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Saturday, October 28, 2017

When My Child With Hypotonia Becomes Too Big To Carry

When she was a baby, I never put her down. In fact, after the doctors told me she had Hypotonia, I worried it was because I held her too much. I held her while I decorated the Christmas tree, and I iced Christmas cookies with one hand, so I could keep holding her with the other. I savored every early morning snuggle and the way her little body nuzzled next to mine as I held her in my arms and rocked her to sleep.  She was my last baby. Holding her was a fast fleeting privilege.

I held her during blood draws in the hospital's lab and during genetic and neurological exams that produced no answers. And as much as I hated being in a hospital, I knew I was a lucky one -- a parent who got to leave the hospital with her baby still in her arms.

Before she was able to walk, I held her. And when she mastered her first steps, but her muscles grew tired, I held her. I held her in the swimming pool -- for hours on end -- before she was coordinated enough to sit unassisted on a baby raft.

I held her when she grew tired of strollers and wanted to roam the zoo independently but couldn't keep up. When the crowds were too large or the hills were to steep, I held her. I held her as we meandered up and down the streets of Maryland one summer and down the aisles of Target.

But, now she is heavier,  and I'm no longer strong enough to lift her up into a shopping cart seat. And she is taller. Her feet dangle awkwardly at my knees. And she is almost five, which means she doesn't always want my help, but sometimes, she still needs it.

So, I hold her.

I know, one day I won't be able to hold her, at least not like I do now and certainly not like I did before. I know, one day, my back will hurt too much and my own muscles will be too weak. I know that when that moment comes, my heart will hurt a little.

"Pick a pumpkin you can carry," I remind her as she eyeballs the biggest pumpkins in the patch. The irony of those words are not lost on me. If anyone knows, I know that sometimes we get more than we can physically carry.

"I want this yellow one," she says, bending down to hoist it up. It is not too big at all, but I also know we have a long walk back to the car. I picture myself carrying her and the pumpkin, and I question if I am physically capable of making it to the car with both the pumpkin and her intact.

"It's kind of a heavy one," I remind her. "It might be hard to carry."

She stares at the pumpkin for a moment and shakes her head, "Nope. I love this one, momma. I love it so much that I can hold it -- all the way to the car."

It is true that someday she will be too big for my two arms to carry, but she will never be too heavy for my heart to hold.

#Hypotonia

It Takes A Village

"It takes a village," I said reassuringly as I helped a fellow mom in the grocery checkout line. I chatted with her toddler who was strapped in the cart as she tried to wrangle candy out of the hands of her two older kids. It was one of the first times, since becoming a mother myself, I had the opportunity to shop alone. "Thank you. It definitely takes a BIG village," she replied with a smile as we went our separate ways.

And it does truly take a village to raise a child. It takes classroom teachers and Sunday school teachers. It takes soccer coaches and occupational therapists and pediatricians. It takes the mom at the playground who calmly corrects and lovingly redirects your kiddo when he is wrong. It takes your neighbor across the street who lets you know your preschooler is urinating in the front yard again.

From grandparents to random women in the grocery checkout line, raising a child is a team effort. And yet, so many parents -- myself included -- feel as if parenting is supposed to be a solo act. Between helping our kids complete elaborate science fair projects for school, ushering them to yet another football game, and praying for bedtime, it is easy to forget the village exists and there is a network of people who are capable and willing to help us maneuver through this parenthood gig.

I found myself questioning if the proverbial village was still in tact yesterday evening. My husband was away on business, and I was in charge of the kids. The day was a textbook  example of Murphy's Law: everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The day started with C refusing to wear any clothing with a tag and L forgetting her cheer shoes. I was delayed at work, found myself stuck in traffic, and I was late picking up both girls from school. I couldn't find where L's cheer practice was at, I got stuck in the rain, and C had an epic meltdown. We forgot C's backpack at cheer and didn't realize it till we were pulling in the driveway. There was another meltdown. And by bath time and bedtime kisses, I was ready to have a meltdown of my own.

I felt so alone, so emotionally exhausted, so physically tired and so mentally overwhelmed. And while worse things could have surely happened, it was all just too much for me at the moment. I called my husband to vent.

He answered on the second ring, but his voice was hard to make out against the background noise of his hotel lobby. Honestly, I did not really care if I could hear him, because I was the one who needed to be heard. I didn't ask about his day. I didn't even respond to his "hi!" Instead, I immediately broke down, and in between my sobs, I told him about my awful day parenting alone.

