third in a string of long days, and the kids were exhausted.  We sat with both the double strollers (one for Ryan, one for the littles) and enjoyed the light parade.  Then the fireworks started.  This is one of my very favorite things about Disney.  

Daddy held his baby girl, and I held Richie on my shoulders, and we watched in exhausted amazement at not just the fireworks, nor the music... but the fact that we were THERE.  We were doing something we didn't think we'd be able to do.  We didn't see the way.  As a matter of fact, in about Louisiana, when Ryan had been screaming for over an hour from the back of the van, I stopped and got him out in a parking lot to calm down.  I called Eric, almost in tears, and told him that I might have to turn back and go home.  This trip was a major challenge, and I was scared.  But Ryan calmed after about ten minutes, and we finished the nine-hour drive of the day toward Disney.  

And I'm so glad.

We now feel ten feet tall and bulletproof.  Okay, maybe just in comparison with how scared we were to do even the most simple of trips with all three kids before.  We had read all the reviews of how bad people thought the new disability pass was, and how it ruined their ability to go to Disney with their families.  Everything that could have made us second guess our decision to take the kids this time was conquered either by realizing the truth or just perseverance.  No, by stepping out and trying... testing our wings and trusting that God would like for us to enjoy life.

After the fireworks, Eric had to head back to meet the band.  Mom and I stayed with the kids to wait for the crowds to die down, and of course had to get a Dole whip float.  MMMMMMM.

Yep, that's me.  What's a trip to Disney without an ear hat, y'all?!

On the way back to the front of the park, Ryan kept yelling, "No boat!" at random.  The only problem was that the line for the bus back to parking was about a mile long, but the ferry line was incredibly short.  So I looked at my sweet son, and told him we'd get on the water bus.

Thank the Lord, it worked.  Once he was on the ferry water bus, he hopped off the bench when he heard the horn and exclaimed, "Ahoy, mateys!"

Needless to say, it was not a problem.  He enjoyed the water bus.

And here's the shadow of a happy family sans Daddy (who was also happy, but had to be with the band on the bus).

So much wonder packed into such a short time.  Then there's the jolt back to reality.  

This was one of my dearest shots.  Exhausted, living the dream, happy, and ready to sleep, looking for the hotel room door.

It was a great trip.  Truly a blessing and a fabulous experience all around.  If there's one thing I'd say about it, it would be to try it.  If you really want it, try it.  Be smart, be ready to roll with whatever happens, try to go in with few expectations.  But try.  Step out and give it a shot. 

The disability pass does help.  It's like having the ability to have two fast passes running concurrently.  As someone who firmly believes in teaching kids to wait, that life isn't fair, and that's just how it is, having that ability did make it easier to do the trip.  I wouldn't have wanted to go straight to the front of the line like I've heard the old pass worked.  This way we were given the little boost we needed to level the playing field, and that is what it's all supposed to be about.  

And yes, we're currently saving to go as a family.  All the kids loved it, and Ryan even asks when we're going again. 

If there was one thing I'd say I learned from this trip, it's to do the hard things.  Yes, sometimes we need to go easy on ourselves.  Give ourselves grace, rest, and not go too crazy.  But to never do things because they might go badly?  We're getting better about that.  And this trip was a huge lesson in how great things can go.

Thanks be to God for true courage.  The kind only he gives.  The kind you don't know you have till you look back and say, "Holy cheese, WE DID IT."  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disney Day 2

Day one was nothing short of greatness.  Not once, I forgot to mention, did Ryan or either of the littles even remotely begin to request any of the three i-devices I brought in my giant mommy-sherpa-backpack.  Do you realize how huge that is?  Ryan lives around three things: YouTube on the TV, Thomas the Tank Engine and ALL (and I mean ALL) his friends, and i-device time.

Day two started with the addition of a stroller.  If you remember in Day One we chose just the one industrial-sized rented stroller.  The day we went to Epcot, we got two.  And oh boy, was that a great thing.  Made a world and a half of distance.  We've noticed that if Ryan is expected to walk, he wants to do just that... walk.  Perpetual motion in its most persistent form.  But if he has a rolling place to sit, we are able to stop and enjoy a few things without near as much complaint.

