Normalcy and the foyer

The other day, Zack returned to school after missing an entire week of school due to snowdays and a cold. It marked the EIGHTH week in a ROW that he didn’t go to his Pre-K program all four scheduled days in a week.

We did the best we could do with cabin fever and crafts, coughs and lots of coffee.

But there’s something about rounding that corner, you know? Everyone has their corner. For a tired, exhausted, overwhelmed mom of two cranky and bored kids in a miserably cold winter, that corner was the bus pulling in front of the house Monday morning and a smile creeping across both my face and Zack’s.

Even better than that bus pulling away and the calming sense of routine returning, was its return a few hours later.

Zack was smiling when I opened the door and yelled, “Call Uncle Brick!” which made me laugh so hard. He insisted on walking to the door, not being carried, and wanted to open the mailbox to check for “Momma letters”, too. I was so giddy with happiness. And it was in the high 40s that day, too! Hooray!

Addie was at the front door, blowing raspberries against the glass. Zack met her on the other side and blew drool all over the window, too. (Note to self: You still haven’t cleaned all those prints, oops!)

We opened the door and she squealed a thousand exclamations.

“Zack, you’re home!”

“I’m so glad you’re home!”

“Come into my playroom.”

And then, she grabbed the zipper on his coat, which he had been struggling with, and said, “I help you?”

He smiled and nodded, leaned over and kissed her forehead.

I froze.

The newspaper in my hand, only one boot off.

She pulled the zipper down, he tore the red and black jacket off and threw it across the room. They both laughed. I couldn’t help but giggle, too. And then he wrapped his arms around her.

“Home, Addie.”

Turned to me: “Schnack, Momma, please!” (Typical, haha)

And she returned the hug. A little ten-second bear squeeze. I still only have one boot on.

And she held out her hand, which he grabbed. And they marched into the living room and sat down at the couch together.

I heard Addie ask him if he was a good boy at school and that laughter from my throat made me take the other boot off, grab the backpack and the thrown jacket and walk back into normalcy, happiness and the appreciation of the little things.

A journey of faith

The lil Zee Family has come a long way, lived a thousand lives, journeyed a hundred journeys. One of these journeys has been a journey of faith. In the near decade (!) that I have known Scott, we have had our ups and downs in terms of belief. Usually one of us was doing “well” — that is, learning more, reading more, attending more. The other wasn’t quite on the same page.

When Scott and I experienced our marital problems in 2013, I found myself again questioning faith. I’ve always believed in fate and in destiny but I have found myself constantly questioning the plausibility of a God and a religion and a world in which so much bad happens and so many questions are left unanswered. I mean, I studied journalism — for me, my world is all about getting answers.

It was actually seeing the positive change in attitudes, personalities and just pure joy in some of my younger coworkers that got me trying this Faith Thing again. I listened to their stories and their discussions. I joined in, slowly, with questions. Then I attended an informal study group of theirs. And soon, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about all these stories and names and how they suddenly made sense even to me.

When we moved recently, one of the first things Scott wanted to find was a home church. We literally picked a random church to start (as in it was very close to our new home, looked beautiful and seemed a good place to begin) and an even more random denomination (Methodist, or, as we advertise it, the perfect balance between our two backgrounds. Scott grew up in the Brethren churches (think of it as a pacifist cross between Mennonites and Baptist, with footwashing, lots of music and an emphasis on community service and brotherhood.) I grew up with tradition and ritualistic Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic experiences.

We were so impressed with our first Sunday there, and then with how people remembered our names (all four of us!) and where we last sat when we returned a week later. We were so glad when the pastor visited us at our home that week just to get to know us. Services make you think and answer questions instead of raising more of them.

And so, months later, it seemed only natural when this first shot-in-the-dark church and its pastor asked us if we wanted to join officially.

So, this weekend, our family stood up at the front of the church. Scott and I made promises. Zack and Addie received water from our beloved pastor and were introduced to our congregation as family members watched from the pews.

I still believe to an extent in fate and destiny. But now, I feel comforted knowing that there is faith. Our faith, to share together and learn together, like the late night Bible readings and discussions we share.

I am far from perfect and still wish to be a better Christian, especially to lead a better example for my children. But I am trying. And I am on this journey. And one day, Zack and Addie can choose their journey, too, whether it’s here or somewhere else or nowhere at all. They have the foundation for it.

