How my 2yo has taught me to live in the moment

Having a child changes your life. It changes who you are. There’s no doubt about it – you view everything in a different way once you welcome a child into the world. You parents out there know what I mean.

Having a child with special needs drastically changes your life and who you are, or it did for me. The changes have all been positive. I am a better person with a clearer perspective, more compassion, more acceptance of people’s differences and more patience. Thomas has done this for me, and for that I am grateful.

I literally live my life in a different way now than I did before Thomas. Here’s how.

Thomas has taught me to live life in the moment. Like, fully in the moment. To be grateful for what you have right now. To see all the happiness in your life right now. To stop worrying about the silly things you can’t change (or that just don’t really matter all that much – office drama, anyone?).

You see, I could worry all day every day about the future. If I let myself, I’d be in constant tears over what the future could bring (or be an absolute nervous wreck to the point of needing medication). Will Thomas have friends in school once he gets older and kids start to realize he’s made a little different? Will people be mean to him? Will he learn to speak clearly enough for people to understand him? Will he ever be able to hold a job…drive a car…live independently? Will he find love? What happens when Chad and I get too old to care for him, or worse…when we are no longer here to care for him?

OH MY GOSH. Did I just stress you out, or what? I can’t even think about these things. I am a basket case just typing them out.

Here’s what I know right now.

Thomas is loved tremendously (and not just by his adoring family). He is the happiest child because he is loved. He is a rock star at preschool, and sometimes I feel like I’m his entourage. All the teachers know him and love him. Parents know him by name and speak to him as we are walking down the hallway every day. His friends in his class get excited to see him when we walk in the classroom in the morning. This kid is popular.

When we are at the grocery store, Thomas has this ability to make even the most crotchety old man stop, smile and speak to him. Thomas smiles and waves, and you simply have to stop and talk to him. He’s figured out how to be a charmer, and he uses his mad skills freely when we are out and about.  Let me tell ‘ya, he is hard to resist. It’s really hard to not be happy when I’m around Thomas, and I think others would agree. He is happy…he is fun…he is joy.

He’s doing great in all his therapies (more on these in later posts) and is really progressing. He plays and has fun…he throws 2yo tantrums…he gets into 2yo mischief…he’s just a kid doing kid things.

Thomas has a lot going for him. And, he is doing FANTASTIC. And, we are a happy family.

So, why stress about the future when I have no idea what it will bring? I mean, I don’t sit around and worry about what Campbell’s future holds. I’m OK with just letting it happen, and I’ve decided that’s how I’m going to approach Thomas’ future, too. I will be there to support him every step of the way and will help him achieve as much as possible. And, I have every confidence that this boy is going far.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not preparing for the future. We’re putting money into our 401Ks. We’ve drawn up wills and established a special needs trust for Thomas. We are being responsible about the future in a business sense.

But, I refuse to waste away all the fun and happy moments we are having right now for worrying about what’s to come.

I encourage all of you to jump on board with this philosophy. It’s seriously a great way to live. It’s Thanksgiving every day in my world, and I have a very cute 2yo to thank for it.

Having fun at Disney World last spring while riding Jungle Cruise.

Having fun at Disney World last spring while riding Jungle Cruise.

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Journey with Down syndrome: my pledge

Oh, Thomas.

How do I even begin to write about my boy? My precious, funny, smart, amazingly AWESOME boy who makes my heart sit at near-explosion at all times.

As I said in my intro blog post, one of the reasons I couldn’t resist starting a blog is because I want to take part in educating my little corner of the world about Down syndrome. I’ve learned so, so, so much about so, so, so much since Thomas was born in June of 2011, and I’m just bursting at the seams to share what I’ve learned.

For the last few weeks, my mind has been racing ‘round and ‘round about all the things I could share, and I’ve really been struggling with where to start. I’ve decided to begin with a short and sweet post in which I declare a pledge to you.

I will be real and honest.

Those of you who know me know I’m a pretty “real” person (or, I think you know that about me). I have no desire to create a false image of myself or of my family. We are who we are. Period. So, I will not use this blog to paint a perfect picture of life. I will share the immense joy of raising Thomas (and my other children, of course). I also will share the challenges associated with raising a child with Down syndrome. I’m definitely a more optimistic person than pessimistic, so you’ll see that in my approach to raising Thomas.

I am an open person (obviously…I’m blogging), and I want to share my parenting journey. I love to talk about my kids and have to be very intentional about not going on and on {and on and on} about them. I could be wrong, but I think people have questions and curiosities about Thomas and my life with him.  I hope to answer some of these via this blog and hope the fact that I’m blogging demonstrates that anyone and everyone is welcome to ask me questions if you have them. I love to talk about Thomas and am not weirded out in the slightest if you ask me questions about Down syndrome. I am BEYOND proud of my boy and would love nothing more than to talk about him. Down syndrome is not a shush-shush sort of thing in my house. We do not look at it as a bad or negative thing, and you shouldn’t either.

Here are a few recent pictures of Thomas. Oh, how I love this little boy! Looking forward to sharing our journey with you.

