‘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.

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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!

Reminder days and promises

When Zack was seven days old, I held a chromosome test in my shaking hand. Two things happened.
Firstly, I wished so fervently that I had paid better attention in my science courses.
Secondly, I made a promise.

My promise was to this baby boy I barely knew at the time. I said “this will all be OK” to him, but really it was to me. I swore to him endless days of both of us working hard and pushing each other and making sure we left no stone unturned; that if it was the last and only thing I accomplished in my life, he would have years of independence and normalcy.

And today, in the simplest of phone calls from his teacher at school, I felt simultaneously like I was still keeping that promise and still failing him all at once.

Two and a half weeks ago, when we observed Zack in his school for a Halloween event, we saw firsthand and heard from his teacher that he needed a good amount of one-on-one attention from the staff during activities like circle time, reading, lessons, crafts. It saddened me a bit that day to see how the teachers took turns sitting beside him for a snack and a drink and a few minutes of Dora. I told myself to shake off that sadness another time and smile because my Cookie Monster was smiling, too.

But today, Miss Joanie said she couldn’t wait until the next event or observation or IEP meeting or evaluation. That Zack’s need for that one-on-one attention was so demanding and his constant running away from the activities or being distracted from the task at hand was not only draining their manpower from other students but most definitely hampering what she called his very awesome potential.

“He’s very, very smart,” she told me to fill the silence when she couldn’t hear me nodding politely and fighting a tear or two. “He is an incredible child. We all want what’s best for him.”

She’s sending paperwork home tomorrow all about TSS’s — basically an aide who will be by Zack’s side nonstop during school… this month, or this year, if we’re lucky, the teacher tells me, into Kindergarden and beyond.

I can’t say how much I love Zack’s school, and his teacher. How I feel like we are all on the same page, all on Team Zack.

You’re going to tell me the same thing my Dad told me this afternoon when I called him in tears.

Me: “I feel like I have failed him in some way.” (My dad tells me I’m stupid for thinking that.)
Me: “This is the furthest thing possible from an independent life.” (This is probably a really good thing, my dad assures me.)
Me: “I’m so strong and I’m so positive and I will do whatever I can for him if it’s best for him. Maybe I should have done more. I never thought he’d need such hands-on, in-your-face help.” (My dad half-laughs. It’s not what you want, he reminds me. It’s not about you, it’s not what’s easy. Just keep doing one day at a time. His future is going to be great.)

Tomorrow, I will take a list out of his backpack and instantly make phone calls and set up a series of interviews and another round of evaluations. And then someone will be by his side in his classroom, keeping him in his seat and putting pencils in his hand. Grabbing his attention, sometimes his hand. Tomorrow will suck.

Today sucks more.
Because today is like the day I held that chromosome test. I have already Google’d a thousand things about aides and TSS’s and yet another part of a future I don’t want for my child creeps into my head. Research and educating and an e-mail to family (er, please accept this blog entry?).

And then we inhale deeply and try to sleep today away. And make sure to write a note of gratitude to Miss Joanie in the morning. And turn around to the positive side and likely move on from it all before some of you even read this. We will appreciate extra help and extra possibilities. We will probably love him or her as much as we loved his Early Intervention therapists, some of whom we still FaceBook message and e-mail on a regular basis. Just like his first teachers. They’ve all been on Team Zack. If you’re not on our team, get off the freakin’ field.

I know how lucky I am and we are and how great Zack is doing. Vocabulary continues to grow by the day. Conversations happen and “I love you”s repeated. Eating difficult food with utensils on his own. Learning how to use the potty. He’s so, so smart.

It’s just that today, I need to let myself be angry and upset and just get through this in-my-face reminder. I have to again grieve a lost baby that we had planned for five years ago and reacquaint myself again with this beautiful boy who now rocks every minute of my life. Because every now and then, I forget that this is not what my other Mommy friends are doing. But I know also that there are a million Mommas with worse concerns and scarier moments.

Remind me that John Lennon said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” I dare you. I’ve already listened to six Beatles songs today.

Every now and then, life and its’ plans stare me in the face. We salute our glasses, nod our heads, sing some John Lennon and we fight over who gets to hug Zack first and tighter and longer.

