5 tips for special needs families

One more post about Cooper this week and then I’ll move on…

I belong to a few different groups for limb differences. Some of the members are adults who have a limb difference themselves, but what I find most often is that those people aren’t very active. They’re busy out there living their lives, not thinking much about their extremities. Primarily the discussions stem from the questions of parents with a limb different child. Easily the most common topic is ‘How do I handle other people?’

How do you explain it to people?

What if someone stares?

I don’t always answer. After all, I’m new to this arena and I don’t have all the answers. It remains to be seen if any of the things we are doing are even the right things to do, to say… but I feel confident about our approach, and that has to count for something.

So if you are the parent of a ‘Lucky Fin’ kiddo, or a child with autism, or Down syndrome, or any other condition that might garner more than just a passing glance from others, and you ended up here by way of Google search, then here’s my advice.

1. Get comfortable – fast.

Whatever your child’s diagnosis, familiarize yourself with it right away. You’re going to have questions that you won’t have time to research later, so do a lot of it right away, when they’re immobile. You will be glad you did. This helps you have real answers for the questions you’ll get, and information will fend off your annoyance.

Also, the more you know, the more you understand people’s questions. They might be wondering how your child will be able to perform certain tasks, and if you’ve done your homework you might be able to tell them about others with the same condition, who are out there rocking what God gave them.

Just this afternoon the boys went to visit Lilly’s class, where she brought them for show and tell. Cooper’s little arm was very interesting to the third graders and they had lots of questions. One little girl said that she felt sorry for him. Statements like that are an opportunity for you. Are you going to bristle, or are you going to lend perspective? I took the opportunity to explain that it’s really no big deal to Cooper. Since he was born this way, he doesn’t know the world any other way, so he has no sense of loss. I asked her if I should feel sad for her that she doesn’t have a tail and we all had a good laugh.

That sweet little girl didn’t mean anything bad by what she said. Even if her wording was awkward or imperfect, she was trying to extend compassion and that is always a good thing. Speaking of which…

2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Stares are not all created equal. Some people are staring because they’re rude, no doubt. But others might just be curious. If you hear a child shouting in a grocery store, you’re probably going to look. That’s a natural reaction.

I once saw a Grandmother in a grocery store with a girl around 10 maybe, and the child was having a colossal meltdown. Epic. Screaming and throwing herself on the ground, making a huge scene. It was horrendous. I say that not in judgement, but in solidarity. I have had to deal with public meltdowns from toddlers and they are stressful and embarrassing – I can only imagine how much more so when the child is 5 times the size. I don’t know the girl’s diagnosis and I don’t need to – it’s really not the point. There were a few women who were staring rudely and making snide comments . I saw and I heard them. But I was there too, and my gaze may have lingered too long – only to say ‘You got this. I see you mama. I know it’s awful right now, but you are doing the best you can and I feel for you. You just need to buy some food and even though every part of you wants to run screaming for the nearest exit, you’re trying your best to keep your cool and get this over with. You have every right to be here and anyone who doesn’t like it can go suck an egg.’ I wanted so badly to catch her eye, to give her a reassuring word, to hug her and tell her it was ok to cry when she got to the car. I may have been staring, but it wasn’t unkindly.

I try to give people that same benefit of the doubt when it comes to staring at Cooper. I mean first of all, he’s adorable. Who doesn’t want to stare at a cute boy? Second, it is genuinely interesting to watch him. To see how he compensates, how he finds different ways of doing things. I’m impressed with him every day.

Here he is with a nail tucked under his little arm, hammering away:

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And here he is drinking the milk out of his empty cereal bowl:

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How cute is that? I have to say, I find his little arm to be absolutely adorable. I love him to pieces and I totally stare at him.

Don’t just assume that stares are bad. Instead,

3. Strike up a conversation

If you do catch someone staring, be kind. If it’s an adult I might just say hi, or something like, ‘Isn’t she cute?’ If it’s a child I ask if they’d like to see Cooper’s little arm.

What’s awesome about kids, though, is that little effort is required on my part. They have no hesitation is asking their questions, and I love that. LOVE. Don’t ever discourage your littles from asking blunt questions – it’s awesome. Life’s so much easier when we just talk plainly about our differences. No need to be uncomfortable!

Recently we had a playdate with friends, and their four year old was playing with our almost-three-year-olds. He suddenly noticed Cooper’s little arm (which in and of itself is adorable, since these kids have been together pretty regularly since birth). The little boy was eyeing it up and Cooper stuck his little arm out so he could get a better look. He then reached out and squeezed the end of Cooper’s arm, and then they went right back to playing. Problem solved.

I love that attitude.

A little arm is just a bit of a mystery, and it’s natural to be curious about it. That doesn’t need to be a big deal unless you make it a big deal.

