You’re FOUR!

 

I don’t know if it’s more difficult for me to accept that you’re four years old or that I’ve been a mother for that long.

Zachary, you made me a mother. It’s the most amazing title I will ever own. I am forever grateful to you and to this beautiful, crazy, amazing world for bringing you into my heart.

It’s not the motherhood I imagined.

Because it’s better.

 

You bring love and joy to all who meet you. Tough little bullies melt when you become their friend. Boys who were just getting yelled at by your teacher then bear hug you in the hallway just minutes later, calling you Zacky. They are so excited when you enter the classroom. I know very, very few people who actually bring light to those around them the way you do already. Imagine when you’ve mastered speech and communication? We will all be incredibly blessed to feel your love in other ways.

 

I will never in all of my life forget how my heart felt the first time I saw you. An operating room is not the typical place to meet the love of your life, but there you were, those dark grey eyes meeting mine as a nurse held you. You were big and quiet and you spoke to me with those eyes.

Just a couple of days later, the twinkle in your eyes turned out to be a sign of Down Syndrome. I sat at the edge of my hospital bed that night and stared at you, brushing the top of my hand along your forehead and hair and trying to wrap my brain around the news. And then, without warning, your eyes just opened up and twinkled up at me with a half-smile. We would be OK, we would be OK, we would be OK.

And that was that.

 

You are not Down Syndrome. You are not special needs. You are not even a “special” child… you have tantrums, you are strong-willed, you sometimes don’t listen and you sometimes push your sister. You are an almost-four-year-old. My almost-four-year-old.

In recent weeks, your speech is taking off. We’re hearing two and even three-word sentences here and there; you’re responding to questions and communicating needs and wants. I don’t know how to describe what that means to us.

 

You love the waves on a beach. It’s about the only time I see you truly fearless and completely uninhibited. You hold an adult’s hands above your head and leap in the air with a shriek with each crashing wave.

 

You’re so loved at school. In a couple of weeks, we have to say goodbye to this school and these friends and part of me aches. These teachers and your classmates have embraced you so beautifully and adore you so much. Their love and your growing knowledge and confidence have cemented the fact that yes, you can achieve ANYTHING and everything.

I have been incredibly touched by the friends who have come forward in the wake of our announcing our relocation. The one thing they all keep telling me? How sad they are that their children will not have a chance to grow up so close to you and with you; to have a chance to learn about the love you bring into this world and the lessons you can teach kids and parents alike. I can’t wait until you understand what a huge and beautiful thing that is; what a light you are in this world.

 

When we were visiting relatives in Asbury last month, you kept running to a nude framed sketch in the one room and yelling, “FALL DOWN!” We were all in hysterics. You were so concerned about this woman laying down on the wall.

 

Due to your little sister’s screaming at bedtime, you’ve gotten the “Big Boy Bed” in the Playroom at bedtime. The other night, I laid next to you and you said, “Sing!”

Sunshine?, I asked.

“Sunshine,” you smiled.

So we sang our song, “You are my sunshine.” You grin from side-to-side at that last “a-waaaaaaaaay.”

“Star?” you asked.

Twinkle?, I asked. You nodded.

So we sang Twinkle, twinkle little star.

And you put your arm under my head and patted my hair.

When we were done singing, you simply told me “Night-Night” and gave me a sloppy kiss on the lips.

 

 

Some days, I look at you with fear and ‘what if’s in my heart. But those days are few and far between now and I’m tougher and better at pushing scary thoughts (heart problems and low life expectancy and college and marriage and speech and mainstream school, oh my!) far, far away.

Most days, I look at you with pride. A pride that swells so much it all but suffocates me via love. I never knew these feelings existed. And I certainly had no idea that a 40-pound, four-year-old Little Man would be the one to bring those feelings into my life.

 

I will fight for you every day of my life with every bit of knowledge and power I can muster.

 

Z-Man, I love you. I love you as much for who you are and what you do as I do for what you make me and how you change me for the better.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A GREYt friend

I said goodbye today to a sweet, loyal companion.

Amidst the chaos of moving, packing, buying, selling, we have realized that our adopted Greyhound, Fuzz Face “Proud Man”, could not possibly make the move as well. There are many reasons for this — more out of concern for his well-being than anything having to do with us and our new home. He’s 11 years old and starting to become more and more lethargic.

No one else wanted to make the decision. It was up to me.

It was my idea to adopt a greyhound just weeks after we purchased this home. I grew up with a good friend whose family had an adopted Greyhound and I loved him and remembered him for years and years. We added Proud to our little zoo and he fit in right away.

Adopting a greyhound is an intense process. There are pages and pages of paperwork and referrals and pretty much a background check! They asked us questions about our lifestyle, current pets, future plans, house layout and favorite colors (OK, no, not really). They brought out three greyhounds that seemed to match us best on paper for a little in-person meet up. Proud was one of those three and it was immediately clear that he was the one. Even our little Yorkie Izzie liked him — she led him around the yard and showed him her favorite places to piddle. When the agency reps pulled out of our driveway, I cried and told Scott that our dog was in that car.

