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

 

Baby wendy with Mommy Little Wendy - with Mommy

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.

 

We partied like it was… 2012?

We had ourselves a lil birthday shindig the other day.

In honor of a lovely two-year-old and her and her family’s journey.

There was (eventually) sunshine, friends and family fluttering about the living room and yard. Lots of catching up, some new friends and a happy momma with a very full and happy heart.

Thank you to those who traveled hours to be a part of our celebration; thanks to those who gave our lucky little girl some new clothes and toys and books; and a thank you to those who sacrificed things they should have been doing or wanted to be doing to be a part of our girl’s day.

 

I still can’t believe she is two.

Two going on 16.

 

Addie, you are loved!

 

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Isn’t she lovely

Addison Caroline turns TWO today.

It’s a blur; it’s a fast-flying dream.

In my first weeks of pregnancy with her, I told Scott, “It’s a girl and she has a HUGE personality. She will be a handful.”

He rolled his eyes.

But I was right. About all three things.

 

 

Zack made me a Momma. Addie made me a stronger woman.

After Zack’s DS diagnosis and rounds of therapists and tests and minor health issues, the decision to have a second child was infinitely more difficult than contemplating our first. What if s/he had DS? What if s/he didn’t? Which would be more difficult for us? What if Zack needed so much of our time? What if s/he suffered indirectly from Big Brother’s disability or teasing from kids at school or losing time to therapies and special schools?

And then one day, it just hit for us. We realized this was not about the What Ifs and the What If Nots. This was about baby coos; this was about being a family of four. It was about the idea that we two only children (sort of) always wanted a decent-sized family.

We got pregnant almost immediately with Addie. And she let us know she was the boss.

 

I spent four-and-a-half months with such severe morning sickness, I sometimes couldn’t make the 20-minute drive to work without having to pull over in tears. It was a pregnancy filled with much more discomfort than my one with Zack — my sciatica ached early on, my glucose was borderline and I nearly passed out a dozen times, she kicked and punched relentlessly and sat on my tailbone or up in my ribs the majority of the time.

 

But I also felt a strange peace during those months.

I would force myself to steal away to a quiet corner or amidst a Spring breeze alone for a few moments to just be. Be calmer, be wiser, be a fighter for myself, be a survivor, be a DS advocate, be a better worker, better leader.

 

Because of Zack’s DS, Addie was considered a high-risk pregnancy and so I saw a specialist for the first half of my time with her in utero. Just days after the New Year began, we trekked to an office 40 minutes away for a 4-D ultrasound looking for signs of DS and other severe complications.

The sweet technician waved the wand around a bit and smiled. “It’s a girl,” she said.

She must have thought we were crazy because we didn’t bat an eyelash. (OK, I miiiiiight have said an “I told you so” to Scott)

You see, the gender of the baby meant very little to us at that time.

I just want healthy, please be healthy, I prayed.

The technician could not say anything about DS markers and said the doctor would be in shortly. We waited some more. When you wait five months of a pregnancy to make sure your baby is healthy, a few moments shouldn’t feel so long, but it was agony. I was half in tears for those ten minutes.

We became a case study for the doctor’s entourage of young doctors-to-be, five white-coat-clad men and women who were brought up to speed on our situation and what we were looking for and… and finally, the words.

“I see no markers for Down Syndrome. It seems you have a very healthy baby girl.”

 

But still.

For a few days, that news was amazing. Felt like flying.

But then it wears off a bit. You see, Zack had ultrasounds during his pregnancy and nothing was ever caught in them. Who says they couldn’t miss something with Addie?

 

But I tried less worrying and more living. And weeks and months flew by until I saw her face in an operating room on May 18, 2012.

 

All that dark hair, I gasped.

And those eyes. Oh my God. She looked half-exotic. This darker skin, dark hair, big blue eyes.

 

And that scream.

She screamed for an hour. Impressed the nurses and Daddy. Mommy missed her already.

 

She is as much a contradiction to Zack as one can be, but at times the two of them seem deeply connected at the soul.

Zack is quiet, calm, solitary, loyal and so loving.

Addie is busy, louder, so active. She is not shy and she has no fear.