It's also important to remember what "complaint" means.  It's not whining or "gee mom, can't we keep going" it's a serious amount of hitting, screaming, and fighting against having to stay put.  It's hard to describe unless you've been there.  Once you experience it, there's no need for words.  Ya just know.

The day started like this...

Because Eric and I are firm believers in ear hats.  Richie loved watching the embroidery machine put his name on his completely traditional black Mickey ears, and Maelynn was enjoying all the other options, though she chose nearly as traditional as her big brother... a nice, pink one.  

Then there was Ryan.  He got a blue baby-boyish ear hat when he was two, but had no interest in one at 8.  *le sigh* 

But he did jump up and proclaim, "MY HAT!" just like Woody as he grabbed himself a Toy Story sheriff's hat.  

Once we were all sufficiently capped, we found Test Track and all of us loved it!  Richie especially.  He's turned into quite the coaster head since that trip!

After a couple of random other rides and things, then some lunch, we headed for the Monorail.  Daddy had band stuff to do for the afternoon, so we thought we'd hop a ride on this and make Ryan's day.  Which it did. 

After a nice, relaxing ride, we got back to Epcot and walked around a bit, then looked down and this is what I saw in the littles' stroller. 

So we parked, and made this kid real happy with a nice big cup of brown ice cream!

Then it was princess time.  Maelynn was super stoked about meeting princesses.  I may have been too.  

Our first stop was with Belle, with whom Maelynn had a great talk about reading and brothers and stuff.  The next stop was Aurora, who was just down the way a bit.  

Y'all, say what you will about Disney and its cast members... this  was amazing to me.  These princesses have learned their characters so well that they sound like them.  It was nuts.  And although it was hot and there was a line of sweaty preschoolers lined up to hug her neck, Aurora took time to learn some dance steps Maelynn wanted to share.  

Isn't that just precious?  And they talked and hugged and I cried.  And it was awesome.  

That night, Eric and I took the plunge and chose to get reservations at the Garden Grill.  Richie and Maelynn REALLY dug getting to play with all the characters.  Chip and Dale were hilarious, with Dale trying to eat Maelynn's ponytail, and Pluto was super cool.  

After dinner, we pretty much ran to the lagoon so that we could watch Illuminations, and this is pretty much the gist of the trip.  WOW.  

Then it was time to head out.  On the way out, I had to turn around and snap this, because Spaceship Earth is the coolest... even though it wasn't on the list of things we rode.  And I'm a Disney geek.

Back at the hotel, we all pretty much crashed.  And again, no one asked for an i-device.  The whole day.  Even when it was hot and they were tired, nope.  We rode and rode, and walked and walked, and waited and waited.  And this was the result.

The thing you can't see in the pictures is the work that went behind the smiles.  The brothers were very cranky that we were waiting for princesses, but there was nothing we could really ride without Daddy.  They did pretty well while we waited for Belle, but the whole time Maelynn played with Aurora, Ryan screamed.  

Sometimes there are things that require us to take one for the team, and there are times the team takes one for us.  There are times when those happen at the same time.  This day, this trip, was not easy.  But it was worth it.  Such is life.  Life isn't just the happy faces in the pictures.  Real life is the work and drive and faith behind them.  

More on the Magic Kingdom, phone charger failure, roller coasters, and princesses tomorrow... and at the end, our take on the new disability pass system.  

Thanks be to God for the patience and endurance, and sometimes... for the trusty clicking along of the clock, for there are times it's our rest.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Disney Day 1

Where to start?

Hello again.  It's been a while since I did this, largely due to the mega life-changes that come with the shift from staying home to the land of leaving the house and getting paid to do so.  It's a third job just shifting from one to the other.  For real.  More about that later.

I've kinda ripped you off.  I meant to tell you all about Disney every night, as I always seemed to do on a trip like that.  Thing is, life got fast.  Real fast.  Along with the fast came tired.  Choices were made, and I'm sad to admit that a natural choice was to drop writing for a while.  But look out... I'm back.

The first day of Disney... gosh, that was great.  We learned some things about us being us, and put into practice the things that we already knew about us.  We got a double stroller, thinking in our Disney-drunk minds that the kids would be more than happy to take turns riding.


The first day was MGM Disney Hollywood Studios.  (I have the hardest time remembering that change, y'all.)  It was hot.  They were tired.  It was a blast, but goodness... what did I expect?  This is how the day began.

