Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Ten… A developing story

This is my tenth year teaching.

I need to let that sink in a little bit.  It overwhelms me.  No, seriously.  I said it out loud today and I didn’t believe myself.  So I counted on my fingers to make sure.

I’m sure.  (Big gulp)

People who have taught longer than me will tell me that time flies, the years go faster, yadda yadda.  I know, ok?  I know.  It’s like telling a pregnant lady that if she thinks she is tired now, just wait until the baby comes.  

Some things are better left unsaid.

In my role as a division head, I only teach one class.  I spent the past two years working in our program for very academically at-risk students.  This year, I get to teach a class of Spanish again.  And so, on top of my minor freak-out about this being my TENTH year, I am also freaking out that holy cow, I have to remember how to teach Spanish.  I feel ready, but… I don’t know, nervous!

The first day of school is my absolute favorite.  I love the rush of the new kiddos, finding lockers, lost little freshmen, sharpening pencils, new outfits, old friends… It makes my heart swell every. time.  A year fresh and full of possibilities – it is the best.  And those nerves…. a thousand little butterflies ready to soar.

This year, I have been reflecting on where I will focus my energy, about how I will continue to develop in my roles in the building, but also in life in general.  It’s so funny, it’s like this new house has brought a sense of settling to life – things are still chaotic and ever-changing, but it feels stable, like I can breathe and think and do.

Part of my nerves, and oddly, part of my settling, is a song lyric that has been stuck in my brain for about two weeks now.  I think about it over and over, and then I pray about it, and wrestle with what it might mean.  I can’t get it out.  And with my tenth year gearing up to go, it just repeats and repeats…

“Every time somebody lives to serve and not be served…”

That’s it.

The message is clear as a bell.  There is no denying that.  How that serving looks in my world gives me much to consider, and certainly reflection on those times when I am living to be served merit reflection as well.  I can easily point to the others around me who I feel are demanding to be served, but this isn’t about them – it’s about me, and about a lyric that, in this tenth year, when life would seem to be settled, somehow is my driving force for change.

Go.

Do.

Try.

Help.

Love.

Live to serve and not be served.

This is a developing story.  More from the field as it becomes available.

To listen to the full song from which this lyric comes, see below:

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Zoo Day, Take 3

Sitting in my new writing space, I’m watching the last of our summer sunshine slip through the treetops.  I went back to work last week, but tomorrow, all of our teachers report.  The girls will go back to their Mimi Daycare.  John will be up and dressed in the morning.  Our routine will begin to settle in.

Our annual traditions have come and gone for the year, but as I wrap up the loose ends of a summer vacation, I realized that I didn’t write down enough of those moments.  After all, I write so that my girls can remember – when I don’t write, they have to rely on my poor photography skills and fuzzy memory to piece together their childhood.

So I write.

Ellie and I had our annual Zoo Day much earlier this summer.  Although, it’s worth noting that the traditional date, which is the day after I finish my school year, flew by without our normal outing.  At the end of the school year, I had a brief bout of food poisoning, and we moved, and I had to hire some positions unexpectedly… and soon it was mid-June with no Zoo trip.  So Ellie stomped into the kitchen, grabbed a permanent marker, and scrawled “ZOO DAY” on the calendar.

How does one argue with permanent marker in almost five-year-old handwriting?

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It’s funny, I don’t know if it is just because she has grown so much over the last year, or if it was timing, or just me, but this trip felt so different for me than in the past.  In year one, she was still in a stroller and pull-ups; year two brought an obsession with zebras and the bathrooms. This year, she wanted two things: Dippin’ Dots and a ride on the trolley.

She loves to get a zoo map and navigates through the zoo like any good tourist would do:

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By far, her favorite animal is still the zebra…

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But she also got a great kick out of the river otters this year.  She even picked out a river otter toy from the gift shop this year.  She lingered longer at each exhibit, too.  Since she can now read, she took great joy in examining the placards in front of each animal.  Things that she was once scared of, no longer made her panic.  I, the proud mother, happily snapped pictures of my brave girl, conquering the dreaded kangaroo pouch, the swamp, and that silly bird house.

We took our annual selfie on the trolley…

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And she made point to stand in every. single. one. of these look-through thingies (do they have a name???):

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I made her wait until the end of the day to get her Dippin’ Dots, even though she complained pretty much every five minutes until she got them.  We sat alongside the big fountain this year.  She enjoyed watching the people go by, and even made a new little friend with the girl sitting by her family eating Dippin’ Dots across the way.

