Smells like apples in here…

… so I’ll be brief.

I created some thinly-sliced apples a bit of cinnamon sugar on top of them and it’s just about time to pull them out of the oven and hope that this delicious aroma never leaves the house.

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But I had to share a few things that I’m falling in love with this week.

Like the way he looks at everyone and everything with love. And how he hugged his TSS today when she came to the house. And how he never keeps both socks off on any given day.

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And the way she lines her crayons and her blocks up with such perfectionism and dedication. And how she is picking out ridiculous outfits every day now.

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I even love the animals who have been camping out on my lap while I finish crocheting a blanket.

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And I love the feeling of my camera in my hands.

The sounds of laughter from another room and the warmth in my heart when I stand in a doorway and they don’t know I’m there.

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I hope your house smells like apples and pets keep you warm and laughter surrounds you.

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‘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.

Reconnecting

It’s a cyclical thing, me and reconnecting. Every three months or so, I find myself in what should be a very happy moment just paralyzed and overwhelmed with stress or worry or the Grumpy Gloomies. And it’s almost always because I’ve become disconnected. From the things I love or from seeing what’s right in front of me.

So I’m reconnecting. Slowly but surely. I need to find a way to make sure I stay connected — that’s the tricky part.

Despite being a stay-at-home-mom for the better part of nine-and-half months already, it’s still a title I wear with difficulty some days. I find it hard to believe that one year ago, I was juggling a 70-hour work week with wife and mom and house duties, all the while attempting my photography business on the side. Something always suffered.

Now, I can say that most days, I’m rocking it all.
I’m putting down the phone and picking up the blocks or cars. I’m learning to tolerate Elmo’s World and a side of two-year-old temper tantrums when I decide Elmo is a once-a-day activity. (Not five or nine). I make the most of nap times. The phone comes out, the computer cranks on and I amaze myself with how productive I can be in 2.5 hours.

I feel like I know my kids better and better. I feel like they know me, and you know, maybe even appreciate me. I hope that they know that becoming a SAHM was the best job title I ever gained and that I am forever grateful I can reinforce Zack’s school lessons each week and pick out clever items for Show-and-Tell. I’m happy that I am there when Addie wakes up crying or tells me she has a boo-boo on her teeth (She’s teething some God-awful molar, we think). I’m there. I’m grateful I’m there.

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month (Please learn more about DS here!) and I am amazed at what DS means to us nowadays. It means an incredible school and some free diapers, but really, it means so little. Because Zack is our son. He is the smile and reaching hand under his door after nap time as I creep up the stairs for giggles. He is the unsolicited slobbery kiss when you least expect it. He is sometimes a troublemaker and sometimes, he pushes his sister. (She usually deserves it) He is a flirt with the girl that sits next to him on the bus. He screeches “SCHNACK!” as soon as he wakes up and then proceeds to eat out of his sister’s bowl when she’s not looking. He is not DS.

I’m reconnecting with Scott, and him with me. He comes home to a dinner that at least smells good from the kitchen door (I promise nothing comparable in taste). I take care of the dishes so that he can enjoy the only hour or so he gets with the kids some days.

We have a happy little routine and I’m even building up both of my businesses (shameless plug for Wendy Zook Photography and my Mary Kay business). I’m working on an advancement training program with MK once a week and I’ve booked several photo sessions for 2015 already.

I’m crocheting up a storm, which is always a relaxing go-to for my hands and mind. And this week alone, I’ve gotten through six(!) magazines from my Leaning Tower of Haven’t Read These Yet.

Yet — perhaps it’s the selfish part of me — I still want more. Is it just a Me thing? Or a Woman thing? I always feel like if I stray the least bit from what I “should” be doing, I’m a huge letdown. If I decide ordering a pizza is worth sneaking in a DVR’d Dancing With the Stars some Tuesday afternoon, am I lazy or smart? I need my sanity, right? But then Scott’s taking a detour on his way home and there’s certainly no heavenly meaty scent wafting through the kitchen when he enters.

I’ve yet to make any friends in the area, and I know that will come in time (Working on it, I promise!), but meanwhile, it can make for an isolating experience some days. But I’m finding myself and reconnecting to myself. That’s a worthwhile experience.