4. Don’t make it a big deal.

Your child is not defined by his difference. It’s just a part of him, like you have blue eyes or your husband can’t carry a tune. It’s just a thing – it isn’t everything. Embrace it but don’t go overboard. Don’t make it your life. Don’t talk about it incessantly. Don’t neglect your other kids because you’re busy with this kid and this thing. That’s not healthy for anyone, and it is setting your kids up for future resentment.

Don’t try to help him do everything that’s challenging – he has to learn how to do it himself. Don’t look for ways to make everything easier – struggle isn’t a bad thing. Be a soft place to land, but don’t be a padded room.

5. Have a sense of humor.

Don’t take much in life seriously, and especially this. Your child’s diagnosis does not need to be doom and gloom. Our family is particularly irreverent, and we began joking about Cooper’s little arm right there in the delivery room, about 2 minutes after he was born.

It’s ok to laugh. It’s ok to crack jokes. In fact, I daresay your life will be better for it. You’ll be happier, and you’ll put those around you more at ease if you learn to take things in stride. Parents, your attitude toward your child’s differences will lay the groundwork for how he/she feels about herself. Our different kiddos especially need help in this area. If you can laugh about it, so can they. And immediately everyone around them can relax a little, instead of dancing around the elephant in the room.

When the boys were babies and we visited the primary school where their sister was enrolled, a sweet little kindergartener came running up to me extremely concerned that my baby had lost his arm. I guess he thought it fell off somewhere and I hadn’t noticed? We still chuckle about that one.

I firmly believe that we could solve all the world’s problems if our first reaction to everything would be laughter instead of offense. Lighten up, have fun, and laugh. Yes, even about this.

So that’s it – that’s my five things. I’m sure we will learn a lot more along the way, but this is a start, and for the past 3 years it’s worked out ok.

Do you have a special needs loved one? What would you change or add to this list?

A place in this world

When you have a ‘special needs’ child (quotes because while that is the technical term, it’s not how we think of our boy), you encounter a lot of different reactions. Most common are the people who go to great lengths to show you how ok with it they are. These folks, well-intentioned, talk about how your child’s difference is no big deal, and they talk about it a lot. When Cooper was born we got a lot of assurances from friends and family that he would be ok.

Um, yes, we know that.

I guess there’s an assumption that you’re devastated? Except we weren’t, so it was kind of annoying, like I needed to reassure them. But I know people mean well and are sometimes awkward in doing so, so that’s an easy one to dismiss.

Cooper

Less lovely are the people who say stupid things in front of your children, like, “But he’s cute though!”

Gee, thanks?

But again, I think she meant well. She probably walked away kicking herself for putting her foot in her mouth, and I feel bad about that. It’s no biggie. Just do better next time.

Or the family member who told us Cooper would never be able to do things like play football or climb a ladder. Grrrrr.

WANNA BET?

easter 2015 twins

Only once have we encountered someone truly dreadful. A complete stranger in a clothing store. She was relentless in her questioning. What was wrong with him? How would he do anything? Wasn’t I worried about him? The only thing that that shut her up was telling her my main concern was how he would deal with ignorant people.

And this is true. I really don’t worry about him – not any more than I do my other kids, at least. He’ll be just fine, and I’ve always known that.

UK twins

When your child is born different, I suppose it is a natural reaction to wonder why. To question what went wrong, to wonder if you did something during pregnancy that caused it. Even those who believe these differences are God-designed can question why, and I think those are all perfectly reasonable thoughts to have. I just never had them.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by different. When you have enough different in your life, you stop thinking about it as different and start thinking of it as awesome. God is such an amazing designer, y’all. It’s overwhelming when you think of the minute details He creates in His grand designs.

twins rear view

Depending on your viewpoint, I suppose it’s possible that I caused this problem. A nurse in the ER recently told me I did, when he found out that the twins are Mirena babies. Which was super sensitive, by the way. Well done, sir.

Maybe it was the Mirena. Maybe it was that I didn’t know I was pregnant until 23 weeks, and I’d had a few cocktails before then. Or maybe – just maybe! – it’s because God had a plan. Maybe there are no accidents. Maybe not one darn thing went wrong.

Certainly that’s what we believe. I’m really not that powerful.

Cooper christmas 2015

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a boy as wonderful as this. Sweet and spunky, snuggly and stubborn. One who tries my patience and tugs on my heartstrings on a daily basis. I don’t begin to be capable of this perfect design.

Yes perfect. Just as he is.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

These words are from Psalm 139, verses 13-16. I pray that Cooper will commit them to memory and carry them in his heart. That they will be quickly called to mind anytime he may struggle with his difference, or doubt his abilities. That they will provide both comfort and courage when needed.

