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Enjoying: Easter Prep and Ice Cream Trucks

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A little Enjoying the Small Things for you this Tuesday.

Enjoying…

A Box House

Lainey and her friend made a box house this past weekend which kept them busy for at least four hours. They even tiled the “shower floor” with glue, rocks and sea glass.

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Things didn’t go well when Dash and Nella decided to stop in for a visit.

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My friend Andrea who knows all the good parenting magazine advice told me she read an article that gave great suggestions for avoiding sibling resentment. You’re not supposed to blame things on siblings. Like if we’re at the beach and Lainey’s having fun, according to Magazine Experts (no sarcasm there, nope), I shouldn’t say, “Time to leave the beach, your brother and sister are shot” even if that’s true.

I like to take this new advice to the moon now.

“Lainey, time to leave the beach. I have to tell you, your brother and sister fought hard for you to stay. I mean, Nella was holding my leg saying ‘No mom! We can’t leave! Lainey’s having too much fun.’ And see Dash crying? He’s crying because he loves you and is so sad that you have to pack up and go.”

So this one went something like, “Lainey, there was a mean badger who was trying to tear up your box, and Dash and Nella ran in to protect it. They’re guarding your house! It’s TRUE SIBLING LOVE!”

She doesn’t buy any of it, of course.

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Dash’s Life Goal

…to one day figure out how to get this mobile down. I’m scared of how that will play out.

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Morning Face.

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Pool Game Strong

It’s that time of year.

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Dash’s Second Life Goal

…to take this puppet down.

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His secret weapon? The Ked kick. Lethal, I tell you.

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Looking for Nella and finding her here.

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Haircut

I cut Lainey’s hair at the end of our spring break, per her request. She looks like a different kid, and the new look hasn’t worn off yet. I love it. I stare at it when she steps out of the car at school drop-off, when I pick her up, when she climbs out of bed in the morning and when she props her arm up on the counter to rest her head while she eats her pancakes. “Ugggghhhh. Seriously, I just love your haircut. Have I told you that yet?” I say.

“Mom, stop saying you love my haircut. I know.” Eye roll, eye roll, eye roll.

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Ice Cream Trucks

Our neighborhood hosted a block party this past weekend and generously provided food and entertainment for the kids–entertainment that included, much to my kids’ delight, an ice cream truck.

I didn’t recognize the ice cream truck when it pulled up because it was a sleek and modern van–all white and minimalist.

“Whoa, nice van,” Brett said.

“That? That is not an ice cream truck,” I pointed out.

“It’s 2015. We have iPhones. It’s an ice cream truck,” he answered.

“I will never accept that.”

I’ve decided I’m going to start creeping out at night to find the white ice cream vans of the world. I will paint them yellow and add big polka dots and striped awnings. I will Banksy that shit up right.

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Also I let Dash wear his Easter romper early because he’s growing about an inch a night, and at that rate I figured we have about three weeks of wear for this thing. You’ll be seeing a lot of it.

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Gardenia

The bush in our front lawn is full of it right now–white blooms overtaking every branch. They’re so fragrant, you can smell them the second you step outside. I snip and sneak them in the house but always find them minutes later wilting out on our lanai because someday–won’t name names here–moved them due to allergies. So we wear them in our hair while we play.

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Egg Head Queens.

Found these cute little crown combs in Target’s party favor aisle. Clipped the comb off with wire snippers and, voila! Egg queens.

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Easter Basket Toiletries

Helping the Easter bunny out with his basket stuffing duties this week and need an easy last minute idea? You can add some special magic kid shampoo, formulated in the Easter Bunny Borrow. Hop & Peep is all the rage in fairytale land. I just used travel toiletry bottles from Target, poured our favorite kid products in them and taped on a printed label I made. Passing it on if you’d like to use: Download the free Easter label printable here.

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The Kindergarten Club

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There’s a “Welcome to Kindergarten” newsletter on my desk right now–saved even though I read it and already know everything it says. Scan over the wadded tissue next to it, the tape dispenser, the grocery list I’ll never remember to take with me, the pencil with the broken lead and the three bobby pins I pulled from my hair and left there last week, and you’ll find a small frame with a picture of Nella when she was born. Then and Now, connected by a string of little messes that somehow hold us together.

