The Skating Rink

We’re all about adventures.

Starting on New Years Eve. (We didn’t wait for some silly date on the calendar to regroup our family this year and it was WONDERFUL).

So despite a terrorist issue in Rochester on Dec. 31 (sigh), we trekked out as planned to the nearby skating rink for our family’s first ice skating adventure.

Addie has been gliding around the house in her “skate shoes” (Elsa sneakers) for weeks now and was completely in awe when we told her our plan.

If you wanted to fast forward about 10 paragraphs, you’d learn this:

It was an incredible experience in the end. But it took some work.

 

We were toying with over-stimulated children, funked-up routines and the beginning of bedtime, not to mention potential crowds and a new activity. Scott and I hadn’t been on ice in probably 10-plus years and the kids have never seen it other than at a hockey game a couple of months ago.

 

The crowds weren’t too bad and we got our admission and skate rentals with little fuss or delay.

And then the skates.

I feel like one of the many parenting classes they should offer when you decide you want to have children (in addition to Do You Have Common Sense and Don’t Do Stupid Things That Will Get You on the 5pm News) is How to Put Skates on Young Children While Maintaining Some Calmness and Not Creating a Scene.

Addie’s went on relatively easy, especially once I reminder her that she’d be on the ice in a few minutes. She stood right up and was walking in the skates like it was no big deal. Shaking my head, I tell ya, this kid.

But we had some trouble with Zack. Our initial pair we got was too small. He was already in Meltdown Mode after the first attempt and nearly lost his mind wailing on the carpet of the locker room as we waited for Scott to return with the second pair. It’s all good, because we got them on and soon enough, we were marching to the Kiddie Rink like the Jets and the Sharks in the opening scenes of West Side Story. I’m pretty sure we thought we were a big deal, with a bit of swagger and some cocky smiles. Fools!

Scott took Zack and soon realized the Z-Man was not going to do a thing. Not one ounce of balance or coordination and 40 pounds of scrambling, laughing kid in his arms. Addie wasn’t too bad, but just got way too excited and was pretty much attempting a triple axel on her first step on the ice. I was much worse a skater than she was, so our first lap (OK, our first eight) were PAINFULLY slow.

Scott was so worn out from essentially hunching over and carrying Zack on the ice that the two guys took a break. As Addie and I came around the straightaway towards them I saw Scott and the grandmother-woman-watcher next to him interacting and she was waving towards her granddaughter and family on the ice, using a red chair-like device that’s an option for teaching skating.

And she gave us their red chair. She grabbed my hand as I steadied my hand on the wall in front of her. Scott was positioning Zack in the red thingy-ma-jiggy and I was trying not to feel the screaming chant of “Down Syndrome comes to skating rinks, too!” And this stranger patted my hand and said “Your family is beautiful. I hope this makes your night a special memory.”

And then Scott’s back was less sore, Zack was giggling lap after lap and Addie was showing off for the five older girls she had already made friends with. And I was there, the mother of this crazy clan, taking it all in. And trying not to fall down and really ruin the moment.

The craziest part of it all?

That we’re looking into ice skating lessons for BOTH kids.

 

 

 

I see you…

You’re over there, pushing the cutest little blond boy on the red swing. He’s smiling a sleepy, peaceful smile that gets bigger when you surprise him with a tickle up his legs.

I see you twist around anxiously to watch a ponytailed three-year-old hop up fearlessly to the top of the tall slide, the one you think she’s too small for, but can’t convince her otherwise. I can actually see you hold your breath as you let her have this independent moment and try to keep it cool for the giggling boy next to you.

I see you.

You’re glancing at the little boy’s almond eyes with such a mix of love, compassion, worry, fear, hope, I can almost feel the heaviness in your shoulders. My gosh, that love. The pride you have when he makes a statement third-person about “Zacky” wanting to swing or needing a drink. You love those muffled words, those little phrases that you understand better than anyone else and that have taken hours upon hours of therapies and practices.

You’ve scooped up Miss Ponytail, twirling her and brushing back the fine strands that never stay in place. Her laughter inspires your laughter and Big Brother travels over to join the fun.