And soon he was ours.

Proud (Originally Fuzz Face Proud of the Fuzz Face racing family) was unique in how long he raced for — much longer than the average greyhound — and how good he was — finishing almost at the very top level and winning about one-quarter of all races he entered. What we will never know is his how badly he was treated. He likely was kept in a small crate with no food or water while not on the racetrack. And judging from his skittish personality, he was probably either abused or neglected or both.

 

On one of our first nights with him, I watched Scott try to teach Proud to sit on command for nearly an hour while I perused a new Greyhound manual book. Suddenly, Chapter Five told me that the hip structure on greyhounds prevented them from sitting.

“STOP!” I screamed at Scott, who by now was doing funky aerobics with the dog in his attempt to train him. We still laugh about that.

 

If you’ve never seen a greyhound run, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen magic in motion, at least as far as animals are concerned. We found a large old, fenced-in tennis court nearby on a walk one day and brought Izzie and Proud in to run freely. It was the closest to feeling like a proud Momma I ever felt before my kids were born. Proud just ran back and forth for the longest time. All legs up in the air, a graceful posture and quick turnaround, his jowls pushed back into a funny grin. He was joyful.

 

Proud’s previous neglect took years to undo. First there was the need to put on some weight. His ribs were all visible when we first adopted him. That was the easy fix. There’s no such thing as a thin animal in our house.

The emotional scars took much more time. It’s only been in the last year or so that he has spent time with us at the same time downstairs or on the same floor. Previously, he would go upstairs when we came downstairs or vice versa. He would eat his dinner when we went to bed. But recently, he’s been so close. He lays on a blanket on the living room floor at the foot of the couch while we watch TV or read books with the kids. He tolerates their random, sometimes-rough hugs and their running around in circles.

 

He jumps if you drop something on the floor or slam a door. And he’d rather pace for 20 minutes than deal with a cat on his blanket.

 

And he’s a lover. Pet his head and rub his long neck and you are a forever friend.

He greets you at the door and stretches those long legs in front of him, sticking his butt up in the air.

 

He has the worst breath and he’s at the perfect height to steal a good steak off of your plate, but he’s been a really, really good friend.

 

Proud got scared at the door one day while I was taking him out and pulled the leash out of my hand. He ran in all his graceful, majestic glory and in spite of the shock and fright of losing him, I couldn’t help but watch him run. He’s so beautiful when he is in motion. I always feel at peace when I watch him run.

 

So, he’s going back with one of the co-owners of the adoption agency. (Please check them out here). He may be there only temporarily or it may be his forever now home. She has a couple of other greyhounds and a large, fenced-in yard.

He can run. Often and with friends.

In that beautiful form, smiling in the breeze.

 

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Love letter to 296

Dear 296 Chestnut,

I’ve written a lot of love letters in my life. I’m a sentimental, romantic fool.

But this one is as much a love letter as a break-up story.

Life has happened yet again and I must leave you behind.

But I will truly hold a special place in my heart. We are leaving each other too soon.

 

There isn’t an inch of you that doesn’t hold a special moment or memory.

 

We found you as a half-joke, on a whim. While looking for our first home, we passed you and simply said “…and for the same price we could have had something like this awesome house…” and before we knew it, there was a showing, a lovely lady who wanted a nice family to take her beloved home of 20 years, papers signed, mortgage started, walls painted, late nights prepping and then, after what seemed like years, we crossed the threshold and you became a part of our world.

At our little round dining room table, dozens of friends and family joined us in laughter and wine and games. The number of Apples to Apples giggles and Trivial Pursuit 3am battles can’t be counted on one hand.  I tried my first Mary Kay product on at that table and signed the consultant paperwork there four years later. We squished in additional tables and chairs for nearly-annual Thanksgiving dinners and kids of all ages paraded around that room at birthday parties and playdates. There is a bleach mark on the floor from an uncaffeinated klutz moment. I became a proud housewife when I gained a variety of FiestaWare dishes and bowls and have had them displayed on a built-in cabinet’s shelves.

Oh, 296, your paint colors. There is a light blue throughout you that we chose because Cumberland Fog reminded us of a favorite little town just 30 miles away. Upstairs in what used to be Zack’s nursery are Sand Trap and Teeny Bikini because Daddy got to choose them for his little boy-to-be. We kept the seven shades of retro green in the kitchen and bathrooms. I still remember pointing at the different colors on one wall, both of us laughing so hard we had tears streaming down our faces.

We had big plans for the kitchen. We loved our tiny kitchen and its’ black-and-white tiled floor. But it was pretty tiny. Our five-year-plan had a dream kitchen that we even mapped out on paper. But you know, we made do. I can’t tell you how amazing chefs shared their talents and recipes in our limited counterspace. Uncle Paul’s spicy concoction and Aunt Alice’s incredible cleaning of a glass lid after several glasses of wine. Scott’s holiday dinners and specialties filling the whole house up with great smells.

