the gift of occupational therapy

Today was my boy’s last day of occupational therapy. We have spent an hour of almost every Thursday for the last year and a half with our beloved occupational therapist, Eileen. Some days Luke skipped out of there, happy as a clam after getting to play so many fun games. Other days the reality of the hard work of OT was more apparent, and I carried him to the car as he thrashed and kicked and tried to bite me. But no matter how it ended, every session was a gift.

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Luke was pretty young when I had my first hunch that something was a little off in his development. But the toddler years are crazy for every kid, in one way or another, so I pushed it to the back of my mind as much as I could. I read and re-read Raising Your Spirited Child, because that book described him so perfectly, and it was so helpful in understanding him and being able to empathize with the way his mind and body work.

Yet, at his 3-year old well check, I brought up my concerns – he had no interest in using any sort of ride-on toys/tricycles/etc, couldn’t dress himself, had no interest in using crayons, would run endlessly, was easily overstimulated, and any sort of transition was clearly the end of the world for him. Our doctor (who we loved) was very much in the camp of “there is a wide spectrum of typical development” – and so he was not concerned. And when I read over this list (of the things I actually remember, I’m sure there was more) – I agree that so much of it is all over the map for typical 3-year olds. Luke has always been extremely verbal and social, so by all appearances in that doctor’s office, he was flourishing. But it was that mama’s hunch that kept me concerned.

We took him to a free developmental screening that fall. He charmed the volunteers and just slipped through each test. We walked away with a referral for 9-month old Gracie’s speech, which I (rightfully) discarded. I was completely discouraged.

If he had been my second child so I had more of a developmental frame of reference, or maybe if I wasn’t sleep-deprived at the time, I would have pursued answers. But I tend to be pretty submissive to those I perceive as experts or authorities, and they all said he was fine. If he had gotten a full occupational evaluation, I’m positive he would have qualified for services. But we went on, and it was probably the lowest time in my parenting experience.

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At his 4-year old well check, I walked in with a complete written list of all my concerns, which had grown. They included things like not being able to ride a tricycle, still scribbling, and not able to completely dress himself. Our doctor didn’t even get through all of them before he quickly agreed that further evaluation was needed. Apparently he had fallen off the typical spectrum enough to warrant a second look. I felt a glimmer of hope, which was enough to sustain me through the next 6 months that it took to get the referral and move through the waiting list for an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist.

I almost cried with relief (maybe I did?) when I got the phone call in the parking lot of Fred Meyer the same day of his eval. He scored very low in visual motor integration and fine motor skills (7th and 9th percentiles, I think) along with concerns about sensory processing and proprioception. It meant that we qualified for a spot in therapy, as soon as one opened up. I was relieved that we would be getting some guidance in helping him. And I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy, and wasn’t an entirely inept parent.

Our weekly visits with Eileen have varied in content, but they’ve always been jam-packed with activities that have helped Luke build his skills, and grow more comfortable with how his body works. As a result, his skills at school have improved, he’s become more comfortable in play, and do things like completely dress himself. I am so happy that we were able to get into therapy when we did – just at the end of last year he told me, “I can zip my coat up, and Gracie [2 years old at the time] can’t do that. But she can put her socks on, and I can’t do that.” I knew he was becoming more aware of some of his challenges, so I’m glad that he’s made so much progress before entering kindergarten. And yes, he can even put on his socks now – with fine motor + sensory issues, that a big accomplishment!

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I am so, so proud of this kid. His confidence is definitely blossoming in areas it hasn’t before, and he is much more willing to practice things that are challenging. Two years ago I just felt so unsure about so many things, and now, I’m just hopeful for what is ahead. And I will be forever grateful for the gift that OT was for our family.

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saint patrick’s day 2017

I have never been huge into celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but apparently my kids are pretty into it. Ian had the day off, so we had a fun, low-key family day filled with lots of green.

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A few days ago the kids painted coffee filters green, and today they were transformed into shamrocks that adorned our windows and cupboards and walls. They HAD to be hung at 6:45am, because of course they did.

Next up were these yummy green muffins (secret green ingredient: spinach).

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Our next activity wasn’t exactly St. Patrick’s Day related – we walked down to our elementary school to register Luke for kindergarten! I gotta keep it real, it was not the highlight of the day for me. I am already apprehensive about entering into the public school system, which is completely new to me, and this initial encounter with the front office staff was less than stellar. At one point I hissed through my teeth at Ian, “you know how all of this makes me feel!” as I fought the urge to grab my kids and get out of there. I will say that the principal happened to walk by while we were there, and he was super friendly and quickly got down on Luke’s level to introduce himself, so I’m trying to cling to that bright spot. I feel a million different emotions about sending our boy off to kindergarten in a public school next year, and I’m praying that when I look back at this post in a year or two, I’ll feel quite differently.