I’m not sure yet what role I want his little arm to play in our public life. On the one hand (HA, HA!) I am incredibly thankful for limb difference resources. Ryan Haack at Living One Handed has been particularly awesome, with videos showing how to perform various tasks with one hand, and introducing me to the knork (a knife-fork hybrid that makes eating steak a far less daunting task!) Jen and Jordan at Born Just Right told me about the Mag Zip zippers which are the bomb for people with limited hand/arm usage. Nicole Kelly, 2013 Miss Iowa and fabulous speaker, came to our primary school and spoke to the kids. (Annoying – articles like this one that state she has one arm. Hello? A hand does not an arm make.) Nick Newell made a MMA fan out of us.

On the other hand (or nubbin, as the case may be), I don’t want his little arm to define him. The 8 inches of arm he doesn’t have is of very little significance to us, and I don’t want it to be to him or to anyone else, either. Sometimes I see ‘different’ kids being incessantly photographed and blogged about and I feel sad for them, that their path is being laid out for them before they are old enough to choose it for themselves.

But then again, I am a big fan of celebrating our uniqueness every day. Kind of why I hate black history month. It is all American history, and we need to re-write the books to make them inclusive all year long. One month doesn’t cut it. So by that reasoning shouldn’t we always be out there, showing off the nub?

I don’t know!

What I know for sure is that this is a fantastic little boy, and I’m crazy blessed to be his mama. Thank you Jesus for the opportunity. Now please don’t let me screw it up.

Cooper close up*Props to Tammy Lynn Cox at Studio TLC Photography for the amazing pictures. She’s the best.

Makeover Monday: The half bath

When we bought this house I love so much, we knew we had a project on our hands. It wasn’t a fixer-upper so much as an updater, as the place was very well cared for, thank goodness. Since we moved in summer, we were able to fully exploit our older children for child labor babysitting, and we busted our butts to do as much as possible in the first few months. In that time we were able to knock out most of the big, must-do-right-away projects, and I’m super thankful for that. With five kids and two of them toddlers, it’s not easy to live in a construction zone.

I took tons of pictures along the way, always planning to share the process with you. But then I found that living the process slows down blogging about the process. At any rate, I think I’m ready to start now. First up, the half bath.

The location isn’t ideal. It’s right off the breakfast area, so you feel like a bit of an exhibitionist if you have to pee while company’s visiting. This is on our long term to-change list. It is possible to tear out the linen closet and put the door in its place, making the bathroom entry off the laundry hallway instead. But this involves removing and shifting walls, rebuilding a closet, re-tiling a floor…it wasn’t on our immediate list. Since I’m a thrifty gal I wasn’t willing to shell out big bucks for a room we plan to demo later anyway, so we did a fairly minor facelift.

Before:

half bath before

Hello, wallpaper! On 11 foot ceilings, no less. In a teeny-tiny room with a ridiculously large sink, that was not a fun removal. The ladder couldn’t even unfold completely in the space, making it extra precarious to perch on top and spray and scrape. Good times.

half bath sink before

Isn’t this sink a beauty? Original to the home, we discovered.

77 sink

Believe it or not, I posted this baby on a local yard sale site (for free) and someone came and picked it up right away. One man’s trash…

And a close-up of the vanity cabinet:

half bath cabinet before

It’s really far too large for the space, but it stays until we re-do. The floor, thankfully, is neutral and not so dated, which was great.

Step one – neutral sink and updated faucet.

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Step two – modernize that cabinet. I stained it a deep espresso and swapped out the antique brass fixtures for sleek brushed nickel. I know oil rubbed bronze is all the rage right now, but I wanted contrast with the dark cabinet.

half bath cabinet after

Somewhere around this point I looked at this ugly mirror and decided I could not abide it indefinitely.

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But again, the frugal thing. Plus who knows the drywall damage that might be behind that thing – no way. So I made a few quick cuts of scrap wood and bought some corner blocks and covered that baby right up.

half bath mirror framing

This is an easy-peasy project, but if you decide to do it yourself I have a few tips. First, stain the backs of your pieces too. Because mirror.

half bath mirror frame corner

When you glue your pieces, make sure you use a product designed for mirrors and not just Liquid Nails. It’s a must. Be careful not to squeeze too close to the edges or you’ll find this showing. Again, because mirror.

half bath mirror frame glue

And you’ll want to use some duct tape to hold the pieces in place until the glue sets. Highly decorative duct tape stolen from your children is perfectly acceptable in a pinch.

half bath mirror frame tape

I’m happy with the end result, and it makes this temporary update much more palatable.

half bath mirror frame

I failed to get a picture of the ‘before’ light fixture, but it was a flush-to-the-ceiling monstrosity. It was like a dark little cave in that bathroom, so I knew I wanted more light and lower light. I also wanted something fun, since we had painted the walls a very neutral khaki. And of course something cheap, because me.

I strongly prefer to buy everything in my life at junk shops. In addition to the positive environmental impact, I’m a firm believer in wasting nothing. There are so many treasures out there, just waiting for someone with vision to find them.