Wonderful, right?  I mean look at those fabulous babies with that fabulous duck.  Seriously, I thought I'd die of cuteness.  Maelynn kept running back to hug her, and Daisy kept responding in true Disney fashion with hands over her bill and her heart.  It was, in short, adorable.  

What you can't see is Ryan's screams of protest.  This was, to be fair, the first thing we really waited in line for other than his disability pass, which I will get to.  It wasn't a mega-meltdown, but it wasn't fun. 

Then there was this... Disney Jr. Live.  Funneled into a darkened room with tons of other people, to sit on the floor.  No boundary.  *insert Mama screaming and pulling out hair*

We snuggled.  And he put his jacket on.  Yes, it was hot.  But he needed his own space.  The jacket provided a hiding space.  He pulled that hood hard down over his face and buried it in my lap and rode this show out like a pro.  We learned quickly that this was how we would get through the little show-rides.  I'd pull out the jacket, ask him if he wanted it over his head, and then put it over his head.  I'd tell you we got some weird looks, but honestly, I didn't notice.   Here's the celebratory I-made-it-through-this selfie that he asked for.  

Yes, he did.  He asked for a picture with Mom.  *swoon*

Rides... we rode.  It was awesome.  Most of them he either tolerated or loved.  If one of those wouldn't be the outcome, we didn't do it.  Let's just say there was very little we didn't do.  Here's a shot I got of my Mom (here referred to as "Granny")  and Maelynn on the Toy Story ride.  They ROCKED it! 

And we wandered more... thought I'd never get that jacket off Ryan.  But I let it go, and eventually he did realize he needed to remove it.  With the promise that I'd keep it handy in my backpack, we were good.  After lunch, we found the Muppet fountain...

Yes, that is Ryan's jeans-clad bum and legs.  In the time it took for me to back up and say, "Smile for mama" he had almost his head in the water.  If you ever wondered if this kid is really drawn to water *that* strongly... I mean, come on, all kids love water... here you go.  

The best stuff happened toward the end of the day.  Ryan wanted to ride the elevator.  Not just any elevator... the Tower of Terror.  Or so he thought.  We were in that end of the park, and I told him that if he'd ride a roller coaster and liked that, then he could choose to ride that elevator.  I told him it was scary, not a usual elevator, etc.  Then I did something I never thought I'd do.  

He said "yes" with tons of enthusiasm.  I walked with him up to the Fastpass area, told the castmember that he wanted to ride, and he penciled (okay, penned) in a ride time for us to return.  Worked just like Fastpass, but would work alongside Fastpass.  It was greatness.  

I figured he'd decide that no, it wasn't for him after all.  Surely when we got to the line he'd flip and we'd leave.  

Then I thought surely when he has to get in that seat and pull that thing down, that will be time to use the old-fashioned "chicken exit".  And I was completely okay with that.  I love that coaster... it's my favorite... but I couldn't believe I was about to let him do this.  

He didn't change his mind.  He got in the car, pulled the safety harness down, and we were off.  

I have to admit that I don't know if he screamed... I'm almost sure he did.  I kept my hand on his knee as a reminder that Mommy's here, thinking that might help.  

When we pulled into the end of the ride, I asked what he thought, and his response was "You will get OFF!"  Oh man, did I hang my head till we were good and off.  

Then the people in front of him high-fived him for making it.  And he grinned the most huge, proud grin I've ever seen on his face.  When asked the rest of the trip if he liked it, he'd emphatically say "Yes!" in his best newscaster voice.  But then when asked if he wanted to do it again? 

"No!"  in the same voice. 

The end of the night was the hardest.  Fantasmic is one of my favorite parts of Disney, and we were by golly gonna go.  It was hard, but he made it.  

By the way... about a week later, Ryan couldn't stop watching YouTube videos of people riding roller coasters.  Two weeks later, he was drawing them on the marker board at school.  

Ya just never know, folks.  

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get to posting Disney Day 2.  This was so fun, and this trip had such an impact on us as a family that it's not hard to remember the best stuff.  And yes, I will eventually address the hot topic of the disability pass.  But really it's not that hot of a topic.  Not near as hot as it was made out to be for our family, anyway.  

Thanks be to God for the Groesbeck band boosters... because they're the reason we got to go. 