Back to Saint Patrick’s Day.

Lunch was not noticeably green, so nothing to report there. We watched a Veggie Tales episode that tells the story of Saint Patrick, which would have been fun if not for the fact that Gracie got the theme song stuck in her head all day. She continually belted out “celery!! …ery… ery!!! Veggie Tales!” for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

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Then of course there was green play dough.

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Luke has seriously been requesting green waffles since I made it on a whim last year for St. Patrick’s Day. Today was his day: we had waffles for dinner and he reveled in the greenness of it all.

Family selfies in our green attire. Um, don’t my kids look like twins?! How is this?!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

due dates

3 years ago today was Gracie’s due date. A couple days ago, I realized it was approaching and I felt nostalgic. I knew that the Facebook “On This Day” app would show me the photo that Ian posted 3 years ago – a pink Seahawks onesie resting on my pregnant belly, Luke in his footie pajamas giving my belly a kiss. I knew I would indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering all those winter walks to our neighborhood park Luke and I took in those last few weeks – hoping to encourage labor, but cherishing the last bit of my pregnancy. Sure, Gracie wasn’t born until 10 days later, but the due date of January 11 will always stick in my head.

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Today I woke up expecting that my grandmother would pass away. A different sort of due date entirely. She suffered a massive stroke yesterday, and at 8am this morning, our family planned to gather at her bedside as the breathing tube was removed. They had done a trial removal last night, and she wasn’t able to breathe on her own at all. So it was time to say goodbye.

Fourteen of us crowded together in her small critical care room. My dad’s family is notorious for being chronically late as well as “not morning people.” Yet, all of us were there on time. Whispering, holding my grandma’s hand, occasional jokes, tears. As these things go (waiting for the respiratory therapist… all out of morphine on our floor…), the event we were all waiting for didn’t happen until a couple hours later. We all huddled a little closer as the breathing tube was removed – just 3 or 4 minutes, he said it would take. It came out smoothly, my grandma was peaceful… and still breathing. The machine monitor switched from recording her breathing to the word “STANDBY” – which is what we did.  In fact, as I write this in the evening, she is still breathing and resting peacefully, with family standing by. We know it won’t be much longer, but it may or may not be today after all.

Soon after the tube came out, a hospital chaplain popped in to offer her support. We were all sort of in shock that gram was still breathing, so it was super quiet and none of us really knew how to respond to the chaplain. I’m sure she’s used to these sorts of awkward situations, so she gracefully made her exit. But before she left, she noted “Isn’t it wonderful that you are all here? It’s a “thin place,” as some people call it. Yes, an important time.”

Yes, I thought. My pastor sometimes uses the phrase “thin place” when we come to the communion table. Those places where heaven and earth seem just a little closer.

Yesterday was supposed to be my office day at work. Every Tuesday my awesome dad comes up and watches the kids so I can go into work. My grandmother was transferred from her assisted living facility to the hospital sometime during his 50 minute drive to my house. He visited the kids briefly, then turned around and drove to the hospital. I worked through the morning while Ian could be home with the kids, then came home when Ian had to go to work.

I’m not sure if it was the break in routine or my heart worrying about my grandma or the freezing cold, bright, sunny weather – but whatever it was, yesterday afternoon felt a bit more sacred than normal. I didn’t have a household to-do list for the day, and I knew I couldn’t tackle my work with both kids in my watch; so I was simply present. Yes, my thoughts wandered often to my grandma and the uncertainty there, but it was such a sweet afternoon with my kids that my frail heart felt suspended in time.

I wanted to soak it all in forever, so I snapped photos  as we flitted from activity to activity. Occasionally my eyes would rest on the chalkboard in our dining area, which I had spontaneously written “’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” last Sunday. I breathed deeply and held my babies close. I dare say it felt like a bit of a thin place in its own way.

Unease crept in shortly before we left for our evening small group; a phone call with my mom left me a bit of a hot mess. My loving extroverted son proceeded to “cheer me up” by talking nonstop on the way to small group, starting with bizarre “cheerful” statements such as “I want to die at the zoo. You can do that, right?” to his complete theology of heaven, 5-year old style. At small group, I settled into the rhythm of good friends and conversation; at home I talked to my mom again – a plan was in place: 8am in the morning. Yes; a chance to say goodbye, a chance to be in that thin place together.