Enter this:

half bath light before

It’s really not my style, but it has good bones. Ditch the shades, grab some spray paint, and voila!

half bath light after

It’s bright orange, and I adore it. In fact, it is one of my three favorite light fixtures in this house. I look up and smile every time I go in this room.

So that’s it! Not a great deal to show, but a far cry from the original.

half bath after

Oh, and yes, we did paint the door black. More on that one later.

Pardon my lousy pictures – all were taken hastily from a cell phone with a quarter inch of dust on it. We do what we can people.

half bath after 2

Yeah, that’s not actually any better, is it?

At any rate, next week I’ll have another project to feature. Thanks for indulging my DIY ramblings. I know not everyone is as HGTV-obsessed as we are. I just don’t know why not.

What fifteen looks like

Ours is not a movie-worthy love story. There was no fairytale meeting, no sweep-you-off-your-feet romance. We met in college, waiting tables together at the same restaurant. He used to throw the cocktail garnishes at me in a sophomoric attempt at flirtation. We were friends, hanging out in the same circles as we went out for drinks after work. We played darts in the Irish pub our crew favored. One night I drank him under the table with shots of tequila, which he later said was the night he knew I was The One.

Our first date was a Prince concert, where I was technically on a date with someone else, whom I wound up ditching. (Sorry Brian. So rude.) We did very romantic things like drink too much at every UK football and basketball game, bet on sports, play video games, go to horse races. I was one of the guys. {And we were pillars of the community, obviously.}

When things went badly I moved three states away and told my parents that they should never let me go back to him because it would be the worst mistake of my life. I can’t imagine how hard it was for them, then, when just a few months later they gave that same guy their blessing to marry me.

15 years later, I think it’s worked out pretty well.

We have had our ups and downs. We have had a lot of downs. Some truly awful things have happened to us. And when they’ve happened, sometimes we’ve made bad decisions, said terrible things, behaved badly. Life with little kids is difficult and stressful. Add to that any number of the other struggles that life throws at you and it is not hard to understand why so many couples call it quits.

But here we are.

wedding

This is how he woos me:

He makes me the first cup of coffee in the morning. Unasked, he brings me a bottle of water in bed. He grabs my butt when I unload the dishwasher.

We take turns sleeping in on weekends. He goes to Lowe’s with me – just me, no kids, and it feels kinda like a date, so rare and so appreciated is that alone time. On our last trip we were laughing so hard that the cashier told us we were having way too much fun for a hardware store.

He makes the every-two-weeks trip to the out of town grocery with me, and we actually have fun doing it. He never tries to cuddle because he knows I can’t stand that. He grows a beard that he hates, because I love it. He holds my hand rarely enough that it’s special, and often enough that it’s tender.

He buys me football tickets instead of jewelry. He takes me to dives because he knows those are my people. He dreams big with me.

He is thoughtful in the most unexpected of ways. Never would he bring home flowers, but always will he clean out my car. He will surprise me by taking a day off of work just to give me a break, when he knows his travel schedule has left me pulling single mom duty. He would do anything I asked. Anything. This is a man who shows his love in the way that he serves me and our kids, always putting us before himself.

We have seen the marriages of those around us – the one that lasted 62 years and the ones that never should have been. We have talked about the relationships that shaped our persons and those that we want to model our own relationship after – and always, always we knew this – we wanted more than just the familiar. We didn’t want to be the people that stayed together because it was easier. Because we didn’t care enough to fight. Because we didn’t love each other enough to be happy.

And we’ve done that. Somehow, possibly in spite of ourselves, we’ve managed to do that.

It’s a quiet love, the one we share. There are no sonnets, no grand declarations. If you look for googley eyes you may miss it entirely. But it is there in the way we team. It is there when we spontaneously dance in the kitchen, when we haul 3,000 pounds of rock to the landscaping, when we commando clean the house. It is there when we play wiffle ball with the kids for an hour past bedtime, when we laugh too loud and too long, and when we lay on the couch and watch Homeland. This love is not flashy. It more often manifests itself in the unseen, taking time to bleach the pillows or scrub out the trashcan. It is a love that dies to self and thrives with service.

I’m thankful for that, the ordinary. The rhythm and the comfort and the predictability. I am thankful for a love that is deeper and more passionate now than when we were young, and one that is easier and needs less. A love that is a rock.

I don’t know what year 15 out of 62 looked like for my grandparents, but I’d like to think maybe it was something like this.

And I look forward to 47 more.

An open letter to MY kids about summer

Several of my Facebook friends shared this post last week. The latest Mommy gripe to go viral. When I first started to read it I was totally on board, until the middle of paragraph two, when I realized she was being sarcastic.

I get that it’s humor. My kids do annoying things too. But I’m kind of sick of hearing moms complain about their kids instead of enjoying them, warts and all. My letter reads a bit differently.