One day from the upstairs bathroom I screamed a scream I didn’t think I was capable of and it sent Scott bounding up the stairs two at a time thinking there was some wild creature eating his new wife. It was a positive pregnancy test — our first one — and it was the beginning of our lives with Zack. We won’t even go into the morning sickness both kids brought to that poor bathroom.

I covered you with photographs, I hope you didn’t mind. Extended family on the stairway wall. A kids’ corner in the living room. Wedding photos on the stone mantle. Nature photos above the dining room arch.

I loved your stained glass windows. When Zack was an infant, he would crawl to the spot of floor covered in the yellow and green sunlight streaming in and coo and coo with a smile.

I spent so many moments on your front porch. Swinging away a bad day or taking in a beautiful start to another day. Holding Zack after his surgery, with Addie kicking us through my belly. Addie’s fearlessness always on those front steps. The friends who held my hand in moments I couldn’t get though on my own. My mom’s old rocking chair keeping guard by the door. The summer dinners we just started eating outside. I loved your wisteria trellis. I never minded the trimming and upkeep because twice a year, it rained long purple petals on the front sidewalk. It’s smell and those blooms made me feel so blessed in this house.

For years, our yard was neglected. But this Spring, we spent hours of sweat and swearing pulling weeds and digging sod and landscaping and planting. A beautiful bounty of vegetables and herbs greet me from the back sidewalk now and I am so, so proud of the work we put into this and the teamwork and partnership it symbolizes.

Our kids’ first words were uttered and first steps were taken inside your walls.

Down Syndrome was accepted and researched here.

Promises to friends and secrets that will never leave here.

My hair gained gray here. Scott lost some of his along the way.

I became the woman I am today here and we grew into our family here.

Lessons learned and griefs felt and transformations accepted.

For every tear, a thousand giggles and smiles, on the back steps and in the sunroom and everywhere in between.

I’ll never forget you.

And I miss you already.

 

(PS – Do you have a favorite memory or scene from our home? Please share)

Asbury Adventure

Have you noticed a theme these past couple of months?

The Zee Family has been having itself some adventures.

Adventure.

Just saying the word brings me peace and makes me think of ocean waves and warm embraces and laughs over wine and that warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.

Adventure.

 

So all four of us (yay!) snuck away for a few days in the middle of a life upheaval (more on that later) to escape, forget and breathe. We stayed at the home of my mom’s cousin Steve and his beautiful-inside-and-out wife Melaney and another cousin Andy and were joined by my cousin (Steve’s daughter) Rachel and her daughter April, who is just a month older than Addie. We even had a visit from Uncle Bwick one night.

Steve and Melaney are saints. In a matter of minutes, their gorgeous historic home that they have renovated so beautifully was turned upside-down with a loud parade of marching toddlers traipsing around endless bags and toys brought out of the woodwork of two well-traveled SUVs. From that moment and through the temper tantrums and time-outs, the seemingly-endless screams of “Share!” and “No touch!” and the smelly diapers and long nap processes to the line of six adults scampering for showers after beach time, they remained patient and calm and so considerate and generous. We realize everywhere we go that our crazy family, no matter how much we try not to be crazy, can be overwhelming and we are so appreciative of the loved ones who allow a little craziness into their lives for a day or two.

The weather cooperated so nicely. We enjoyed a couple hours at the beach down the street our first day there, along with some great playground time. The kids almost immediately all started playing so well together. It reminded me so much of my childhood and the family gatherings where all of my cousins, all of us about the same age, just instantly bonded and played and later shared secrets and had great sibling-like fights. And it made me wish that our kids can have what our parents’ generation had, where cousins really were like siblings and knew and loved each other so well. It will take work, but I hope that my kids know and love their family so much, too.

There was the Great Raccoon Adventure during our stay, too, but it might still be too early to joke about that one. But really, I hope we can all giggle about this one in the near future. All part of the adventure!

Our second day was a near all-day beach day and the kids surpassed all of my expectations. They listened, they were in great spirits and we made it much longer than I thought.

I have so many Happy Heart moments from our days there.

I sat at the head of a long dinner table at a delicious Italian restaurant, my babies and husband on either side of me, looking down a long line of amazing people. Each with their own story and journey and so many happily-ever-afters taking place. I felt so loved and so lucky.

The same lovely reminiscing took place on that sand, too. Watching Scott and his son splashing in the water as each wave brought beautiful laughter from both of them. I thanked my lucky stars for the wonderful father Scott has become in our journey and hoped both kids realize how lucky they are, too.

We had buckets on heads, and manly men with baby dolls in their arms; we all snapped photos and shared delicious meals.

