Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mindfulness (I'm a Half-Ass Mom)

I am constantly researching, reading, and questioning everything related to Down syndrome. As a way to weed through the vast amounts of information available to me, I have changed the way I look at it all. When I hear about something more than two or three times, I take that as my signal to investigate further. That’s the only way I can keep my sanity when it comes to a new book to read, a new therapy tool, or a vitamin or supplement that may or may not help Ellie in the long run.

I use this method when it comes to regular life too. And in the past couple of weeks I have heard the word “mindfulness” at least five times. It was while watching a youtube clip, talking with my friends, as well as listening to a new book during my commute to work. Someone is definitely trying to tell me something. The definition of mindfulness is “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience”. So I’m taking this as a sign, and I’m going to try my absolute hardest to make it a reality.

I've been asked lately “how do you do it all?” because I work full time, have 3 kids (two boys who are in sports and a daughter with special needs), I do photography, helped launch a non-profit, have a home to clean, meals to make, laundry to do (oh the laundry), and the list goes on. I've been jokingly replying “oh believe me, I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown”. Then I remembered my mom saying “thoughts become things” and damn if I didn't bring that thought to fruition! I am seriously about to lose it. I'm hanging by a thread and I think my husband is genuinely worried I will quit my job. I told Jesse “something’s gotta give”, and so I've decided it’s me. I need to be the one to change. I’m going to do my best to initiate change into my hectic and hurried life. I'm not "doing it all", and to be totally honest, I'm not even doing half of it. I'm half-assing it in the areas that matter the most and deserve my full attention.

My first step is that damn phone of mine. I’m always plugged in. Always. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I’m addicted to that device. I always have it on the bedside table next to me at night. Some nights I will be online until 1am or later reading blogs and articles or chatting with new moms who need my support. I have a habit of continually checking my phone… work email, personal email, Facebook. In that order, over and over again. As if I'm going to miss something if I don’t look every 5 minutes. What has happened is that I am not giving my kids my full attention. It’s like half-assed attention as I’m trying to reply to a message. I need to look at my babies in their faces when they ask me for a juice box or a snack. I need to see their beautiful eyes when I ask them how their day was. I need to be in the present.

So I started a week ago. I put my phone down. I am only going to check it when the kids are not with me, or are in bed. I’m not going to be as frantic about checking my work emails when I’m not at work. It’s not what’s important, my boss even told me to quit doing emails at night! My kids are growing up before my eyes, and I feel like I’m not there to watch it. I’m also not bringing my phone to bed. I’m going to leave it downstairs so I don’t look at it every time it buzzes… halfway asleep with one eye open. Who does that? Oh yeah, I do.

The second area I’m going to try to work on is my eating habits. I have a 50% chance of Type 2 Diabetes because I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with Ellie. I love to eat and so does Jesse. We center our lives around entertaining and enjoying good meals. Not to mention yummy cocktails which are also bad for the waistline- OK maybe that's just my weakness. Our whole family has a love for pizza and blizzards from Dairy Queen. Even my almost 7 year old Will is known for saying “oh mom this is so bad.. it’s good!” My amazing friend sent me a TED talk by Sandra Aamodt about why dieting doesn't work. If you have an extra 13 minutes I suggest you watch it.

Sandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn't usually work

As I was watching, I heard her say “mindfulness”. There it was again, that word! I just need to be aware of what I’m putting in my body. But I can't obsess over it. I tend to senselessly shovel Juanita’s chips in my mouth as I cook dinner. I need to take a step back and look at what I'm doing. Just be aware.

The third and last baby step I am taking is to be mindful during the nighttime routine with my kids. Jesse and I take turns putting the boys to bed. Usually they will both sit on our laps and Will gets his reading homework done. It’s been getting to where we are shortening it more and more.. “pick a shorter book”, “we are just doing prayers tonight you guys stayed up way too late”, “I’ll tell you one story, but it’s going to be a quick one”, “it’s way too late, no stories tonight you guys need your

What am I doing? How much longer will my boys sit on my lap and snuggle me? Why am I shortening this precious time each night? These moments will end up being non-existent if I continue on this path. I tested myself this weekend, it was the middle of the day on Saturday. I had tons of stuff to do around the house, the list seems endless. Luke was cranky so I asked him if he’d take a nap. He is almost 5, so even the word nap stresses him out. I told him I would feed Ellie in the rocking chair and he could lay in bed and I’d tell him a story. He liked the idea. I ended up spending 45 minutes with Luke while Ellie drank her bottle and fell asleep. We sang songs back and forth. He was not shy about showing me how he knew every word to “Let it Go” and “Do you Wanna Build a Snowman”. I had no idea he knew every last word, I had no clue. That 45 minutes was awesome. He woke up happy and revived, and my heart felt full.

