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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fast Changes

Whelp, I've done it now.

One of the hardest yet easiest, elusive yet painfully obvious decision I ever made has been made.

About two weeks ago... what's magical about two weeks for me?  It was about that long that Eric and I dated before he asked me to marry him.  Anyway, about that long ago, after a long talk you can read about here, Eric and I decided that I should apply for a job that seemed perfect.  It was pre-k through 8th grade, with all but 6th-8th being music, not band.  But hey... teaching is teaching, right?  And no high school responsibilities, just 30 minutes from the house.

So I filled out an application, we fixed my resume to look nice and accurate again, and in the process Eric asked if I had a copy of it, or had it saved anywhere.  In looking, I did find a hard copy, and also found a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk with my resume saved under my maiden name.  Good times.

Almost as I sent it, I also found out that the job was open.  Like they needed someone yesterday.  Whoa.

As I hit send on the email with the proper attachments, all I could think was that this was such a long shot.  I haven't taught in ten years almost.  I let my certificate lapse even, because I couldn't afford the training hours to keep it.  We just reinstated it.  As in, if you look on the website, it still says inactive.  They haven't had time to get it back online yet.

Who would want to hire someone who hadn't taught in nearly ten years?

Apparently this school district did.

Less than a month ago, I was figuring out that I really did want to work someday.  Now I have a job starting February 24.

The stay at home years were good.  They weren't easy, but as we all know easy does not equal good, and good does not equal easy.  I'm thrilled that I get to work again.  That they want to give me this opportunity, for whatever reason.

Again, I'm in awe of God's providence.  His God-ness.  Eric and I agreed that we would step out and do this, even though it seemed out of the blue and maybe a little crazy.  We are impressed, awed, floored, thrilled, and honestly a little nervous.  This is a new chapter in our lives.

So I found myself at the registration booth at TMEA wondering where the little papers were that you fill out for your registration, standing awkwardly in the midst of the bustling convention center, when I realized that it's been ten years.  It's all online now.  Of course, instead of wondering who I'd have dinner with or where to go next, now I just hurried to the food court to pick up dinner for the kids and to the mall to snag a swimsuit for the little girl whose suit I couldn't find this morning, then back to the hotel so I could tag Eric so he could go help with tabulation for all-state chair tryouts.

The tag-teaming begins.

Thanks be to God for all of you who have come out of the woodwork to say "ME TOO!!!"

And definitely thanks for this new opportunity and for the growing changes it will mean for all of us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Work Guilt

Starting here, Eric and I began having some serious conversations about where I'm going.  Through tears I didn't see coming and heaving sobs here and there, I told him that while I appreciate so much the opportunity I have to stay home, I miss work.

Really, really miss work.  The internal struggle had grown and expanded until it poured over my cheeks and down my face and I needed help carrying it.  So I shared the hardest thing I've had to say in years.  It was gut-wrenching.  Heart-ripping.  Disappointing.

I want to go back to work.

I'll miss the kids.  I love the kids and Eric so so so much, but I miss band kids.  I miss the lights going off in their eyes when they get it.  Or when they realize that I'm really ok with their mistake, freeing them to make another one.  Then another.  And another... over and over... until they conquer it.

Why is it so hard to admit that I want to go back to work?  I've wanted to be a band director since Miss Hopkins taught me to play a Flutophone when I was ten years old.  College was a means to an end.  Just let me teach.   Show me the hoops.  Tell me how high to jump, and I'll do it.

So what is the big deal about saying I want to go back to work?

It's part of the great mommy wars.  It's part of worrying too much about what people think and not what God made me to do.  And I don't think I'm alone.

We compare far too much.  I have several friends who are home and home schooling, and it works great for them and for their families.  I know plenty of moms who stay home while their kids are at school.  I know plenty of moms too who only stayed the six weeks for maternity leave, then went back to work.  They love their kids, they care for them, they provide for them.  Every one of them.

This is where it gets hard to me.  What happens when mama WANTS to work?  When mama feels compelled to participate in the kind of thing she used to do as far as work outside the home?  When the money isn't necessarily needed to survive, so she can't blame it on money?

I know so many who would say it's no big deal to blame it on the money, but I just can't.  It's not the truth for us.  For so many people it is the truth that work means enough food and clothing and shelter, and I get that.  There are so many moms who wish they could stay home, and I get that too.

I count these years as a great gift from my husband and the Lord.  They have not been easy.

What?  What could be easier than staying home?

I don't know why, folks.  But it was hard for me.  I love my kids, I love my family, but it's just not where I'm comfortable.  When I catch myself saying, truthfully, that I feel more comfortable and like I can work more efficiently in the band hall than I do at home, that means something.

Here's what it does not mean.