Hey Kids,

Feel free to leave your stuff wherever you want this summer. Half-finished smoothies in the family room? No problem. I got it. Socks in the hall. I’m on it. Dishes in the sink? Keep ’em coming. Legos? Everywhere? Love it. Oh, and feel free to drag your blankets all over the house and abandon them the moment you no longer want them. I’ll fold them lovingly for you and return them to your rooms.

If you leave wet towels in the kitchen and bathing suits on the bathroom floor, I can handle that.

The cereal bowls left on the island with a half inch of milk in the bottom and hardened bits stuck to the sides? That’s nothing a hot water soak can’t fix.

So far we’ve had a steady stream of friends over to swim, which means a steady demand for snacks, an ongoing need to mop up the wet floors, and never ending loads of laundry. But don’t worry kids – seriously. I’m on it.

And let me know when you are hungry. Don’t be encumbered by normal meal times. And please don’t coordinate with each other. The kitchen is open 24/7, and I’m happy to whip up anything you need, whenever you need it.

And if something comes up with your friends? I’m in. I’ll drive you there or back — or, [heck], both. I mean, I have a car and a license. I should put it to good use. And please, no need to give me any advance notice. I can easily stop whatever I’m doing, even work, to take you. I know how valuable your time is. Need some money for the movies? You got it, kiddo.

Just a few last-minute housekeeping items: Showering? Optional. You know what’s best. I defer to you. Wearing a hat? No way. The more sun the better. Chores? Just tell me when it’s a good time for you. The weeds and messes aren’t going anywhere.

You see, I know what IS going somewhere, and that’s you. In a few short years, all of you will have flown this nest, and there will be no more messes. No crew to cook for, no kids to clean up after, no noise, no chaos. And when that day comes, I know as surely as I breathe, my heart will break. I will be lost without you.

When your dad and I started this kid journey 13.5 years ago, we had decisions to make. One of the biggest – Would I keep working? No. Not in the way most people view it, at least. My job is here, with you. This house, this family. You are what I do and I try to do it well, which in my book means more than just preparing you for adulthood, but also giving you a childhood. A few short years to be mostly carefree and responsibility-free (which is NOT the same as irresponsible).

I think it is working. Just today I was complimented on your good manners, which was so nice to hear. I’m glad you are making good choices, I appreciate that you help out around the house, I am thankful that you {mostly} do what is asked of you without complaint. And when you do complain, I remind myself what it was like to be a kid. When you leave the door open, I close it and watch you run down the sidewalk, through the yard, into the woods…I watch you and remember how great it feels to be 10. To not have to worry about bugs and electric bills. And I thank God for you.

The messy parts of summer are my favorite, truth be told. Sticky sidewalks from popsicles, smeared chalk drawings, grass stuck to the bottoms of wet feet. Those are signs of a childhood well lived.

Don’t take a single day for granted, kids. We’ve only got 18 summers together and I intend to make the most of them. The messes and the marshmallows and the memories – every. single. day. You work hard all year. You do your schoolwork, you do your chores, you practice violin, you go to your lessons and classes and camps. You are good kids. So take a break, please. Live it up. Real life will hit you soon enough, no need to rush it.

Well, call me crazy, but if you guys follow all of these guidelines, I think this summer is going to be a win for all of us.

Love you guys.

 

*Words in italics are taken directly from the author’s original piece, though intended with an entirely different tone.

The house that built me

It’s not much to look at – especially since the new owners RUINED IT – but this is the house that built me.

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mmkay, so actually it is a {dark} picture of a painting my sister did of the house. Trust me, it’s better than the current reality.

My parents purchased this house a few years before I was born, and did extensive renovations on it throughout my childhood. When you buy a massive, 100 year old home full of snakes, some tweaks are required.

I lived in this same house, in our small town of ~200 residents, until I was 16 years old. I’ve moved many, many times since then, and lived in many different towns and states. I’ve lived more years away from that house than I ever lived in it, and yet that is always where I think of when someone asks me where I’m from. The house that built me.

I love this song so much. It conjures up everything I love about my childhood and wraps around me like a warm hug.

Since we’ve been married, my husband and I have shared one apartment and owned four different houses. Good properties, all. But one year ago today we purchased The One. Our Forever Home that we have wanted to find for years.

A beautiful mid century home in immaculate condition, obviously beloved by the previous owners. The only owners, in fact – they literally did build this house. Coincidentally, they did so the year that I was born, thousands of miles away.

The pictures we saw online were lacking. Since it’s only a mile from our last house, we decided to drive by, and immediately fell in love with the neighborhood. A quiet street lined with huge trees, no two houses alike. Wide spacing so you have plenty of privacy. Even more delighted were we to find that this house was at the end of the street in the cul-de-sac, unlike our previous place at the front of the neighborhood. But my dear husband, not exactly the visionary, was immediately turned off by the outside appearance. ‘It’s dated,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t buy that for $xxx,xxx.’ (I know housing prices vary, so just imagine an amount that would barely cover a starter home.) But houses for a family of 7 are hard to come by, and the house we thought we wanted had just sold to someone else, so I told him I was going to look anyway. I made the appointment during the day, since he had zero interest in joining me, and was excited and anxious to meet our realtor there the next day. I had a great feeling about this place. So great, in fact, that Chris decided that very morning to drive home (~45 minutes) to meet me there at lunch, so he could nip this thing in the bud right away.

