Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer Wrap Up

I've basically fallen off the blogging grid this summer. I started out with high hopes; I was going to chronicle all of the fun things we did, starting with our awesome beach trip. But the cruel reality of this summer has been that caring for and entertaining a 2 and 3 year old has kept me busy and exhausted, and there hasn't been a great deal of time for anything else. 

I want to sit here and say that our summer was a fun-filled breeze but it wasn't. While it actually was a lot of fun, it was also very challenging. Neither of my children is potty-trained yet (I know, clearly I'm at the top of the list for Mother Of The Year) so there were lots of diaper changes, which Patrick still loves to physically fight me on for some strange reason. Also, he still tosses poop diapers around if he yanks it away from me in time, joy. Neither of them can dress or undress themselves (though we made some progress in this area over the summer and maybe Patrick fights me slightly less when I dress him?). Neither can do their shoes or bring me their snack or drink cups to refill, or look for lost snack or drink cups for that matter. And they don't eat meals I make them - just a minimum of a dozen snacks a day. Patrick has gotten better about walking but still prefers to be carried - and he's 41 pounds. Neither likes to cooperate while I put on sunscreen so they cry and Patrick flails around and runs away from me as if he were on fire. There's been rivalry, hair pulling, hitting and shoving. There have been tantrums and meltdowns. Screaming. Crying. Fighting. Literal holes in the wall. Messes and stains galore. Days where my hardwood floors appeared to actually be carpet as they were covered in Cheerios and Ritz cracker dust. Bodily injuries. A stomach bug. And I feel like I've heard "Mom! Mom! MAAMAA!" whined or shouted at least a hundred thousand times. 

This was a summer I didn't see coming. At the end of last summer I thought, "well next summer they'll be older and listening to directions." Past Page, your idealistic vision of the future failed me. I learned the joys of two kids (not listening) running opposite directions, and I learned the harsh reality that I can no longer carry them both. I learned that these ages are a challenging combination. They are still very reliant on me for almost everything yet they are now old enough to assert themselves with one another and with me. 

With all of that said, I'm very proud of myself. As this summer winds to a close, I have to give myself a gigantic pat on the back. I did so much for them this summer. I tried to make it as fun-filled as possible, and I genuinely believe during this challenge level of parenting, that I did. There's nothing on the summer bucket list that we didn't do! 

At the beginning of summer my goal was that I was going to make sure that a minimum of three days a week I did something fun with them. Either play dates or field trips but that I planned to take them somewhere fun or to play with friends. I blew this goal out of the water. We ended up having very few days where we were at home all day. If we did it was usually a rain day or a scorcher. Obviously we did fun things at home when we weren't on an outing but I didn't want to spend the whole summer cooped up inside, and we definitely didn't. And to anyone reading who thinks taking them out of the house is hardly an accomplishment, you are totally welcome to borrow my children to take on as many outings as you like ;)

Ok, a laundry list of summer 2017! 

We went to the beach for a week (best week ever). We went to the pool. We visited a Children's Museum. The kids rode bumper boats for the first time. We frequented the petting zoo, various parks and playgrounds, and the splash pad. We hosted and attended our MOMS Club playgroup. We did lots of play dates. We did lots of deck time: eating Popsicles, playing with the water table, sand table, baby pool and bubble machine. We did our red neck pool parties with our inflatable pool an running through the sprinkler. We did wagon rides and trail walks. We were in and watched a Fourth of July parade. The kids went to a Japanese hibachi restaurant for the first time. We went to the mall play place and rode the carousel on a rainy day. Hartley got her first haircut (and Patrick got his fourth!). We went to Udvar Hazy (the Air & Space museum). We went to Theatre In The Woods at Wolf Trap to see Pinkalicuous and Wilhelmina the Opera. We threw Patrick a 2nd birthday party with friends and family. We took the kids to the Baltimore Aquarium. We got to see a Rocknosceros concert at Burke Lake Park. The kids got to go have fun-filled days playing at Nana & Poppy's house or splashing around in their neighborhood pool. On my low key days with the kids, we did art time inside - coloring or painting. We played with toys. Patrick's favorite toy this summer was his trains and train tracks so we designed lots of fun track set ups. Hartley's favorite toys to play with were ones where she could do pretend play, so playing with figurines (Peppa ones, calico critters) in her Little People dollhouse. She also loved attempting to play House with Patrick. We read books and baked. And jumped on the bed a million times! We took a lot of just for fun baths in mama's tub, and we snuggled and watched movies in our jammies. 

I learned to be picky with the places I took the kids by myself. We obviously jumped at play date invites since I can easily take them to other people's houses. When we were solo I would either do the petting zoo, small less-crowded playgrounds or ones with fences, and a small less-crowded splashpad near our house. Unfortunately nothing is walkable from our house and that's why a lot of outings are productions for us. Last  summer Patrick wasn't walking so we did way more variety, and this summer I just had to be pickier. The wagon was my people mover of choice this year but for quick gym or errand runs I used my double stroller. I only think I went out once by myself without a stroller or wagon (which I learned was a mistake). I learned backpacks are gold. I use to think a backpack diaper bag looked dorky but this summer I needed both hands, and my new backpack saved my life. Just my two cents if anyone else out there finds themselves juggling a 2 & 3 year old! 