1. It does not mean that I don't like my kids.

2. It does not mean that I don't like my husband.

3. It does not mean that I am ungrateful for the providence that has kept us fed and safe these years.

4. It does not mean that I am a horrible mother.

5. It does not... and hear me here... it does NOT mean that I'm out of the will of God for my or my family's life.

6. It also does not mean I don't admire those of you who continue to stay home.  Quite the opposite.

Flip to Proverbs 31.  Or just click here. 

Look around.  Read through.  What do you see?  You see a lot about her dignity, caring, being benevolent, generous, doing the Lord's work and making her husband proud.  There is much about providing food, clothing, and even being crafty to a degree!  Keep looking.  See anything about her not using her God-given talents?  See anything about her not helping provide?

If you look closely, it's just the opposite.  There is even mention of her making things to sell, and making sure her merchandise is profitable.

So where does this idea come from?  Where is this fear of admitting that I'd like to do something other than mop, sweep, cook, launder, clean, and teach my children coming from?

There seems to be the idea among a lot of believing women that one should be home.  Simply home.  That our kids and our husbands have to be enough.  That anything more... the want of anything more... is merely selfish ambition.  It also doesn't say that you have to have a job or you're not being who God made you to be.

So let's cut this out, shall we?  Let's cut out the sidelong comments about each others' lives.   We Moms, if we're honest, have things we just aren't good at or just don't get done because we hate doing it.  There are ways we all fall short.  There are ways we could all be better wives and mothers.  There are also ways we all need encouragement.  And a place to go with those frustrations where we won't be judged.

Wives and moms shouldn't feel the need to re-enter the workforce because they miss doing a job they enjoyed, were good at, or worked hard to be trained for. We are all different.  God's will for my life, though it may look a lot different than your idea of what's right, is still his will for my life.  If we try and fail, we should be there for each other to support and help each other up, not to kick each other while we're down with careless "I told you so" comments.  If there are hard questions to be asked, they need to be chosen very carefully and prayerfully, and they have to come with love from people in a position to ask them.

If we're honest, not one of us can live up to that Proverbs 31 woman.  Not all the time.  Not every day.  Yes, she's crazy inspiring.  Yes, we may have flashes of wonderful that look a whole lot like her.  Let's admit it and share our struggles, open our arms, and share the life-giving gospel-grace with each other that we all so desperately need.

Let's drop the guilt trip together.  We have enough mommy guilt anyway, provided by our own hearts and expectations.  Can't we help each other more? So what if you work and I stay home.  We're still moms.  We need each other.

Thanks be to God for all the people who have encouraged, hugged, asked questions, and believed in what he can do through each other, without harshness or judgement.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Go easy, Mama.

This evening, we sat down to read the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with the littles.  Super sweet moment for us.

We did this before with Ryan.  He was a baby, and we were first time parents.  We read through the Chronicles of Narnia, Summer of the Monkeys, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I can't remember what else.  We'd each read a chapter out loud, sometimes two, every night while the other held and rocked our boy.

That's one of those things that made me want to slap everyone who said we just didn't talk to Ryan when he was a baby.  But I digress.

That was one of the sweetest times we had, and it's one of those things that could only happen with one baby.  Once he started sleeping in his bed, we didn't plan it, but the nightly reading stopped.  It's not a decision we made, it's not anything we sat down and discussed.  It just kinda... stopped.

There are some things we decide, then there are some things that happen whether or not we decide on them.

We didn't decide to quit sharing books we grew up with.  It just happened as Ryan began sleeping in his big boy bed, going to bed all by himself.

 Since we started with a diagnosis... since we moved here, had another baby, and so forth... it's been more surviving than deciding.  More pedaling through the day, trying to make sure everyone's diaper was changed the required amount of times, stayed safe, and maybe had a few happy minutes in the day.  Lots of hugs and kisses, and a few moments like the time Maelynn got into the bleach.

Yeah, that one just happened too.  Seriously you turn your head for a MINUTE and your year-old daughter has the child safety cap off the bleach.

Don't let that picture of the kids snuggled on Eric's shoulder fool you.  I failed the whole stay at home mom things by SO many standards.

Before you think I'm trying to fish for compliments, sympathy, or I'm going for false humility, let's get real.

There are ways we all failed it.

Whether you work or stay home, cloth or disposable diaper, organic or regular-food, homeschool or public or private school, there are things about parenting we'd all like to hide.  There are ways we've all blown it. There are things we forewent for sleep or sanity or just a few minutes alone.

And for 99% of us, I'd like to yell from the rooftops that IT IS OKAY.

The majority of us love our kids and do our best as a result.  And there are camps that all of us have joined to some degree or another.  As a result of those camps, we have reputations to uphold.  Little crosses to bear.  Decisions we've made for our kids for their best that aren't always easy for us... which makes it a sacrifice.