At night, I was too happy to sleep. I just laid there, after the babies had finally fallen asleep and I could hear Scott’s snoring; after the footsteps above quieted down; and I just smiled. I felt the presence of so many loved ones not with us anymore and figuratively patted us all on the back for forgetting all of the world’s stresses for a few days and making the effort for family.

I believe my family(ies) is/are a huge part of why and who I am today.

It was an adventure. A great, joyful, peaceful

Adventure.

 

 

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Snippets- Vacation Edition

We had ourselves an adventure — just me, Zack and Addie (Da-da had to work).

 

We crossed five states for four different visits in about 10 days and 20-plus hours of driving. There were chickey kisses and ocean waves and everything in between.

Some highlights:

 

The most relaxing, heart-warming time sitting in Chochie’s yard watching kids frolic in dirt, hide treasures in secret corners and splash to their hearts’ content in a bright blue bird bath.

 

Snuggles nightly with two tired ones. Holding them close and re-learning their breathing and sighs. Watching little hands and fingers as we all fell asleep.

 

Addie greeting me every day with, “Good morning, Momma! How did you sleep? Addie wake up!” You can’t help but start your day on a positive note with that.

 

At nighttime, I would remind the kids of what we did that day — who we saw, where we were, etc. One night after a 4th of July picnic at my Dad’s and plenty of big cousins to play with, I asked Zack what was his favorite part. Typically, he just repeats “favorite part” with a smile. That day, he grinned a huge grin and said, “Play with kids!” How sweet.

Another night, Addie interrupted me with, “I so happy, Momma.”

 

I learned all of the words to one of the songs from a DVD we brought with us for the car time.

“I’m not ready to be a princess, I don’t have what it takes…” The kids and I can rock it out. “I look bad in crowns…!”

 

Cousins Ryan and Kevin in Massachusetts always dote on Z&A. It’s so amazing to see their love for their little cousins. They introduced the kids to some of their old toys, and a baby frog and the beloved guinea pigs, which are a HUGE hit. (We actually have to tell Zack the piggies are sleeping quite often or else they get no break from their noisy visitor). Addie snatched snap peas from Becky’s garden and took charge on a walk around the neighborhood. Cousin Mark was welcomed home from work with two squealing “hewwo”s from little people. We all laughed at Addie’s love for pickles and Zack’s sweet tooth, but mostly we just laughed.

 

Seeing my Dad and Uncle “Brick” together was so great. They are two peas in a pod. I love them both so much for their humor and kindness and compassion, wrapped up in tough-guy exteriors. Crazy fun watching them drink beers and blow bubbles with the kids on our last day.

 

My friend Nicole and her man Jeff have created a beautiful life together and just seeing her, with him, in their cozy and cute home was a delight. They’re still collecting the Cheerios we left for them in every crevice imaginable. Truth or Truth with wine until 3am was simultaneously the best and worst idea we had, haha!

 

At the beach, the kiddos surprised me. Zack went straight for the water and couldn’t be removed without major coaxing and Addie was quite content to play in the sand and sprinkle water (fetched by Momma every three minutes) from her watering can onto my toes.

 

 

There were a lot of quiet moments that made every traffic jam and long walk worth it:

The ringing laughter in living rooms and on patios and in the car;

Both kids saying,  I love you, Momma.”

Having a chance to disconnect from the rest of the world and just observe. I learned much about the babies in these 10 days.

The love and hospitality of our many hosts, who dealt with difficult bedtimes and early-mornings and sometimes my need to just stop. I appreciate your open doors and open hearts.

 

 

This was an amazing adventure.

I just love adventures.

 

 

 

 

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Lil snippets

***

Addie’s counting goes something like this:

“1…2…4…5…” It always ends with a clap.

 

***

The other morning I went in to the kids’ rooms (separated by glass French doors) and found Zack sitting next to Addie in her crib, rubbing her head and giving her kisses and saying, “It’s OK, baby, It’s OK.”

Now THAT is a great start to your day.

 

***

 

I’ve returned to writing. Very minimally.

As a freelancer for the Life section (human interest/features) of the newspaper where I used to work.

My first three stories are under my belt.

It’s good to be back.

 

 

***

 

A couple of weeks ago, I took a last-minute trip two hours away with a friend. And came back with a soul sister. The reasons were not what I wanted — I mean, I’d much prefer a fun story about Chip ‘n’ Dales or a few shots of tequila. But 11 a.m. margaritas and deciding who the man in the relationship was is almost just as good, maybe better.

Where’s the parking garage?

I brought a notebook!

 

***

 

Whenever Addie is stuck (which is often because she is a little monkey), she proclaims, “I SUCK!!!”

I can’t tell you how hard we laugh at this one.

“Oh no, Addie, you’re very amazing. Oh, you’re so smart and lovely.” Tears streaming down our face.

“I SUCK!”