I'm so very ready for school to start but now that that finish line is in sight, I actually do plan to soak up what is left of our summer break. Having Hartley in school five mornings a week is so wonderful for her and it gives us so much structure, but I do know I'll miss her once we get back into the swing of things. Motherhood is such a bizarre, tricky thing: so many moments this summer I just wanted it to be school time, yet I know I will miss her when she's back at school. Patrick will be in school only two mornings a week so that absence feels much more welcome ;) It will be our first time spending regular time apart, and I think/hope it'll be good for us both. 

Anyway, I actually have more to say and write but this was a lot. And I'm living on borrowed nap time so it's for another day. 

Hope everyone gets to soak up the last bits of summer before the most wonderful time of the year starts ;) 

Some photo favorites: 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Story of Patrick Frank

This blog may be a little redundant because I've said a lot of this before but I'm going to write it because as a mom, I can't help but travel down memory lane on my children's birthdays. 

When I stop to think about how Patrick came to be, I realize how much of a miracle he really is. After struggling to conceive Hartley, I never thought I would experience a spontaneous pregnancy. I thought I was "broken", honestly. 

I remember feeling pregnant on Friday December 5th, 2014. We were scheduled to have a morning play date and then have neighbors over for drinks in the evening. I woke up nauseous and sweaty, and I literally felt pregnant. I knew I couldn't be and thought it had to be the flu. So I cancelled the play date but I ran out to Target to buy a pregnancy test to rule that out. Yep, right on the conveyer next to my wine because of the drinks with neighbors. I had specifically picked to buy my test at Target because they don't have those horribly awkward plastic cases you need to ask someone to unlock. The devil - but, I digress. The thing I hadn't accounted for was how weird it must've looked. I had an infant, wine and a pregnancy test. 

When I got home, I took the test right away. And I could not believe my eyes. I remember standing in my bathroom just in utter disbelief. I called Brian, and he was shocked. I'll never forget him just saying "what?", over and over. It was a very joyous thing. We were very happy but it didn't make any sense to us. I choose to believe (in a very cliche Hallmark channel kind of way) that it was a Christmas miracle. 

I scheduled my first doctor's appointment for shortly before Christmas. Once we were doctor confirmed, we'd tell our families at Christmas. 

Only, our excitement, very quickly turned into anxiety and disappointment. At my first doctors appointment they confirmed I was pregnant. But the baby measured small, and they couldn't find a heartbeat. They also found a blood clot in my uterus. All in all, things did not look promising. And about a week or so before Christmas, which was Hartley's first Christmas, I was told to go home and take it easy. I was told I was in a state of threatened miscarriage, I should go home, be easy on my body, and be prepared to lose my baby. I should call them when I started to cramp or bleed. Otherwise they'd see me for a follow up ultrasound after Christmas. 

I wish I could lie and say I stayed positive but I genuinely thought I was going to lose the baby. I was really sad. This baby wasn't one that I'd begged God for for years but I loved it already. 

Hartley took her first steps. We celebrated Christmas. I tried not to think about what was going on but I pretty much thought about it every second. 

Shortly after Christmas, we went back to the doctor. They did the ultrasound first thing. And sure enough, we heard that beautiful thump thump thumping of his heart right away. He was still there, and he was growing. He heartbeat was perfect. The clot was still there, too. So with a wiggly 10 month old at home, I was placed on modified bed rest. There's nothing they can do for these clots so they tell you to be safe, and you have to hope for the best. They would do ultrasounds every 10 days to see how things looked. 

My mom actually went with me to my 14 week appointment while my dad watched Hartley. Each appointment I went to I knew bad news was an option so sometimes if I could have someone come with me, I did. 

That day they said the clot had shrunk. It was also the day I found out Patrick was a boy. I didn't find out in an elaborate way like I did with Hartley. I really wasn't in a space to do a cake or some Pinterest-worthy reveal. But it was beautiful. My mom was there. My favorite nurse told me she wasn't allowed to show me my panorama test results but she couldn't stop me if I looked at the computer and saw on my own. I read on the screen "MALE", and I bawled happy tears. I said to the nurse that several years ago I thought I might not have a daughter or a son, and how lucky was I that I now get to have both. I was so elated. 

We revealed his name on Facebook - Patrick Godfrey (my maiden name). 

My pregnancy had little bumps along the way. I have massive anxiety at the end. The idea that I was going to be juggling an 18 month old and a newborn was terrifying to me. At the end, I wanted him to come on his induction day because I didn't felt ready; I needed every last day to get ready. But in true Patrick fashion, he surprised me. A week before my due date, I went to bed after popping an Ambien. So when I woke up at 1 am in a puddle, I was in a mental fog. I apologized to Brian for wetting the bed - and then I realized, my water had just broke. I was in labor. 

Things got far more emotional. When I was laboring in the hospital, I learned my grandmother had passed away in her sleep. I remember my mom saying through tears that she was probably taking her last breaths around the time my water broke. It's something that gives me chills to this day. 

