Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Dad Sabotage

It is an annual tradition of mine to kidnap John around Father’s Day and take him (and the girls) out to the Quad Cities, where we met and attended college.  He never really knows when it is coming and this year, we got him good.

We have quite a few trips coming up in September and October and, given that is it now practically August and we hadn’t gone yet, he thought it was going to be an off year.  This is why, when I told him that it was time to go shampoo the carpets at our townhouse and asked him to please let me drive so that he could call his mom, he didn’t bat an eye.  Then, I asked him to open the glove box for some gum and he found this:

He knew.  Inside the card, a terrible little poem that I wrote on a whim, telling him that we were off on a little journey:

It’s horribly written, I know.  You can only write so well in the grocery store parking lot with a four-year-old asking 47 questions a minute in the back seat.

In any case, he was over the moon excited.  And thus, our 36-hour whirlwind trip began.

I love this.

We ate dinner in one of our favorite QCA restaurants and went swimming in the hotel pool.  Tessa loved it, Ellie was totally freaked out by the depth of the water.

After swimming, Whitey’s Ice Cream, another must-have when we visit what feels like our second home…

Where the heck is my ice cream, Dad??

 After ice cream, it was time to get the children in bed, so back to the hotel we went.  It’s always a curious thing, finding a way to stay awake and chat as adults while sharing a hotel room with the children.  This year, John tried putting on episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, but after a couple of references to testicles and a vampire commercial, we thought maybe we should try the quiet reading time method.  After about five minutes, we got a lecture from Ellie.

“Guys, no lights, no TV.  It’s time for bed.  Come on, let’s go, lights out.”

Alright then.

In the morning, we visited Jimmy’s Pancake House for the most delicious pancakes that we have ever eaten.  We come here every time we visit the QCA and are never disappointed.  This was the first time that we had brought the girls with us.  Tessa was hammin’ it up with everyone around her.  The waitresses all came over to say hello and at the end of the meal, our waitress asked if she could take her to meet some of the other staff.  It’s a small place and we have had this waitress a few times, so since Tessa was ok with it, we let her go.  She was high-fivin’ everyone she met!  Hilarious.  I asked Ellie (who was just a little bummed that she didn’t get paraded around) if she thought Tessa was being a ham and she said “No, she’s not a ham.  She’s a lover.  She just loves everyone!!”

Also, I’m not sure if you knew this or not, but if your kids are starving, jelly packets make a great appetizer.  Just FYI.



No visit to the Quad Cities is complete without a visit to the Family Museum… as long as the kids are with us, that is.  🙂  It’s one of the best children’s museums that we have visited, mostly because it’s small enough to let the kids do their thing and they can actually interact with all of the exhibits without being overrun by 50,000 people.



They have added a really neat area that is designed for crawlers and new walkers.  Tessa loved it and got a lot of PT practice that I’m sure her therapists would appreciate.  Personally, I appreciated the time to just sit and watch her safely crawl around and explore.




The real reason that we love the Quad Cities is our emotional tie to Augustana.  It’s a small school – and graduates of Augie are sickeningly devoted to our alma mater.  We can’t help it, it’s just a lovely place to be.


We also visited the John Deere Tractor Museum…



And then Ellie let us know that it was time to go home.



See you next time, Quad Cities.  We can’t wait to come back!

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3 Decades

A very special kind of countdown has started and I’m super excited about it!

(No, Mom and Mom-in-Law, I’m not pregnant.)

Today, I am celebrating the beginning of my 144-day “make fun of John because he is 30” extravaganza.  I only get 144 days because of course, then I will be 30 also.  But for now…. let the fun begin.  🙂

As I’m sitting here, he is telling me that he does not want a post in celebration of his birthday… which is fine, because this isn’t about that…. it’s just about him.  I have done exactly what he told me.  😉

I had to laugh today, going through old pictures of him, because I was trying to find just one to share here in celebration of him.  it’s impossible.  I don’t know if there is just one picture that can really embody his accomplishments, his determination to provide for his family, his devotion to us and to the girls and to God.  This is a remarkable man.  And for all of the amazing things that he has worked so hard to provide for us, these are the things that I love the most:

photo 2 (2)IMG_5741 IMG_4123 IMG_3973 IMG_4434 IMG_3607 IMG_4345 IMG_0574 IMG_5973


Reflections from Dad (on his daughter’s first birthday)

Today is THE day.  And while I’ve spent the last year telling people the wrong date over and over, I’m sure I have it right this time. Tonight’s reflection comes from John.  As I write this, he is hanging out with Tessa on the couch across from me and she is over-the-moon happy.  She adores this guy (like we all do).  He told me “please don’t write me a big introduction,” so I won’t.   Here’s his side of the story.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Three things to never say to your wife when she tells you she is in labor:

  1. “You can’t be in labor…I have to go to work today…”

(10 minutes later the pain starts to kick in…I nonchalantly utter the following)

2.“I’ll just run into work and set some things up…you’ll be ok here by yourself with Ellie, right?”