I see you.

Your embarrassment over the tantrum that was much worse to you than anyone else.

The mix of fear and exhaustion when he runs away, not understanding danger. You understand it too well.

I can imagine you holding a dance party in your living room. Some CCR on Pandora and four little hands mimicking your shakes.

I see you when she jumps up in bed at 5:45a.m., full of energy and questions. Your mind hasn’t woken up yet so its all about pulling her in close and smelling her hair and squeezing her tight.

I can imagine the way you internally jump for joy when, instead of his usual “No Kiss-a Me,” he asks you to stay with him in bed at nighttime and you pet his hair and caress the freckle behind his right ear and sing his favorite song.

I see your hands. That push swings for contented boys and steady brave little girls. That wipe tears and create imaginary pixie dust in different colors to solve different problems. That pick up strewn toys and flatten PlayDoh.

The hips that have held infants then toddlers and now 40-pound kiddos. They handle bouncing camera bags and your treasured DSLR.

Eyes that pore over chromosome diagrams and research papers and photo editing. That attempt the stack of neglected magazines.

I see you. Doing your best and trying so hard. You do your best when you don’t even try at all, when you just let it be, let it happen.

I see you. Do you see yourself?

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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.

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.

Yellow car tracks

Sometimes, I forget to stop. To just stop and observe and enjoy and not worry about tomorrow or next day or even the next five minutes. To let the dishes sit in the sink another hour and to use a high-pitched princess voice or a mean and tough fighting turtle voice amidst a backdrop of laughter.

So today, I stopped.

I spent my morning with a little girl who seemed to appreciate my pause and to notice my effort. She wrapped herself around me like a pretzel, petting my hair and singing me songs and stopping to tell me “You never be sad again. You are my happy girl. You… I make you happy.” How could you argue that?

And so I was Aurora and she was Cinderella and we spent two straight hours crawling around and playing pretend.

I had to take the dog to the groomers (And yes, you should ask Scott about why his beloved puppy may or may not have a rhinestone crown and a ponytail, muhahaha) and we made it into an adventure.

It took far longer to get coats and boots on and then shovel the car out of the snow then the time it took to walk Izzie inside the building that was just four blocks away.  But when we returned to the car and Addie said, “I love adventure!”, I just couldn’t resist. So we drove around for a few minutes and looked for a tree and a heart and other fun landmarks. We got home just in time to get Zack off of the bus and my sweet girl was watching me from the living room window, waving and smiling.

And then we made baked goods because… well, because Addie came into the kitchen, sat down in the chair and proclaimed, “I help Momma cook.” And so now we have two dozen lemon bars.

Just now, I heard some noise from Zack’s room during naptime and so I went in to see what stall tactic he was working today. We’ve pretty much given up on an official naptime for him, but created a fun “nook” in his oversize closet with some books and blankets. We figure a quiet time is better than Mommy losing her sanity.

I peeked in through the crack of the doorway, and saw him hunched over pieces of his yellow car track. He had put about four curvy pieces together and was struggling with the last two parts. He looked up at me and said, very quietly, “Stuck.”

I sat down on the carpet next to him and didn’t put it together for him, but just brushed a blonde strand out of his eyes and encouraged him to keep trying. And when he did, after what felt like the longest five minutes of my life, he looked up at me with the widest grin and such twinkling eyes and wrapped his arms around my neck in a hug.

“Wuv you, Momma.”

I could have ignored the noise or not made an unnecessary dessert. I could have checked more e-mails or washed those dishes.

But today, I lived. I loved.

And I created adventures and soaked in successes.

Where we are

One of my resolutions on the 1st (I wrote a long list this year) was to blog more often. I’m hoping we can all pretend that the first two weeks of the new year without a post never even happened and we can start working on this resolution from here on out, OK?

