Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Smells of the farm

What did you think of when you first read that title?? My guess would be most people immediately thought of hogs? Or cows? I think that's what most people associate with a farm when the sense of smell is mentioned. 

Our sense of smell is pretty amazing, isn't it? How a certain smell can instantly bring us back in time to a specific place, time or memory. Maybe you remember how your house smelled that you grew up in. Or maybe it was grandma's house. Or your best friend's house. The smell of your little kiddos after a bath at bedtime. I bet if you think about it hard enough, you can almost smell it even though you aren't there and maybe haven't been there for many years. 

I'm sure there are many people have a variety of smells associated with family and friends. But being from a farm, there is a whole different set of smells that can trigger just as many memories or bring you back to another place in time. 

This is a timely topic as it is currently July on the farm. Right in the smack dab middle of pollination. On these warm, humid days, the distinct smell of pollen from corn tassels is thick in the air. That earthy smell is very distinctive to the farm. It may bring lots of pain to those who suffer from itchy eyes or noses (nothing a little Claritin can't fix! ;) ), but it's a smell I look forward to every year - a critical point in time of our growing season. But also is a smell I associate with warm, carefree summer days.
Directly west of our house - lots of pollen coming from here!
Another example that many can relate to this time of year....wood chips! The smell of wood chips brings my right back to the Webster County Fair and the Iowa State Fair. That smell when walking through hog barns at the state fair brings memories flooding back of the hours spent with friends at county and state fair doing anything (and nothing) from a rousing game of quarters to watching other kids playing practical jokes on unsuspecting fair goers. :) For me personally, the smell of Joy dish soap takes me right back to fair too. We always used Joy - lemon scent to be exact - to wash our hogs before taking them to fair. Priceless memories, those fair memories. 

Another distinctive smell comes a couple months before pollination time. If you have never driven around the country in April/May timeframe and smelled freshly worked dirt, you're missing out! It's thick in the air as planting amps up into full swing. It's always a smell I associate with finally coming out of winter and the start of greening grass and the optimism and anticipation of another growing season upon us. To go along with freshly worked dirt would be the smell of seed, fresh out of the bags, going into the planter. It's a smell that is hard to describe - one you must experience yourself. 
The planter rolling just south of the house
And you can't forget the distinct farm smell that comes as the growing season comes to an end. Harvest....the smells are so unique to that time of year. The air smells different as summer slowly turns cooler and we work our way into clear, crisp fall days. There is the distinct smell of corn and soybeans....fresh out of the field. Or unloading into the bins. Or trailer full of grain. The smell of the corn dryer. Or when the fans on the bins are running. What a glorious smell. 
The boys working on corn harvest
Same boys working on beans :)
And countless other smells as well. I always know when Bryan has been in the tractor all day - the specific smell of a tractor cab on his clothes. Or I smell it on one of the kids if they get the chance to ride with daddy. Or the rare occassion we all get to ride! 
Kind of a tight fit - even in a 4WD!
The smell of freshly cut alfalfa. The smell of hogs and cows certainly does have to make the list too. The smell of grease. The smell of hay bales. The smell of the local elevator or coop. These are all smells that trigger many priceless and treasured memories. Whether the farm is a part of your past, or it is your present, the smells of the farm are unique, distinct and nostalgic. 

What are your favorite farm smells and what kind of memories does it bring back for you?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hippotherapy?? What in the world is that?

When Alaina was a baby, every time we went to the clinic for check-ups I would see a couple rows of brochures in the waiting room. One brochure always stood out to me, but didn't really give it a second thought then since she was so little. Once she turned 3 and wasn't getting services at home, which meant she didn't get services during the summer anymore, I was interested in finding something else to stimulate and help her progress while she wasn't in school. I have never shied away from anything that had the potential to do her some good.

So I made a call 3 summers ago to the therapy department at the Pipestone hospital and was directed to Lori, the occupational therapist. After an evaluation, we got on the schedule for her hippotherapy program. She runs the program during the summer months in the 4-H arena in Pipestone. 