He wasn’t there yet when I first went in. I’m glad for that. I walked in and took a very quick look around so I could have it all scoped out before he got there. I knew this was our place. When he arrived, his eyes first saw the back of the stone fireplace in the foyer, then drifted upward to the 11 foot ceilings. When he looked down at me, I saw the sparkle in his eyes and I knew he was with me. ‘Wow. This is really nice,’ he said, not even attempting to hide his surprise. My parents had come with me to help watch the babies while we looked, and mom got a real kick out of that.

We made an offer immediately.

While we waited to close, I learned that the couple who had built the house had died, and their four adult children were selling the property. We have mutual friends, in fact, who told me that they were a lovely family, and I believe it. I know this sounds strange, but I swear I can feel that here. It feels like love and childhood and family and memories, all wrapped up in a bundle of happiness. All The Good Feels.

We have made some changes to this home, and we have more planned, but really, they’re superficial. This is a great home, and we want to keep it that way. It’s a house with heart. I am so very thankful every time I drive down our gorgeous, tree lined street. Every time my children go out to play in the woods, or sled down the hills, or scout the perfect spot for the treehouse they’ve got planned. We have two and a half acres of pure, unadulterated vintage childhood right here, my friends. It’s everything I remember it to be from my own childhood (sans the 70’s polyester leisure suits), and I’m stupid grateful that we can give that to our own children. May they one day look back at this as the house that built them.

Do you have a house that built you? What makes a house a home for you? Don’t tell me the people you share it with – that’s cheating.

Is this thing on?

I am a terrible blogger. I tell you this not by way of confession, because of course this is obvious to you. I just want you to know that I know it too. Self awareness is a good thing.

I’m torn, always, between a desire to write and share, and a desire to write and hold close. Between being genuinely interested in the lives of bloggers I read, and thinking some of them are insanely self involved. I don’t want to become that narcissist, or even worse, become her and not even know it. So for those reasons, I vanish sometimes.

And also OhMyGosh the busy. These kids keep me hopping! Particularly the youngest two, who are coming along quite nicely.

Jackson and Cooper newborn

Twins

twins Christmas 2014

Much has changed for the Flawed Family. Not only have we added two bundles of joy (who have quickly grown into two bundles of energy), but we also sold our house, bought a forever home, and have been busily working on renovations for the past year.

Because I adore everything home renovation, decoration, and DIY pretty much anything, I plan to share A LOT about that process.

If you do not share that interest, I extend my apologies and another look at my beautiful kids.

christmas 2014

So if anyone is still out there with me, thanks. I love you for it.

Cooper

Two beautiful surprise packages joined our family last Monday, in the form of tiny little sons that I never thought I would have.

But God knew.

When we moved here six plus years ago, we were buying a different house. A house not quite perfect, but we were willing to overlook the too-small kids bedrooms in order to get the perfect public rooms we were looking for. Alas, the contingency offer fell through when our house didn’t sell in time, and my husband, especially, was disappointed.

God has a plan,’ I assured him, and he mumbled a halfhearted agreement.

So we found ourselves homeless at the holidays, while I was 9 months pregnant, and we had two toddlers to boot. With a limited housing market and even more limited time, we snagged a good enough house and vowed to trade up later. And just as trade up time rolled around, we learned that we were expecting. Twins. And we laughed together about God’s plan – that not only did He surprise us with these babies, but He knew six years ago that we would one day really need these oversized bedrooms way more than we would need a bigger living room.

My sister pinned this on Pinterest a few days ago and it made me smile. This is a lesson we have had so clearly illustrated to us in recent months. And we have that faith.

In all things.

Jackson was born first, and big sister Annabelle was able to assist the doctor. Boldly she pulled on the too-large gloves, confident and anxious to meet her brothers. The brothers she had prayed for and the Lord had answered her prayers. And confidently she delivered him – quickly and carefully suctioning, grinning ear to ear as she cut his cord.

And then came Cooper – slower, more complicated. A hand in the way, a vacuum extraction, and resuscitation required. I looked up at my terrified husband, nearly crying because he was so sure that this baby had not made it. Purple and lifeless he lay, until the doctor helped God, as Annie put it, and he drew his first breath. And then came tears of joy and relief and thanksgiving…and only then did my doctor – my beloved, trusted doctor – share with me that I should know before I see him that there was something. Amniotic Band Syndrome he called it, and I shook my head unknowingly. ‘It happened at conception,’ he assured me. ‘It’s nothing you did or didn’t do.’ He knows my heart.