I still remember all the details of that day, and how I learned about my grandma. I remember my mom knew before I did, and we listened to this Garth Brooks song about meeting your mom in my delivery room. I was crying. My mom was crying. And I was surprised my mom was crying but I didn't know at the time that she'd just lost her own mother. 

I remember after finding out my Yaya had passed, I told my mom that she didn't have to stay. And she told me there was no place she'd rather be. She told me that Yaya was there with us in the delivery room to make sure everything went safely and smoothly.

After 45 minutes of pushing, I felt that beautiful feeling of relief, and my mom shouted out, "He's here!"  Patrick was born at 7 pm on the dot. I still remember bawling as I held him for the first time. I told him how beautiful he was and that I loved him. 

We changed his name to Patrick Frank to honor my Grandmother Carryl Page Frank, whom I am also named after. I feel like he will always have a connection to her. And I feel like him being born on the day she passed has some very special meaning. 

Whenever I stop to really think about Patrick, I think about all of this. I think about (and I'm sorry, this is cheesy) how he restored my faith. He was this baby who surprised us, and he seemed so determined to stick around and grow and join us. And now I know why, he truly was this wonderful, silly, happy missing piece of our family puzzle that was so beautifully meant to be. I really never knew how much I needed him, and now I literally can't imagine life with out him. 

I always said if he had a slogan it would be: "I'm just happy to be here." 

Patrick Frank, 

At two, you are a man of few words (they are coming in though!) but you're never short on personality. You're hopelessly flirty. You tend to remind us an excited puppy. You freely hand out kisses and hand fives. And you are fiercely close to your sister, who has become your little partner in crime. You still love to be tickled and snuggles. Life is all about cars, trucks and stop signs. You are pure joy. We love you beyond measure. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Burnt out but figuring it out

I think in all the years I've had this blog I haven't written much about myself. I did write about my struggle with infertility and my journey through pregnancy. Then the last three and a half years, my children have been the subject matter on this writing space, and I like it that way. 

But in the past couple years I've had a couple close friends blog about their struggles with anxiety and or depression. When I read what they wrote I felt like their words rang so true to me. I want to write about it but this could easily end up a novel. Well, I'll go for it anyway, a so hear shorter version. I seriously don't even know where to begin though. 

Ok, I'll start with the night I called 911. Brian had been gone longer than normal that week; he was on jury duty. When he would come home, he'd help put the kids to bed, and then he'd get on his own computer and do work. It was obviously a very long, difficult week for him. But it was for me, too. It felt pretty isolating to spend a long week only really communicating with toddlers. I couldn't talk to Brian over text during the day like I usually can, and he didn't have time to talk to me in the evening. I'd already been starting to feel the weight of the 50-60 hours a week I spent solo with our almost 2 and 3 year old so far this summer. Terrible two's and tyrannical threes are not terms I love but maybe it helps to give understanding to those unfamiliar with the age group. And also, those ages make for a rough combination. And then that week happened.

It wore my out pretty badly.

Well the last day of the trial Brian would get home much later than the kids bedtime. I headed up to my bathroom to grab some trash to take out to the garage. I had sat the kids at the kitchen table, each with a stack of Ritz crackers. As I come back downstairs a couple minutes later, Hartley is throwing up crackers. It looks like she's foaming at the mouth. She's coughing and coughing. Then she begins to scream bloody murder. That's a relief because I know she's breathing but she's wailing. Grabbing her throat, grabbing her stomach. Shouting, "yucky cracker!" to me. She won't stop screaming and crying. I'm already fried, I have no husband to be my rock in this situation. I'm asking her questions to try to assess the situation, and she can't respond with words, only shrieking. I frantically call my mom and she doesn't answer. I text Brian that I have an emergency, and he calls my dad, who calls me. My dad will come over but says I should call 911 if I'm really worried. I decide I won't but then I see amidst the shrieking and gagging that blood is starting to come up with Hartley's saliva, and I call 911. The dispatcher can hear Hartley completely distraught in the background, and she tells us she's sending out paramedics right away. 

Long story slightly less long, the paramedics deemed Hartley okay. But I stood in my foyer with them unable to hold back the tears as they rolled down my cheeks. It came up that I had an almost 2 year old in addition to Hartley. I had stowed him in his crib while the paramedics were there to keep the scene slightly calmer. Both of the paramedics, who were parents themselves, looked at me with utter empathy. "Wow, two and three, huh? That's - that's a lot. Go you, Mom." 

But that was the moment it really came to a head. This summer I've had a mouse infestation in my car, that left me housebound with the kids a few times. Brian has been doing lots of schmoozing for work in the evenings, making for very long days at home with no extra hands to help. Patrick is learning how to assert himself just as Hartley is beginning to experiment with pushing his buttons. And I have felt exhausted every single day. Pretty much every day I rev myself up with coffee, in the evenings I take the edge off with wine, and at night, I go for a sleeping pill to stop my racing, overtired mind. And while I have felt burnt out and like a failure, I push those feelings down as far as they can go because right now, my family needs me, and I don't have time to take better care of myself. 