Most people (including me!) are quite thrown by the name! No....we don't have an abundance of hippos in southwest Minnesota! Hippo is the Greek word for horse. The therapy is really cool actually. From what Lori has told me over the years, riding a horse most closely mimics the human gait when we walk, so for those who have difficulty walking, or can't walk, riding a horse will allow you to use the muscles a person typically does when walking - especially core muscles. People with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, so strengthening exercises have always been at the top of the agenda. Finding ways to stimulate and strengthen core muscles benefits just about everything Alaina does. From just sitting straighter to how she stands and her balance, just about every muscles is stimulated and worked when riding a horse. And it is an overall sensory experience too, so not only are muscles worked, but there are mental and sensory components to it as well. It's a true full body therapy! 
Clearly not enjoying herself! ;)
Lori uses different horses for different purposes for each patient. She has some horses that are wider and slower which is better for those who have weaker muscles and can't handle as much stimulation and input. She also uses horses that are smaller - more narrow - and have a much faster gait to them. These are the horses she typically chooses for Alaina. First of all, she is so small that it isn't necessarily good to have her hips so far apart on a larger, wider horse - we have tried to cue her hips in her whole life so riding a wider horse was a disadvantage for her. And she is strong enough to handle all the input for a smaller, faster horse. It gives her more bang for her buck in her weekly 45 minute session. 

For each session, individuals are to put on their helmet and the safety belt - which definitely works her OT skills with the fine motor tasks needed to do that. Once they have the proper safety equipment on, they pick out a brush, and brush and pet one of the horses that is tied up in the arena. It's a good chance to bond with the animals and calm some apprehension they may have about getting close to these big animals. Alaina is tiny compared to the horse - I would be scared too! After brushing, they bring some steps over and Alaina will climb on and they begin!

Typically, they start just walking circles or figure 8's around the arena to get her core muscles warmed up and working. When they do any activities, there is always someone leading the horse and a walker on each side of her. The belt she wears has loops on it that the walkers can hold on to if she were to start to slip too far off to one side or another. This summer the walkers have gotten to the point that they really only lay their farm across her leg and don't even hold her - she has gotten much more comfortable riding the horses and gotten stronger. After a few minutes, Lori (or one of her OT students) will start doing activities with Alaina. When she first started 3 summers ago, they were primarily working on strength, so they would have her reach for objects on both sides of her while the horse was moving. It takes a lot of strength and work to reach and lean forward and side to side on a horse while it's moving for someone so little and with low tone. It was always a good workout for her and helps with coordination.  Another way to incorporate that is also doing things like reaching to put rings or hula hoops on poles as the horse is walking by. They incorporate colors, shapes, numbers, directions like right or left into actives too. Every week she has done something slightly different for activities.
This girl needs a few steps to help her get up on that horse!
Walking laps around the arena
At times they will also have her turn around and ride backwards or side ways, as that is a whole new realm of input into her little body. The muscles needed to balance and do activities is very different when riding in a different direction. Another fun thing they do is let the kids lead a horse around the arena or the grass area outside. This can take a little strength to keep the horse moving and keep it's head up at times. Usually they ask her to lead the horse through a specific course or path, so there is still the cognitive aspect of it also. Alaina loves this part more than anything it seems! And they finish each session by giving the horse treats! She has to get her bucket, open the treats, count out the correct number and give them to the horse in the bucket. That may not sound like a big deal, but to little Alaina the power of a horses head is mighty!! She has to fight pretty hard to hold that little bucket up when a horse is pushing down and side to side on it to get the treats out! It is truly a workout in and of itself! She always looks like she's going to be pulled right over face first, but that girl holds her own! :)

We have seen many benefits for Alaina with only 3-4 months of therapy a year. She definitely becomes stronger, but more than anything she gains so much confidence! With her low tone, any time she gets in a place where she is higher up and unsteady, she has the tendency to become very nervous. As the summer goes on, I find she becomes stronger and more confident in situations like that. It's so cool to see! She certainly gains confidence and develops a comfort level with the animals too. They are so much bigger than her, so it's nice to see her not be afraid to approach the horses and pet, brush, ride and lead them. It wasn't that way when she first started! We see her confidence come out in different ways too with how verbal she is while riding the horse. When she gets on they will not move the horse until Alaina gives the command. This summer she is riding George. So if she wants to ride, she has to say "Go George!" We used to barely be able to hear her whisper the command. Yesterday you could hear her shout it out across the arena! Her favorite is to be able to tell the horse to trot! She's a little dare devil and loves when the horse trots around the arena - nothing but smiles and laughs from her! 