And so, in the brief moment I was able to hold him before he was whisked off to the nursery, I was able to look at his arm. His left arm, which stops just below the elbow joint. And my honest to God first thought was that he has an adorable dimple on the end of his stump. And I kissed it. And as he left the room, I laughed at the sick sense of humor that runs in my family, which is exactly when Annabelle said that he would make an awesome Captain Hook for Halloween. And Dr. Buck suggested that we start him off with a spork before we go full hook.

These are my people.

We believe in owning it. We won’t be hiding it away or refusing to discuss. He’s gonna rock his stubby little arm, and know without a doubt that he was fearfully and wonderfully made, exactly as he is.

Now I won’t have to worry that my husband will mix the boys up.

I immediately thought of the exchange in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Ruth: I can understand having a funeral for an arm, I just don’t know WHY she insists on calling him Stump.

Sipsey: Miss Idgie says everybody else will be calling him that, we might as well be the first.

I can honestly tell you that we are not upset. Everyone seems to find that hard to believe, but it’s true. We do not want reassurance that he will be ok – we know that already. We don’t need to hear that it could be worse, because we know that too. He is exactly as he should be.

After all that we have been through, with every passing moment it becomes more evident that God has a plan for our lives that we aren’t privy to just yet. And we have faith that even if only in retrospect, we will understand it.

My friend Darcie recently wrote about growing her daughter and it touched me. She grew a perfect Cassidy.

Me, I grew a perfect Cooper. Stump and all.

Cooper newborn

Brave knows no gender

  • Not long ago Jen Hatmaker wrote a bog post entitled Brave Moms Raise Brave Kids, and my Facebook feed exploded with mothers saying that they wished they could do this with their sons. I like Jen. And usually I agree with Jen. And kind of I agree with her here, too – we are those laid back parents. My kids totally use sharp knives and build things with actual nails and hammers and power tools. They have (and use!) air rifles and I love it.But here’s the thing y’all – I have daughters. Three of ’em. And it is my daughters who live on this edge, doing stupid things like sliding down the stairs in a laundry basket.

    This is not a ‘boy’ thing.

    Why should it be? As Jen said, we are not precious people. I was never one to mind the place of a girl, with long silky hair and a pretty little dress, playing girly games. In the dirt I played, in the woods I hunted with my Dad, to the river I went with my Pap. I played in forts, collected broken glass, swam in muddy creeks and learned how to spit and hit and catch and run and do it all right along with the boys.

    Brave isn’t a boy thing, and I bristle and resent the implication that it is.

    Reading all of these friends’ thoughts about how boys should be raised made me bite my tongue. Hard.

    When I was pregnant with Lilly, I can’t tell you how many people asked if we were finally getting a boy. Or how my husband felt about having three girls. Was he supposed to be disappointed? Are girls not as valuable? All men want sons?

    As time passed, we came to resent the comments more and more. Each time we were asked if we would try again later for a boy, we grew more and more convicted that we didn’t want any stinking boys anyway, thankyouverymuch, our girls are pretty darn awesome. I once, in a very pregnant and hormonal state, snapped at a woman in Sam’s Club and asked how she dare to say such a thing in front of my young daughters, as if to tell them they are any less than a boy. She stared at me, dumbfounded, and finally spit out that men always want sons, whether they admit it or not.

    Jerk.

    I went to the car and sobbed.

    Because the truth is, I did want a boy. And probably so did my husband.

    Not instead of, mind you. Never once did we hope to have one gender or the other, and never once were we even a teeny tiny bit disappointed with what we saw on the ultrasound screen. Our girls are the greatest blessings of our lives, and we have never been anything but thankful for them.

    But we tend to want it all, don’t we? And I wanted a boy, too. I wanted a boy because I know boy. The emotional girl stuff I see coming with my middle daughter terrifies me. I don’t know how to deal with girl stuff. Boy stuff I know. So actual boys or tomboys, I can do. Girls – real girls – this is scary, y’all.

    We talked about adopting a boy. An older one of course – we aren’t baby people. We were selling our house in order to buy land and build a bigger house, and maybe then, after we were settled. Maybe in a few years. Maybe a toddler. But of course God laughed and so here we are, not selling, not building, not having a toddler but two baby boys.

    And many people have told me that I will find boys are different. And I’m sure they are. But so are all three of my girls.

    I hear things like ‘boys are physical – they climb and throw and dive off of things’ and I think of how Annabelle was walking at 7.5 months, climbing and sliding down poles in our basement when she was barely a year old, diving off the back of a recliner even younger than that. It’s easiest to smile and nod politely, I’ve found.

    Ultimately what I want for my children – for all five of my children – really isn’t that different. And how I will parent them all probably won’t look that much different either.

    I expect them all to be brave, boy and girl alike.

    Everyone gets dirty around here.