After five consecutive minutes of talking about my trials through my tears, I took a deep breath and paused. My husband said something in response to me asking if I may have unintentionally blinded one of the kiddos when she got shampoo in her eyes during bath, but I couldn't hear what he said. "You're breaking up," I responded. "I will talk to you later. Thanks for listening," I said as I hung up the phone.

I laid down in bed, and thought about how nice it was for my husband to just listen. Surely, he had a busy day as well. He was probably tired from traveling. He probably wanted nothing more than to unwind in his hotel room, but he listened to me, and he didn't even try to tell me how to fix any of the number of things that were bothering me. I suddenly felt much better and ready to face whatever else might be unexpectedly thrown my way.

And then my phone buzzed. A text message. I fumbled through the new phone I just recently purchased, trying to figure out how to pull up the text. It was a message from my husband: "Sorry. I think you have the wrong number."

I stared at the message for a few minutes contemplating if this was his failed attempt at trying to get me to laugh. That's when I realized that this was the only text message my husband and I had exchanged according to my new phone, even though we had texted throughout the day.

It was then that it dawned on me. For whatever reason, my new phone had not transferred over my husband's new phone number. Ladies and gentlemen, I sobbed and screamed and bared my soul to a complete stranger -- for five, uninterrupted minutes (according to my phone's call log.) And even though he could have hung up on me or muted me (maybe he did), he just listened. This complete stranger, who I thought was my husband, listened to this exhausted mom recount her day, and that meant everything. He made a tremendous difference.

Parents, if you too are questioning whether the village is still alive and thriving, it is. Good people are still out there, and sometimes all we need is a gentle nudge -- like a phone call to the wrong number -- to remind us that we are not in this alone.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Wear Pink in October

When she put her socks on today, she looked at me and said, "Why are we wearing these?" And we talked about  Breast Cancer and the many women we love who have fought a battle against it. 

When she took her socks off after the game, she looked at me and said, "I lift up other girls at every game. I make sure they never fall. If I think they are going to, I catch them. I get all sorts of bumps and bruises." And she's right; she does.

She handed me her pink socks, "These are a good reminder to be the type of person who lifts people up on and off the field -- when they are sick, when they are sad, when they are feeling weak, when they are struggling. And if we see someone who loses their strength and is about to fall, these are a good reminder to be the type of person who reaches out with whatever strength we have left and catches them...even if that means we end up with a few bumps and bruises."

Why You Should Avoid the Easy Way

She's never taken the easy way in life -- intentionally or unintentionally.

Take for instance her arrival into the world. It was a scheduled, repeat C-section, and as planned as such an event can possibly be.  Unexpectedly, she decided to make her appearance the morning before. And she wasn't willing to wait for the operating room to open. Our doctor had to arm wrestle another so we could hopefully bump ahead. Luckily, our doctor won.

Her diagnosis -- or lack thereof -- isn't an easy one either. It's hidden deep in her muscles, and its cause is lurking even deeper in murky waters.

Learning to sit and crawl and walk were not easy tasks. Each took an extreme amount of drive and determination. And when faced with a challenge -- like walking up a hill -- she does so with a smile on her face and backwards.

She refuses to spell her name out loud without signing it too. When given the choice, she always chooses the puzzle with the most pieces and the storybook with the most pages. And though walking is easier on her muscles, she always picks to run.

Today, when the cashier placed two bags on the counter, I watched her. She picked up a bag filled with pens and gum and placed it directly back on the counter. Eagerly, she reached for the other bag; it was filled to the brim and so heavy that it dangled down near her knees as she walked with it.

"Are you sure that bag isn't too heavy," I asked. She shook her head "no," as we made our way to the car.

"I like the heavier ones, momma," she replied with a scrunchy nosed smile. "I don't like the easy ones."

I chuckled to myself as I put the car in drive. "You never pick the easy way do you," I asked her while she hummed along to the radio. I watched as she let my words sink in.

"Nope."

"Why is that?"

"I like to pick the hard way so I always remember I can," she chirped back.

"Remember you can what?" I asked.

"That I can do whatever I put my mind to," she responded as she reached for a bag so much heavier and bigger than she is.

And I watched in admiration as she took the long way into the house -- running, up a hill, heavy bag in hand, smile on her face, shouting, "See, momma, I can do it!"