Well, that was a lot of words and I don't think I even covered all the benefits or reasons for hippotherapy - there is SO much to it, so much more than just riding a horse than I ever imagined. I have to give a huge personal thank you to Lori for her efforts in making this program happen. It's a lot of work! And an even bigger thanks to those to help her make it happen! It is all possible through people's generous donations of time and resources. The horses are voluntarily brought in by their owners every week and all the walkers and helpers are volunteers as well. These people donate a lot  to make this possible for our kids. THANK YOU! We are so fortunate to live in such a rural area and have such an amazing program near us to take advantage of! It really has been one of the neatest and best things we have done for Alaina. I think most people know how valuable animals are to our souls and for our well being - therapy with animals is no exception! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Celebrating 4 years!

4 years ago about this time I was just getting up and in the shower. My 34 month old baby girl and my 19 month old baby girl asleep over at grandma's house. We dropped them off the night before for a sleepover. 4 years ago today Alaina became a sister for the second time and Aubrey for the first. 4 years ago today, by the end of the day, I had 3 little people under the age of 3.

My little Wesley didn't want to join us in the world quite yet. I was 38 1/2 weeks and my doctor agreed to induce me that day - because I practically begged. I was beyond uncomfortable. After a real long day, my little man was finally born a little before 7:30 pm coming at 8 pounds 11 ounces (hence the uncomfortable part!) on July 13, 2011.

We knew he was going to be a boy. We didn't find out with Alaina, but we did know Aubrey was going to be a girl. When I got pregnant the third time, I knew I wanted to know what we were having again. Mr. Wesley was the anomaly in the family....the only boy. I still chuckle when I think about everyone's reactions that day we found out. There were lots of swear words thrown around - in a good, surprised way. :) My kids are the only grandkids on my side of the family, so it was still exciting, but on Bryan's side of the family, he is the last of 9 grandkids. So it was a big deal when he was born since all of the other grandkids before him were girls - all 8 of them. He's the Lone Ranger of the bunch.
One lonely little boy-but I don't think he minds too much!
Given this fact, you will quite often find my Wesley with painted fingernails - willingly, of course. He has worn his share of princess dresses. He was just as excited as the girls at the princesses when we visited Walt Disney World this winter. Don't get me wrong, he likes tractors and trucks too. He loves jumping off things and being loud. He has all of the sudden been struck by the hilarity of farting....so make no mistake, he's got plenty of boy in him! You will find him with some of the craziest outfits too. And the hair on this kid....he definitely got grandpa's hair. And please don't try to get in a talking contest with him. He will win. Every time.

Today I celebrate this sweet boy. And it kind of takes my breath away that my sweet little boy, my baby, is now 4. How did this happen?? I am enjoying him so much and I know each stage has it own joys and rewards, but he's my baby.....I love watching him grow and it tears at my heart at the same time. He was the easiest baby out of all the kids, maybe that's part of it. He's always been my snuggler - the girls wanted nothing to do with it. Maybe that's part of it too. This kid loves cookies - I mean, really, really loves cookies. And he's not afraid to ask for one. Or find a way to get them himself when he wants one! And I'm usually more than happy to make him some. Maybe it's because everywhere you go with that boy, he always reaches for my hand to hold - which also means he's always reaching for my heart too. And he gets it every time.

He is the funniest little character you will ever meet. He can make some of the goofiest faces that you have ever seen and, some of the stuff he comes up with......all we can do is laugh, shake our heads, and say "Wesley...I love you so."
1st birthday
2nd bithday
3rd birthday
4th birthday
So today I celebrate my handsome little man. Because there is more than some truth to the daddy's girl/momma's boy thing. There is something indescribable about a mother having a little boy. Especially one as sweet as him. He was the perfect addition to the entire family.

I mean, seriously....is this not the sweetest???

Every night when I put him to bed, I tuck him in and cover him with kisses and get my hug. After my hug, I would always ask him a question, every night. I would say "who are you?" At first, he would always say, "Wesley!" But I would say something else. Now he answers for me. I ask him every night "Who are you?" and he always gets his silly little smile and he says "You're my favorite boy!" (Because that's always how I would say it to him.) Yes, you are, bud. Yes you are.