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Our Zoo Days are usually long – with a breakfast and several hours wandering the familiar paths.  This year, she had her fill in about two hours.  After that, she asked to go back home to Daddy and Tessa.  Our stop at the gift shop this year though, was considerably more difficult.  She is a thoughtful little lady, and after much deliberation over which item Daddy would most like to display on his desk at school, she settled on this keeper of a mug that I know John can’t wait to show off to his colleagues:

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(She doesn’t need to know that I had to dig it out of the back of our tupperware cabinet just to take this picture.)

A little older, a little calmer, a lot of sweet memories made with my sweet-ish girl.  Who knows how many more years of zoo days I can talk her in to, so I will continue to soak in every one.🙂

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Making “Home”

Remember that we bought this house?

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I’ve been really wanting to give you a tour since we got ourselves settled in!  I put it off, hoping to have it “all done”  before I shared pictures, but let’s be honest… is our home ever really going to be all done?  I’m settling for all clean.

(And by all clean, I actually mean picked up enough that the junk can be easily moved to another room while I take a picture of this one.)

(Which is also why this tour will only include our main floor.  You’ll have to wait in suspense for our upper and lower levels.)

That’s our front yard, by the way.  We just cut a bunch of branches off our mostly-dead pine tree by the front window, with the plans to turn that spot into a little sitting area.  We live on a great corner with lots of passersby and since I love people-watching, I want a place to sit and enjoy the neighborhood.

Here’s the front entryway and stairs:

My mom bought me the two blue framed pictures to the right of the doorway a few years ago on a trip to Branson, Missouri.  I have been waiting since then to find a place for them in my home.  I love them here, and I love that whenever I see them, I think of her and I, poking around in old antique stores in 100 degree Missouri heat.

When you enter, this is  our main living space.  My plan is to add an area rug and some artwork on the walls.  This room also features one of my most favorite parts of the home, our bay window.  These pictures cannot do it justice – since I am not a photographer and have zero ability with any kind of editing software, imagine the most perfect lighting in the world and apply it to these pictures.  It’s gorgeous.

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Here’s our itty bitty dining area.  We bought this table with a bench seat so that it can be pushed in during the day when not in use – it’s perfect for us.  We can actually seat six fairly comfortably.  For gatherings, we aren’t really “sit down dinner party” kind of people, more like paper-plates-on-laps-in-the-yard, so this wasn’t a vital area in terms of space for us.  Still, it’s cozy, sweet, and perfect for our family meals.

Our kitchen isn’t huge, but I love it.  In truth, its size gives me a great excuse to banish my children to their playroom while I cook at night.  When I let him, John sits at the table and chats with me while I make dinner.  Most of the time, I kick him out too and enjoy 30 minutes of solitude.

Here’s the hallway from the living room/kitchen to the two bedrooms and bathroom on the main floor, as well as the door to the basement:

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I love bright and bold colors. So, while I will tell you that the downstairs bathroom was decorated “for the girls,” I will readily admit that if I lived alone, my bathroom would still look like this.  Both of our bathrooms are adorned with photos from my time abroad – this one features mi lindo Ecuador, one of my most favorite places in the world.

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The girls have been thrilled to have their own playroom, I’m sure just as much as I am.  I know this goes against what is popular right now, but once I had children, I really disliked the open floor plan that we had in our townhome.  Our family functions so much better in closed spaces, where messes are contained and I only have to clean a couple of rooms for the therapists instead of the whole house every day.🙂

We had originally painted the kid’s bedroom in our old home with neutral colors, since the gender of each of the girls was a surprise.  I was able to use the decor from their old room in the new playroom.  All that we are missing yet are a couple of bins by the small table for their art supplies and the word “PLAY” in big, yellow letters up on the wall.

The last space on this tour is My Room, or the spare bedroom, or the office, or Oma’s room, depending on who needs it.  I have labeled it My Room, as the girls have their playroom and John has the basement.  All have been warned that if they want to enter, they must ask, and that it is not a dumping ground for The Stuff That Doesn’t Have a Place… because in this house, if it doesn’t have a place, it goes bye-bye.

I’ve been saving old calendar pages from my favorite Anne Taintor calendars for years to hang on the wall.  You know, things like this:

Once I get the frames, I’ll put them up on the walls…  But even as is, this is my little comfort zone:

The last piece of something that hasn’t found a permanent home is this sign, purchased on Etsy when we first moved in.  I adore it, and I’m still thinking about where it will permanently hang in our home.