I want Brian to get to do whatever he needs to do for work to further his career and achieve all the goals he has for himself. I want my kids to be happy and entertained and feel loved and secure. And even though there are things I've wanted for myself, I don't really think to much about it because I'm pretty busy thinking about my family and what I can or should do for them. Brian never fails to tell me that he appreciates all I do, and that I am the person who keeps everything running (somewhat) smoothly for our family. 

But around the time of the mouse nest in the van, work entertaining, jury duty, and calling 911 for the infamous yucky cracker, I realized I was starting to fray. You see, I've started to fray before but managed to bandaid fix it with an evening bath, Chinese take out or a run to Target by myself. But this time, I was fraying, and I realized I couldn't use a band aid. No coffee, wine or sleep aid was going to fix my problem. In fact, in some divine clarity, I realized these things were probably making all of my exhaustion worst, and probably taking a horrible toll on my already beyond neglected body. 

I thought about something that would help me, it has to be feasible. Brian has to go to work. He has to go to these Top Golf events and baseball games (it's a pretty rough gig, guys!) I have to take care of my two young kids, who I'm trying to discipline but they will struggle with inside voices, tantrums, hitting and making the craziest, stickiest messes. This is my chapter - that I will mention, I don't hate but it takes a lot of patience and energy, both of which are depleted lately. 

So I got online, did some research, and emailed a gym about membership costs. A gym with fantastic childcare. That was what I wanted. For three and a half years, my children have been like my extremities. I have rarely done anything without them, and I have never ever left them with a babysitter. I have left them with relatives but outside family or preschool for Hartley this past year, they have never been left. I'm pretty sure that's not healthy. Both of my kids are "mama kids". This summer, since Hartley's been out of school, she has become my shadow. She follows me when I change my clothes, use the bathroom and shower. While it is sweet, I can't convey quite what it feels like to never be alone. 

When I emailed for the price quote and went to pitch the idea to Brian, I felt embarrassed. I felt really embarrassed to tell my own husband (who I can tell anything to) that I was having trouble. Physically, mentally and emotionally I was having trouble functioning, and I felt this overwhelming urge to save myself. Like I had been treading water, and I was tired of treading and wanted to take back some control. Some tiny semblance of self. 

And Brian didn't even think for a second. He told me it was a fantastic idea. He told me how much it would be good for all of us. 

I walked in for a consult. I dropped the kids off, and I ran out of the kids club like an ex con breaking out of prison. Sorry, it's horrible but I wanted to rip it off like a band aid. I sat in a consultation office there across from a beautiful, svelte girl who had just graduated college. She sized me up, my squishy body in my pathetic makeshift gym clothes. She asked me how much weight I wanted to lose and how quickly. I muddled through my response trying to explain I just wanted to feel healthy again. I'm pretty sure that didn't make any sense to her. So I told her 20 pounds by Christmas and handed over my credit card. 

So I don't know exactly the point of writing this. I don't know if a gym can fix me. But I'll say my first full week of membership, I went four times. I felt the best I have since maybe even before Hartley was born. I had two days that I didn't even have a cup of coffee! I drank four glasses of wine that week (two for The Bachelorette and two for Friday at home movie date night). I took ZERO sleep aids. And two nights I fell asleep at 9pm

I don't know if other moms feel guilty because they hit a wall and feel like they need to do something for themselves. After three and a half years, I hit my wall. I felt guilt. I felt embarrassment. I felt weak. And in that office, across from that Miss America, I felt like a pathetic, walking cliche. But getting past those feelings, and starting to feel good, I'm feeling less shame. And who knows, maybe I'll lose 20 pounds by Christmas ;) 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tomorrow is the last day of preschool for Hartley before summer break, and this whole week I've been feeling "all the feels", as they say. It's wonderfully bittersweet. While I am over the moon to have her home for summer, I look back on this past school year so happy, so grateful and so immensely proud. 

I can still remember the road that got us here. I remember crying right before Hartley turned two when a doctor told us she was "behind". Up until that point I was a woman who was blissfully unaware of what it was like to have your child's development scrutinized. I entered into a world I knew almost nothing about. I'll never forget driving home from an Infant Toddler Connection assessment where they told Brian and I that Hartley could qualify for special education preschool through the county. And I remember telling him that I did not want Hartley to attend special education preschool. I remember thinking she would have a speech therapist work with her, and that would be that. She would eventually go to community preschool and all of this would just be a faded memory soon enough. 

I don't look back and think that I was ignorant. I don't look back and think I was unaware of what was going on. Every time someone attempted to comfort me by saying Hartley would "catch up", the words cut me because, as her mother, I knew it wasn't a "language delay". For God's sake, my daughter knew the  alphabet in and out of context by the time she was 18 months. Before two, she was counting to 20. She knew her colors, animals, shapes. You name it - she knew it or could learn it almost instantly. But we couldn't get her to answer to her name. We couldn't get her to follow a one step direction or answer the most simple questions.  

But there was still something about the idea of my child being special ed that I was uncomfortable with. That's so horrible and not politically correct but in the beginning, that's where I was. 