I pray you always know how loved you are and what a special, perfect gift you have been. I love you, Wesley Bryan!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

My thoughts on food and trust

We went grocery shopping earlier this week and Aubrey asked if she could pick out a cereal for breakfast. She wanted "cinnamon cereal," to be exact. After a few minutes in the cereal aisle, I realized neither of us really knew what kind of cereal that actually meant and we landed on Lucky Charms. For me, this is not the cereal of choice - we are typically a Honey Nut Cheerios kinda crowd, but obviously to a kid, the different shaped, colorful marshmallows are just too tempting. I had to make many threats before I would agree to buy it, that they had to actually eat all of the cereal and not just dig out the marshmallows like they have been known to do in the past.

When the kids were really little, I had some anxiety about food - and the thought of buying Lucky Charms would have given me a lot of guilt. I would be interested to know how many moms (or dads - any primary grocery shopper, really) out there go to the grocery store and don't feel some sort of pressure, or overwhelmed, or some sort of anxiety, wondering if what they are buying is going to "harm" us or our families. We are bombarded daily by all kinds of "experts" telling us how dangerous all our food is and how it will basically be the end of mankind. It's all gloom and doom and as a result of years of this, a new type of eating disorder has actually developed, called orthorexia.

But we need to remember, it's all about balance. And Americans have an incredible privilege of having an abundance of safe, reliable, affordable food choices at many different price points. How  fortunate is that!? Do we buy a box of Lucky Charms or a pack of Oreos every so often?? Absolutely! But is our fridge also stocked with lots of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies and lean protein? Absolutely! We try to tip the scales a little bit more towards the proteins, veggies and fruits, but some days, those treats and convenience items certainly are the top choice. Some days I offer fresh fruit as a snack and the kids gleefully cheer (honestly they do! If I let them, I think my kids would eat six apples a day between the three of them!) and some days they get a cookie out of the freezer - to which they gleefully cheer as well. ;)

We should celebrate all food choices - conventionally or organically grown! I'm all about letting consumers decide what they choose to put in their bodies and feed their families. I want that for myself and my kids! If you choose to eat exclusively organic or just buy whatever fits into your budget, all the more power to you! But...(knew that was coming right?) what do I also want for all consumers? That those individual choices are made based on facts and not brought on by fear inducing pieces shared around Facebook and the internet. Proponents of organic industry can be magical marketing magicians (say that three times fast!) They really draw you in and capitalize on our worst fears and nightmares with sensational headlines and scary claims and pictures (aka - portraying farmers as wearing head to toe hazmat suits when we spray our fields. Couldn't be farther from the truth...just trying to incite fear.)

When it comes down to it, food is food. The nutritional equivalent of something produced organically and conventionally is the same. A carrot is a carrot. Apples are apples. Organic production methods do not make food "healthier" for you. Whether it be the actual production method or the lack or presence of GMO's, food is food. (At this point, I have to interject and make this point....there are EIGHT products that contain GMO's. Corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. So if you pay more for "organic" seeds when you plant your garden, you have fallen pray to those "magical marketing magicians" again. I've seen these seed packets in countless stores this spring and every time I shake my head. There is no such thing as organic carrot seeds, organic green bean seeds, organic cucumber seeds, etc. And when you buy something marked as organic in the grocery store, that would be pertaining to the production method - not the actual food - for most produce. And if you wash all your produce anyway, I see buying conventionally produced or organic as a non-issue. I would say it should come down to your budget.) 

There is a large movement going on in this country that we need to get back to the way farming used to be - it needs to be small, it needs to be natural and local - and organic. What does that even mean? What is the definition of natural? How local is local? How big of an operation do people consider too big? I'm guessing you would find a very broad spectrum of answers for each of those questions.

Farming used to be people growing their own food in their own gardens and making some of that stretch for a whole year by means of canning, freezing and preserving. Ideally, wouldn't it be awesome if we could all grow our own food? But that takes time - and land. With a majority of the country's population living in cities and not having the luxury of time to do such activities as canning and freezing, the effort is being made to grow more food locally, but it is impossible to support our population exclusively with that method. And....what is anyone in the upper 48 to do after, say....October until May-at the earliest? What would we eat? It's not feasible to sustain your entire diet that way.