A banner hangs in each of their rooms reminding them of this day and reminding me, every time I walk past their doorways, of a very unlikely and special journey.

Love you, Addie

I feel like sometimes all of my conversations and posts are centered around Zack lately. There’s just so much going on with his schooling, support, changes, that I forget to talk up a storm about his little sister. So consider this a love letter to Addie.

Dear Addison,

I figured you out before you were born. When you were still in my belly, I told everyone that you were going to be a handful. You haven’t let me down.

You are, in many ways, a representation of who I wish I could be. You are stubborn and strong-willed, strong and independent. You are very intuitive and offer the lesser-considered side of any debate.

And your imagination. I love your imagination. I hope it is a hint to a future of creativity and story-telling.

You can turn a blanket into a cape and a tissue makes a tiara. You soak in words and phrases, mull them over ever-so-briefly, and then spit them back out at us in a very short amount of time. You are witty, much more so than most adults I know.

We just recently overcame a period of great difficulty. You pushed my every button and tried to speak your mind, in defiance to me, at every turn. But it seems as though we’ve moved on from there, at least for now. And suddenly, I see this other side of you that I didn’t know you possessed. And it’s actually a large part of who you are right now.

There is love and kindness that comes from you in sweet words.

“I make you happy” is one of my favorites. You tell your favorite toys “I love you and you’ll never be sad again.” I don’t know where you pulled all of that from, but I love that sweetness.

You can be selfless, too. Offering to watch “Mommy’s show” when Zack is at school and helping me so much with cleaning up toys and clearing the table.

I’ve had this semi-irrational fear that somehow Zack’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome and all of the special help he needs will negatively impact you; and it saddens me because you didn’t ask for this.

But there you are, playing with his therapists and his aide, coloring in the next room when Momma almost loses her mind at a school registrar. You may wind up in the same schoolyear as Zack but in a different building in the district. Or you may see firsthand walking the hallways the sort of stereotype that follows your big brother. I hope the sweetness you have started to show continues to grow in your heart. And I hope you know that regardless of Zack’s potential or limitations, you will always have time with us and a special place in our hearts. You are no better or worse than him. no more or less loved. And your possibilities are endless. We will fight as hard for your future as we will for Zack’s.

You have only very recently begun a love for girly-girl things like skirts and princesses. You love to twirl and make up songs. Yet you still have this tomboy side of you, a little rough around the edges, kicking snowpiles in your boots and eating every single thing that’s placed in front of you.

I love when you hold my head and ask for a kiss.

I love brushing your hair, thin but long, and asking your vote for ballerina bun or braids.

I love how you worship your Daddy. And how only he can paint your nails and how you show people those nails, days after they begin to chip.

Just keep being you, beauitful girl. Stay smart and strong.

And know that you have taught me so much. I cannot wait to watch your journey continue. And to see the woman you turn out to be and the things I continue to learn from you.

I love you more,

Momma

Parents-only Weekend

I don’t brag enough about my in-laws, but really, it goes without saying how supportive, encouraging and helpful they have been in the almost decade that I have known their son. From giving me shelter when I couldn’t afford my first apartment to acting as primary childcare when I worked fulltime. Even now, three hours away, they manage to lend a hand much more than I could have imagined.

So, this weekend, they offered  (and we accepted!) to take the kids to their house for the weekend.

It has been SO long since Scott and I have had a weekend to ourselves, only ourselves — or even one night when one of us wasn’t in a wedding party or involved in some other obligation.

So at 3:45 p.m., a little Toyota Prius pulled away from our street with two giddy toddlers and their multiple bags and changes of clothes riding in the backseat.

And from 3:46 until 3:49, I stood at the kitchen window. From 3:50 to 3:52, I brewed a cup of tea and grabbed my long-neglected magazine pile. From 3:53 until 4:04, I looked out the living room window in a daze. At 4:05, I texted Scott.

“This is weird. I don’t know what to do.”

I am completely guilty of finishing some laundry and organizing some toys, but then, I promise, I focused on Scott and me and just relaxing. I mean, we enjoyed a lovely dinner that night; we hung out with new friends the next night and played games until way past our bedtime.

And of course, it wouldn’t be an adventure with Scott without all plans flying out the window. Like when a one-hour, $60 inspection on your car turns into a $500 problem and three days without a vehicle. Or a snowstorm that the in-laws then had to drive through on Sunday.