I will always fight harder. I will always squeeze tighter.
Like I did four years and three months ago. Then, I learned about an extra chromosome.
Today, I open my heart to an extra pair of hands. And am so grateful for my Dad 100 miles away in a restaurant parking lot reminding me of potential.

I will keep my promise, Zack.

StapleHead and some snippets

We’ve had a lot of sweet nicknames for our daughter throughout the past two-and-a-half years: Girly Girlz… Raddison/Baddison/Maddison/Saddison… AddieBugs… and now, StapleHead.

StapleHead is a recent addition to our quirky Addie nicknames. It all began Friday morning when Addie’s head may or may not have had an unfortunate run-in with the corner of trim in our living room doorway. A mother’s worst nightmare — you pick up your screaming daughter to console her and see the blood drops on the floor and feel your hand is wet from where you were petting your daughter’s hair.

Fast forward to Scott making it home in a record eight minutes and getting ourselves acquainted with the nearest Urgent Care and voila! — three staples and a little girl running around saying, “Doctor fix my hair” and “I had fun on my adventure!” and “Zack broke my head.”

She’s totally fine and I’m grateful Scott takes her for staple removal on Friday and not me.

I knew she’d be the one to give us an emergency room visit that involved blood first, but I was at least hoping she’d wait another few years. (Or that Scott would be with the kids and not me, haha!)

*Zack has learned how to open his bedroom door!
Hooray!
And end hooray! It’s getting really old already!

He opens it all the time. During nap time… Creeeaaaak! Middle of the night… Oh, just sneaking downstairs and eating some Cheez-Its on the couch in the dark. Early morning visits to Momma’s bed with shrieks of “schnack!”

* We have turned into Skype-aholics! Scott kicked it up a notch by somehow connecting our video streams to our 42-inch flat-screen TV. We tested it out with cousin Becky and her family and the kids got a kick out of seeing their cousins’ guinea pic on the wall! We’ve also recently Skype’d Gammaw and Pappy. Send us a Skype invite and I can promise you dancing stuffed animals and Addie asking you to come see her new room. Zack will most definitely dance, too!

* It’s the month of being thankful — and giving back, too!
We’ve donated some toys to local charities and just gave two boxes filled with non-perishable food items for a Thanksgiving food drive. There’s a thousand people in your community who probably don’t have loved ones to visit or a turkey to cook next week. Let’s help them out, right? And if you’re doing online shopping, see if you can help a charity while you shop, like Amazon’s Smile. (We support National Down Syndrome Society through them!)

I’m also focusing on starting traditions this year with the kids. Things that will become more important than any gift you can unwrap on Christmas morning. Making snowmen and tasting hot cocoa and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and making handmade treasures for those that love us.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving again this year and we are most looking forward to a large enough kitchen for cooking a large enough meal. No more cramped counter problems!

And in even snippier snippets:
– Addie’s record counting is 1 through 14. Her favorite color seems to have moved away from purple — perhaps green or yellow? (“Geen” and “Yeh-no”)
– Zack has started saying unsolicited “I love you”s to me. Happy = understatement. He also is starting to tell me a little bit about school after bus drop-off each day. Today, I caught “Joanie” (his teacher) and “play friends” and that works for me!
– Scott finally has more help at his store! Fingers crossed this means a near-future end to six-day work weeks and a good bulk of his stress!
– My photography biz is kicking butt! I have a mentoring session at the end of this month, have had some very successful recent sessions AND am getting a new camera and lens any day now!

Alright, duty calls! There is PB&J to be made and snuggles to give and laundry to fold and put away and crocheting to complete!

Have a great week!!!

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.

Asbury Adventure

Have you noticed a theme these past couple of months?

The Zee Family has been having itself some adventures.

Adventure.

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

Adventure.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an adventure. A great, joyful, peaceful

Adventure.

 

 

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Lil snippets

***

Addie’s counting goes something like this:

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

 

***

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

Now THAT is a great start to your day.

 

***

 

I’ve returned to writing. Very minimally.

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

My first three stories are under my belt.

It’s good to be back.

 

 

***

 

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

Where’s the parking garage?

I brought a notebook!

 

***

 

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

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

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

“I SUCK!”

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

“I’m Zack’s Mommy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

 

***