(20 minutes later I place a phone call…I have an important question for my laboring wife)

3. “I’m on my way back from work, do I have time to get a coffee?”

Long story short, I was an idiot for putting my work ahead of my wife and unborn child, even if it was only for a brief hour.  I wish I could go back and hit the illusive redo button on that moment in my life and be a caring and compassionate husband.  Live and learn, right?

When Tessa was born there is a moment of her birth forever ingrained in my mind.  Right after she was born she was taken to the table to be inspected by doctors and nurses from the NICU because there were some concerns during labor. I distinctly remember when one nurse from the NICU looked at me and it was at that moment I knew something wasn’t as it should be.  I will never forget her face, one of sincere pity, one of fear; without saying a word, she said it all.


The nurse practitioner, Amanda, called me over and explained to me they saw many markers for Down syndrome.  She walked me through all the signs and calmly explained to me that there was no way to know until she has genetic testing.  After our discussion I said to her, “Is this something that is certain or is there a chance she doesn’t have this?” My mom had always taught me: In life it is wise to prepare for the worst and hope for the best… but her response didn’t make me hope for the best.

“Again, there is no way to know without testing, but if I would be shocked if she didn’t have it.”

I’m glad she told the truth… and I wasn’t in denial… but I really was sad.  In my arms was a child, who I was supposed to just instantly love, and I couldn’t even see her beauty because I spent all my time examining her trying to make sense of this diagnosis.


People say you love your kids from the moment they are born.  That instantly you become this whole new person who is filled with a unique parental love.  Yeah… for me, that’s a lie.  I contend loving children is a process.  When Ellie was born, I was surprised that I didn’t feel any different.  I mean, I liked having her around and I could honestly say I loved her, but it wasn’t this transformational moment.  Instead, loving your kids is a process.  They grow on you…like a fungus.  Ok, maybe not like a fungus…but the truth is, you learn to love them as they grow into themselves.


Loving Tessa was a process.  I think I should clarify that I cared for her, but seeing beyond her diagnosis and seeing my beautiful daughter took time.  But with every smile, every giggle, every milestone, she has just made my life so much richer.  Both of my girls have made my life so much more meaningful and they both have taught me more than I have taught them in the few years I have been working on this parenting gig.

Ellie has taught me how to have fun and to laugh (and honestly she has taught me what it’s like to be on the other end of smart aleck remarks because she’s already dishing sarcasm at age 3).

Tessa has taught me to love unconditionally and that everything I thought that mattered… didn’t.

Together… they remind me everyday to 1) laugh often and 2) focus on what matters.  What else do we need to be taught besides how to cope with terrible sports teams?


In this end, just like I would hit the reset button on my response to Maggie that morning, I also wish I could hit the reset button on Tessa’s birthday.  If I were to do this over again I would just hold her without fear, or disappointment, or worry… Instead I would hold her and say…

“Tessa, thanks for joining us and thanks for being exactly the way you are… you are what we always prayed for, even if we didn’t know it…”


“…and by the way Tessa, if it’s not too much trouble, can you talk some sense into your sister?   Because she needs it.”

Her eyes would say it all: “Dad, I’m a miracle…not a miracle worker”



Guest Blogger Post – A Dad’s Perspective

Because it’s Father’s Day, I have invited my husband to write about our life from his perspective.  I took the liberty of adding in a few pictures… and a few commas.  🙂  Enjoy!