 

***

 

I love our “other daughter” Aubrey more than words can say. She visits with us once or twice a week and she is like part of our family. (Also the most well-behaved child, haha!) I love her witty sentences and exclamations and the way she dances with Zack and converses with Addie.

 

***

 

Zack made a friend named Lily at his school when he first started in August. Lily first met me while I waited for ZMan in the hallway. She looked me up and down and asked who I was and I was so taken back by this tough lil lady that I had to laugh.

“I’m Zack’s Mommy.”

Zack’s not ready, she said. I’ll tell him you’re here.

I looked for the camera and the Candid Camera crew. That’s funny, I thought.

And she did bring him back, leading him by the hand and helping him put on his shoes. I’ve seen them hug and she always says goodbye to him when I pick him up at lunchtime.

Then a few weeks ago, I was waiting for him and she was in the hallway.

“You know, Zacky’s my best friend,” she told me with a smile.

“Really? That’s so nice. How come? What makes him a good friend?”

She thought for a second. “Well, he pushes me sometimes, but I push him back. I love him.” And she marched off, leaving me crying in the hallway in a moment that was much grander than a four-year-old’s from-the-mouths-of-babes moment.

Lily is off to a Big Girl School while Zack stays where he’s at for another year. And I’ll miss her. She is, for however long or however little, Zack’s first self-proclaimed best friend in a world that I thought would be too mean and too hard.

And she still asks about him. Her Mommy wants to set up a surprise playdate for the kiddos. I can’t wait.

 

***

I’m taking the kids on a grand adventure starting tomorrow. We’ll be visiting four stops of friends and family in NJ and MA. There will be beach time and lots of photo-taking and hugs and chickey kisses hopefully a glass of wine. I’m excited for our our first little vacation this year. I’m sad Scott can’t make it (because of work) but am so grateful for the life I’ve been given and the opportunity and love and how all the doors that have closed and opened have led me to this overpacked car.

 

***

Adventures in Housewifery — Homemade Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

This is ridiculously easy. Honestly.

So, the natural progression from homemade laundry detergent (which I still love, love, love!) seemed to clearly be homemade fabric softener.

I love the great smell of store-bought fabric softener, and, hey, it makes clothes soft. It’s a must, right?

Meh, sort of.

The jury is out regarding store-bought fabric softeners. Apparently, they’re a nightmare for anyone with sensitive skin or allergies and some of the products contain pretty horrible chemical ingredients. No, thank you!

Plus, this housewife loves saving money.

 

Sit down, this one’s a doozy:

In a recycled fabric softener container (or a large vinegar bottle that I use), mix equal parts water and white vinegar. Add some drops of your preferred essential oil. I like to switch things up… I’ve tried orange and lavender so far and love them both!

Make sure you shake your bottle before each use and pour a smudge into your washer. Voila.

(I found this variation on several blogs and websites online)

 

No, seriously, that’s all I do. Cheap, safe, natural, does the job. My clothes are soft and smell nice.

 

Oh, and my “dryer sheets”?

So, your typical box of dryer sheets are expensive and could actually clog up your lil lint tray in the front of your dryer (AKA fire hazard!).

So, take a bowl or container or some sort. Pour a bit of your snazzy new homemade fabric softener in it. Add a handful of clean sponges. Throw one damp sponge in each of your laundry loads. I usually let the sponges go through a couple of rounds and then I wash them in a load of laundry and empty my bowl and refill it. Super easy, clothes are soft, house is not on fire. Win-win, if you ask me.

 

And that’s it. The easiest housewifery projects so far.

Got any thoughts?

Ideas for future projects?

 

Happy housewifery, y’all!

 

My hero(es)

They say blood is thicker than water.

“They” never met my dad.

 

He’s my Dad not by blood, but by love and choice and sacrifice. Through hard work and dedication and faith and support. Through as many bad days as good times and a hundred in between.

He was strict with me and gave me responsibility and maturity as a means to shape me into the individual I am today. There were no cell phones, not a lot of makeup and a silent glare if a skirt was shorter than he’d prefer. (And I just knew to turn around and march back into my room and change)

For the most part, we avoided the phase where a daughter is embarrassed or annoyed by her dad. He’s always been my superhero. Our fights would usually end in a draw.   Like me accidentally slamming a door in his face only to hear the toolbox being pulled out and watching said door come off of its hinges and be placed in his room. I simply laid a bra on the floor in the doorway and wouldn’t you know, that door was back on pretty quickly.

Growing up with just a Dad during your formative years is quite the experience as a girl and young woman. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The man who danced with me on my wedding day and whispered “My baby girl…” just before a walk down the aisle first posed for prom and formal dance photos in his flannel shirts, an arm around my back and a smile beaming with pride.

For a man who was a football fan from Day One, he tried his best to understand why I would run around in circles and up large hills and through the mud while making “faces that look like pain” over and over; yet when he came to a Cross Country or Track meet, he shouted my name loud enough that I could always hear him over the crowd, the coaches, the adrenaline. He had no clue what was a good time, so every finish line was a victory.