My take is that all types of production methods are necessary to serve the marketplace. No one way is better than the other. We, personally, are not organic producers and never will be (or have plans to be, at least.) I will never bash an organic producer because there is a place in the market for their products, just like there is a place in the market for ours. Each way has its own advantages and disadvantages. It just makes me sad to see so many people fear our food.  There is no reason for fear. I know a lot of people reading this have a good base of knowledge about agriculture - like me, they have grown up in it and some still live or work in the industry. But I know there are also many who have no experience or access to people who are involved in production agriculture. I beg you, if you have questions....if you read something that scares you....if someone tells you something that scares you, if you have no one else, please ask me!! Use me as a resource! Farmers love talking about farming. But please come with an open mind to listen to a farmer's answers and their reasons. If you have not ever had the opportunity to be on a working farm, let me know! You are always welcome to come visit us. (If you are not in Minnesota, that's fine. I have ways of hooking people up across the country if you'd like!) Ride in a planter in the spring. Ride in a combine in the fall. Ride in a truck/semi. Ride in a sprayer. Hey...if you want a rock picking experience....hit me up! We'll always welcome help for that! The point is, people have lots and lots of opinions about our food supply, but too many people don't ask the people who are actually growing our food. There is no better source for answers to your questions than farmers.

I am passionate about this because farmers like us and our neighbors and like farmers all across the country are being vilified every day based on biased and bad information. The excuse of "just trying to make a profit" is one that doesn't really stick when you break it down. Farming is not something you just jump into. Farming is not cheap to get into - or stay in. Farming is probably one of the riskiest businesses one could ever be involved in. Farming is hard work - like hard labor. There are no weekends or vacation days or sick days. We (typically) don't get company benefits - health insurance is expensive!!! We care about the land because we want it to be healthy and productive for the generations that follow us. From the bottom of my heart, I don't know a single person that would use a crop production method that would knowingly endanger their health or the health of their family members. Because we eat this food too. We feed it to our kids. And I am totally confident in our ability, and the ability of all other farmers, to provide us with safe, reliable, affordable food produced by whatever method each individual farm so chooses.

I purposely left out all the hot talking points, any use of facts and figures, on both sides of this issue because when it comes down to it, none of that really matters until people come down to a basic level of trust. If someone has a really distorted view of what America's farmers are doing, we are not on a level where our explanations or reasons will matter to them. We need to all realize we are human and on some level, we all want the same things. There are all sorts of reasons that just conventional agriculture is not the answer. There are all sorts of reason across the board organic farming is not the answer. I am a mom and someone who wants to put good food into my body and the bodies of my family members. And I hope that if you have questions about your food, how it's produced, and it is really important to you, find a farmer to include in your decision making process - please don't use the internet as your sole source of information. I am lucky enough to be part of a wonderful group of women across the country that volunteer to share their experiences and stories about agriculture. We are called CommonGround - or find our Facebook page. Here you can find a multitude of women who are more than willing to share and talk about any topic you may have questions about. Conventional farming, organic farming, livestock, dairy.....you name it, there is someone there who's doing it and would LOVE to have a conversation with you.
We are grateful to have good eaters! We love our food!

These conversations are so important as more and more people are interested in food and how it's produced. But as people are getting more and more removed from the farm, it's more important than ever to make sure that your conversations and discussions around food involve a farmer! Happy eating!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The cool new cat in town

I have one brother and he is 4 years older than me. Lowell is his name to be specific - and I know he will be so annoyed proud I'm writing about him! Needless to say, I wasn't always the preferred playmate growing up. I can only assume he thought I was the annoying little sister. He hopefully knows better now. But, if I wanted to play with someone when the neighbor kids weren't available, I was stuck with lucky enough to have him. Well, I really stunk at those darned Transformers....please tell me I'm not the only one who thought those things were really hard!? And one of my other options was listening to some Guns 'N' Roses or Van Halen while attempting to perfect some serious WWF moves with body pillows on our trampoline. I could do a mean body slam from the top ropes and my pile driver wasn't so bad for a little girl either. I guess I should be thankful he didn't ask to use me instead of the pillows. We had some really coordinated tags in and out to. At least that's how I remember it... So once those things kind of wore off on me, what's a young farm girl to do but turn to cats!