As those assessments and meetings and times of talking to professionals added up, and when the words "autism spectrum" started popping up on the radar more and more, things changed a lot for me. I went from a mom who just wanted everything to be typical to a mom who just wanted help for her child. I remember at the end of last summer feeling a lot of desperation and helplessness. I didn't want people to know that that was how I felt but it was. I felt in my heart of hearts that preschool was the answer for Hartley. 

That was also a feeling that evolved so much. In the beginning I wanted anything but special ed preschool and in the end all I wanted was a start date. 

From that start date, the changes in Hartley's development felt almost instant. We noticed progress within the first few weeks. I'll never ever forget after a few weeks of school, we went out to dinner Brian, the kids and I, and Hartley said a couple purposeful sentences. I cried that night. It felt so good to hear my child do more than just labeling. Hearing her thoughts after she synthesized information for the first time was so cool. 

It just kept getting better and better.

I remember writing holiday cards for Hartley's teachers and thanking them for allowing to be able to enjoy my daughter in a whole new way that holiday season. 

I will never ever take for granted being able to ask my child questions and having her answer me. As time went on I could even ask her what she did in school or who she played with, and she could tell me.

With each progress report that came home, there were higher scores indicating her getting closer and closer to mastering the goals on her IEP. 

And not to mention, everyone who saw Hartley regularly before she started school has noted the very noticeable change. As I wrote in my last blog, her developmental pediatrician said she's never seen anything like it.

The past few weeks, she is talking up a storm. It's so fantastic. Even driving through a parking lot, she'll be in her car seat telling me about the different stores we're passing. What they sell and if it's a store or a restaurant. She plays pretend restaurant with stuffed animals, and it's adorable. She also uses these skills at the playground with playmates. Even though she still doesn't always know exactly how to engage kids, she always tries to. She follows them around and is now making fast friends wherever we go. It's been so much fun to watch. Last weekend she "played baseball" with a group of three brothers at the park. She also played tag with another group of boys when we went out to get ice cream. And when the boy's parents called them to leave, they went over to Hartley and said bye to her. 

She tells me everything lately. What she likes and loves and needs or wants. She asks me questions. She also loves to tell people she likes their outfits, and that they are beautiful. The other day I got home from bathing suit shopping, and Hartley found my shopping bag. She pulled out my new suit and said, "Wow, mama! Your new baby suit is beautiful!" Those priceless moments make me feel like I could easily keep her as a three year old forever. I mean, she tells me I'm beautiful in my pajamas! All the heart eye emoticons to that. 

Outside of Hartley's development, I feel like her starting school was great for Patrick and I, too. While I did and do miss having her around, it was the first time I got to really have one on one time with Patrick. That really allowed us to bond. It also really allowed him to come into his own, I think. When I had both of them home his role was more just being in tow and tagging along, and that shifted once he and I starting having our many "mother son dates". 

I also found that school finally gave me a defined schedule, which I had actually greatly been missing since becoming a stay at home mom. Some days it's been pretty stressful to get them both ready for the day and out of the door for drop off by a certain time but it's given us structure that keeps me much more sane. It also got me into the habit of going out many different places with Patrick this spring. Since I already had him loaded into the car we'd almost always go somewhere after drop off. Although, since this has been my life Monday through Friday since the beginning of October I am looking forward to having some mornings this summer where we hang at home in our pajamas ;)

I also feel so lucky for Hartley's wonderful teachers. You seriously could not find a nicer, more patient group of people on the planet. They are amazing at their jobs. I can't believe the crafts and activities they do with the kids - everything from yoga to sensory tables to crafts for any and all occasions. They organized a fun field trip to a local nature center that I got to chaperone. We had a blast as a family at their "water day". 

At water day I got to talk to each of Hartley's teachers, each told me what amazing progress she's made. I had to hold back tears as I thanked them. I told them that we truly could not be any more grateful for what they've done for our daughter and our family. I will always truly believe that this program will have changed my daughter's life because it laid down the very best foundation she could possibly have. 

Our experience with Hartley attending preschool has been so positive that we actually decided to enroll Patrick in preschool two mornings a week next fall. Originally I felt he would be too young but after I see all it's done for Hartley, I'm hoping Patrick has the same experience, and it helps him continue to grow and develop, too! 

Well that was long and all sorts of rambled but I felt like an ode to preschool was in order. I'm so happy for Hartley to have had such a wonderful school year, and I'm pretty excited for summer break to finally be here!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Yesterday we took Hartley for her follow up appointment at Children's Hospital with her Developmental Pediatrician. Brian and I talked the night before how, for once, we weren't dreading an appointment because we could plainly see all of the phenomenal progress Hartley has made since starting school. 

When we got there the doctor could see the change within the first few minutes; it is that noticeable! And maybe 30 minutes into the appointment she told us that Hartley's amazing transformation, in such a short period of time, was the best she's seen in her eight years of working. Brian and I already knew that her progress has been nothing short of incredible. We went from an appointment in the fall where she wouldn't respond to her name, wouldn't give eye contact, and wouldn't answer questions to having a child who could do almost everything that was asked of her. 