One of the reasons we haven’t had a blog post is because we’ve been so busy (Wendy’s photography business and Mary Kay team, visiting family, meetings with Zack’s school and much more). The other reason why we haven’t had a blog post is because among all of that craziness, I’m working really, really hard to disconnect more often and for longer periods of time and just be living in the quiet moment of Now. So, the kids and I have been playing pretend games together and Scott and I have enjoyed time together with some new favorite shows and even a game or two. I sometimes get so stuck on what I should be doing; who I should be helping; what I should be planning… that I forget about me and about Scott, Zack and Addie. No more of that nonsense. It’s all about balance.

So here we are.

I woke up a few days ago and just felt like we were on the cusp of something huge; something much greater than just a new year or a new month. We have spent so much of the past year transitioning from one home to another, one job to another, one lifestyle to another, that I finally feel as though we are ready to just live it now. To just be where we are and not where we are going or where we were.

Life is such an amazing adventure. I just want to soak up every minute of my journey.

Zack and Addie are the most wonderful little humans I’ve ever known. I might be biased.

Addie is so quick and witty. She greeted me at 7 a.m. today by shouting “Open the door, please, it’s good morning!” And when I opened the door, she reached out with her hand, shook mine and said, “Glad to meet you, Momma.”

She just continuously makes me laugh. More than four months after moving in to our home, she still asks her grandparents and random strangers if they want to come see her new room.

Her imagination is insane. She jumps from princesses in peril to babies and towers and hammering things that need fixed all within about 20 minutes. And there is so much drama! She knows how to work a pouty lip and lower her eyes and glance up at you through her dark eyelashes. You can’t not smile, I guarantee it.

We had some trouble with her stubbornness and strong disposition, but now we are getting a better handle on how to make her want to be a good girl instead of just going into discipline-the-bad-girl mode. She is relatively quick to clean up her toys, many times without me even asking, and she’s even more tolerant about sharing and brother hugs.

I love her quiet moments so very much.

The other day, I think we both wanted and needed some cuddly time together, so I suggested we watch a show under the blankets together while Zack was at school. I suggested princess movies and Bubble Guppies and even Dr. Seuss.

“No, momma,” She said. “I want to watch Momma’s show.”

I didn’t think it would last, but I gave it a try and flipped on the last 20 minutes of a terribly cheesy movie I watch on repeat whenever I get 20 minutes to catch my breath or eat a snack. She watched it all with me and held my hand tight. Near the end, she pointed to the lead female character, in a slightly sad scene, and told me that it was Momma.

But then quickly, she turned to look at me, put my face in her hands and said, “But Momma is happy because Addie makes Momma happy.”

She’s correct.

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And the Z-Man. Oh, how he is growing in so many ways in these recent weeks.

We are moving forward with getting him an aide for school and at home (about 14 hours/week total to start) and as long as the Commonwealth approves it, he’ll have someone by his side within the next two weeks. HIs most recent IEP meeting to discuss our plan for him for the next year, went well, all things considered.

It’s never easy to read a booklet on the most minute details of your firstborn. It’s never an enjoyable experience to hear things like “lifetime of needing special assistance” and “safety issues to himself” or words like “delay” and “lacking.” It doesn’t matter that we’ve done these types of meetings numerous times. It doesn’t matter that we are always grateful for them and for the handful of people in the room who care so much about Zack that it’s almost like he’s theirs, too. For me, it’s always like a rehashing of his Down Syndrome diagnosis. I grieve for a day or two, and then, we’re all OK. And I begin moving a thousand miles an hour to work on new ideas and areas of concentration. We’re asking a lot of “wh” questions (What color is that? Where is this?) to work on speech and we’ve got a lot of work to do to keep him attending to tasks without disrupting others or posing a safety concern to himself. But we have plans and we have dreams and they are all big and we are so excited.

Zack’s teacher spoke of his potential and she did it in such a proud way that I think “potential” is my current favorite word. Isn’t it exhilarating what power ‘potential’ has? You can do amazing things and be amazing. You can work to reach your potential because no one’s potential is just handed to them. Potential is a beautiful thing.