And thanks for mentioning the blog today, Tara.  I'd all but given up on it.  Love ya girlie.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Righteousness Misplaced

Sheesh, it's been the better part of a month since I posted.

That, my friends, is the last few weeks in a nutshell.  Whoosh.  That vision at the end of Toy Story with Woody hanging onto that moving truck for dear life, cheeks and eyelids flapping in the air is accurate.  Our home trainer told a very overwhelmed me at our first meting after I started working that transitioning from a stay at home mom to a working mom is a full time job in itself.

She's right.

There's not much different at home, except that I'm not here as much.  The transition has gone as smoothly as I could have hoped for, with the exception of a few glitches here and there.  But even the glitches have smoothed with the give and take of teamwork.  In all that figuring out and hashing through and working to make sure we have all our bases covered I've learned something really important.  It's a game-changer, folks.  It settles that whole working versus stay at home mom thing once and for all.

Ready?  Hold on to your hat.  It's earth-shattering, I tell you.  Earth-shattering!

There is no one-size-fits-all for how to mother, father, parent, run your household, or any of the above.  You say you're at home for good?  Great! Stayed home the six weeks allotted and then went back to work?  Great! So you homeschool?  Fabulous!  Put your child on a yellow bus every morning to the public school in your area?  Wonderful!  You cloth diaper?  Neat!  Can't stand the idea and love your Pampers?  Cool!

You know, there's a lot of guilt on either side of the mommy debates.  Whether it's food or discipline or schooling or clothing or TV watching or electronics usage, there are endless blogs, magazine articles, books, studies, and even seminars that will attempt to sell you on their idea.  Actually, I guess I fit into one of those categories, too.  Hmm.

But really, I'm no expert.  I'm no expert on any of these angles.  The only experience I have, other than listening when friends talk, is my own.  And I really can't make decisions based on what friends experience.  So maybe... just maybe... I should only decide what's right for me based on our needs.

Novel idea to some.

We started our family with an agreement that I'd be home.  Period.  We decided that based on a few things.  The first, and my husband's largest point, was that he wanted to give his kids what his parents gave him.  And since he and his sister both turned out pretty great, and there wasn't much nuclear family stuff I wanted to copy from my experience, it was easy to sign on to stay home.

Let me make this clear.  I am NOT sorry I stayed home.  Not for one minute.  I'm grateful for the years I had to be home with my kids.  But once my daughter was born, I got nervous.  Through that experience it was made unmistakably clear that we were through having kids.  My body didn't need to try that again.  Just wasn't up for it.  So I started to be nervous that the kids wouldn't need me and I'd have to go back to work.

From my perspective, I saw the shortcomings I had as a mom at home full time and added them to what I knew it took to do my job, and decided that there was no way that would ever work.  I can't keep my house clean when I'm home full time.  What's going to happen when I try to add work?  And then there was Ryan and his needs.  He's used to my being home.  He can depend on mommy to be here.  What will happen when I go back to work?  Who will drive him to therapy?

Silly mommy.  You can't work.  Surely that wouldn't be in God's plans for you.  He can see what you're up against and he wouldn't allow that.  And the stress I was under being in charge of everyone's care, including meals, cleaning, laundry, etc. told me that there was no way I could handle a job plus all that.  Just the nature of my profession alone would not lend itself to our family.  Band in small town Texas means you're out Monday all day between the work day and marching rehearsal, and then there are Fridays.  Friday night lights were optional as a stay-at-homer, but they'd be required as a band director.  And so many Saturdays in October for marching contest.

There was no way I'd be able to do that to our family.  All those things coupled with even more there's just not room to list made it look like the most pragmatic choice for my employment was to be right here.  Oh, and then there's the fear that I would have forgotten how to do it.

Before I knew it, the same mom who was happy to stay home became resigned to staying home.  Then resignation turned to sadness.  The fire in my heart for band fanned again, I found myself telling my husband through heaving sobs that the idea of never teaching band again felt like a death sentence.

But why was it so hard to admit?  Why all the tears?

Misplaced righteousness.

To be a good person, I told myself, to be a worthy Christian Mom, I had to stay home.  Never mind that I knew and loved moms who worked their tails off and were awesome moms.  I would never have told them that they had to stay home, because I really believed they were rocking life just the way they were.   I could blame it on money, but that would be a lie. God always provided for us.  Yes, money got squeaky sometimes but we always had what we needed plus some.