One of our last pool days of the summer. What's cuter than a toddler in a diaper??? And doesn't his hair look like that of a teenager here???

One of our last pool days of the summer. What’s cuter than a toddler in a diaper??? And doesn’t his hair look like that of a teenager here???

I never have any problem getting this boy to smile for the camera. He's quick to flash a great smile!

I never have any problem getting this boy to smile for the camera. He’s quick to cheese it up!

Thomas' first night in his "big boy" bed. We found him a twin bed that is very low to the ground so he can get in and out of it. It's perfect for him, and he's done so great in it.

Thomas’ first night in his “big boy” bed. I found him a twin bed that is very low to the ground so he can get in and out of it. It’s perfect for him, and he’s done so great in it.

Signing that he's "all done" with his dinner. The boy LOVES yogurt!

Signing that he’s “all done” with his dinner. The boy LOVES yogurt!

Getting a first-class ride to his first University of Tennessee football game. He loved it (and did better than the 4yo at the game).

Getting a first-class ride from Daddy to his first University of Tennessee football game. He loved it (and did better than the 4yo at the game).

Oh my. Be still my heart.

Oh my. Be still my heart.

Hanging out in the wagon at the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago

Hanging out in the wagon at the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago.

Pecan-crusted chicken tenders

Everyone {especially kids} loves chicken tenders. We love to eat this version of chicken tenders at home, which is a ton healthier than the fried tenders you get at restaurants (which, let’s be honest, also are very good).

My people love this chicken. In fact, as I was making it the other day, Campbell came running in the kitchen to ask what I was making. When I told her pecan chicken tenders, she did a little jump for joy and shouted, “Yay! My favorite!” Heart swell! When you spend meal after meal trying to teach your child to eat her vegetables by convincing her to eat “just three more bites,” having said child declare something you are cooking at her favorite is a major victory. For a moment in time, all was right in the world.

You make the chicken by dredging chicken tenders in flour, then in egg whites, and then in a mixture of saltine crackers, ground-up pecans and spices. I used salt, pepper and paprika, but you could play around with the spice combination to suit your taste.

Cracker/pecan mixture

Cracker/pecan mixture

The chicken tender assembly line

The chicken tender assembly line

Then, you bake and eat. I served the tenders with homemade honey mustard dressing, mashed potatoes and baked zucchini Parmesan crisps.  When reheating your leftovers, I recommend heating these in an oven rather than a microwave. Oven = crispy. Microwave = soggy.

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

These chicken tenders are kid-approved

These chicken tenders are kid-approved

Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

24 saltine crackers, finely crushed

½ c. pecans, ground in food processor

2 tsp. paprika

¾ tsp. salt

Freshly cracked pepper to taste

3 egg whites

½ c. flour

2 packages of chicken tenders (should be 1 ½ to 2 lbs. of chicken)

Cooking spray or EVOO

Step-by-step:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Stir together crushed crackers and next 4 ingredients.
  3. Whisk egg whites just until foamy.
  4. Place a wire rack coated with cooking spray or brushed with EVOO on a foil-lined baking sheet (makes for easy clean-up!).
  5. Dredge chicken tenders in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg white, and then dredge in cracker/pecan mixture. Arrange on wire rack.
  6. Either lightly spray chicken with cooking spray or dab with EVOO.
  7. Bake at 425° for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn once after 12 minutes.

Tips for feeding your family home-cooked meals

It’s hard, y’all. Hard to get a good, home-cooked meal on the table after working all day. I make it a priority to cook as often as I can and have learned some lessons along the way.

Here are my tips for successfully feeding your family home-cooked food. I hope they ever so slightly inspire you to give cooking a shot.

  • Cook in quantity. Unless you have nothing else to do…ever…no one has time or desire to cook every single night. When you do take the time to cook a good meal, make plenty of it. Double that dainty soup recipe. Don’t shy away from making a big lasagne. If you are grilling, throw some extra chicken on so you have meat for another meal or two.
  • Learn to love leftovers. This is a biggie, folks. If you really want to feed your family more home-cooked meals, you MUST be willing to eat leftovers. What’s that? You say you don’t like leftovers? GET OVER IT. There’s nothing better than coming home after work and quickly putting a good meal out for your family that you had to spend very little time preparing.
  • Find recipes for dishes that re-heat well. If your leftovers don’t taste good, you aren’t making the right foods. Let me tell ya, food can be just as good (sometimes even better) the second time around. Maybe I’ve just brainwashed myself into thinking this, but so be it. I can’t emphasize it enough: Leftovers = Love.
  • Meal plan. Gone are the days of deciding at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday what sounds good for dinner that night and then making it happen. Over the weekend, decide what your family is going to eat for the week. Go the grocery store to buy what you need to pull those meals together, and make yourself eat what you’ve cooked.
  • Never start a work week with an empty fridge. I promise (because I’ve made this mistake numerous times)…if you start the week with no leftovers and no groceries, you won’t be able to catch up until the next weekend. Cook one or two good meals over the weekend so you have a few meals of leftovers ready for the work week. Try to limit yourself to cooking once during the work week (twice if you are super ambitious).
  • Take a shortcut. Look for ways to make your recipes a little easier without sacrificing the healthy factor. Grocery store rotisserie chickens are your friend.
  • Cut yourself a break. If you can’t get a home-cooked meal on the table, don’t make yourself feel guilty. Everyone loves to eat out here and there. Sometimes you just need a mid-week dinner {and drink} out to break routine, or you need to pick up takeout. Our favorite takeout is Papa Murphy’s for pizza (did you know you can get any pizza on the menu in whatever size you want for $10 on Tuesdays?) and Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ family value meals are so good and a great price at only $14.99 or $17.99, depending on what you get. Our faves are the turkey burritos and the veggie lasagne, and both dishes come with a big family-sized salad.
  • Don’t stress about dirty dishes. Maybe a sink full of dirty dishes sets some people off into a panic attack, but I’m not one of them (thank goodness). When I cook during the week, I don’t have time to cook the food, eat the food, and then clean everything up to a sparkling shine. The dishes can wait until another day. I figure my kids aren’t going to remember that the dishes piled up here and there…but rather that we shared meals as a family.
Here's what my sink looks like right now. Ain't no shame. #real