I said to the doctor that I think Hartley's teachers are miracle workers. That's seriously how I view them. Her doctor said that while she's sure Hartley has wonderful teachers, not to discount Hartley. She said that even back last fall we knew Hartley was very bright. The fact that she is very intelligent and very willing also deserves credit for her great progress. When I think of it that way, it kind of makes me realize she had all of this inside of her, and her teachers and school seemed to be the magic key to unlock it for us. There will never, ever be words to express how grateful I am for that, and how much I truly believe that early intervention is a life-changing tool for children like Hartley. 

For now, her doctor still thinks Hartley's Autism Spectrum diagnosis is still appropriate for her. She is making incredible strides but her social communication skills are still not completely in line with what you'd typically see for a girl her age. The doctor did said, however, that she could foresee Hartley progressing to a point where a Social Communication Disorder diagnosis would be more appropriate or even possibly someday outgrowing any sort of diagnosis! 

For us, we don't get too caught up in worrying about diagnoses or labels. In the beginning her ASD diagnosis was helpful to me because it felt like an explanation for some of her eccentricities. Now it's helpful because it is giving her access to these services that are helping her so much. However, I can't lie and say that I wasn't excited at that though that Hartley could be in the small percentage of young children that do outgrow their ASD diagnosis. 

She gave us our homework. Someday I'll come on here and elaborate about this. I kind of wish I'd documented from the beginning the various tips and exercises that we've been given throughout the last year or so. I actually think it would be helpful to look back on for ideas of things to do with Patrick! 

And Hartley will be seen again at Children's downtown office in the fall after school starts to do more in depth diagnostic testing. I love how thorough this doctor is. Something Brian and I vowed when we first heard that Hartley was "behind" (doctor's words, not ours) last winter was that we would never allow Hartley to slip through the cracks. We vowed that we would take her to receive whatever testing she needed, and we would follow up to get her whatever help she needed, and we would do all that we could. Now that Hartley is getting better, we will still forge on with the same attitude; she's getting better BECAUSE of these professionals and services. Her doctor said that yesterday. She likened it to antidepressants. She said if someone starts taking antidepressants and they feel better, it doesn't mean they shouldn't continue on with treatment because it is the treatment that's making them better. Hartley's services through the county and her doctor are making her better, but that definitely doesn't mean she shouldn't continue with them. 

All in all, this appointment wasn't exactly new information. As Hartley's mom, and the world's leading Hartley expert, I already knew that she had drastically improved since her last appointment. But there's nothing like a doctor at a renowned children's hospital be blown away by the progress you've been lucky enough to witness. 

If I could talk to me back in September, the woman wiping away tears while she heard her daughter receive her "official" diagnosis, I would give her the biggest hug. If I were to tell her it would all be okay, she wouldn't have believed me. She loved/loves her child so much that she couldn't help but worry for her. But I would tell her that next spring her daughter would be able to tell her about her favorite things and her feelings. I would tell her that Hartley would grow to become the absolute best big sister, so maternal. I would tell her that Hartley would engage her! She would ask her to come to the playroom to have a tea party! I would tell her Hartley would be picking out her outfits and her snacks. That she would put on her own rain boots and proudly boast, "Mama, I did it!" All of those little things that so many parents out there are wishing and praying for, I get to have every day. 

It is never, ever lost on me how lucky Brian and I are. I know that it's a beautiful combination of hard work from lots of various people in our lives including ourselves and our little girl, and someone up above looking out for us.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Baby Ballet

A week ago I was on Facebook and the picture that popped up on my "On This Day" feature was a picture of Hartley at her very first ballet class. I remembered like it was yesterday how hard it was to take that picture. She was beaming because the teacher had given her a purple foam sticker on her hand for a great first class. We, however, didn't actually have a great first class.

Hartley was so excited to go to ballet that day. But as soon as we got there, that changed. It was a new setting with new faces, and she wanted to go home. She clung to me like a tree frog for the entire class. So I galloped and her hopped and danced with her little leotard clad body plastered right against mine. From time to time she would cry. Conservatively she cried at least a quarter of the class. I wanted to cry. I wanted to just storm out and go home. But I didn't. I stayed as calm as I could. I comforted her as my tired body did the moves that all the tiny ballerinas were attempting alongside their moms; I was doing it with the added weight of my 2 year old on my hip. 

I remember talking on the phone with my mom after the class about how I was going to give it a couple more classes at least but my true goal was to make it to every session unless we were sick. But I cried. I knew Hartley was one of the youngest in the class. She wasn't the youngest because another mom of a sweet little blonde girl confessed to me that she signed up for the class even though her daughter was just shy of turning two. 
I also knew that being a Saturday class there were probably some working moms in the bunch, and their daughters had a leg up on being in a "classroom setting" at daycare. So I knew I couldn't expect Hartley to exactly be in the upper echelon of the class. But Hartley stood out in class like a sore thumb. She was the only one who cried, the only one who had to be carried the majority of the class. She was the only one who couldn't even attempt most of the moves. 

Now before you think I'm being tough on her, that not all girls are cut out for dance - this class wasn't/isn't about "dancing" for me. Sure, I think it's wonderful to expose even the youngest of children to the arts & sports but these classes are mainly to learn other skills. You learn social skills, being in a structured environment, following directions, respectful behavior. Heck, Hartley took swimming lessons as an infant. That wasn't about her learning how to swim. It was her getting acclimated to a new environment (the water) and new people/faces. I've heard parents say classes like these are pointless because the child isn't learning the actual skill that young but that's not why we do these activities with our kids. Hartley has taken swimming lessons, music classes, ballet & basketball - not to be a prodigy but to try new things and socialize. 