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We are so thankful for this little, yet huge house that we can call our home.  When we moved, I wrote about how happy we were, smushed into our old home.  And guess what?  We’re happy here, too.  It suits us, and our needs, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that the only home we looked at, the one that just popped into our lives on a whim one Saturday, is now etched into the story of our life.  Perfect.❤

 

 

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Size Matters


(Ellie and Tessa in the same 4th of July outfit.  Ellie is one. Tessa is two and a half.)

Two and a half.

25 pounds soaking wet.

A little tiny package bursting with laughter and joy and sunshine.

Our park district has an amazing indoor play area where we like to bring the kids to get their energy out.  It’s huge, with oodles of slides and soft-cushioned obstacles to climb through and around. They have an area that is just for little ones and it is there that we like to let Tessa roam free and explore.  Mostly because it is caged and keeps her out of trouble. :-) 

There are, of course, other children in the play area and I am so often amused when I see her surrounded by infants.  The sheer size of her peers is so markedly different.  And inevitably, another mom will come over to make conversation, hoping to commiserate on the exhaustion of having an infant in the house.

I wait for the question.  I know it’s coming because it always does.

“She’s so cute,” they say, “how old is she?”

“She’s two and a half.”

Inside, I cringe and wait for the response.  They vary, but usually it involves an effort to restrain eyes bugging out of their head and an oddly confused smile.  “Oooh,” they say, their eyes darting back and forth between my child and theirs, sizing up the differences.  Mostly, the conversation kind of dies.

One time, a mom literally asked me if I was sure.  She shared that her daughter is that same age and asked when her birthday is.  She thought I had miscalculated my own child’s age.

That was awkward.

A small part of me just wants to lie when I get asked.  Would it be any easier to just tell them she is 15 months or 18 or whatever number I feel like throwing out?  Maybe I’ll really wow them and say that she is 10 months.  That could be fun!

I think, as parents, we might all be happier if we could just stop asking each other how old our children are.  It does nothing good – just feeds into this urge to compare.  And what good are comparisons anyway?  One is potty trained, one isn’t. One is reading, one isn’t.  One is sitting or walking or talking or whatever.  Some are not.  They are not less.  Different, perhaps, but not less.

But more than that, I’m sad for the conversations that die out.  Our experiences are probably a little different in parenting, there’s no denying that.  But we can still share.  We are parents in the same community.  Our children will grow up near each other.   Commiseration gets us through some days!!  And even if my little one is on the scenic route, she’s headed in the same direction as all the other little ones – up, up, up.  I’m just a mom.  She is just a kid.  So let’s talk!


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Incomprehensible

This morning, with her little button nose smushed up as close to me as she could get, Tessa sang me a song.  I couldn’t understand the words, but her smile told me it was a sweet one.

My day has been filled with moments that I want to freeze in my memory.  Like for many around me, it is hard to digest all that has happened this week.  I find my breath catching in my chest as I soak in the calm breeze in my backyard, or my sweet five-year-old chattering with a robin outside her window.  

We have so much.

I did not wake to the news of Dallas this morning.  Before the national news, another devastating headline about a former student crossed my feed.  He, a troubled child, too adult before he was ready, sat in my study hall not too many years ago and dared me to attempt to control him.

I won him over, quickly, with patience and Jolly Ranchers.

I never found anger to be a useful tool, nor lectures.  I don’t know that either can help a person gain perspective or bring warring sides together.  But a show of love to the unkind, the hurt, the confused – that has seemed to build bridges, at least in my life.

Just a couple months ago, that student crossed my path again, sitting in the office of our building, inquiring about how he might be able to finish his high school degree.  

He had been through so much.  Made so many bad choices.  An adolescent with a brain that did not work like an adult’s, thrown into Big, Heavy situations long before his mind could control his body as he needed it to.

I do not know what chance he will have to finish now.  We could not save him.

Today I have soaked in every little privilege that my life circumstance has afforded me – the pile of books on the playroom floor, which my girls have been raised to love, the box of chocolate from my loving and devoted husband, fresh, clean clothes and our own laundry machine in the basement.  Clean water, clean home, stability, resources, safety, education, love.

We have so much.

I can’t imagine the lives of those who do not live as I do, but I understand that by pure chance, it has been different. And so I learn as much as I can.  I pray and try to be kind and gentle.  I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know what words to say.  I don’t know how to stop the hurt.