Here’s what my sink looks like right now. #real

What are your tips for getting good meals on the dinner table? Please share!

How my 4yo taught me to be OK with my “mom body”

My third child was born in July. You know how “they” tell you each pregnancy is different? Well, I’ve found that to be true. With my third pregnancy, my belly seemed to grow larger than with my other two children. I didn’t necessarily gain any more weight with this pregnancy, but my belly was definitely larger somehow. I don’t know…maybe my body was already a bit, uh, stretched out from carrying two other babies.

After Baby Caroline was born, my body didn’t bounce back like it did with the other two. Still, three months later, I feel like I look a little pregnant. I have a pooch. And quite a few new stretch marks. I hate to say it, but I admit it bothers me.

About a month ago, I was getting dressed for the day, and my 4yo daughter, Campbell, was hanging out with me as I got ready (as she often does). I was in my skivvies. Campbell reached up to touch my belly and said something to the effect of, “Mama, look at how your belly is still round.”

I was devastated. I was angry. I was hurt. I snapped at Campbell and told her she shouldn’t say things like that to people…that it hurt my feelings. I could tell by the bewildered look on her face that she didn’t understand what she’d done wrong. She apologized sincerely (my girl thought she’d really hurt my feelings and felt bad about it).

I couldn’t stop thinking about the look on her face after I snapped at her. In fact, I laid in bed that night going over and over the scenario in my head. Here’s what I realized:

While I was pregnant with Caroline, Campbell and I would marvel over my growing belly. We talked about it constantly. How it was so awesome to watch my belly grow and know that meant the baby was growing. How we couldn’t wait to meet Baby Caroline. She would rub my belly at night when I put her to bed. When she hugged me, her head was at the perfect height to place it right in the middle of my belly, and she would snuggle right up against it. Pregnancy is amazing, and it was such a wonderful experience to share it with Campbell this time around since she is now old enough to comprehend it in its broadest sense (as opposed to when I was pregnant with Thomas when Campbell was only 2yo).

I’m sure she was shocked when all of a sudden I didn’t want her talking about my belly, especially commenting on the size of it. Why not? We talked about it for months and months. Why was it suddenly not OK to discuss it? Baby Caroline was still very little, somewhere between six and eight weeks old at the time, and she had grown in my belly. Why was it bad that I still had some remnants of that?

Of course, after I had time to let all this sink in, I hated myself for reacting the way I did with Campbell.

The next day, as I was getting dressed, I apologized to her for snapping. I acknowledged that my belly was still a little round, and that was because I had grown Caroline in my body until she was ready to be born. She hugged me and told me she thought it was neat that my belly was still round from growing Baby Caroline. It brought tears to my eyes to think that, while she was still in awe of the fact that I had GROWN a baby in my body, I was frustrated over a tiny tummy pooch that had not gone away a mere six weeks after the baby’s birth.

I hate that society makes women feel like they shouldn’t look like they’ve had children when that’s what our bodies are made to do. Just look at the recent stories about the mom who posted a picture on Facebook of her super fit post-baby body with the headline “What’s Your Excuse?” Or, all the stories I’m seeing about Kate Middleton’s post-baby flat tummy.

I am very proud (understatement of the century) of the fact that I have used my body to grow three beautiful children and then nourished them after their births via breastfeeding. You know what “society,” you should listen to the wisdom of my 4yo who totally gets the beauty of the scars motherhood leaves on a body.

A few days ago, Campbell asked me what all the “marks” were on my belly. I told her they were stretch marks from when my belly grew when Baby Caroline was in there.

Campbell: “That’s cool, Mama.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, it is.”

Here I am with Campbell just a few weeks before Baby Caroline was born

Here I am with Campbell just a few weeks before Baby Caroline was born