I'm also not saying that I expected my two year old to obediently follow directions like some perfect little solider either but I'll admit, I was a little surprised just how much we stood out. 

Each class got a little better than the one before. I only had to carry her about half the duration of the second class, and she only cried a couple times. Most of the girls weren't being carried at all and none of the other girls cried. The first handful of sessions of my goals for her didn't have much to do with following directions - mainly just to walk on her own and not have any meltdowns. 

As time went on, I'd push to have her maybe try a few moves throughout class. Usually me contorting her body into a stretch unless she fought me greatly. 

I'd find the songs from class on YouTube and try to get her to practice at home. I got her to practice the forward roll at home. She eventually did it during class with help but I was the only parent who had to walk up each class to stand next to their child and help them. The teacher actually pulled me off to the side one day and told me what a great job I was doing; she could see us getting better each class. Our goals were very different from the other mother daughter pairs but we were accomplishing them little by little! 

One day I was sick and couldn't attend so I sent Brian in my place. I was surprised when they were home so soon after leaving the house. Brian said Hartley kept trying to run out of the room, and when he'd bring her back in she would cry. He said it was awful so they only made it about 15 minutes before throwing in the towel. I knew what he was talking about because that happened in the beginning for me, too. The next week the teacher told me that Hartley was much more comfortable with me than with Brian so we should stick with me bringing her. 

Now, we were making progress but when I say we stood out - I mean that. We did. I wasn't always okay with that either. This was a chapter in my life when there was a big part of me knew something wasn't quite right, and there was another big part of me that wasn't willing to accept that. 

Well, her "recital" ended up being one of the hardest moments of parenthood for me to date. It was terrible. All of the progress we'd seemed to have made over 12 weeks disappeared on the day that family members were invited to watch our class routine. It wasn't just "not following directions", it was running around interrupting all of the other girls trying to dance and focus. The other girls were accepting their certificates. Their proud dads snapping pictures of their perfect ballerinas standing with the teacher and beaming for the camera. And my daughter entered the scene like a tornado taking down anything in her path. She ran in front of the girls as their parents were trying to capture the moment. She'd throw herself in front of them on the mat and wouldn't get up. So I'd run and pick up her thrashing body. She'd be laughing like a mad man or shouting. 

Before they could even call Hartley's name to get her certificate, I did it - I stormed out of the classroom for the first time. I absolutely couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't be the calm, patient mom anymore because what she was doing was no longer just a trivial annoyance. She was ruining things for the other girls in her class, and I wasn't okay with that. Brian and Patrick followed us out of the room. Once we were all in the van and the doors were closed - I bawled. It was like I finally just hit this wall, and everything came out. 

And I'll never ever forget what I said to Brian in the car. I said, "do those people think I'm the world's worst mother or do you think they can tell?" 

"They can tell, Page." 

I think after 12 weeks of seeing her around peers - seeing where we were and where they were, I knew. And even though I said on the ride home I would never do another baby ballet class ever again, I went home and researched adaptive ballet for children on the autism spectrum. I didn't want my daughter not to get to do something just because it was harder for her. Alas, there are no adaptive ballet classes offered in our area. I'll never forget the amount of frustration and helplessness I felt that day. 

And yes, over something as silly as baby ballet. But I said it before, it wasn't ballet. How was she ever going to learn to focus or listen or follow a direction? How was she going to learn to partner with a classmate or take turns or sit still when she needed to? These things aren't perfect for even the most advanced of toddlers but they were (and sometimes still are) mountains for us. The answer as to how she would learn these things? We had/have to do them over and over and over again, far more times than her peers. 

Hartley wanted to take ballet again in the fall. I had no desire to go back but I did it anyway. The first class was great. We still stood out but we picked up where we left off at the end of the spring session. So I didn't have to carry her and there were no tears. Each class, she improved. And get this, for her recital, she accepted her certificate proudly and got her picture taken. She didn't interrupt any of the other girls' spotlight moments. 

A month ago I met a woman in my MOMS Club, and I thought she looked familiar. She asked if I was "Hartley's mom" - turns out she'd been in fall ballet with us. When she asked if that's who I was, I knew that my girl and I still weren't hard to miss. I'm now much more okay with that. I wonder far less about "do they know?" I think most people do, and that's okay. My daughter marches to the beat of her own drummer; that's who she is, and it's not a bad thing.

And I will say this, while some parents have seemed put off by us at times, there actually have also been some really cool parents out there, too. Her spring and fall sessions there were parents who identified that Hartley was unique, and they did the coolest thing about it - they pushed their daughters to partner with Hartley. Hartley never wanted to chasse with a partner, and a few mom's would seek Hartley out and have their daughters take her hands and guide her. Those moments made my heart so happy. And I'll say it, those are great parents who will raise great kids. 