He still visits my mom’s grave and decorates it with flowers for special occasions and large evergreens with glittery balls for Christmas. And tells me about each trip out there. Sometimes, he calls and I can tell from the wind whipping through the phone line and a bit of sadness in his voice where he is. We don’t have to say much; it’s understood.

My dad was one of the first calls I made when Zack was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and his careful, quiet listening was followed by a “So…?” He asked questions about his eye color and hair color, his personality and when he could visit. Our son’s diagnosis, he told me, was not the hardest thing I had gone through and certainly not something I couldn’t handle.

For every tear-filled, sob-fest of a phone call has been three excited announcements or ideas or big news. And always, he has been so unbelievable supportive.

At numerous times through the roller coaster of life, I have without cringing or hiding, proclaimed “I need my daddy.” He has been my rock and he has eased me out of anger or irrational thinking more times than I can count.

I love watching him as a Grandpa. The way he held a two-week-old Zack while two frenzied, sad, exhausted parents looked on, as if just watching him hold that newborn could calm them down and offer comfort. It worked.

And when he held Addie for the first time in the hospital. Oh my, pride. He grabbed my hand as I sat next to him in an uncomfortable pink faux-leather chair. “She is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen,” he said with a huge grin.

I’ve seen him hold himself together as he led a large family in strength as both of his parents passed away this winter within three weeks of each other, only to hear him cough sobs he had held in for so long when handed the folded-up flag of his veteran father’s casket. “I held it together for so long,” he said, almost apologetically. He always holds it together, he always keeps those around him strong.

When I was exploring Syracuse University on my first day there, my Dad disappeared for nearly two hours. He and Janet returned with bag after bag filled with baseball caps and shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming the location of his baby girl’s school. When I transferred a year later, he said there was no money left in the piggy bank for more baseball caps. He still wore his one SU denim shirt every time he visited me, eight or nine years after my decision to leave the school. “Just supporting my baby girl,” he’d say with a goofy laugh.

I left home in the middle of a summery night after my sophomore year of college due to disagreements and not seeing eye to eye with my stepmother. I left a note and I swear I left a broken heart. My daddy was my guy, and here I was leaving him, knowing it would hurt him. He was hurt. He wouldn’t talk to me for nearly three months. They were some of the saddest, loneliest days I’ve ever had. He would check in on me via his wife and years later, we can laugh about it because I get along great with both of them. But pulling out of the driveway that night, my Elantra packed up to the roof, I knew I had disappointed him. And that’s one of my biggest fears.   I’ve always wanted to make him proud.

He’s my Papa Bear — it’s how I greet him every time we talk. When I walk in his door or he walks in mine, we embrace for minutes, just holding each other tight and hugging to make up for all the days since the last visit.

There are a thousand moments frozen in time; memories with him captured in my heart.

Him put-putting on one of his machines — pushing rock or digging holes with a backhoe or bulldozer.

Dropping me off at the front of my high school in a noisy 1970s dump truck when I tried to play hookie one day. (I never tried it again)

Shirley Temples at the BlueBird. Being doted on by all of his big, tough-guy friends.

Holding a gun on the front porch when a date came to pick me up. (That boy waited in the car on subsequent dates)

We would sit in the living room when I was a teen, listening to one of his records or CDs. There was never an invitation, but the music and his peaceful self, just sitting in a recliner, sometimes mouthing words, sometimes staring somewhere far way, always drew me closer. We would sit there for hours.

Years later, he tells of the boy he didn’t like who put his hand on my lap under the table at dinner in high school. In his style, he never made a scene on the spot, but rather let me learn on my own. It was just his way. Sure enough, that guy was a jerk. But that story comes out nearly every Christmas.

When my dad came for a visit to Syracuse halfway through the year, I was in an ugly place.I was sick; I was homesick and lonely; I was just in a bad place. My RA set up a bulletin board for parents to write notes to their kids. Moms and Dads left hearts and long quotes and happy thoughts.

After my parents were in their car and on their way home, I walked slowly to the board by myself.

My dad had traced his hand in marker.

You see, the thing about the men in his family are their strong, hard-working, callused, loving hands.

And so, my dad left a piece of him with me in that dark place. And in all of the dark places to come, I had a cut-out piece of green construction paper with my dad’s hand tracing.

And I still have it.

My dad chose to keep me and protect me.

To keep his end of a promise and a deal and to make me the best that I could be.

We didn’t always see eye to eye and sometimes I can complete his joke before he starts it.

But most of the time, I keep quiet, and imagine a world without punny, funny jokes and cut-out hands. And it’s a world I don’t ever want to see.

 

I love you, Papa Bear. Happy Fathers’ Day.

 

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PS — And of course you all know my Scott is the most amazing father my kids could ask for — I sure hope that goes without saying.