The best part of my week, the Saturday morning bed raid.
Parenting is a constant learning experience for me. From the wise words of my mama, “if something isn't working, change it.” Well it’s time for me to change. As a working mom, I have 4 hours at night with my kids during the week. 4 hours. That isn't a lot. And on sports nights, that time is cut in half. I have to be available and there for my babies, in body as well as mind and spirit. I’m so grateful for the nudges I have received these past couple of weeks. Mindfulness. I hear you, loud and clear.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Have One Too

"Aren't you a pretty girl? You are just so sweet! You are a precious "special" girl, aren't you?" I started to feel my cheeks turn pink. I was nervous and even a little annoyed, thinking to myself "oh please don't tell me how happy they all are, and how they all love to dance." Ugh.

I was at Target with Ellie doing some shopping and was in line checking out. I could tell this woman, who was most likely in her 70's had noticed that Ellie has Down syndrome. I feel bad now that I assumed that she was going that route- the generalized "they are all happy" route, but I hear it practically every time I take my girl out in public. I smiled at the woman and started heading out the door and she quickly yells... "I have one too, my daughter!" I turned around and said "oh that's awesome!" and walked to my car, but I wanted to run back and ask her all about her daughter. Unfortunately my nerves got the best of me. But then at my next stop that day, I got that chance.

Ellie and I were strolling along the granola bar section at Costco and I was stopped by a couple who were probably in their late 60's. They couldn't keep their eyes off Ellie and were asking me all about her. She was doing her usual double-handed giant wave and "smizing" (smiling with her eyes) and they were loving it. Finally the woman says "we also have a special angel" to which I asked "oh, how old is she?" They went on to explain that her name was Andrea, and she had passed away when she was 9 years old. She had multiple health issues in her short life. My heart sank. The man grabbed his wallet, and pulled out a torn and faded school picture. She was beautiful with her brown hair falling down around her pretty slanted eyes. He handed me the picture and I showed Ellie, she immediately gave the photo a kiss. I had tears in my eyes as they proudly talked about their daughter. She would be 35 if she were still here, the same age as me. I was so grateful for that couple who shared their gorgeous Andrea with me that day. 

As I was checking out I couldn't stop thinking about that couple and their girl. I was turning to leave and my new friend came up behind me "can we exchange numbers?" she asked. I was so excited. "Yes!" I gave her my info and she gave me hers. She has a friend who has a daughter in her 20's with Down syndrome who lives downtown Portland, takes the Max to work and is in Zumba class. She is independent and doing awesome. She wants to introduce me to this gal's mother, who she said was such an advocate for her daughter who is doing so well. I hope I see this woman again someday. She really made my day and I honestly think I was meant to meet her.

I can't quite put my finger on what the "thing" is that happens when I meet other families who have been touched by Down syndrome, but it's amazing to me. It's like a secret club, a connection, a feeling of knowing, and it's beyond just having something in common. My family feels it, and even my friends too. Even the connection I have with the moms I've met online is hard to put into words. They are from all walks of life, and across the globe. We have spent countless hours sharing advice, worries, and triumphs. I haven't met them in person yet I feel a bond to these ladies. I have met families in real life and can't help but feel like there is something more. When Ellie was around 6 months old, I read a very interesting book and this paragraph gave me goose bumps:

"When I spoke with parents of handicapped children, all commented on the extraordinary people they met as a result of their children's handicaps - people they felt they already knew. In all likelihood, they did. There is often a special bond that goes well beyond the commonality of having handicapped children."

I don't know if I'll ever unlock the mystery to this connection I feel to these families, so I'm just going to go with it. I'm going to count my blessings and just be grateful every single day. I know that I will continue to meet new people who are on the same journey as me. They will be just beginning, or will be more seasoned pros offering invaluable advice. I look forward to talking to new moms and to be able tell them "it will be OK, I promise", just like others told me.

This week's song is one that I used to love when Jesse and I started dating over 10 years ago. It's funny how the lyrics to a song can evolve as your life changes, this one has taken on a new meaning for me. xoxo

Wave on Wave - Pat Green