Our yard always had cats and kittens around. Black ones....we had a black mama cat and a big black tom cat we called Killer. He was a tough old bird. But that results in a lot of the same looking black cats. It was always a real thrill when one had a white foot or some white on it's face or chest. Exciting huh? But I also had one cat that was mine that we adopted when I was really young. I named him Cocklebur. When you pulled him off the couch I apparently said it sounded like pulling a cocklebur off your clothes. And it stuck(ha!). We always just called him Bur though. He was the best cat ever. He let me dress him in baby clothes, push him around in baby strollers, he always patiently laid with me when I was sick and never tried to escape. He laid for me a long time when I was in a car accident and broke my arm when I was 4. He was just the best. He was about 20 years old when we finally had to put him to sleep. Sad, sad day. He definitely earned his ticket to kitty heaven. 
Me and Bur
When our kids were smaller, we had 2 sweet kitties, Gus and Annie, who eventually got old and sick and had to put them both to sleep too. I thank heaven the hubs is better at that stuff than me. I couldn't do it. I cried for 2 days at least with both of them. The thought of getting another animal that needed attention and care didn't appeal to me after Annie, but when auntie Jodi, uncle Greg and cousins got 2 dogs this winter/spring, the kids got on the bandwagon that they needed a pet too. And at 6, 5 and almost 4, they are definitely at a perfect age for a pet.  

We have an outside dog and 7 outside kitties right now, like all good farm kids have, but it's not always the same as having an indoor pet - most of the time anyway. I'm not up for doing a puppy at this time though. So a kitty is was. Aubrey has been relentless about this for a couple months and I decided we better do it soon so they would have some time with it this summer before both girls will be in school all day in the fall. So we went to visit some kitties at a foster place yesterday and this one fit the bill. I thought they would like one a little bit younger, fluffier...more kitteny....if that's a word. But this one put on a good show and wasn't scared of the kids at all, so of course she was the top pick.
I sent this pics to Bryan yesterday and the he responded with "It looks scared already." Fair statement. And fair assumption given these 3. 

So she showed up today after lunch. The name was a decision to make, that's for sure. These past couple months, Aubrey was insistent on either Sparkles or Glitter - of course. But that didn't seem to fit. When we left yesterday she was on a kick of Playful. I said "I didn't name you Goofy, did I? We don't name kitties something that describes them most of the time...pick a name." Finally last night at supper, I suggested she consider a princess name. Ariel was the choice.....so here she is. Ariel. Welcome to the family. I do think the kids are at an age where they can take on some of the responsibility of taking care of her, which I think is great. They can definitely make sure she has food and water. And they can help with cleaning litter...not ready to trust them alone with that task yet.....I mean Wesley did just "wash" his hands in a toilet not that long ago! We'll just play it safe til I feel confident they can do that alone! 
Goes without saying this kitty has not been left alone for a second. And probably won't be for the rest of the week, I would guess. But she will be loved. She is a pretty sweet little thing. Loves to play, already knows where her food, water and litter are. Only hang up is she may not ever get to nap....people won't leave her alone for a second! That's ok though. I just hope the kids enjoy her as much as I enjoyed Bur growing up and they have a wonderful bond and lots of good memories! It looks like it's already started!! I wonder how long before the novelty wears off and they will go outside and play again!! I had to kick them out the door today and it lasted a whole 15 minutes or so! Just another new adventure for our household. I'm interested to see the relationship she has with each of the kids - who she will gravitate too. I'd love to hear some stories about your favorite pet/pets! 
She is pretty good entertainment!
This one has kind of become attached already

She's just a little happy today

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The same...but different

This post is one out of my comfort zone as far as sharing with the world.  But it is something I have rolling around in my head. A lot. What a way to start a post, huh? But I also know that the beauty of the internet is that is can help us feel connected...not so alone in our feelings and emotions. And maybe, there are other special needs parents out there who have the same thoughts.

A couple weeks old
Our first child, Alaina Marie, entered the world on September 11th, 2008. She will be seven this year. Seven. Wow. When she entered the world she had her own little surprise to share with us. The presence of a 47th chromosome. Down syndrome. To say we were shocked is an understatement. I ran the gamut of emotions. And still do - although the highest highs and lowest lows don't seem quite as steep anymore. Most days I feel like I'm on a roller coaster with the little hills - the ones that just barely lift you off your seat and make your tummy feel funny. The first few weeks, months, maybe even years, after she was born we were taking some serious drops, people. When you couple the unexpected with no real world knowledge of what we were facing, an imagination (and the internet in this case) are your worst enemy.