We really tried to sleep in, too, but couldn’t make it past 7 a.m.

I loved the opportunity to sit and sip coffee without having to reheat it five times. And it certainly was lovely to have one-on-one time with Scott.

But boy, when those babies pulled back up to the house, my heart was full again. They drive me crazy sometimes and they for sure are a lot of work, but it’s the best job I could ever have.

And now, we soothe some nasty colds with hugs, snuggles, songs and giggles. And we reheat that coffee cup (for the third time so far) and excel at multi-tasking and try to figure out where she pulled out the imaginary mud story and why her saying the word “tiara” is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. And I accept his “wuv you, Momma” and his sloppy kisses and maybe, just maybe, will indulge his request for the elephant movie. Twice.

So, basically, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s incredibly difficult to step away from them. It’s odd to not plan my day around princesses and backpacks and dance parties. I spent so much time missing them, thinking about them and talking about them that I wonder if I’ll ever successfully get a break. (And a relaxing one without doomed car inspections).

The warm coffee and adult conversation was quite lovely, though! Hooray!

The Registrar

It was supposed to be a simple meeting.

“Ten minutes,” the e-mail read from the school district registrar.

We’ve decided to go ahead with registering Zack for Kindergarden so that we may have another evaluation, receive recommendations on where he would best learn, tour a couple of the local schools and THEN make a final decision.

First of all, wow, What a process! We’ve met with a Special Education team shortly after we updated his IEP. They were completely torn on whether to hold him back another year (since he JUST started his new school and JUST got a new IEP and JUST added Occupational Therapy and JUST started receiving help from his aide) or have him start Kindergarden in September (because he would do well with routine and structure and he’s improved so much just in a couple of months, etc).

So after I assembled his birth certificate, social security card, immunization records and completed a 30-minute long online application, I made the ten-minute meeting with the registrar just to finalize and formalize and move ahead.

A very polite woman in her 40s gave Addie some coloring books and sat me at her desk at the district office. I smiled, nodded, gave the paperwork.

She came back from making copies and said, “OK, so your home school is… ”

The answer should have been Dana Street Elementary. It’s five blocks away. That one or the State Street Elementary, in the next town, with a great LifeSkills system in place, are our two options. But the key thing is we have at least two options.

This woman interrupted herself, mumbled, “Oh, that’s right, IEP… hmm, Down Syndrome…”

And then said.

“It doesn’t matter what his home school is. LifeSkills, right?”

Like it was nothing.

Like she didn’t just say something that made me want to punch a stranger. In the face. In front of my two-year-old daughter.

I kept my Jersey in check and didn’t cause too much of a scene, although I did make it very, very clear that we are looking for an evaluation, considering both possibilities and will pretty much be leading the process based off of what’s best for Zack.

To which she replied, “Well that’s not typically how we do things with… this… sort of thing.”

I didn’t even question what sort of thing or why there was a “typical.”

But gosh, last night was just exhausting. Mentally exhausting. Because there are a thousand fights to be fought for ZMan just to make sure he is given a freakin’ chance. For my beloved potential and possibility.

In six months, Zack may very well enter a LifeSkills class and never look back. Or he might be in a regular classroom down the road. Or we might wait another year and enjoy Pre-K some more.

But whatever decision we make, it will be based off of looking at ALL of the options. Not just what’s “typical” or what might seem obvious to a 40-year-old polite lady in a crowded office.

A literary love plan

“I know this is going to make me sound like a dork,” I told Scott in the kitchen the other night, excited about my plan.

He laughed a loud, short laugh. If “duh” could be translated into Laugh Language, Scott spoke it then.

I’m not afraid to embrace my geeky side.

I’m perfectly content in warm fuzzy socks crocheting my blanket and watching an old Hepburn film. (Let’s be honest, there’s not a lot of time for those things anymore, but a girl can dream.)

As I get older, I wave my Nerd Flag proudly. I’m not too concerned anymore about what people think or say. (I might have a birthday coming up and we will just blame it on my old age.)

I’ve always loved books. Novels. Poems. Magazines. Newspapers. Languages. All the loves in my life have letters and capitals and paragraphs and ledes. Even my son reading a book on his lap in the afternoon sun makes me so, so happy.

I wanted to always be surrounded by words.

