Rewind and unwind

A friend recently asked me what my “word” of the moment was — am I feeling “grateful” or “blessed” or “rejuvenated” or “reflective” or the many other phrases that tend to get thrown out around this time of year?

Well, yes, definitely. But.

I think my word is

S U P P O R T E D.

 

We have had to make some gutsy, difficult changes and decisions this year — from a giant one like moving to a new home in a new town in a new state with nearly no loved ones nearby — to a small but powerful one like saying no to traveling and chaos and squeezing in too many visits with too little time for the holidays. Instead, we’re staying tucked in tight as a family of four to enjoy the first bit of quiet “us” time that we’ve managed since the move. To start some new traditions and just… unwind. And yet, we are supported. Cousins and aunts and uncles “get” it — they know that in a perfect world, we’d most definitely be around their tables and laughing with them, showering the kiddos with chickey kisses and cousin squeezes and a roomful of love. And those same families understood our reasons for our relocation. So many have visited us already and each time there is a knock on that front door, I feel all of that gratitude and blessings. And support.

I’ve had to make some semi-selfish moves individually for my photography business, too. My biggest supporter has been my hubby Scott. He has never once asked me to stop or slow down or reconsider. He hasn’t questioned new lenses or workshops. He has given his support in many ways. Weeks with 60 hours of work have sometimes led to an entire day alone with the kiddos as I photograph a wedding all Saturday and then am a half-zombie uploading previews on a Sunday. Every new wedding booked is met with excitement and patience as I spew details about venues and styles and how they met.

 

Recently, a fantastic opportunity presented itself that merged both my photography and my personal life. I was asked to participate in a photo shoot in New York City with the National Down Syndrome Society featuring more than 50 models of all ages with Down Syndrome. Each model received pampering from our hair and makeup volunteers and got decked out in costumes to look and feel the part of some of the most iconic rockstars. I (along with two other photographers) met my new friends and captured some dance moves, rockstar attitudes and sweet smiles on a cobblestone street in NYC. And as much fun as that was, the best part was talking with their parents and siblings, hearing about their accomplishments, receiving secrets about their dreams and goals. And the BEST hugs and handshakes and laughs imaginable.

Back to support.

No one ever questioned me when I made an impulsive decision to just do this crazy thing — leave home for two days, fly to New York City, edit, share and digest the whole experience. Scott knew I had to do this and he was really, really proud. And my aunt came to watch the kids for us while Scott was at work. It was not an easy time for either of them but they held down the fort so I could scratch something off of my bucket list five hours away.

It was not an easy couple of days. I met families who have had really difficult health issues that we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid so far with Zack. I heard stories from moms who have had to fight for equal treatment, equal education, rights and opportunities.

And I saw a lot of dance parties. I saw siblings completely smitten with their brother or sister, moms who could not have been more proud, teens and adults in college or living on their own.

I’ll be returning to NYC in March to see the NDSS’s annual auction and gala event which will showcase our final images from the photo shoot in large posters at BB Kings’ House of Blues. And to reunite with some of my new friends.

I’m still wrapping my head around the experience.

 

So, with the completion of the NDSS shoot, my photography is all wrapped up for a couple of months. (I’ve even started scheduling some social media posts well in advance so that I can truly take a step back and enjoy some family and me time). I am so excited for the weddings I have on the books already for 2016 and 2017 and all of the couples and families I’m getting to know.

And I’m really relived to finally be able to unwind.

We’re ready for our quiet family Christmas. The kids are not receiving a lot of presents from us (our extended family *might* have gone overboard with the material items!) and are aware of things like “being a good friend” and “baby Jesus’s birthday” and little snippets like “Christmas magic” and “the star that showed them where to go.” All of those things seem much more important than what’s under any wrapping paper, so our holiday has already gotten off to a great start.

We’ve started traditions of watching holiday movies and reading books together more often. We baked two batches of cookies this week. We’re looking for our Elf, Louie, every morning (he might have been hugging a wine bottle today, haha!).

I have some hot cocoa cooling down in the kitchen so we can sing the Polar Express “Hot Chocolate” song together and enjoy a little treat. (Even though, you’re never, ever supposed to let it cool).

There is more time to be spontaneous with hide-and-seek requests and sought-after snuggles, too. Life is pretty good. We are supported and we are supporting each other.

 

Some updates:

Zack is still not in school. We had some mix-ups with paperwork and school district communication. (We’ve since taken care of it while not always using our nice voice and words). He has a tutor that comes to the house every day for an hour for coloring, letters, shapes, etc. We then have two days of evaluations the first week of January. Once that’s complete, we’re just a transition meeting away from finding him a good place to learn and play.

He’s still a lovebug most of the time, although he’s getting too old for Momma’s constant hug and smooch requests. I know not to pull away from a squeeze first. He has had some issues with being a little rough and not knowing his boundaries, but we’re hoping the return of some therapists in the new year will help considerably. His speech has improved quite a bit recently. He’ll do back-and-forth dialogues very well and on a good day, surprises his tutor with the letters, words, numbers and colors he can identify.

Z-Man is currently obsessed with PopEye (“Spinach”) and does the best impression of the old sailor. He also loves Buzz Lightyear, reading, playing imagination games with little toys and eating.

 

Addie is still our ornery, dramatic, princess-loving little girl. Her favorite color is still purple and we seem to be over the phase where ALL she would wear were skirts. She loves dancing and singing made-up songs (very loudly). She says “for” instead of “or.” “Do you want red for blue?” She is still very, very witty, too, and has some pretty funny one-liners and responses.