In that moment, I was reminded that we always have a choice when things are challenging in life. We can complain about the difficulties or we can embrace them.  We can face our obstacles with defeat in our hearts or with smiles on our faces. We can ask, "why me?" or we can be thankful for the challenges that remind us of everything we can do when we put our minds to it.

#hypotonia

Superheroes Are Made in Therapy

"I know why I go to therapy, momma," you told me one day when you were three. "It's so I can be a superhero when I grow up and save the world." I smiled.

You had never asked me why a therapist visited you at school but didn't visit other kids. Not once did you question why you went to a therapy center and your sister did not. For you, therapy had been a part of every day life since you were an infant. You had no need for questions. You had the answers.  Therapy was helping you grow into a superhero, and I never told you otherwise.

Recently, you confided in me. "Momma," you said, "I don't think my therapy is working." There was an unusual urgency and concern in your voice. "I don't have any superpowers yet. I can't fly or become invisible. I don't read minds. And I'm not super strong." You paused and took a deep breath. "I don't think I'm going to save the world," you whispered apologetically.

I scooped you up in my arms, and I tried to tell you about all the awesome powers you have gained because of therapy. I wanted you to know that the first steps you took were far more inspiring and uplifting than flying could ever be. I wanted you to understand that learning to hold a pencil and writing your letters and reading your name was just as big of an accomplishment as being able to read minds. I needed you to know that just being you was more than enough.

I explained to you that superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. You nodded when I said that the best superheroes often look like everyday people. "And their superpowers aren't necessarily invisibility and flying," I said. "Instead, they have the power to be kind, to help others, and to never give up -- no matter how hard something might be." You gave me a hug, and I wondered if my words really had any weight.

Until yesterday, when I walked into your classroom and you grabbed me by the hand and walked me over to a paper all about YOU that was displayed on the wall. It read: "When I grow up, I want to...feed homeless and sick people."

You beamed with pride, stood tall, looked me in the eyes and said, "Momma, this is my superpower. I'm gonna save the world."

I squeezed your hand a little tighter. "Yes, you will," I replied. And my heart was happy for everyday superheroes -- like you -- who come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes with all sorts of different powers and abilities.

#hypotonia

A Thank You to Teachers As Another School Year Starts

Dear Teacher,

Maybe today is your first day back or maybe you've been back at school for a week or two.

Maybe this is your first year teaching or maybe this is your last year before retirement.

Maybe you skipped into school ready to conquer another day or maybe your feet moved a little slower as you inched your way to the school doors.

Maybe your room is completely set-up and your lesson are meticulously planned or maybe you are taking it "one day at a time."

Maybe you feel confident and comfortable or maybe you feel slightly unsteady and a little unsure.

Maybe you came home today energized and eager or maybe you are absolutely exhausted.

While there are so many "maybes," there is one certain truth: Dear teacher, you are important.

You inspire and motivate, and you uplift and reassure.

You have the power to remind each person of the goodness that exists in them.

You empower and you encourage.

You are a kind word and an empathetic ear.

You instill courage and confidence.

You are a constant in an ever-changing and often unpredictable world.

You are a builder of the future.

So, maybe your back aches and your feet hurt and your brain is completely overwhelmed.

But your heart is full.

And with every kind smile and each encouraging word, you fill the hearts of so many around you.

Thank you.

#teachers #backtoschool

Why I Will Always Make Time to Hold My Kid's Hand

"Momma, hold my hand," you say to me at bedtime. Your blue eyes widen as your lips soften into a pout. "Just for a little while, momma."

Without hesitation, I climb into your bed, snuggle beside you, and watch as you wrap your hand tightly around one of my fingers. You make soft circles on my hand and trace over lines on my palm, and your eyelids become heavy with each stroke of your fingertips. Before you drift off to sleep, you squeeze my hand and repeat, "Hold my hand, momma. Just for a little while."

And I do, because in a little while, you will no longer fit on my lap and you will no longer want to be rocked to sleep. You won't ask me to read just one more bedtime story, and I will no longer be strong enough to carry you here and there. In a little while, you won't need me to help you tie your shoes or push you on the park swings. You will not want to braid and brush my hair and you won't care to sing silly songs with me. In a little while, you will no longer reach for my hand to hold when crossing the street or walking through the aisles of a busy store or at the end of a long day.

"Hold my hand, momma. Just for a little while," you ask of me. And I do. And I always will, because the "little whiles" in life are fast fleeting -- faster than we think.

#motherhood #momlife