I follow Lisa Jakub (Mrs Doubtfire actress) on her blog and I had to laugh out loud recently when she wrote a post that started with her watching a young child walk into a wall while their nose was in a book.

That was me!

I walked into closed doors and walls and trees and even a flagpole, all because I was playing in a Secret Garden or laughing with Anne of Green Gables or listening to Marmee read a letter to her girls.

I got into more trouble with my dad for not going to bed on time than I ever did for anything else. I would learn to turn off my light and hide under my covers with a flashlight, but that just led to bad eyes and headaches. (Totally worth it).

I told anyone who asked that I would be a writer, without really knowing what that meant, and only dreaming it meant me alone in a third-story nook with a pile of books and a little pot of ink to dab my pen in after a few words. I was a journalist and I have journals filled with my writings, so I suppose that, along with this blog, makes me a writer after all, even if I’m not famous and don’t have an inkwell.

I’m usually “reading” at least three books at any given time, and two of them are probably repeats of which I have portions memorized. I even hide a book in the bathroom vanities so that I can slip away for five minutes and just sit at the edge of the bathtub pouring over a few pages during a crazy day.

So I’ve decided to take a little literary journey.

Starting this spring, I plan to travel to the homes of my favorite writers and settings for some of my favorite stories. This seed was planted during a wintery day visit to Emily Dickinson‘s Amherst, MA home. Oh, that yellow siding! The garden! The window she looked out while writing those poems!

My list includes places near loved ones so I can try to bring them along on this Journey of One Dork:

– Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (Concord, MA) (Little Women, ah!)

– Edith Wharton’s The Mount (Lenox, MA) (Ethan Frome, whoa, that sledding hill!)

– Edna St Vincent Millay’s Steepletop (Austerlitz, NY) (Wine From These Grapes is on my nighstand always — plus, I share a birthday with her!)

I will gladly accept suggestions and appreciate that you are not laughing in my face at this (like my husband did, haha!). Won’t you join me?

I love getting lost in words. And these homes will let my love come to life even more.

And I’ll try not to walk into any walls while I’m there.

It could have been us

My sister finalized her divorce last week.

It is a bittersweet time because, obviously, no one wants a marriage to fail, especially when there are children are involved. But, when two adults realize they don’t bring out the best in each other anymore, you just have to be supportive, if they have done everything in their power to become better and stronger, in their choice to separate. At least, that’s my opinion.

Maybe because this whole thing hits too close to home.

Barely two years ago, this could have been us. Wendy and Scott.

We had fallen out of respect for each other and lacked any real good communication. Two major failures in the world of love and marriage.

We spent a long hard several months apart. Perhaps a needed break and a chance to grow and reevaluate. We tried counseling and separation and, in the end, absence made the heart grow fonder — and much more respectful and gracious and understanding, too.

We still to this day have to conscientiously make sure that we are being good to each other, ourselves and our relationship — if any of those three things fail (and honestly, it’s usually being good to ourselves), the whole thing can crumble. We know this too, too well.

Divorce is a scary word.

Yet, it’s amazing how many couples — those married a couple months and those married 50 years — have admitted to me how close they themselves were to that ugly word.

I don’t think any less or any differently of them, just like I will never judge my sister or former brother-in-law for their decisions and their journey. But we were judged.

I lost friends, the closest and dearest of friends, because of their judgement on us, and on me. I faced rumors, ridicule. And very little support. Friends who didn’t leave just didn’t exactly hang around to support and rather, chose to hang out on the sidelines. Like, “I’m here but not really.”

I’m not on my sister’s sideline. I’m with her. Whatever our differences in parenting or style or personality or anything else, she’s had my back and I will have hers.

Last week, my family was gathered and we all poured some champagne and cheered to the end of one chapter in my sister’s book. And over the edge of my glass, I spotted Scott and gave him a nod. I looked at the kids we were raising and the family who supported our little world and I knew the right turns in our journey had been made. Every twist is for a reason. Every fork in that road matters.

We’re back on the same team and we’re stronger than ever, but it’s important to every now and then acknowledge that this could have been us.

It’s a bittersweet reality that one day will be shared with our children and maybe even our grandchildren. And often, as a reminder between the two of us. It’s the thing that haunts us in quiet moments now and then and the thing we manage to forget, just for a moment, when it’s been a good day and it all came easy.

It’s that thing that circles us in peaceful reminders like a ring, a vow, a story.