She has an entire imaginary persona named Square-ta. Who has glitter. And she stores her glitter in a yellow box under her bed. The yellow box has a squeaky lid, and, according to recent Addie reports, “it just keeps getting squeakier every day.” (There is nothing under her bed, FYI).

Last night at a restaurant, the waitress called Addie “sweetie.” Addie stopped coloring, looked up and in a very sassy manner said, “I have a name, you know.” (Zack, meanwhile, started making smoochey faces and waved his hand toward the restaurant exclaiming, “Come here, I want to kiss you.”)

 

We are about to start our couple of quiet Christmas-y days and we wish you and yours time with family and loved ones, a little bit of relaxation, a lot of love.

(And lots more blog posts in 2016!).

 

You can view a recap of my NDSS photo shoot experience HERE.

You can learn more about the March gala and other NDSS events HERE.

You can view my photography page and see some of this year’s weddings and engagements HERE.

Our photo shoot was featured on TheMighty.com — you can see our story HERE.

 

Normalcy and the foyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

We opened the door and she squealed a thousand exclamations.

“Zack, you’re home!”

“I’m so glad you’re home!”

“Come into my playroom.”

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

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

I froze.

The newspaper in my hand, only one boot off.

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

“Home, Addie.”

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

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

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

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

A journey of faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The night supper was late

Scott and I joke all the time how amazing it is that I haven’t given anyone food poisoning yet. I mean, barely a year ago, Scott was the primary chef and parent in the house and I was managing a 30-person team 65 hours a week.

And now, I manage to feed us somewhat-edible meals, clean, run two businesses and sometimes shower.

Last night, supper took longer than I thought it would, and so we found ourselves with this awkward not-part-of-our-routine half-hour when Scott got home from work.

And we lived a weekend’s worth of love and laughter in 30 minutes on a weeknight.

We had ourselves a little fake food party, all four of us, down on the hard dining room floor. I drank a teacup filled with an apple and a waffle and Scott had the most delicious slice of pizza, complete with olives, croissant and french fry.

We snuck in a ticklefest just as the oven timer started to ding.

I had barely finished my last bite of food when my son hopped down from his chair and held out a hand. Pointing with his right fingers at the TV, playing music, he bowed down.

“Dance, Momma?”

He looked like a little prince.

So I gladly accepted.

Dishes sat on the table and Addie and DaDa watched us like we were crazy, but my little Z-Man and I twirled and clapped and stomped together. A slower song came on and he reached those arms up, up, up, and we rocked back and forth together in a little circle in our living room.

After Addie and DaDa joined us for a crazy little dance party, we needed to start winding it down and get ready for bed.

But first, Zack, who had left the room, came running back in to where I was, tugged on my hand, and looked up at me with those smiling dark blue eyes.

“I wuv you, Momma.”

I’m so glad the supper was late.

Thankful thoughts

Addie and I were snuggling under the covers at bedtime last night singing songs about her favorite show, movie and book characters. It went something like this:

“Mickeeeeeeeey, Mickeeeeeeeey, Mickeeeeeeey…”
“Peter Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit…”
Then, a nod to Puss ‘n’ Boots, the feisty feline from the Shrek movies, almost caused me to fall out of the tiny little twin bed.
“Boooooooze…. ohhhh Booooooze… is a cat.”

And as I’m wiping away tears of laughter and snorting like a lady, she holds my face in her hands and looks at me very, very seriously.

“I eat you up, you love me so.”

And then Scott and I switch rooms and I go to lay down next to the Z-Man, prepping myself for the ritual routine of “Stay in bed. Stay in your room. Please don’t open your door.”
But he’s already dozing!
His eyes are so heavy and he’s barely even sucking on the thumb in his mouth.
He opens one eye, mouthes “Momma,” and he’s out with a smile. I pet his hair a few times and listen as his breathing goes to that sleeping place.

The ‘babies,’ though I still call them that, rarely let me have the baby moments now. They’re stubborn and strong-willed and independent in so many ways and I love that. But I miss the quiet moments, the singing, the giggles at bedtime. I miss being the last thing they see before a good nights’ rest.

In this time of gratitude, I am so thankful for them.
And the huge spectrum of moments they bring to my world. The good, the frustrating, the emotional, the pulling-my-hair-out ones. I wouldn’t trade a single one in, for they are part of the bigger picture of being blessed to just be their Momma.

To wake up and fight off sleep and reach clumsily for coffee while simultaneously urging a four-year-old that he can not wear only a diaper and boots to school while his little sister puts her Cheerios in a sand bucket and shouts to no one in particular something about a dragon stealing her amulet.

I’m grateful for Scott and his hard work, for allowing me to stay at home and fulfill some dreams for a while. Dreams of photography and these moments with the “babies.” I’m grateful for so many loved ones who reach out when I need a “right smack bottom” (It’s a Shrek thing) or need to vent to someone; to the family and friends who love me more than I think I deserve sometimes; and the ones traveling to be with us for a belated Thanksgiving celebration this week.

But of all the things in my life, I’m so very thankful to me — to the woman who, in rare beautiful moments, forgets fears and ignores the mess on the dining room floor and remembers to live THIS moment, be the Momma they need and I want to be and still not lose sight of the things that make me me.

Those moments — singing and giggling and whispering secrets to a sleeping blonde boy — I swear it’s for those moments that I am alive. I swear it’s those moments I feel most alive.

Be thankful. For the moments you have. Stop and smell the coffee, or at least see if you can get to the Keurig machine with a smile on your face. Start there, pause, look around, and voila. Your thankfulness lies in front of you.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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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