Before my ‘gemela’ and I became nearly inseparable in our Argentina adventures (some cough, NINE, cough years ago), I remember spending my first couple of weeks learning not only a dialect and a land, but learning of a young woman who I’d never taken the time to know. I stared longer at laugh lines and grey flecks in eyes. I roamed cobblestone streets alone and loved every second of it — the people watching and the thoughts in my mind that made me smile. I stared out at a harbor for the better part of an hour, thinking and not thinking all at the same time.

I’ve spent this past year watching my dear friend Kacey, the true-friend-true-person kind of lady, plan her wedding. I’ve loved being on this journey with her. We have, without a doubt, become closer, and I know that won’t change after this weekend. I love that her engagement chapter has reminded me not to pause when I want to share a picture or send a just-because Hello. That a stamp is well worth the pay-out of a smile 300 miles away.

I’ve reconnected with old friends and acquaintances, too, and playdates are planned and mini-reunions on the books! It’s funny how time and life change who you need to be around and who makes you happy. The people who let you know, sometimes indirectly, that you’re doing a mighty fine job. At all of it.

I feel as though I’m returning to that mindset by the South American harbor and to that way of living every moment; feeling every moment. Not staring at water for an hour uninterrupted, of course. But learning what makes me tick and what makes me better. And sometimes that’s sacrificing.
And sometimes it’s just reconnecting.

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)

 

 

We took a walk, took a moment

I’m glad it’s not perfect all the time. If it were, it would be harder to enjoy those little moments and little hours of perfection that sometimes slip by without us even noticing.

For couple of hours the other day, nothing else mattered. Nothing else even existed, really. Just my family, some leaves and a little bit of love.

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The defining moment was after taking dozens and dozens of photos, I handed the camera over to Scott and said, “Sometimes you have to be, not just see.”
And to my surprise, he didn’t just put the camera down or hide it for a few days, he actually took some pictures; some good ones too.

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And when he wasn’t looking, I looked at him like I probably haven’t looked at him in years. I looked at him like the lovers look at each other in the movies, from across the room, with everything else a blur. I don’t know if Scott has ever looked so handsome to me. The way he was twisting the leaf in his hands and watching his family run about in the leafy park. He looked so content and so peaceful and it made me so truly happy.

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My happy day actually began much earlier, when I decided to get something out of the closet and just embrace the past for all that it is and was and not keep it hidden behind closed doors like it didn’t actually happen or like it has to be preserved in plastic until the end of time.
So Zack wore one of the outfits that Uncle Paul had given him years ago when Zack was just a little blob on an ultrasound. And so then we had to put Addie in one of the outfits, too, take some pictures, send them to Aunt Alice and just feel glad that we were remembering that day, even if there was drool and some breakfast On Zack’s Brazil shirt.

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The four of us decided to take a walk-the day was perfect – the temperature, the sunshine, all the leaves and that little Autumn breeze.
Two strollers side-by-side, the adults talking about their days and dreams, pointing out cows and colors to the little ones who were taking it in with their wide blue eyes.

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And then, near the end of our walk, I saw it — piles and piles and piles of golden leaves just begging for jumping toddlers. And a Momma.
We threw leaves up into the air, we rolled around in them, and sometimes we just laid down and looked up at the sky together. There was spinning around and of course lots of jumping.
And when Scott wasn’t looking, I took Addie out of her stroller and laid her gently into the leaves and just watched her take it all in for the first time… The feel of a crunchy leaf in her tiny fingers and the breeze on her bare feet. Zack handed her a leaf and applauded when she came down to the space on the ground next to him. He gave tickles and even a kiss. Her smiles in return gave it all away. They really have a beautiful love for one another. And I hope we do this often enough that falling leaves and empty parks on neighborhood walks always remind them of that love.

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We took so long on that walk that dinner was a little later than usual that night and then, because Momma had to look at all of her photos to see what moments had been captured, bedtime was a little late, too. After all, there was backlighting and bokeh and all sorts of beautiful smiles.

I went to sleep smiling that night, and I think everyone in my family did, too.

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