So, here I am. Babies tucked in bed (will they always look like babies as they sleep, even as teenagers?) and sorting through my thoughts. It seems like another due date will pass without the expected event actually happening. Like I was 3 years ago, I’m okay with that. I feel settled about how I left my grandma today, and I know that the Lord will call her home when it is time. Until then, she will rest as best she can in her 87-year old body. And if she’s like my grandpa, she’ll let everyone keep vigil over her for awhile, then slip away when everyone goes off to lunch together.

And I’ll keep this date tucked away in my heart, more complex than it was 3 years ago, but perhaps more rich and full.

we have a five year-old

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How this boy got to be five years old, I don’t know. He was SO excited about his birthday this year. He had his first “kid party” with some of his friends from preschool and church. We had a “wild animal” theme (no surprise with this kiddo), and everyone had a blast. It was just Ian and I leading a dozen kiddos through animal activities, so I didn’t have time to take any photos!

We made him a lycra hammock for his swingset, because he loves the ones at his OT sessions. He and Gracie love it and have already spent a lot of time hanging out in there.

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On facebook I posted this on his birthday:

5 years old! I don’t know what is crazier – how much you have learned and grown into the boy that you are now, or how much I have learned and grown over the last 5 years in being a mother to you. You are a flame that burns brightly – sometimes it’s a flame that dances joyfully and lights up the world all around you; other times the power of that flame overwhelms you. My own flame tends to remain pretty steady, and you’ve challenged me as we’ve learned how to tend to your fire; rejoicing in your zest for life and your love for others while learning when and how to quiet the flame when it grows too large for your little body and mind to handle. We are in this together, and we learn more together every day. Happy birthday!

It’s a work in progress, learning to parent this little boy who is so different from myself. The day after I wrote this, he had his party. His party that he had been counting down to for a month, and talking about even prior to that. His party that he had planned and wished for and was SO excited for. And I think it was close to everything he imagined. He was so happy to be surrounded by all his friends.

His pure joy is electric, his smile is contagious, and his giggle is one of my favorite sounds. His highs are so high; they are thrilling. And of course the flip-side is that his lows can be pretty low. We knew he would come down pretty hard from his party, and he did. There wasn’t even much sugar involved, but the excitement of it all took a toll on our sweet boy, and the rest of the day was one big roller coaster of emotions. No amount of hammock time or running on the track or reading on mom’s lap could make it right. The day finally ended with him laying in bed, a cool washcloth on his forehead, surrendering to sleep as Ian sang “Trust in the Lord,” the song we’ve sang to him at bedtime since he was an infant.

This last year of him being 4 was hard. 3 was hard. 2 was hard. His feelings are so big, and sometimes his body sends him mixed signals about things. We are learning alongside of him how to regulate these feelings and sensations. I am thankful for his occupational therapist, and the great insight she has into what may be going on inside his little body. And immensely thankful for the grace that Jesus has granted me as his mama, and for the work that he has done in my own life amidst these challenges.

I do see so much growth, and so much potential – I feel like we may be at a turning point in his development. Or soon, anyways.  I feel relieved that he can do one more year of preschool; I want him to go into kindergarten feeling confident of the skills he will need there. Most of his classmates wrote on the cards they included with their presents – seeing their wobbly handwriting made my mama heart sink a little bit. Not because I’m sad that Luke isn’t there yet, but because I know that he notices that they can write their letters. He told me one day that he knew he couldn’t go to kindergarten because he didn’t know how to write his name (I know, not true – clearly something that another kid told him) and he said it with such sadness. I’m glad that he’ll have another year to practice skills like this that seem so difficult for him.

Our boy is so exuberant and social that most people don’t realize his own personal challenges. As his parents, we get to see the full spectrum, of course. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a change in how I view his behaviors and emotions. For so long my internal reaction was often, “why can’t he just…” whereas now I often – not always, I’m not perfect! – feel empathy towards him and think, “it looks like he needs…” Instead of wanting to shut down and distance myself from him, my mantra is “get closer.” And it has really paid off in our relationship.

So here’s to this next year of parenting a 5-year old. May we grow more, reach new stages, and find meaning and joy in this season.

these days

This is a lovely season for me, this mostly stay-at-home-mom season. Of course there are days that I wish I could escape to a full-time job, and usually my one full office day each week feels like a mini-vacation. But even in the midst of tending to the endless needs of tiny ones and the messes they create, I feel content and happy in this season.