The hard truth was that I wanted to work.  I missed work. I loved what I did.  I'm one of those folks who knew what they wanted to do from age 10.  Went into college, declared my major, and barreled through.  I tried telling myself to just let it go and enjoy band as an observer.  I tried dreaming of other jobs that would be more acceptable to the big-brother Christian culture that tells women that their worth should always come from their clean homes and well-behaved children.

Let's get this out there once and for all.  THAT IS NOT TRUE.  Very few of us actually believe that.  Yes, we'll go to parenting classes and smile and nod and amen, then turn around and leave feeling guilty that we don't live up.  Honestly, maybe even hoping no one finds out how far short we fall.  That we feed our kids chicken nuggets and ice cream and candy and let them watch TV.

I bought into this more than I realized.  With this expectation hanging over my head, staying home became more and more of a martyrdom.  I'd look through blogs on this and that, usually trying to find something that would make me passionate about cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry or to try again to convince myself that I could be like all those cool moms and homeschool my kids.  I could do it!

And yes, I could.  I could do a lot of things.  But as I kept trudging along, it became more and more apparent that God gave me a passion for band.  Those little heart reminders that I loved it and it was so fun... and I could do it again... became catalysts for my looking back at God saying, "Silly Father.  I can't do that.  You said it was my place to be home forever!  See me doing the right thing?  See?"

Then I began to realize that maybe it wasn't God who said that, but cultural, big-brother Christianity.

As I sat in that CE class at church, I realized that I was adding to Jesus' gift of my salvation.  Staying home, something that began as a real gift to my family, had become something I felt I had to do to be okay.  To be acceptable.  To save myself from judgement.


We don't need to add anything to Christ's gift.  No, scratch that.  We CANNOT add anything to Christ's gift of salvation.  All we can do is live in the comfort and wonder of its peace and security.

Staying home for my children is a gift I will always be grateful for being able to give.  And now that I'm back at work, I can see that it was time.  There are still things I feel guilty about.  I wanted to want to be home forever.  And I still hear the words of a few blogs that underhandedly shamed moms who want to work ringing in my ears now and again.  Why would I need more to life than my kids?  I really don't know.  But the same God who knit me together in my mother's womb, who knows the hairs on my head, and stores my tears... that same God knows why he gave me such a desire to teach and made it possible.   And he also knows why I'm a better mom for going ahead and going back when I needed to.

Largely, it's been great.  Sometimes it's not easy, but it's better.  And it's better not because working is better... it's better because it's what I was supposed to do.

Thanks be to God for showing me it was time... and for all those who were encouraging and helpful in so many ways (I'm looking at you, RPC bible study ladies who gave me meals to help with my first little bit of work, and my dear BFF the FCCLA teacher and working mommy extraordinaire... not to mention the GISD band staff/family for giving me band hall time all those years!) and for my amazing husband, my Mom, and J for picking up everything I've had to lay aside for this semester.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Disney: The Pre-Days

Since I took a job recently, planning for this trip did not happen.  Add that onto taking a day off the trip at the front to make sure I only missed one day of work, and that makes for well... we're here.

We left town only thirty minutes behind schedule Friday morning.  Not bad if you know me and trips.  I was worried about bored kids a little, and I was concerned about the long-haul trip as far as driving went, but the funny thing is that I wasn't bent out of shape about anything.  It was just time to go, and we did the best we could to pack and we went. 

Plenty of snacks, drinks, and these neat little bags of cheap toy, sticker, coloring, etc. treats that I'd made for each kid helped along the way.  So did the I-devices.  Mostly.

I thought that I'd let Ryan play iPad for a while, then make the rule at home stick... and he'd only have iPad a while, then watch movies with us all on the road.

After a meltdown of epic proportions that ended in me pulling over and leaving a lasting yet not so good impression on a small town outside Lafayette, I realized I might be in over my head.

No, I panicked.

But after a while on the road, he settled and we were fine.  We pulled in to another small town in Mississippi at a decent hour, ate dinner, and hit the sack in the hotel by nine.  Then we woke for another early departure, this time with another plan.  I'll just trade out the iPad with the iPod, and explain that it needs to charge.

Huh.  Yeah.  No.