Zack prefers reading and playing pretend with animals and dolls. Addie is surrounded by six stuffed animals at bedtime but otherwise prefers building or coloring.

 

Her jet black hair has transformed into these long, soft locks of light brown, almost dark blonde wisps that frame her face. We’ve never cut her hair but get asked to this day if that’s a planned hairstyle. She’s always looked a lot like me, but lately is transforming into her own little person.

And she is beautiful. I may be biased. But from the first weeks at home with her, there are some mornings I get her out of her crib and just GASP. She’s just lovely.

(Until she tells you NO, dumps cat food, colors on the wall or… oh no, wait, she’s always lovely,right?)

 

LOVES: Bubble Guppies. Duckies. Cows (she looks for them on every car ride). Chi-chens. Pizza (just like her momma). PURPLE!

CURRENT SAYINGS: “Hi, it’s me, Addie” “____, where ARE you?”  “I change diaper.”  “I see ____”   “I call ____ (usually Pop-Pop or Nana)” “Where go? I no know…”

 

The way she looks at her brother.

It floors me every time.

She looks at him with adoration and a great gorgeous love. Her eyes follow him and his activity. She accepts every dance invite (they hold hands and twirl in a circle) and when they’re working on different toys, she will sometimes stand up to see what he is doing or will call him over to look at her game. She accepts his hugs and squeezes, even the ones that land her on the floor accidentally.

 

She is helping Zack.

It’s not why we had her (someone asked us that once) but honestly, she guides him. She speaks new words and he mimics her within a day or so. She tries to take off her shirt or put shoes on and he soon does the same.

When she wakes up in the morning, she either asks for her friend Aubrey or her big brother. When we drop Zack off at school and it’s not her day to go, she cries, sobbing “Zaaaaaaa” in the backseat for ten minutes.

 

There are a thousand things I love about my daughter. But I love most the way she has moved me. The way she has changed my heart to make it big enough to love twice as much.

 

Addie,

I hope you will always be strong and always be a fighter.

I hope you will always love your brother and make him a fighter, too.

I hope you use the potty regularly soon.

I hope you always eat as well as you do now. (Never trust everything your dad gives you — some of it WILL be hot!)

I hope you appreciate my efforts to put you in pink and do your hair.

I hope you always bring vivacity and excitement to the rooms you enter.

I hope you know I would fight anyone, I would destroy anything in your path with my bare hands, I would be your loudest cheerleader in whatever you choose to do or pursue. Forever.

I hope you know you will never be as loved as you are by we three.

 

She turns TWO today. And I am a sentimental, happy, excited little fool.

She is the spark.

And she is so, so lovely. 943772_694458912044_1860684619_n _DSC0053-2 401730_632180473534_933391962_n 550385_634956774804_2061434742_n Aubrey (16 of 32) EASTER (40 of 56)

 

 

Motherhood is a Garden

I tend to my children like a gardener to his prized rose bush.

I pray that the soil, water, sun, rain I give them (or the patience, love, late nights, early mornings, snotty noses, wicked coughs, scary doctor visits, lullabies, life lessons, morals, good manners, tough lessons, little treats…) helps them blossom into whatever shape, color and size of bloom they so desire.

I lost my mother at an early age after a lengthy illness that some days it feels like I never had a mom of my own at all. Then, other times, I hear her laugh or feel her presence or remember her traditions and loves. Those days, my heart aches with such an intensity I am afraid my place in the garden is overrun with weeds. It is on those days most of all that I know the importance of a mom.

I have had pseudo-moms and mother figures and terrific Mommy friends who have inspired me, enlightened me, supported me. They have taken middle-of-the-night messages and calls, tears on both ends. They have said the right things, even if they weren’t the things I wanted to hear. They have been true and beautiful and honest and encouraging. A tall flower is beautiful indeed, but a row of colors is even more precious a sight. And a field of blooms can take your breath away — that, that is the vision of the moms in my circle.

My children are my legacy. They are the most important garden in my life.

I have tended to many flower beds in my life. Some of them I am so proud of; the sights and smells will stay with me forever. Others have not survived the summers of my life. The sun too hot or the rain too much for the little seedlings to handle.