There are two problems with this.  The first is when we can't stop slapping other parents with our decisions.  Whether it's because you really think tap and dance is far better for your daughter's development than tumbling and cheer, or violin better than piano, or all of it should be chucked for soccer or peewee football, you're wrong.

If I try to tell you that your daughter, who loves and thrives in cheer, should be playing clarinet and you're destroying her, I'm wrong.  If you think I should yank my daughter from tap and ballet and put her in underwater basket weaving, you're wrong.  We know our kids best.  The majority of the time, we need to be supportive of each other and let each other do what we think is right for our kids.  Because anything else?  That is mostly hurtful and tears each other down.

The other end that hurts rather than helps is mostly internal.  This is for all of you who log onto Pinterest and scroll through, feeling rather less-than-great about what you do with your kids. There are so many great ideas, and after a little time scrolling it starts to seem like every other mama has made the sensory bins, cornstarch and baby oil playdough, and loves to paint with fingers and brushes, laughing so carefree as their children completely destroy the kitchen then track all that homemade stuff all over the house.

There are great things about you that your kids love.  Yeah, maybe they'd love the projects and making more messes.  But something I have to remember, especially as the daughter of a single mom who worked her tail off, is that you are who they want the most.  Yes, I may not have played with play doh or painted with finger paints much.  No, I didn't have hours at the park to play and I didn't take violin or piano, and honestly I only took dance till the studio accidentally burned down and mom didn't have time to find another one.

But we did play catch in the aisles at the grocery store in the middle of the night.

We did sit up for hours listening to her old records, while she told me stories of being a kid and when she heard this song and that, and when she bought this album and that.

We didn't hang out at the park, but we did go to some awesome concerts.

Our kids are our kids for a reason.  That doesn't mean that it will never be hard, or that they'll never wish they'd been able to do such and such like so and so gets to with HIS dad.  But it does mean that for the most part, our kids will love us for who God made us to be.

So go easy on yourself, Mama.  And I'll agree to do the same.  Because if each of us will, even just once, start letting another mom talk and not judge, maybe she'll get the idea and do the same.  Our pain, our exhaustion, our challenges and the ways we try to survive and live are not a competitive sport.

And for all of you who saw that picture of my kids snuggling their dad tonight, don't be fooled by the cuteness... you didn't see the mess behind the shot.  Ryan was snuggling with me, refusing to stop making noise while his dad read.  One of the kids, who shall remain nameless, wouldn't stop with the nose picking so I had to retake the shot a couple times.

Thanks be to God for making us all so different, yet so alike.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Birthday Promise

Good morning, beautiful girl.

On this morning, four years ago, I heard through exhausted yet anxious tears, that you were safely in this world.  The doctor said your eyes were the widest and you were certainly among the most alert babies he'd ever birthed.  I almost missed your first cry, and the joyous tears that followed, replacing yet running the same tracks as the frightened ones.  

And you started that moment being a kid who God used to help me learn to run over a lot of frightened grooves.  

The first thing you did, once I was through with the whole postpartum depression and anxiety mess, was to show me the need I had to love myself a little.  Not in a selfies every day kind of way... but in a way that shows you it's good to be kind to not just everyone else, but yourself as well.  I remember the exact day I had that revelation.  You were in my arms, I was feeding you.  And I realized it would kill me to hear you talk about yourself and to yourself the way I spoke to and about myself.  

This morning, I had another revelation. 

Fishing off the front porch with your best friend and brother. 

I promise you, with all the witnesses of the internet, that you are not my world. 

I love spending time with you, but you are not my reason to get up every day. 

Your smile and giggle make me smile, but you are not my happiness.  

I love to serve you, to do your hair and clothes, to cart you to dance, and to make your favorite foods and take you to do your favorite things, but I do not live to serve you.

Enjoying the snow you prayed for.  I know you can't see it, but this is central Texas, and it was there. 

I want you to have better than that.  

I want you to see your Mama as dependent on Christ.  

I want you to see me try and succeed.  

I want you to see me try and fail.  

I want you to see me afraid. 

I want you to see me step out, however nervous, and try things I'm afraid of. 

I want you to see me mess up.  Make mistakes.  

Then I want you to see me apologize and do my best to make it right.  

I want you to see me make decisions for our best, not just my best. 

I want you to see your Mama as a fellow human... and more than that, a fellow sinner, rescued over and over and over again by a God who does not ever leave his children behind.  

So, my birthday present to you is this promise to you and your brothers.  I will be honest.  I will be who I am, and I will share my experiences with you.  

When it's time to let you go... to let you spread your wings, test your legs, and try your hand... I will let you go, and I'll be there to talk to, to rejoice with, and to cry beside.  I give you, my amazing daughter, and my amazing sons, the freedom to be who God made you to be.

And I will pray for you. 

Thanks be to God again for letting me hear that first cry, for every day that followed, and for the future he has planned.  

Happy birthday, my sweet girl.  

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