One statement in general that I think about very often is the mantra in the special needs community of, "My child is no different than any other child." Some pound their fist at organizers of activities or at IEP meetings - demanding equality in whatever way that looks in their head. Followed by "they have the same emotions, they just want a chance, they want to be loved and have a happy life." I will never, ever disagree with those last thoughts! We're all people and deep down inside we do wanted to be treated the same. But I sometimes stand back and wonder how I can utter these words - because I have before. More as a reflex. I think we get used to our talking points and this may be one that's in a lot of special needs parent's arsenals. And it's true in many ways, our Alaina isn't any different from her peers. She loves to have fun and play. She likes to learn and be involved. She loves to please people and thrives off of praise. She gets mad when her brother and sister take something of hers. She gets mad at me when I won't let her have her way. She loves to laugh and give hugs. All things that any other kid experiences.

For me??
But I also look at our life the past almost 7 years. My life with this beautiful child has taken a much different path than most other parents have travelled with their kids. We are different.

When you have family - beyond blood and closest friends(yes, they feel like family to me because many of them I have spent more time with in the past 7 years than some of my family members) and they are called special ed teachers, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and doctors. We are different.

I see you!
When we spend our summers possibly busier than our school year to continue to help her reach her full potential by driving an hour and a half for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. We do hippotherapy once a week (that is animal therapy - horses to be exact.) I have persuaded two angels to tutor Alaina this summer also to help her maintain her level of work as when she left on the last day of school. And this on top of all her regular kid activities. Gymnastics, swimming lessons, tball. And that leaves me and all the kids beyond exhausted - because these are things that I feel are non negotiable as a stepping stone to helping her become all she has the potential to be - not because I find it fun to fill our schedule with all these things. We are different.

To structure and plan her days for her. Being allowed by our wonderful school, we can have a say in what teacher we would like to see her with. What students would be most beneficial to have in class with her. Those are luxuries a lot of other parents don't always get. That was made clear to me this spring while going through the process of sending my second child to kindergarten round up. I felt wildly out of control of her whole situation. Not knowing who her teacher will be til registration in August...not knowing who will be in her class. This is how it is for most parents. But I wasn't used to it. We are different.

She loves being a big sister
Knowing Alaina is capable of learning the same concepts as her peers. Doing equivalent work. Equivalent.....modified....adapted work. And that lies mostly on the teachers shoulders  - along with our input of course(but thanks be to God we have an amazing, amazing team for her at school and outside of school) to make the changes necessary to give her a chance to be on an even playing field with her classmates. And I'm SO grateful for this....make no mistake. But it is different.

I have the pleasure of knowing some really phenomenal mothers in my part of the state, and all over the country really, with the connections we can make through the internet - who also have kiddos with 47 chromosomes. Our conversations at some points are no different than any other group of moms sitting around talking - and sometimes you would not imagine the conversations we have and the things we deal with and talk about. We are different.

This is what happens when sisters get a hold of mom's phone
As well meaning as they were, I still remember the day sitting on this same couch I'm sitting on now, listening to a social worker gush about the new director they had and all the wonderful opportunities they were creating for jobs for special needs individuals. How encouraging....but wait for it....at the landfill. Ouch. I'm guessing not many parents can say someone has sat with them touting their kids chance at having a job at the landfill - as a positive thing. I still remember trying to hold back tears and continue on with the conversation after that. (Just a plug - creating good, meaningful jobs for individuals with special needs is a huge area of improvement we as a society need to make.) We are different.

I know Alaina is smart as a whip. And so intuitive....but I sit and worry about if she will be able to read and write well enough to function independently. I don't doubt her, but it is a realistic thought. While parents worry about the choices their kids make and the things they do growing up, most parents don't give a second thought to developmental milestones and what it could mean for their child's future because it just happens for their kids. I see it with my own. Lots and lots of things we have had to teach Alaina, Aubrey and Wesley have simply learned on their own. I have always been amazed at how easily and quickly things come for them. It is different.

To be having a conversation about planning out your child's future and establishing a special needs trust and thinking about who will look after your child if, God forbid, something would happen to us. She will need care and supervision far beyond what our other kids will need. Writing a letter of intent for her needs and wants as we do not know if she will be able to accurately convey them to someone if we are gone. We are different.

To be told we need to start thinking about where our child would like to live and getting their name on lists when they are 14, 15 years old. Hopefully making those decisions with Alaina, but we don't know. When most kids are starting to think about what they want to be or where they want to go to school, or travel or live, we will be trying to decide if/where she will be trying to live independently or semi-independently, or continuing to live at home with us. We are different.