    I wish for them all to have broken bones and scars and stitches and various other non-life-threatening injuries sustained while doing something incredibly stupid and fun. I really, truly do. Because those dumb things I did when I was a kid, those scars I have to show for them – they are memories that I treasure. The busted knee playing baseball, the head cut open from a skateboarding accident, the multiple broken and sprained ankles playing basketball…I want my kids to have those, too.

    I will pray for them every day. I will cry with them when they are hurt or sad or wronged, and I will always be on their side, macro. But I will also call them out when they are wrong, micro. I will make them handle their own problems, and deal with the fallout from their bad decisions.

    I want them all to get caught when they inevitably do wrong. Getting caught leads to [sometimes painful] lessons learned. Getting away with it is where the real danger lies.

    I’m kind of a tiger mom, so they won’t always like me. I won’t let them quit the team when it isn’t fun anymore, because we honor our commitments. I will not pull them out of a class with a mean teacher, because God put them there for a reason. We grow from bad experiences more often than good ones. And I won’t sugar coat it when I explain this to them, either.

    I will be their mother and their best friend, and I know this is possible because I had it with my own parents. There was never any blurred line. I knew without a doubt that they were my parents, but I also knew even as a bratty teenager that no one would ever love me more than them, and I genuinely valued and respected them for that – not just as parents, but as friends. I knew I could go to them with anything and they would love me through it. Somehow, some way, I will do this for my children, too.

    And when the ‘parenting’ years are behind me, I look forward to just being a friend. I have three really cool daughters and I’m excited to meet the adults they become. I will love my daughters with all of my being for all of my life, and I hope that we will always be as close as we are now, in a different way. I will do my best to bite my tongue when I am tempted to advise them as adults, so that maybe I will remain a good friend instead of a resented mother.

    I do not want to have Momma’s boys. I will never, ever, EVER read to them ‘Love You Forever’, and I will never be the creepy freak climbing into my daughter-in-laws bedroom to rock her husband in the middle of the night. {Seriously people, do you ever really think about that book? It’s messed up.} I will love my sons with all of my being for all of my life, but if I do my job correctly, they will leave me. I want them to leave me. I want them to find a woman better than me, and love her more than me, and put her before me. And I will do my very best to butt the heck out of their lives so that maybe I will gain another daughter instead of a daughter-in-law.

    I don’t have a ‘parenting philosophy’, but I do have these goals in mind. So far, we have had one broken bone, two sprains, two arms in slings, countless ER visits, two hospitalizations, a very dirty house, and three Christ-following children to show for it. Not too shabby.

    Yes, brave mothers do raise brave kids – that we can agree on. But gender has nothing to do with it. I feel sorry for everyone who thinks that it does.

What Lies Beneath

There was once a movie of this name. I don’t remember what it was about or if I even saw it, but I’ve always loved the title.

What Lies Beneath.

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, what lies under the surface of everyone, everything? People and things are rarely what they seem.

At church our pastor has been doing a sermon series on family, and what that is supposed to look like. The roles of husbands, wives, children, parents. Discipling your children has been the past two weeks, and it’s been very convicting. Not because I learned anything new really – I know well the task assigned to me. It is perhaps the most important one I will ever have in my life, and I take that very seriously. But even when discussing something you already ‘know’, it’s important to take a fresh look. To step back and evaluate your job performance, so to speak.

And it’s humbling.

I mean, I have great kids. Really great. And while they are far from perfect – believe me, I know their flaws well – they are are at their core good and kind and decent human beings. They are good students, they know right from wrong, they love Jesus, and they are generally respectful to anyone that isn’t their sibling. And I am thankful for all of that. And so sometimes, it’s easy to let that be enough.

After the sermon we sang in response, and one of those songs was this:

It’s a favorite of mine, and I found it especially appropriate to meditate on from a parenting perspective.

A thousand times I’ve failed, still your mercy remains

Oh, how I have failed! Failed Him, failed them. I am woefully inept, shamefully not the mother that my children should have. They need so much more than me, so much better. They need Him. How often do I fail to give that to them? How often do I think of their good traits and let that be enough, without going deeper? Good isn’t good enough, after all.

Your will above all else, my purpose remains

The art of losing myself in bringing you praise

I’ve always loved that last line. Do you know how hard it is to lose yourself? To really get past all of your own thoughts and feelings and hangups and lose yourself?

From a parental perspective, I think of how my children need so much less of me, and so much more of Him. How I need to lose myself, and show them His perspective. What He wants, what He expects…not react out of how I feel or what I think. How my children need to know our own insignificance in order to gain a greater perspective. How I need to truly evaluate and purify What Lies Beneath my actions and motivations when it comes to raising these precious lives He has entrusted to me.

I don’t say any of this because I have the answers – for me or for you. I say it because it’s where my heart is right now, and I have a renewed conviction to do better in shepherding my little flock.

With a whole lot less of me involved.

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