Zack has a good friend at school named Maggie. She’s a very quiet, shy girl who doesn’t typically like to be touched or disrupted, especially if she’s feeling a little anxiety. But for whatever reason, Zack can approach Maggie in any situation and hug her or hold her hand and she always lets him. This morning, it was just Zack and Maggie on the van to school. When we opened the door and he saw her, Zack just smiled and kept saying her name over and over like a song. Before I closed the door, I saw they were already holding hands.

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So here’s to more blogs. And to potential. And to holding hands and making people happy. Because that’s right where we are now.

‘Love is who we are… “

I am listening to Sara Bareilles’ “Love is Christmas” and “Winter Song” on repeat with giggles in the air and assorted play food on the floor. My daughter offers me a “teapot” and my son is singing random words to the song with a smile on his face.

We are preparing for a wintery coating and a couple of days without Daddy. My heart is content despite the shoveling and the missing I’m about to do.

“I don’t care if it’s gonna rain, our little room is warm and stable…”

*
We shared an amazing belated Thanksgiving celebration with 10 of the best loved ones. Giggles and good smells and gifts and delicious food. People who traveled far and wide just for a few hours in our new home.

We were cramped and it was loud but my gosh, was there love. In chickey kisses and hand pats and camera clicks and bites of yumminess.

“I don’t care if the house is packed or the strings of light are broken…”

*
One of my bestest friends and my favorite 2014 bride, Kacey (the Caboose!) and her hubby Drew came to our house on Saturday for a visit and again, full heart. They trekked up the TurnPike in a torrential downpour but arrived with smiles and excitement. We shared coffee and local pizza and silly games with the kids. We played adult games after bedtime for babies and even shared a glass or two of wine. We watched their wedding video and laughed over how I messed up the bouquet not once, but twice! Addie thought Kacey was a princess and both kids were attached to Drew the entire time. (The cat, too!)

I am so constantly grateful for loved ones who make the effort and sacrifice just for some time in our world.

“All we need is your best my love; that’s all anyone ever wanted…”

*On Sunday, we went to a fun Breakfast with Santa event. I finally located the local Down Syndrome support group, PODS of NEPA, and we were invited to their event this weekend.

We weren’t sure to expect, and honestly, I had to do some convincing to get Scott excited about it at all, but boy, were we surprised.

We walked through the doors of a catering hall 40 minutes north of us and before we spotted the beautiful decorations and centerpieces, the magnets and other 3-21 giveaway items, the kindness of strangers, we noticed hundreds of people. At least 50 families who “get it” or “got it” or are “getting it” just like us.

Babies with almond eyes and adults with kind smiles; verbal and nonverbal kiddos of all ages; talk of aides and school and independent living.

We sat with a family of four — a nine-year-old boy with DS, his 12-year-old big brother and their mom and dad. By the end of the morning, with coats on, we were celebrating their son’s bravery in finally trusting Santa’s lap and exchanging business cards and well wishes and promises of friendship.

I just kept looking around, whispering “Look at this, my love,” to the toddler on my lap.

I watched little Alex stroke his Mom’s cheek with a piece of hair he pulled from behind her ear and told her how Z-Man does the same thing to me. We shared one of my favorite smiles and a nod.

And while Zack was quite happy to meet Santa, Addie was not so pleased — at least not until the snowman character picked her up for a few minutes. Sorry for crashing your photos, other kids! She tells us on repeat still:

“Addie cried… I just wanted to see Snowman… Snowman said ‘hi’ to me…”

Even after five goodbyes, when I spotted Alex’s mom in the lobby on our way to the car, I went in for the sort-of-creepy-mom-who-needs-to-get-out-more hug. And she hugged me back tightly. And Scott and I both keep saying how we feel much less alone now.

“I’ll be your harvester of light and send it out tonight so we can start again…”

I think as I get older, it’s not that I realize what’s truly important — it’s simply that I appreciate it all — the good, the bad, the easy, the hard, the dreams and the surprises.

Even something as simple as a makeshift tea party with a snowman-phobic little girl and her hair-petting big brother is an absolute treasure.

We have more Christmas carols to sing, snuggles to snuggle and traditions to turn into memories.

My life is very good. My life is filled with love.