But Zack and Addie. Sigh. Oh my. I have done well so far.

I hope they forget the bedtimes I missed; hope they understand the meals I didn’t cook or the playdates we didn’t have early on; hope they know my goal was always to help them. Sometimes, the rose doesn’t know about the foundation you created, only the moment its roots set into the soil you’ve tilled in places where weeds used to reside.

They are two different varieties in one shared corner.

Zack is the one who made me a mother. I recall a Mothers Day with my first pregnant belly, wondering and planning and wishing and hoping. Zack came quietly into this world and made a large statement right away — Do not plan, do not wonder. Just live, Momma. Just be. I relate to his solitary tendencies — his love for reading, his amazement in simple beauties of leaves and individual blades of grass in a yard of green. He has made me the mother I never knew I wanted to be, or knew I could be. His love is so simple and pure. He gives kisses and hugs away to anyone who asks, but that doesn’t make each wrapped arm around your neck any less special. His jagged-tooth-smile and those slanted blue eyes make me thank all the gardeners before me for such beauty. I have no doubt that Zack’s garden will be the kind that makes you stop in your tracks and admire its creativity and uniqueness. I am honored to sit among his life’s blooms every day that I am given the privilege. It is there I find peace.

There was a first Mothers Day with my Dude, holding him tight and not yet understanding even then.

And then one, me about to pop, and her fighting her way out with punches and kicks. It was just days before she joined our world.

Addie. Oh, that crazy girl. She resembles me physically but her vibrant personality is what makes me a stronger gardener. I admire her bright colors and the fragrant whiffs and bursts of blooms. They can be challenging, though. Something so beautiful needs extra cultivation and refinement. It could run over its borders and sometimes, that’s perfectly fine. I don’t ever want her to be stifled or limited. I want her to be a  bird of paradise in a world full of dandelions. She makes me think, she makes me toughen up and stand taller and try myself to be a vibrant bloom.

Last Mothers Day, my world was upside down and every which way. We let grass grow and weeds take over where flowers should be and our garden became so disheveled. The love for it was there as always, but it was a difficult season.

And here we are now.

My day has just begun, but I know it to be my best one yet.

We honor three generations of gardeners with our love for purple and a planting of seeds. We will have quiet moments and loud moments and everything in between. It will be much like every day in that every day is different and we find special in the simple. We have our arms covered in stickers, aptly heart-shaped ones, and I am surrounded by that beautiful sound of “Momma” in repeat. In question form and statement form and among excited laughs.

When the clouds dominate, we create sunshine.

When rains are heavy, we are the umbrella.

When weeds are encroaching, we will dig with our bare hands in order to protect.

It is never about the gardener, but about the blossoms she can produce. I stand proud in this garden. I wave my petals at the flowers behind me, the ones standing tall next to me and the little blooms we see before us.

We are mothers, we are gardeners. We are makers of the future and protectors of the past. And we do it all in the future, with a little luck and a lot of love.

 

Happy Mothers Day to the many moms.

The almost ones, the ones who lost, the ones who are new, the ones whose blooms have gardens of their own, the ones who act it and live it and the ones who wish it — you are all amazing, you are all doing a wonderful job and your love has helped my garden grow.

 

 

Adventures in Housewifery — Homemade Coffee Creamer

Hi, my name is Wendy and I am addicted to coffee.

The sweeter and more flavorful the better. I love me some lattes and cappuccinos and mochas and frappucinos, oh my!

If I’m on a car trip that’s three hours or longer, I stop at a Starbucks at a rest stop each way.

If I’m visiting a new town or someone else, I request a stop at a local cafe. I LOVE sitting with a great cup of coffee people-watching from a window.

And do not even TRY to talk to me before my second cup of coffee. No bueno.

So at home, I make my own little caffeinated concoctions — mixing this K-cup flavor with that coffee creamer flavor. I can tell you all about how some of the Girl Scout Cookie flavor creamers just don’t work in any nut-flavored coffee. And too much vanilla is a bad thing when it’s vanilla creamer in vanilla coffee, especially in a cream or white-colored cup.

No, seriously, I should be a connoisseur.