You don’t choose someone to spend the rest of your life with, and then fight for that partnership when everything is upside-down and wrong, without at least contemplating their greatness as a potential father. With Scott, that was a no-brainer.

So many of the things I have adored and admired about my Dad, Scott excels at as well. His humor and discipline balance each other well and mesh so well with my parenting that there is a flawless seam between us.

Scott is still evolving as a father, too.

Some men don’t just wake up clothed in perfection. Sometimes, it’s a process. It’s creating a masterpiece of art slowly, cautiously, experimenting and sampling and losing some battles. It’s a growth in patience.

Scott is an amazing father. Zack and Addie adore their Da-Da. You should see them run for the door when he comes home from work.

That’s love.

And the songs he sings to them in the bath and funny games he plays because he knows Zack doesn’t like water poured on his head. And even though he’s told Addie not to splash a thousand times, I still see a hint of a smile when he’s trying to chastise her on Time # 1,001.

My road with Scott is a long journey, too. One that has been tested and has seen its share of dead ends and speed bumps and so many ups and downs. But we are still standing. The greatest thing I love about him, is the man as a father. It’s a beautiful thing.

And when Scott and my Dad are together?

That is when my heart is filled.

I am complete.

I am in love. And loved. By two great men.

The best of the best.

 

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I remember and I forget

This weekend is so lovely.

It’s my first Memorial Day weekend that I haven’t had to work in my adult life. I’ve got two great little kiddos who are begging me for the outside time we all love. The worst of the yard work is complete so afternoons and days aren’t completely lost on back-breaking work.

And that sun, that air.

I’ve felt it before.

 

 

20 years ago, my Memorial Day futures were tarnished.

I went to school on the last day before a long weekend at the end of fourth grade and my sick mom was especially weak. She couldn’t get out of bed that morning and spent such a long time with her goodbyes and handholding I thought for sure I was going to miss my bus. I was 10 and she was 46. I pulled myself away to join my friends in the school bus stop out front.

I wonder if she pulled herself out of bed to look out the window. I never looked up to see.

I don’t know if she cried or if she wore a brave face.

I don’t know when she called her sister.

I don’t know if she knew in that moment the truth about Memorial Day.

We try to remember, we sometimes forget.

 

I never saw my Mommy again.

 

I came home that afternoon and saw cars in the driveway that meant she was in the hospital.

I stopped at the second-from-the-top step with a sigh. I was so sad I’d spend another weekend visiting her while she lay in a hospital bed. I was so sad for my Dad and the way he looked at her picture on the dresser the mornings she wasn’t home to cook me breakfast.

I was mad, too. That moment was my first memory of rage. I stomped my foot on the sidewalk. I HATE THAT YOU’RE ALWAYS SICK, I wanted to scream.

 

I saw my first rainbow that weekend.

It was her goodbye perhaps.

 

By the end of the long weekend, I came home from a friend’s house to find my Dad sitting on my bed in our apartment, crying while holding stuffed animals. I had never seen him cry. We were supposed to see Mommy in just an hour.

I don’t remember how he told me she was gone.

I just remember feeling like I had to be a Mommy to him.

We held hands and took a walk down the road.

 

By the end of that long weekend, I stood in front of her open casket in a stuffy funeral home, torn between playing tag with some cousins and this nagging feeling that this was something so big. I couldn’t grasp it with my 10-year-old heart just yet.

On a warm, sunny, slightly windy day, they lowered the box into the ground.

 

I left school five days before with a sick mom at home.

And that first day back, on a bus for a field trip.

Charlie in my class chose that day to remember my mom was born on Leap Year. She’s only like 11!, he said!

I sunk down in my seat and hated Memorial Day weekend. And field trips. And boys named Charlie.

 

I’ve spent two-thirds of my life without her.

I relate better to being motherless than being mothered.

I’ve spent nearly four years being a mother myself.

And this quandary I find myself in is as complicated and confusing as it gets.

 

I look at old pictures of her and me and now my eyes just as easily land on the resemblance of my daughter to me as anything else.

There is hurt and peace and anger and love and they come and go in waves and go ’round and ’round in cycles I can never predict.

There are Memorial Days that cause my heart to ache and others that go by quickly and busily with little thought. But May 26th still makes me stop in my tracks. Can’t catch my breath. Can’t believe it all over again and again and again.

 

There are purple and yellow flowers scattered across our better-loved yard now. I hope she likes them.

I hope she watches her grandchildren. I hope she comforts them when I cannot.

 

I am 30. She would have been 66. A grandma of two. a mother-in-law to Scott.

Would she be on FaceBook? Still send out those long handwritten letters in the violet ink? Maybe a call once a week.

 

I look to the sky. For her rainbows and that sunny end-of-May warmth.

I run my hands in the earth of my gardens and sing to sleepy toddlers and feel her arms around me again.

 

I remember but I also forget.

And I miss her just as much 20 years later.