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I’d like you to know, for no particular reason, that before I started to type this, I played three songs that I drowned myself in the week she was born because, what the hell, she started kindergarten–let’s let ourselves get emotional.

A lot has changed over the past several years, and I’m happy to report I sent my second kid off to kindergarten in a far less helicopter mode than my first–like, I don’t know, maybe more one of those tourist helicopters that casually circles the Grand Canyon and shows the view rather than the Black Hawk that lands and storms the scene with IS SHE OKAY? IS SHE OKAY? IS SHE OKAY? I cried less. I had more to keep me busy. And I’ve been preparing for this one, proactively and purposefully, for a very long time. But this little milestone? Still huge. Still ever bit as emotional and consuming because how the hell else is it supposed to feel when you look at a teacher you only kinda know and pass off your beloved child–the one with a few more challenges than most–with a, “Oh hey, here’s a cooler with my heart on ice. Keep it beating for the next seven hours and then seven hours again tomorrow and then maybe another 180 days after that.”

In some way, I feel like I’ve been getting ready for this day since the day she was born–the release into the wild. It’s what I dreaded in the beginning–sending my baby who has a disability into the great big world of public education where kids who don’t know any better might shove her off because she doesn’t fit into the tiny world of what they know or, worse, make fun of her. Where teachers might not keep trying, where people’s ignorance about Down syndrome (hey, I had it too!) might create a condescending attitude that’s not going to help my child reach her potential, where label makers might put the wrong label on her, where the few boxes designated by policy makers as “Kinds of Students There Are” might not be appropriate for the kind of student she is–which is capable and funny and insightful and caring and full of so much possibility but might need more time and space and tools to show it. Dread isn’t really the word for this new start anymore because I’ve learned so much since she was born, and what we know we are now able to dream for our girl, no matter if she gets there or not, is so beautiful and paved by so much heart and soul from advocating families who’ve been doing this far longer than we have–it replaces dread with excitement and momentum and a deep passion for all that is possible.

Community helps. I call my friend Liz in Austin who’s sending her Ruby to kindergarten too. We compare first day notes, jitters and hopes. We volley ideas back and forth for when’s a good time to introduce conversations about differences to the class because we want them talked about appropriately rather than ignored and allowed to be otherwise interpreted; we want little kids’ natural curiosity and questions kindly welcomed; we want any “different” barriers that might make our kids feel even the teeniest bit alone addressed early; we want to create the community we desire.

Colette calls from San Diego this morning and tells me about her Dexter’s kindergarten plan, and we laugh and find solace in the fact that we’re both nervous–that we sense in each other that underneath all this game time focus, we’re brimming with emotions because we’re so desperately in love with these kids who surprised us, and we want anyone who meets them to learn what we have these past six years. “We’re the kindergarten club,” Colette says, and I want to hug her through the phone and not let go because I’m so glad I’m not alone.

I can tell you about all the scenarios I’ve thought up. I can tell you about the IEP meetings I’ve created in my head and the pretend speeches I’ve delivered to my friends when they offer to stand in as school district staff for practice–how those pretend speeches become so real, I stand up and deliver them preacher style, one hand on heart, one held to the heavens. I can tell you I worry about needs being met, resources available, living up to be what she needs me to be and one of my deepest fears which is probably one of your deepest fears for your kids too–and Dear God, let’s get this off our chests and let it go. I fear that there will be times when Nella feels swallowed by what makes her different–that there will be moments when every student around her “gets it” and she doesn’t, that she’ll retreat to the tiny cave of Alone we all run to from time to time when we feel overwhelmed by not fitting in–a “less than” cave–and that I won’t be there to see it in her eyes, to show up like I’m programmed to do to cheer her on, push her forward and remind her that her brain, her soul, her voice, her speed, her face, her talents, her art–it’s all so damn beautiful, just the way it is. And that all those things belong out in the open, to be celebrated in her classroom, in her school, in her community.

But I know she’s going to find ways to do that for herself. To follow the paths to more independence that her classmates and friends follow too. All of this is going to take time; we know that.

For now, we take the first steps required of us.