The thing about my sweet, creamy coffee cravings? It’s expensive, yo.

 

So, in my quest to save my hard-working man some money, I continue brave housewifery adventures — like homemade coffee creamer.

 

Again: simple, cheap, fun. WIN!

 

Here’s what you’ll want:

 

SWEETENED condensed milk

Half-and-half and/or some heavy cream

various extracts/flavorings (think: vanilla extract, almond extract, ground-up coffee or espresso beans, maple syrup, etc, etc)

A couple of containers with lids that are easy to pour (I purchased a two-pack of those water bottles with the snap-close lids — they’re like 20-ounce bottles so they can hold a good amount of creamer that will last a while)

 

 

I would recommend starting small with this one until you tweak it just to your liking.

My first batch was basically Prohibition-era stolen rum. It made Scott drunk just smelling it the first morning and I had a buzz for three days after my first cup of coffee.

 

Less is more when it comes to extracts, folks. Less is more.

 

What I like to do is take care of two creamers at once. So, I use one can of the condensed milk and split it between the two containers. I add just about the same amount, maybe slightly more of the Half-and-Half and/or heavy cream (the latter makes for a much richer flavor but of course is heavier in calories if that really means anything to you for your one teaspoon of creamer a day. I’ve noticed not much of a taste difference. Use what you have). Then add a few DROPS of extract/flavoring gradually. SHAKE VERY WELL! (With the lid on or else you decorate your kitchen counter with maple-almond creamer, tee hee) Do a sniff test or a drop on your fingertip test for flavor and throw it in the fridge.

I just label with scotch tape and a Sharpie, but you can get as creative as you want. Mason jars would be so cute for company, but really, people, I slaved away for HOURS, errr minutes, on this HOMEMADE COFFEE CREAMER. Be grateful I’m sharing my coffee… I mean…

 

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My first two creamers consisted of a little coffee and some vanilla extract in one and a maple syrup-almond extract combo in the other. I love them BOTH!

I find I’m not using as much of this as I used to use of the store-bought creamer and as long as you keep in mind the expiration dates of your milk products (usually about three weeks), these ought to last you a while.

I’ve got peppermint extract and cocoa to mix for my next batch — can’t wait!

 

Cost:

My favorite coffee creamers (flavored CoffeeMate ones, 16 ounces) typically cost $5-6 each. Two last a week if I’m lucky. We used to buy 2-3 each shopping trip.

Half-and-half: $3.50 for 1 quart (lasts several weeks, makes at least three creamers)

Sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces which makes 2.5 creamers): $3

Now the extracts can cost as much as $3-5 each. I stocked up on about four I didn’t have in stock that I could use for this but also figured I would use for other creations, so keep it simple and remember, you’re only using a FEW DROPS per creamer!

(I’ll be creating my own extracts down the road so WHOA will I save money!)

 

I figure you’re cutting your coffee creamer cost in half, doubling cute factor and tripling creativity and imagination. That’s good math to me.

 

Now I need a cup of coffee.

Enjoy!

 

D&D

Two of the most entertaining, spontaneous, exciting, kind, beautiful souls I’ve ever known found each other and sealed the deal with a wedding this weekend. My cousin Dan married his lovely bride Dorothy.

 

There were scorpions and Star Wars theme songs and other fun quirky moments that made it all theirs.

 

But there was family. The crazy cousins and newer baby cousins and awesome aunts and uncles and everything in between. People we met on Dan’s earlier adventures and people we hope we see again on future adventures.

 

There was breakdancing (by our son) and shrieks of “NO” when asked if anyone had any reason for them not to marry (by our daughter, who was bribed to sit still with promise of a “princess” — Dorothy did not disappoint).

 

I felt my heart smiling.

Watching big tough guys hold hands with little girls in poofy dresses, sharing laughs and memories with those we don’t see nearly enough, gathering despite extreme exhaustion in the lobby of our hotel just to be with one another a few minutes longer.

 

After all the planning, it was over in a flash and I we found ourselves in the car heading home faster than I would have liked, but we return home with plans for visits in the months to come and promises I intend to keep.

 

There was love, love, beautiful love.

My heart is still smiling.

 

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