 

Nancy Carole Dowhan

Feb. 29, 1948 — May 26, 1994

 

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Team Zack

Zack’s progress has always happened in waves.

For every surprise accomplishment came a three-month lull.

For every time we worked on walking and jumping and stepping, out came his first words.

When Down Syndrome enters your life and the life of your child, it is a never-ending road of questions, uncertainty, fighting and pushing.

There is no cure, there is no this-is-where-he-will-be-in-five-years.

You must find your resources (Early Intervention therapists, other parents, National Down Syndrome Society, special needs classrooms, and most importantly, yourself…); you must find your support.

And then you just dive in, give it your best, never look back and never look too far forward or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

When Zack was born, we didn’t know if he would ever speak or ever walk on his own. We had no clue if he would have major health issues or zero concerns at all (he falls at the low end of the middle — we battle respiratory illnesses for months at a time, he had two small holes in his heart that do not yet require surgery and a Man Parts issue forced a minor surgery two years ago).

At the end of the day, our prayers for Zack are exactly the same as those for Addie — that they be self-sufficient, polite, responsible, independent, intelligent kiddos and adults. That they enter mainstream school, are loved by their peers and teachers, complete high school and college, find a job that brings them joy and a man or woman who makes them complete and throw a dozen grand babies our way. We hope for graduation parties and Empty Nest Syndrome and a first dance together at their weddings.

And while we hope for the same goals, we realize the journey may be quite difficult for one (or both!).

Zack turns four in August and then we have one year before he should enter Kindergarden, maybe in our local public school system.

But maybe not. Maybe it will be in two years. Maybe three. Maybe it just can’t happen.

We realize both sides of the possibilities, but still we fight with every freakin’ ounce of energy and every bit of resources to make what’s  best for him, not us, happen.

So yesterday we met with his teacher and speech therapist from his special-needs classroom that he’s been attending two mornings a week since January.

Scott and I actually went into the meeting planning on gently removing Zack from the program as we felt he was with kids who demanded much more of the teachers’ attention than him and perhaps we just weren’t seeing the difference or the impact from there as we initially thought we would. It was a good problem to have, we thought. We were appreciative and we gave it a whirl, but hey, our boy is doing great in his “typical” Preschool three days a week!

But then we all got talking. Openly, honestly.

And we have a plan.

There is something about having a plan.

Even if it means more work or more time or more challenges at first. It’s a plan. It’s a step forward. It’s one step closer to that first day of Kindergarden at public school two miles up the road. The day I have been praying for and fearing for quite some time. Where I will lose my —- and bawl at the astonishing journey. But we’re not there yet, so hang tight Ole Emotional Momma.

So, in August, Zack will be trying the afternoon class at this location four days a week, while still maintaining his mornings at the other school. The afternoon class has more “advanced” kids and is a bit more challenging. And it’s primary focus? Kindergarden preparation.

It’s a no-brainer.

Four days may be too much, both schools might be too much. But, it’s my style to go all the way in and retreat a bit if necessary.

A woman I’ve only just recently met through Mary Kay wrote me a letter for Mothers Day. She follows our family through social media and her asking about Zack and Addie is always the first thing to happen when we are in the same room. That means a lot and I’ve always appreciated that.

But then, this letter.

I had actually received it two days before but in all the business of the week, it stayed tucked away in a bag until Wednesday.

This amazing woman of faith and strength shared that she had two special-needs children herself.

She gets it, I understood.

You see, just like the unwanted Motherless Daughters Club you are initiated into without request, so too is there a Special Needs Children Club that is scary yet so rewarding. The bond between we mothers is indescribable.

Anyway.

“I understand the day-to-day struggles and the day-to-day victories,” she wrote. “What some parents see as a small accomplishment, we see as a victory dance worthy.”

I smiled, I cried, I laughed out loud during her letter.

“God knew exactly the kind of Mom that Zack would need,” she shared. “The kind of Mom that would love him, protect him, nurture him, and yes, even fight for him. The kind of Mom that would get that glow in her eyes when she talks about him, post his artwork on FaceBook and sell Mary Kay so she could be home with him and his sister.”

The day I read that was a Battle Day. Battle with the kids’ strong wills. Battle with myself. Battle with DS.

And I opened that letter and it reminded me.

Not only am I not alone, but I am not allowed a pity party.

Zack’s parents, his family, our friends, even strangers are all working together. None of us know where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing in six months or six years or when he’s 26. I scare myself thinking about all the uncertainties.

But, like we said at the parent-teacher conference, we are all Team Zack.

Whatever it takes, we do. Whatever is recommended, we try.

Leave no stone unturned.

The thing is, even if he doesn’t go to college or marry a sweet partner, he will be happy, of that I’m sure.

And even if we never get a dance at his wedding, it’s alright, because he comes up to me several times a day, bows at his waist with a giant smile, holds out his arm and asks me to dance. I can never refuse.

And let me tell you, he’s got some great moves.