Nella has begun kindergarten in a general ed classroom at the same school Lainey attends–the same teacher Lainey had, in fact, and we hope this inclusive classroom situation continues for many years to come. We feel very thankful for her learning situation as of now and for the commitment of all those who work with her. As she grows and I continue to write in this space, I know her educational journey will grow and change as well. I will occasionally share parts of our journey that may be helpful or insightful for readers, but I won’t be sharing every detail, change and window into our unique experience and/or answer every question you may ask regarding her education as, for one, I respect the complex and important relationship between our family and our district, school and her educators.

I will tell you my favorite story from her first day though. I wanted her to sense as much peaceful energy as possible–to share our excitement for a new school and friends and experiences and yet to tame my own energy enough to keep her calm. Don’t make too big a deal of it. So I played the radio on the way to school, like any other day, and sank in to the peaceful quiet in the car, my school-bound babies visible in the rear view mirror–a little bit excited, a little bit nervous. And then I watched as Nella stretched her hand across the seat into her sister’s lap. “Lainey,” she whispered, “Hand.” Lainey took her hand without a word, and the two of them clasped all their worries and excitement together into one sister grip that could contain it all.

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And so I’ll do the same. I’m clasping all my worries and excitement for all our kids and their new beginnings right here into this space–into one sister grip that can contain it all. Put yours in too.

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The verdict is: So far, Nella loves school. Smiles when I drop her off, smiles when I pick her up.

“I think she was far more ready than we gave her credit for,” I tell Brett.

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As for Lainey, she’s chomping at the bit to pick out what Nella’s going to wear every day. “Can I be in charge of it all year?” she asks.
“Can Nella and I chime in too?” I answer.
“Deal.”

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All these years, all these little messes we’ve made it through. There is nowhere more promising to move than forward, as long it takes, as hard as it may be.

Thank you for coming with us.

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My Grandma’s Style

One of my challenges in life is responsibly reacting to my tendency to bolt from “boredom.”  I call it boredom because, in my defensive training to give good reason to the imperfections of my abstract, creative brain, I’ve grown bad habits of negatively labeling things that I wish came naturally for me but don’t.  Like maybe routine and consistency.

I’ve struggled with this my whole life.  I need spontaneity!  I want adventure!  Give me a project! I can’t sit still.  Challenging myself to rein in these voices, I sometimes resist the urge to spray paint another piece of furniture and instead practice Buddhist meditation exercises which guide devotees through a series of steps.  We are advised during these short meditative trainings to label anything outside the lines of complete thoughtless space as “thinking”—simply label it in your head by saying to yourself “thinking.”  Brain veers off to what you have to do tomorrow?  Call it “thinking.”  Mind suddenly trails to that perfume you smell or that reaction you had that bothered you?  Stamp it with “thinking” and refocus.  For me, in these beginning stages, this means meditation turns out to be fifteen minutes of constant labeling. 

THIIIIIIIINKING.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Stop @#&*ing thinking, I say.

I am learning to lean in to my discomfort of peaceful thoughtlessness in order to swim out of it.  It takes time to change bad habits, and I’ve made good progress.

I do know my lame excuse for messes (“I’m creative, I like clutter”), my resistance to a laundry schedule, my need to bolt with the presence of monotonous routine is really more like a child’s need for boundaries disguised as a flailing fit.  My habits and tendencies beg for order.  And, like a good parent who recognizes children can have a sense of independence and strong will as well as discipline and mindful manners, I make room for both—the routine I know I need as well as the room to break out: be adventurous, make messes, start new projects. 

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I do have a good standard of steady routine that reminds me how grounding it can be.  For three years in college, I lived with my grandparents, and while sadly at the time I often viewed their repetitive routines and un-spectacular small town life as confining, that small town life swallowed me in a way I needed to be consumed—in a teaching, saving, comforting, soul-hugging way that straightened out some confusion and promised “Honey, you’re going to remember this.” I was a flailing newborn of an identity-confused teenager, and the structure of an eighty-four-year-old couple’s small town life swaddled me with some sense of serenity.

First of all, Spring Arbor, Michigan is small.  There was Hutch’s grocery store, a family-owned hardware, an A&W and a very big church circled by a very small college.  And corn fields and deer–the ones that survived my family’s fenders.  If you were having a bad day and say, wanted to go buy a pair of shoes to feel better (moot point for a poor college student, but still try on shoes), there was Weatherwax Drugs where maybe, if you were lucky, you’d find those pull-over-your-shoes galoshes.