So following around 18-20 hours of driving, sitting in traffic, listening to movies, and making fun of road signs (my personal trip favorite) we made it.  I'm sitting here in a hotel, with what seems like Mardi Gras going on outside my window, waiting for Eric to get here on the bus with the band kids and the rest of the staff.  Oh, and we don't want to talk about how much iPad Ryan had.  Just don't ask.

I'm taking my kids to Disney tomorrow, y'all. 

Here's a little secret... I almost blew it.  I almost decided I couldn't take it and turned around and went home.  It wasn't an idle threat.  I really couldn't take any more screaming and hitting, especially when part of the hitting was on the van window.  After that parking lot in Louisiana, I had to decide to either loosen my standards or lose this opportunity.

With the echoes of our home-trainer in my head, I let go and decided we would do our best.  We can't stop doing everything because it might go badly.  Yes, it might go badly.  And yes, there will probably be parts that will go badly.  Some things have already gone badly.  I've had the credit card I use stolen and used one place before we shut it off (yay for Discover!), they lost our reservation at the rental car place *coughthanksHERTZ* so we brought our ol' Minnie, and there have been meltdowns.  But I have to work on not letting one bad hour or two here and there ruin what could be an amazing time.

So here I sit, having lost two hours of sleep even before I go to bed (time zone, time change), having driven hard for two days, getting ready to crash before we go to the Mouse House tomorrow.  I'm nervous.  We have social storied... because my husband ROCKS... and we have talked through the trip, what to expect, and we've done what we can do... now it's time to do it.

Thanks be to God!  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Special Needs in the Classroom: Insider Information for my Music Educator Friends

For four years out of college, I was a band director.  I loved what I did.  And I had a few special needs kids in my bands and classes of varying degrees of severity, and never really thought much of it.  There were even a few times I sat in on ARD meetings, and every time I wondered why the parents looked so scared.

I certainly never planned to be one of those parents.  But as you know, that's my reality.

Our little bear in a Sousaphone at his first Baylor basketball game.

The first clinic out of the box after ten years of staying home with the kids was one that I thought all too fitting.  It was supposed to be all about special needs kids in the music classroom.  Instead, it was one guy telling stories about his life teaching and with his special needs child.  Cool, man.  I get that.  There were a lot of things I could relate to, but so many that I just couldn't quite.

But it answered hardly any questions and left me squirming in my chair thinking I'd like five minutes with that microphone.

So here's what I'd tell all of you over lunch if I could.  Take them for what they're worth.  And obviously, double check anything for legality.

1. I'd like you to introduce you to someone.  He'll answer half your questions about whatever special needs kid walks in your room.  You'll be tempted to ignore him in all the shuffle of beginning of the year paperwork, but please don't.  He covers everything from bus schedules to every minute of the day to behavior plans that have been put in place.  Meet Mr. IEP, or Individual Education Plan.

2.  Every year, make sure you don't just scrawl your signature saying you received IEP's.  Open them. Read them.  FOLLOW THEM.  If there is something you don't understand, go see the diagnostician.  Call the parents.

3. Don't ignore the IEP.  Have I said this enough?  This is not only helpful to you and the student and the parents, it is LEGALLY BINDING.  Not something to "meh" away.

4. Don't be scared.  These kids are people.  Even if they're non-verbal (unable to speak) they will show you their personalities.  If you will give them time and, in some cases, several chances, you will see.  I can tell you that Ryan does not do well with people who are nervous about him.  He knows, he senses, and it makes him nervous.  Imagine a rickety rope bridge over a raging river versus a sturdy, steel-and-concrete bridge over the same.  Which would you trust with your footing?

5. Every kid is different in your room, right?  So is every autistic child.  Every child with an extra chromosome.  Diagnoses are not cookie cutters.  They are keys to understanding.  Tickets to services.

6. Routine.  Establish routine.  You probably do this anyway, right?  Ryan needs to know what will happen next, just like you need to know where your phone is, where you parked your car, or where you live.  Something as simple as his place in the room being moved is as disturbing to him as you walking out to leave for work and your car not being there.  Or walking out and seeing that someone has replaced it with another, similar car without your knowledge or permission.  Better or worse, change is change.

7.  Attend the ARD.  If you possibly can, be there.  Accept your part in this child's education.  Yes, it's fifty minutes a day of the child's life.  What's the big deal?  It's a huge deal.  Please step up.