This morning, Tessa sang me a song.  Her sweet words were incomprehensible, but beautiful nonetheless.

We have so much.

Someday I will understand.

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The Walker

Ok, let me level with you here.

This is Tessa’s walker.


I hate it.

We have actually had it in our home for quite some time.  It largely sat unused for several weeks, a giant elephant in the corner, taunting us with it’s slick silver bars and fake leather arm support.

Have I mentioned that I hate it?

I hated her orthotics just as much at first, though now that hate has mellowed to a slow burning irritation.  I struggle quite deeply with the fact that her disability is worn on her face.  I know that there are equally as many drawbacks to having a disability that is not visible to any Joe Schmoe, but I wish that I knew that some people, some day, would pass her on the street and not just see Down syndrome.  When there is equipment, well, it just draws attention to her challenges.

In any case, we have the walker now and while I hate it, I have had to slowly come around because it is what she needs right now.  So much of parenting is reminding myself that it’s not about me; it’s about my children and their lives and doing what is best for them to grow strong and independent.  So while I may carry my own insecurities about people having pity on the girl with the walker, the more important cause is helping Tessa get up on her own two feet.

How challenging it is to see our children fight their own battles!!

The milestone of the day for us (me, really) was that we took the walker out of the house for the first time.  When Tessa’s therapists came, they suggested a session in the park a short walk from our house.  So off they went, and Tessa, strapped into her little walker, just raced along the path, shuffling her little feet as fast as she could.

She, the child who cried at the site of her walker just three weeks ago, went about a quarter mile – all the way to the park, actually.  She made it.

It’s not about me.  It’s not about the people who gawk as they drive by us peddling on down the road.  It’s about Tessa, and it’s about getting her wherever it is that she wants to go.

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Ellie turns five

My favorite four-year-old is now five.  


Truly, this year with her has been one of my favorites.  She has always, always been an accidental comedienne, and as she grows, the punch lines just keep on coming.

There was a time last year when I thought maybe she was going to be more introverted.  She was suddenly very fearful of others outside of her immediate circle.  She preferred to play more on her own, and when we laughed at her Ellie-isms, she would get upset or cry.  

She doesn’t always understand why we are laughing now, but her concern about our response has faded significantly.  She loves knock-knock jokes and silly voices and playing pretend.


She asks a lot of big, grown-up questions these days, like “Mom, what’s sacrifice?” and “What’s your soul?”  The other day, she wanted an explanation of puberty.

That was fun.


Still, as surprising as it might be, she is a rule-follower.  She does not like to disappoint people.  I remember this year when she was very sick and missed a week of school.  The night before she was going back, she told me that she was worried that her class would be mad at her because she had been absent.

She is so much of John and so much of me that it is impossible to separate what she gets from which parent.  She loves limits, but loves to push them.  She cares deeply about people and loves to be with others, but needs urging to feel comfortable reaching out to new faces.  She seeks the thrill of risks, but waits for a detailed explanation of how it will work and then a guiding hand to make sure that she is OK the first time.  She is firmly planted with one foot in the familiar and one foot Beyond at all times.


This year, she will go to Kindergarten and branch out to a whole new set of people and experiences.  I’m nostalgic today, but equally excited to watch this little one bloom in a rich learning environment, as she has sought out information and facts and ideas since she was much, much smaller.  Every night, my prayer is that she continue to love the way she loves and continue to learn the ways she learns – and then that she use her talents for good.


The sheer terror of letting her loose in a great big world is inexplicable.  However, the joy of watching her grow is even greater. 


We love you, Ellie Bean!!  Happy fifth birthday!!

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Treetop Love

Some of my most favorite places in my Rolodex of memories are high up in the trees.  I have always loved the birds-eye view, the ability to just look out on the world and soak it all in.  As a child, I remember sitting at my upstairs bedroom window, which faced the street, and watching the teenagers walk home from our local high school, which was about 50 yards from our home.  I loved to examine their fashion, listen to their words… It intrigued me.

In the back yard, there was a crab apple tree with the perfect little notch for sitting with a book to read.  My brother and his friends preferred the big maple tree for climbing high, high toward the sky, but not I.  My love of looking out at the world has some limits – like a thick, strong window or the need to feel like even if I fell out, I wouldn’t die.

In high school, there was the hotel at Monte Verde in Costa Rica.  When most of my friends took the zip lining tour, I preferred to walk the bridges high up in the treetops, looking out on the lush forest below.