Sometimes I go through days where it feels like nothing has been accomplished, and I’ve had no personal space to breathe. But other days – like yesterday – it is a perfect mix of all the things that bring me joy.

Yesterday morning, while Luke was at preschool, Gracie took a long nap (she prefers to nap while he’s gone – I think that she likes knowing that she won’t miss out on any fun! And it’s a win for me, since it means an easier bedtime later.) – and I had a blissful time to myself. I listened to Sara Groves while getting my “real job” work done, then I had time to finish up an order for my Etsy shop. Productive, quiet, life-giving time. I was so thankful.

I admit that during that time, I wondered what my afternoon would hold – sometimes God gives me those glorious pockets of alone time or an unexpected nap, and it turns out that I really needed that gift in order to survive the challenging day ahead. But you know what? The afternoon was pretty blissful too; the sun was beautiful and we were out in the yard all day. I accomplished so much weeding and yard work while the kids happily entertained themselves. All the “Mommy! Look what I can do! Watch this!” and “Worm! Biiiiiig! Daddy worm!” were sweet little reminders to look up from the task at hand.

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Those beautiful, perfect days have a way of nestling themselves right in my heart so that I can revisit them on the tough days. I am so thankful for this season in our family.

when you lose your place in your own story

Oh hey. Yeah, so it’s been 1 year+ since I’ve written in this little corner of the internet. Sometimes you just lose your place in a story, you know?

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When I became a mother 4.5 years ago, my life sped up immensely. And when Gracie joined us two years ago, I swear we entered warp speed.

You know what else happened when I became a mom? My heart broke open. When we discovered our infertility problems, I thought my heart broke. But then we had Luke, and that tiny little baby just split my heart open in the best way possible, and suddenly all the good and bad and joy and sorrow flowed through my heart in much deeper ways than it ever had before. And again, when Gracie joined us, the intensity of life itself became that much stronger.

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So somewhere in the midst of feeling all the things at warp speed, life got a little foggy. This blog has never been a completely accurate gauge for what’s going on in my life, but it was a glimpse of my journey and the things that I was processing along the way. These past couple years it’s been fuzzy – my internal dialogue (the source of these blog posts) became distant and disjointed and nonexistent at times. I felt swallowed up by the huge feelings and the constant go.go.go of two little kids and I was hanging on furiously so that I wouldn’t miss anything.

It bothered me, this feeling lost in my own story. I still found immense joy in my family and life – but it was just a little different. I couldn’t articulate all the little gifts and challenges that make life amazing, and I missed that inner processing. It took me awhile to put together the pieces, and I feel like I’ve found my place again.

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That season will always be a little bit mysterious to me, but I know that God was faithful in carrying me through it. Did a few years of interrupted sleep play a role? Probably. (My sweet Gracie Kate is just starting to sleep through the night at 2; at 4.5, Luke still wakes nightly). I really thrive on being their mama – even being up in the night with them is something that I often tuck away in my heart because this is such a fleeting time, and I treasure it – but sometimes I forget that it does take a toll on my body.

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I love the adventure of keeping up with a newborn turned infant turned toddler – it’s amazing to reflect on all.the.growth Gracie has had over the span of just two years! But it takes energy to keep up with all that. And Luke is growing up so quickly too – the past few years have also been riddled with ups and downs as we’ve tried to better understand some of the challenges he has. I know a lot of my thoughts and energy have been spent there, too.

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Even more, I feel like this season in life is just heavy with joys and sorrows, much more than other times in my life. So much has happened in the lives of those that are close to me, and I’ve felt it deeply. It almost knocks me over when I think of all the babies born, successes achieved, clear cancer scans, adventures that have happened, health restored and the sheer goodness of God evidently displayed in the lives around me. And in the same breath I try to take in the pain of infertility, all the babies that we never got to meet, the cancer updates that are not what was hoped for, the hospital stays for kids that are too young to belong in such a place, the loneliness, the pain, and the suffering that we don’t understand.

and if you travel here
you will feel it all
the brightest and the darkest
and if you travel here
listen to your heart
take with you what lasts forever
-Future of Forestry

For awhile, my reaction to feeling all.the.things was panic and confusion. I didn’t know how to let them be in my heart, especially when they had to share space with the unbelievable joy that I felt in being a mama to two beautiful kids. This ISTJ just isn’t keen on feeling all the emotions. Instead of letting myself experience these mixed emotions and process through things, too often I’d just replay Gracie’s birth in my head or hustle the kids off to a park where I could zone out in the sunshine. Not the best coping mechanisms, and largely unhelpful.