8.  Establish a line of communication with the parents.  Be kind, listen, but also be honest.  As in, if you're planning a trip to an amusement park for your band, call Mom and Dad the day before you present this to the class.  Ask what we can do to make it work for little Susie, who might run or wander away and get hurt.  Don't be surprised if they volunteer to go along, ask the principal for an aid for her, or just tell you that isn't something they want for her.  I have been known to keep Ryan home from a class trip if I knew it was going to be absolute misery for him.

9.  If you need help that is in the IEP and you are not getting it, let your administrator know.  So often these things are not just for your convenience but for the health and safety of the child!  Insist that the IEP is followed.  If an aid is needed, crow until Johnny has one.  If Johnny has autism and wanders or is trying to escape the room or worse the school, he needs that aid.  And I know how hard it is to focus on anything other than the music you're trying to prepare for UIL.  Protect Johnny and legally yourself, and bark and document your asking for what he needs until he gets it.

10.  Along the same lines, know your limits.  If you're talking about marching band rehearsal and Susie is a bolter, be honest in the ARD and in phone calls.  Don't ever assume parents know how things work.  Be honest about what is expected, if you can find something to do.  My husband's school has been amazing about opening the band program to kids, regardless of ability or disability, and the kids have responded with love for these kids that more than warms my heart.  But everything has to be modified.

11.  Modify.  It's just good teaching.  You're not going to lose anything by letting a kid dress in a uniform and do SOMETHING at halftime, and something in the stands.  There is almost always SOMETHING they can do to be a part.  Let them do what they can do.  If they can't handle it... give them a break.

12. What's a break?  Varies from kid to kid.  For Ryan, who is overwhelmed by a lot of people and sound, a safe room to exit to and calm down in might be best. Again, this is where an aid can come in handy... or an assistant if you have one.

13. You can do this.  You will not regret trying it, even if it doesn't work out.

14. Did I mention communicating?  Communicate with the student as much as possible, with his other teachers, with the diagnostician, with the parents, with everyone who has contact with this kid at school.  An email is sometimes all it takes.

What's the big deal about whether or not kids with special needs get to participate in band, orchestra, choir, or a sport?  Their quality of life.  The other kids' education and growing as a person.

Remember, for every kid who isn't going to do much for your organization, there is a set of parents or guardians who just want to see him do something that makes him happy.  That is the crux of everything we do, or it should be.  Happy and successful.  And sometimes, for these people... I know it's true for Ryan... happy IS successful.  Success looks different for different people.

Something I wish I could tell all of you... the last thing, and maybe the only thing if you get just one... I've recently been through a pretty rigorous job interview by a committee.  They asked some very good questions and really had me tap-dancing.  That interview was a piece of cake compared to an ARD meeting (IEP meeting).  Why?

When you talk about Ryan, you're talking about my whole heart.  You're taking it out of my body, tossing it around the table.  I'm wondering what you're going to say about it next.  When I can just get it back and put it where it's safe.  In any communication you have with parents or kids, regardless of ability, please treat them with respect.  You will come across parents who don't want to be bothered with their kids' lives, but for the most part, I bet they want what's best, and will be glad to hear that you care enough to do your best for their child.

Thank you for being an educator.  Thank you for being an educator that cares to read posts from desperate teacher/moms like me.

And of course, thanks be to God for how far we've come in including and improving the lives of special needs kids.  There is still much work to do, but it's so much better in so many ways. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Path and Markers

"It's scary to walk the streets of downtown San Antonio with a little boy who, to put it lightly, does not like to hold hands.  The bigger problem is that he isn't afraid of traffic.  Candles, yes.  Birds, he's not excited about.  But traffic?  Meh." ~Me, February 2013 

If you've been around here very long at all, you know how Ryan feels about holding hands.  If you're new, let's just say he's not a fan.  

If you're really new, and tempted to shrug that off and say "why don't you just make him?" then you should go back here and catch up a touch.   In this house, there is no "just".   

With both Eric and I needing to catch clinics, there was less time for me to take the kids for a walk around.  They were less bored, too.  They had me for part of the day, then their Dad, and vice versa.  Not just all Mama, all the time.  They're old enough now that we're comfortable with just one of us taking them swimming, too, which is helpful.  