Kicking off her third season of baby ballet has been very smooth. Her first session last week I felt so good. We do have a leg up because these other little ladies are doing this for the first time and we aren't but she now keeps up well. We are still very much learning though. She still loves to do things her own special way. Today wasn't quite as good as last class as far as focusing and following directions, and we'll have days like that, and that's okay. 

Someone recently said to Brian and I that you can always seek comfort in the fact that no matter how your child is behaving, there's always someone else's kid in the room behaving worse. Well, while Brian and I can appreciate that that sentiment is true for most parents, we've had the humbling experience of being the parents wrangling the child who is doing things far differently from other kids. It isn't always easy. You always hope people around you will be kind and understanding, well knowing that not all will be. But we keep trying. And Hartley is incredible at how she keeps trying, too. And I've come to learn at the end of the day, that's what makes good parents and good kids. They keep trying. I learned that from baby ballet ;) 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Early Intervention

Okay, welcome to another venting blog entry. Recently all I want to do is write a blog entry regarding all of the fabulous progress Hartley has made in school but time always escapes me. Well, that and the weather has been so nice that we've been outside every chance we get. 

Disclaimer before I write this: I truly am not writing this to attack an individual. My purpose in writing this is to set the record straight so to speak.

I was hosting Patrick's playgroup at my house this morning when one of moms asked me an interesting question. 

She started talking about some local politics that would affect the county school budget drastically. She said she heard that the "free preschool" might be cut, and that it would be an obvious place to cut back. Now, I'm going to be a stickler here and correct her - let's call this "free preschool" what it really is: special education preschool aka early intervention services for special needs students. Ok, I'm going to be a bit snarky in this because it was highly inappropriate for me to be snarky with this woman in a room filled with toddlers. Let me start by saying I haven't received any information about special education preschool being cut but how do you think I would feel at the prospect? My daughter is flourishing because of these early intervention services, that I happen to think will literally change her life. All of the light I see in my daughter's eyes and all of the communication this service has made possible for my beautiful little girl - how do you think I feel? And I'll even say this, I know we probably have it the best of all the families that would be affected. Our daughter has high functioning autism. If need be, we can afford to send her to private preschool (though finding a fit as good as her current school would admittedly be very hard to come by). But for the families out there who aren't as lucky in these aspects as we are, it would be devastating, catastrophic. 

She couldn't get past the "free" aspect of this preschool. Taxpayers paying to help these children, who have done nothing but merely designed a little differently. Now, in my immediate family we were not affected by special education services; my siblings and I didn't need them. However, my parents raised us to be helpful and accepting of others. They raised us to believe that even if something doesn't directly affect you, you should help others where you can. So honestly, having Hartley brought this cause closer in to my life but my beliefs on this are not because I have a child who has been diagnosed on the spectrum. I'm actually surprised that people who having opposing beliefs to mine have brought them up to me because it is a very personal, very sensitive subject to me now. And this is pathetic but when I spoke to this woman, I had to try to not cry. 

I explained to her that these services will change the lives of many of these children. Early childhood development is so important. My mom who was a teacher for many years always reminds me that the years children don't remember, 0-5 years, are actually the most crucial to their development. I'll admit, before Hartley started preschool I had days where I wondered if she could learn social skills. That lead me to worrying whether or not she could ever go to college, get a job or live independently. I always tried not to get bogged down in those feelings of uncertainty but they would creep in. Other moms were worrying about vegetable-eating, sharing and time outs. And I'm over here breaking out at the thought of my daughter not going to college or getting married. I know that was dramatic of me because she was only two but I didn't see her "getting better". Thanks to special education preschool, these teachers, this county - I believe the sky is the limit for her. I see my daughter walking around in her doctor dress up outfit performing check ups on all her family members, and I think, "maybe she'll be a doctor someday". And when I say it out loud to her - I believe it. 

This mom mentioned people taking advantage of these services and these tax payer dollars simply because their children "talk late". I explained to her that it's not easy to receive these services. Another mom chimed in, "there's an interview, right?" Ok, well I didn't even go into detail. You can read this blog if you want to know how easy it is (read: I binge ate Chinese food, drank lots of wine and barely survived that shit). I did mention to them something I didn't even really address at the time: it was the most stressful period of my life to date. And I know that's not just me being weak because Brian affirmed to me that it was extremely stressful for him, too.

I didn't feel like having this conversation but what I said to this woman was this: I think any parent of a special needs child would rather pay money for preschool and have their child get to develop typically. I love my daughter fiercely, and I would much rather pay a few grand for preschool and never have to worry about her struggling or being teased. And like I said, she's high functioning. She's high functioning and hell, last summer I would've paid those preschool thousands just to have someone guarantee that everything would be okay for her. I don't know - saving money on preschool I guess is nice but I definitely wouldn't choose for Hartley to need it. I am, however, beyond words happy that it's there for her because she needed/needs it. 

I wrote this to get it off my chest. I get that many people can't empathize with something they simply don't understand. But I want to say this in case anyone is receptive to hearing it: I believe in early intervention. I believe it is changing my child's life. No need to ask me where I fall on this issue. And if you don't agree with me, that's fine, but you don't ever need to let me know :)