– – – – – – –

Four days ago I was asked to be a “guest blogger” for a post about Fathers’ Day.  After some deliberation, I reluctantly accepted the invitation.  The blog is really Maggie’s thing and I have never had the desire to contribute in the slightest.  Needless to say I began this process by thinking I was doing her a favor by posting and now I realize she was doing me a favor by letting me think more deeply about what is so great about Father’s Day.  Let’s start from the beginning…

When I was growing up, I remember going to a hardware store with my dad.  As we walked into the store, I noted a bright orange sign that said “Buy one, get one FREE!”  Being young, I said to my dad, “Hey, Dad, look!  We can get something for free.” My dad knelt down, held both of my shoulders in his hands, and looking directly into my eyes, he responded with an even tone:

“Son, nothing is free.”

Of course, he was correct.  Everything in this world costs money.  It costs money to eat, it costs money to live, it even costs money to raise children.  But this weekend reminded me of what is truly important in life and it had nothing to do with cost.

Every year for Fathers’ Day, Maggie plans a quick vacation with our family.  We usually go to the Quad Cities, the area where Maggie and I attended college, to reminisce and walk the campus of Augustana.  This year our trip was scheduled for 24 hours.  We departed at 4 o’clock on Thursday afternoon and we arrived home on Friday at around the same time.

Two hours in the car felt like four.  Apparently Ellie likes to hear herself talk and Tessa is not to be outdone, so she growled the entire time.  When we arrived in the Quad Cities, we got Ellie some ice cream… which promptly ended up all over her clothes, face, and the ground.  I had to admit I felt good for letting Ellie make a mess.  Why not, right?  We are on vacation and if she wants to dump ice cream all over her shirt, more power to her.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the hotel and Ellie tested both beds to see which one was more “springy.”  For a bit of extra fun, I took Ellie on a ride on the rolling luggage cart through the hotel.  Ellie thought every second of the ride was hysterical.  I enjoyed her laughter, but especially enjoyed all the strangers who walked past us and smiled.  It was clear we were having too much fun breaking the rules.

That same night Ellie refused to fall asleep until 10:30 at night. She relentlessly declared across the hotel room, “I am still awake you guys!” and we had to keep reminding her it was time to go to sleep.  Apparently she doesn’t care what I say (she is her mother’s child).  On the one hand, I was annoyed that my daughter would not be quiet, but on the other hand, she was having so much fun she didn’t want to go to bed.  She wasn’t rude, she was just excited… and I couldn’t keep a straight face when I scolded her for not going to sleep.

The next day we all went to the pool, the John Deere museum, a children’s museum, and lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in town.  Ellie spent the day swimming, pretending to drive a tractor, and playing with a million toys without having to clean up.





If I had time, I could go through a million stories about each and every part of the day, but all I can tell you was that both of my daughters smiled for almost the entire twenty-four hour trip.  Not only did they smile for the entire trip, I couldn’t help but enjoy the company of my family and all of the fun things we enjoyed.  I laughed more times than I could remember and even though I was exhausted (which is the status quo), I just couldn’t bring myself to wimp out and not have fun with them.


My dad was right that nothing is free in this world.  But that is the least of all the lessons he taught me.  He taught me to take the time to stop and enjoy life.  He taught me to not be concerned about meaningless trials and tribulations.  Most of all, he taught me the biggest payoff of being a father is the time we spend with our children.  Nothing is free in this world except for our time.  The time we have to spend with our families is totally free and can lead to some of the most amazing and fulfilling memories.

When I look around and see all of the other fathers I know and respect immensely, they all have one thing in common: they take the time, no matter how things are going, to enjoy their children.  I learned this because my dad put me first and it was rewarding for me, but now I see it was rewarding for him as well.




Being a father is never easy.  Sometimes we wish our kids would give us a break.  Sometimes we wish we could just get away for awhile.  The reality is that we are not perfect and we don’t always focus on our kids the way we should.  But we also need to remind ourselves how much we can be filled up with love just by spending time with our family.  The sports on television don’t matter, the job doesn’t matter, the kind of car we drive doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is the effort we put in to loving our families. We will see the results in how we live and how our kids live.  This is not my advice, it is the advice of my dad, and for what it is worth, it has made all the difference in my life.  I wish all of you a wonderful Fathers’ Day and I hope your twenty-four hours is as fun as mine!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I adore my little girls… but today isn’t about them.  So humor me here while I take 5 minutes to pay homage to my partner in crime (in pictures):


(thanks, http://www.snotm.com/ 🙂

In our childfree days:


We laugh, a LOT.


He’s a wonderful, supportive, loving, helpful, fun, funny, kind, and caring husband and father… and I am thankful to have him in the trenches with me.


Love you, Jefe!!