The first night, we simply got them to the room and settled, then I brought in dinner.  I had to register.  Since all this has happened so fast, I more than missed online pre-registration, and in order to hit the ground running the next day, I needed to do the same as soon as we arrived.  

Since Friday was Valentine's Day, we wanted to be sure to stay in.  I know, strange to be on the Riverwalk and not go out.  But when you and you kids HATE crowds and have one who is way less than fond of waiting, it's best to order in.  The kids had a nice Valentine's present trip to the Disney store in the mall, then their favorite for dinner.  

The real gift was the second night.  The night we took them to eat at our favorite spot on the Riverwalk.    

As we left the hotel, with Richie and Maelynn holding Daddy's hands in front of me, I instinctively reached down to hold Ryan's hand.  Instinctively as in what mommy would just do as a mommy.  Not as Ryan's mom.  As I felt his chubby, soft hand, I had the same hot flash you get when you pass a cop going a mile or two (or more) over the speed limit.  WHAT DID I JUST DO?!

Y'all, he held my hand.  

All the way to the blue elevator.  

I didn't want to mention it, for fear that he'd stop.  I wanted Eric to look... I wanted him to see... I wanted to jump up and down... but I didn't want him to let go.  So we just walked.  Hand in hand.  For the first time in I don't know when, my little boy held my hand without a fight or a meltdown or hitting and screaming.  

And it was wonderful. 

There were other times while we were on our trip that were frustrating enough for all of us.  The rapid-fire "SWIM!" and the ever-popular, near-constant wailing of "NO HOME!!!" on the last day were present.  There was also the new "NO STORE!!!"   And once we got to the outlet mall (because mommy needed work clothes), the same thing we always do when we're on our way home from convention, he had a mega-meltdown that spanned what felt like a year, but was probably only twenty minutes of screaming, hitting and the rest of us just trying to keep calm and keep pedaling.  

On the other side of the lowest times last week, I can see that there are things we need to adjust about how we do things at convention and beyond.  On this side of the high points, I can see that there is a whole lot we're doing pretty ok... and for the other stuff, there is grace.  There are always things that mark our path, and this time, one of those markers was having that sweet boy hold my hand for the longest time since he was probably three. 

Thanks be to God.  

Observations of my First Convention Back

So I've noticed a few things this week at my first convention as a working mom.

1. There are still great, incredibly helpful clinics.  If you don't know how to do something musical in a classroom, show up here.  Either you will find a clinic that covers it, or you will find someone who can help.

2.  There are dud clinics that bring out your inner bored fifth grader.  Even in the dud clinics, there's learning... even if it's just how I don't want to make my students feel.

3.  There are clinics that, as a smaller-than-small school director, I kinda smiled and thought things like, "That's nice.  But I'll stick to learning to teach little kids to sing in English before I tackle Japanese.  Thanks."

4. I still do happy little awkward things like getting on the wrong escalator.  No really.  I had to wait for like ten minutes in line and didn't realize until I had just stepped on the blasted thing.

5.  Running into Mr. Marsh is still the most awesome thing there.

6.  Running into my wonderful friends is a close second.

7.  Although things are automated and computerized, the work is the same.

8.  The exhibits are awesome and overwhelming.  As a working mom with limited time, I have to target what I need, find it, and get back.

9. The band stuff is so fun to talk about.  So fun.  And so easy.

10.  The very best part of convention is still stuff like this.

Their first family jump... all together now!  And it was their idea.  Not mine. 
Snuggles at our favorite restaurant.  Sister crashed and slept through the whole thing.  

What else do you need?  He LOVES the water.  

Good morning, Mommy and Daddy! 

And just now, I snapped this over the desk.  A second ago her head was on his shoulder.  Post-swim snuggles. 
It's different.  But at the same time, it's the same.  It takes more effort, yes.  But the effort creates a few nice side effects.  We have to communicate, so we can make sure we plan.  We have to be willing to give back and forth.   We're remembering how much we love being not just husband and wife, not just friends, a parenting team, but colleagues.

The little amazing things that aren't really little at all are still happening, and are just as amazing.  It's more of a challenge when I need to make a few clinics and do some business on the convention floor, but I like a challenge.

So glad my re-entering the working world started with our musical extended family and the kids, all together.

Thanks be to God for new beginnings that dovetail with the old.
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