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now
-U2

Yet somehow, over time, I have regained my footing and my heart and head feel much more clear. Somehow I’ve found my place in my story again, and it is just as rich and complicated as I remembered and hoped it would be. Praise the Lord for his many mercies: for steadfast husbands, fabulous kiddos, amazing family and friends, skilled counselors and naturopaths, and the gentle hand of a God that cares intimately for each of us.

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I’m not promising that I’ll be blogging daily – or even regularly – but I’m excited to come leave some words or photos here when I am able. I have missed this blog so much – particularly being able to come back and look at what has happened in the past. I love having glimpses into different seasons of my life, and this season is a full, rich one.

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So welcome back to this window into our little life; sorry for this heavy intro, but I felt like I wanted to leave some explanation instead of just jumping in with random posts. And I wanted to be true to myself in these words, so that I could revisit them in the future and remember all that I sorted through in my heart.

Our hearts are heavy and light.
We laugh and scream and sing.
-Jamie Tworkowski

not waiting to wait

Now that it’s halfway through January, my blog reader is finally starting to slow down with all the new year’s resolutions and goals and various words people have chosen as their theme of 2015.

And I’m over here, still reflecting on advent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the newness of January, and I’ve done my own share of goal setting and re-organizing for the new year. It’s just that I am still thinking about the end of 2014. Maybe it’s the fact that Luke still asks if we can celebrate advent every day, or just the general speed of life these days. Either way, I’m still processing.

I love the season of advent. I thrive on anticipation, always have. So advent is just right for my personality.

This year, advent didn’t go exactly how I’d hoped. A nasty (and long-lasting) stomach bug made its way through 3/4 of our family, spread out over three weeks. I received more etsy business than I’d really prepared for, which was awesome, but made for a busy month. Gracie has been teething/growth spurting/whatever-ing that has caused some sleep disruption. And Luke is three and a half (enough said).

Last year, advent was such a sweet time. I was in my last trimester of pregnancy, which brought with it lovely anticipation and a killer nesting instinct. I was so well prepared going into advent that I had plenty of time to enjoy the season awaiting the celebration of Christ’s birth.

This year? Not so much. Many times Ian and I made the dramatic comment, “I feel like our lives are out of control.” Because our home has been a bit chaotic. And with the sicknesses, we had to hunker down and stay home more than usual. Which means more mess. And despite my best efforts at creating big-movement opportunities (pillow jumping, anyone?), it means excess energy from our boy. Which results in frenzied activities like decorating and re-decorating the tree.

Look closely and you will spy a napkin, ribbon, a box, some bows, a library DVD, a stuffed animal and a baby bottle.

Look closely and you will spy a napkin, ribbon, a box, some bows, a library DVD, a stuffed animal and a baby bottle.

Or filling the pack-n-play up with random toys in the time it took me to slice our pizza. Not make it, just slice it. (And yes, the pack-n-play emerged as a desperate attempt to corral the baby while I took a shower).

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Our chalkboard was definitely not pinterest-worthy by any means. I was usually a couple days late switching the week’s theme, it was written in a hurry, and usually covered in scribbles by the end of the day.

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We went through a family advent devotional that includes a Jesse tree with an ornament for each day. I had high hopes to create felt ornaments for Luke to unwrap every day and stick on his felt tree. I got through day 5.

I thrive in a neat and orderly environment. I don’t like to relax until everything is cleaned up. And yet, for this season of life, there is so much grace. So much.

Instead of waiting until I had everything nice and neat and prepared before celebrating advent, I was able to jump in and embrace what was there before me. Mugs of coffee gone cold long before I even got my first sip, bows and wrapping paper strewn about, stopping Gracie from her valiant attempts to reach the Christmas lights, reminding Luke for the millionth time to please be gentle with the ornaments – God found my heart in the midst of those chaotic moments and allowed me to anticipate his joy despite my own idea of what waiting and anticipation might look like.

Did it feel as magical as last year? No. But it was full and rich and beautiful in its own messy way. And Jesus’ birth? Not exactly a neat and orderly event either. I’m sure Mary had different ideas about where she wanted to bring him into the world, but once she held him in her arms, I doubt it mattered. And I felt a bit like that this year. Sure, the constant mess might have overwhelmed me, but if I looked up and saw the two little cuties I’ve been blessed with – a boy who memorized our scripture-based advent calendar and a baby girl so curious about everything around her – then my heart felt filled and grounded.

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