Craving adventure and spontaneity, sometimes I’d skip a class and head east to the city of Jackson which, unlike Spring Arbor, offered at least a Target and a mall.  Fresh air for my thirst for life outside the church/country limits of Spring Arbor sometimes came in the form of a half hour stroll through Michael’s where I’d peruse the craft aisles and find comfort staring, ironically, into the happy world of Susan Branch stickers which exalted the very truths I thought I was escaping.  Illustrations of flowered teapots, straw gardening hats, cats sleeping in cozy chairs and curly handwritten quotes like “Home is where the Heart Is” portrayed a contrasting calm to my restlessness. It was the contentment I craved and yet, had I stopped looking, chasing, clawing to get away, perhaps I would have realized it was the contentment I possessed.

Every day was pretty much the same:  weak coffee at 7:30, breakfast trays accompanied by morning news, a reading from the Daily Bread, prayer, kitchen clean-up, more quiet reading or maybe crossword puzzles, a short load of laundry, yard work in the summer or indoor work in the winter, a sensible lunch, clean-up, rest, tidy up again, dinner around the table, and finally the evening ham radio session followed by a little TV and then off to bed.  Bills were mailed out the same day they arrived, lists were crossed off the same day they were created.  Needs were anticipated before they occurred rather than frantically reacting to them.  In other words, toilet paper was never used in place of Kleenex, coffee filters were never substituted with torn paper towel. My grandparents knew what they liked and were not wooed by new-fangled products or colorful sales tactics.  Same Vidalia Onion salad dressing in the fridge, same Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, same awful thick peach nectar for breakfast.  Once in a great while, my grandma would rearrange the living room by moving one armchair, switching a footstool and trading out a few grandkids school pictures for different ones.  The carpet was old but clean, the furniture outdated yet charming.  And no matter how many new scents PineSol came out with, Grandma loyally stuck to Barkeeper’s Friend—the canned powder version—for cleaning kitchen and floors.  Why fix what’s not broken?

I attended classes in the midst of all this but was home enough to feel the sameness of their days.  And though I escaped to Jackson when I needed to breathe and made remarks about my post-graduate commitment to never ever live in Spring Arbor, promising instead to entertain a very exciting, adventurous life, I couldn’t deny the fact that there was comfort in the little house on Dorothy Lane and the routines that dwelled there.  They pulled the prefixes off my twenty-one-year old insecurity and uncertainty and prepped me for the world that would follow.

Life is excusably more hectic today—little kids, more responsibilities, more distractors, Squinkies everywhere.  I still bolt for adventure, start too many spray painting projects and stress over lists.  I admit, I am still wooed by PineSol’s new scents and am lucky if we even have cookies in our cookie jar, not to mention the same ones every time.  But there is the anchor of home life and the comforts of routine that ground me.  Even the little things—the quilts I’m drawn to, the crocheting I want to take up, that Ima gonna take your Grandma’s style I can’t get away from—it’s a piece of the past, homey calming totems that give good representation to the simplicity and order of old-fashioned life.   

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In an overstimulating world of Internet access and iPhones that can quickly tangle us up, the refuge I seek often looks a lot like those three years I spent with my grandparents.  Familiar routines, small meaningful tasks, the ability to sit through a meditation session without a stream of THINKING (we’ll get there).  Structure and routine aren’t boring—they’re the stability I need in my life that allow me to adventurously fly away when necessary without that sinking feeling that if I fall, there’s nothing there to catch me. 

So, we feed both needs.  Creative messes, spontaneous road trips, rearranging the living room again and scouting out new projects–things that are continually softened by unchanging morning routines, bed time stories, quilts, lists, sticking to a good work schedule and attempting to find ways that work for me to be more organized and consistent.  Afternoon tea and a clean bathtub help.

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It doesn’t have to be either/or.  It’s most definitely one of those both situations.  I am an adventurous life-loving creative who makes messes, veers from schedules and loses lists but knows a good thing when she sees it.  And that house on Dorothy Lane with its sameness and smallness and you-know-you-want-to-come-back-homeness was a very, very good thing.

Someday, when I rock a silver bun and only use Barkeeper’s Friend in my kitchen, I’m totally going to do crossword puzzles every day.