The fifth floor of the library at Augustana, my little dorm room high up in Andreen, looking out into the treetops, so many memories of the calm that comes from looking out into a beautiful green landscape.

I tell you this now because we are home and it is lovely and there are trees – so many trees.  I mean, these are the views from our bedroom windows.  


In the morning, before the chaos of the day begins, this is my first view of the world:


The flood of memories and peace it brings to me, to feel that I am waking up in a secluded retreat every morning… it’s one of my most favorite parts about Home.

Stay tuned for more Home, coming up in the next few weeks. ❤️

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Control Freak

If our children always did what their parents wanted, we certainly would not have Chicken Baby in our home.  If you haven’t met Chicken Baby, here he (it?) is:

I am uncertain who thought it would be a great, marketable idea to put a Cabbage Patch doll into a chicken costume, but there he is.  And he’s aaalllllll ours!!  (And by ours, I mean Tessa’s.)
Who would choose this creepy little creature as a comfort object??

We acquired Chicken Baby on one of our nine bagillion trips to Target in the last three weeks (because new house, of course).  If children always did what their parents wanted, Tessa would have behaved herself on that trip, and we never would have ended up in the toy aisle, searching desperately for a soothing object that cost five dollars or less.  An entire rack of cute stuffed animals were lined up in front of us and we got Chicken Baby.  

I didn’t go into parenthood with many preconceived ideas of who my children would be.  I assumed that we would get some extroverts,  because we are.  I assumed they would excel in school.  I knew, before parenthood, that I could keep my girls from having a princess complex.  No pink frills, no referring to the girls as princesses. 

Last week at preschool graduation, Ellie was the only girl in the class who said that she wants to be “a princess” when she grows up.  

So there’s that.

One of the most difficult parts of parenting for me is letting go of my desire to control the choices that my children make.  They are young – we are not grappling with major life decisions here, but sometimes John lets Ellie pick out her own outfit and it makes me twitch just a little.


Or when she refuses to dress her Barbies and I continually have to encounter Awkward Barbie Moments… 

(This is tame.)

It takes every fiber of my being to Let. Go. on a regular basis.  It’s Type A parenting, desperately hoping to be just a little Type B, for the good of their development as independent women.

I think having Tessa has pushed me, just a little, to embrace the path that my child will follow, whatever that may be.

(OK, not whatever.  Bank robbery and juvenile delinquency are off the table.  As are jobs at establishments where women wear spandex shorts and push up bras.)

In any case, my own personal preference for matching clothes and markers with their caps on correct color probably seem like small potatoes, but I’m trying to use these situations as practice for the Big Ones, like choices about college and living arrangements and buying ridiculously overpriced clothing because it’s on fleek or whatever the new phrase for “cool” is at the time.

I feel as though they are going to give me lots of practice this summer.  And I need it.

Because seriously, the markers.


(Somewhere across town, my mom is laughing quietly to herself, smiling and saying ‘hehehe, now she knows what I went through raising her…’  I have an insane amount of respect for that woman.)

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Wait for it, wait for it…

I’m lounging in a little bucket chair, feet propped on a kitchen step stool.  I have placed a padded car seat headrest to support my throbbing feet.  There are boxes all over the living room, no furniture, but our TV is up and running on an old end table and I’ve got a tall glass of ice water keeping me (mostly) cool.  I have learned in the past few weeks that we are at a point in life where chaos does not suit us well.  Last week was an epic cluster of rushing around to do God-knows-what in preparation for 49 different line items that were a Very Big Deal.

In this very moment, I’m feeling like there’s no chance that we will catch a break and we’ll just keep barreling down the road toward losing it.

But.

In all of the crazy, there’s-so-much-I-can’t-even-make-a-list, what-the-heck-is-going-on???, there is also bright – a new, perfect home that is exactly what we need… two beautiful, healthy little ladies who, in the stress of all the change, still adore each other… our own, happy, loving marriage (about to celebrate seven years running).  Bright.


The days before my summer sets in are like this – this year more than years past simply because of the move (and the stomach flu, because why not?).  The long stretch is coming, the days of evening bonfires and the annual Mommy Ellie Zoo Trip and all the fun that is our favorite season will be here before I know it.  So for now, I’ll just seek out the small reminders of our blessings, knowing that the big, deep sigh of relief is just around the corner.

Summer….. Come on, summer!!

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