Remembering reading a story of a family who loved their child with Down syndrome to the moon and back, but they were a little sad that at 13, they had never really had a real conversation with their child. And being scared to death. And now, Alaina is almost 7, and I suppose I never really have had a conversation with my daughter. She uses broken phrases and it usually doesn't last more than 2-3 exchanges with many single word answers. It's not as scary or sad as I once envisioned when she was a baby, but sometimes it does make me sad if I think too hard about it. When I have so many stories about cute things our other kids say and I realize that would be a missing part of her baby book....it's not bad, but it is different.

I DO NOT say all this as an attempt to gain pity. Not at all. AT ALL. We have no need for that. This space is for me to get out some of my thoughts and feelings I have rattling around in my head at times. And although many of these thoughts race through my head quite frequently, the days are few and far between that I really let them get to me. This is our life with Alaina. And she is worth it. So worth it. If you have met this child, you know how worth it it is. If you have seen her smile or had the pleasure of hearing her laugh, it's so worth it. I started thinking about this last night when I put her to bed. Out of the thousands of times I have told her I loved her, I can probably count on both hands the numbers of times I've gotten a concrete "love you mama" back. My heart melts when I hear it from any of my kids, but to hear it from Alaina in such an appropriate context, is well, indescribable. You celebrate all your kids, but the one thing I will always agree with is celebrating those milestone and little things is so much sweeter with a child with special needs. It is a unique view of the world that not everyone gets to experience. Some may think they don't want to experience it...but I can't imagine going through life not having been given this gift to see the value of life through a different lens. To know compassion like I never did before. And even though I have hard days from time to time, I'm so grateful. Grateful that she is ours.

So I will never sit at an IEP meeting and say "she's no different" when I am surrounded by a team of people who's job it is to modify her work, her environment, so it doesn't seem as different for her. I won't pretend that "she's no different" when I ask to stay at an activity that parents aren't supposed to stay at because our bathroom skills at almost 7 are not independent yet. That is different...from most other kids. From most other families. This different is hard sometimes, but also good. I just found I'm more ok with being different than I thought.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!

We started our celebrations for the 4th a day or two early by meeting my best friend, Libby, and her 3 kids in Okoboji for some fun adventures! They live in Pella, IA, so it's a tad longer drive for them, but a nice meeting spot with lots to do! Was a bit hairy on the trip down when Aubrey threatened Wesley with calling the cops on him with her play cell phone if he didn't stop crying about the movie choice! Then she matter-of-factly suggested he just cover his eyes for the rest of the trip so he didn't have to watch it if he didn't want to. What a helpful sister, that Aubrey is.... ;)

Tuesday afternoon we loaded up all 6 kids and went to pick strawberries! This is something Bryan and I have done with our kids the past two years on the morning of the 4th, but they closed yesterday for the season - strawberries were earlier than normal this year - so we had to fit it in!

All 6 kiddos getting their picking instructions! Look at that blonde hair!! 
Libby took 4 of the kids in her row
Miss Kate and Alaina were my helpers!
Beautiful! Doesn't that just scream summer??
They have lots of treats to enjoy there too - a strawberry shake with fresh strawberries? Tastes like heaven!
Fruit of our labor! And they taste as good as they look!
When we got back we took the kids and headed for supper and a couple adult beverages at Barefoot Bar. Was really chilly for beginning of July, but once the kids hit the playground they forgot all about how cold they were! Was a nice night to enjoy watching our kids and getting to sit and talk - which is a real treat for us since we live 5 hours apart. We headed home for bed and took in a children's theater the next morning, which the kids really enjoyed too. And Libby and I both scored a fun flea market find before heading home! Was only about 24 hours together, but the kids and moms alike had a wonderful time!

Today has been all kitchen time. I invited our family and some friends over to join us for food and fireworks this evening. Looking forward to it! This is what we get to enjoy from all our strawberry picking efforts. A favorite of my family's....we always called it strawberry goop. I'm sure out in the recipe universe there is a much more appealing name, but this is what I've always known it by! Butter, sugar, cream cheese, cool whip, strawberries....yep, none of those are bad, and together they are even better! I'm trying out lemonade from scratch tonight too! I usually just use a powder or frozen concentrate, but thought I'd give it a whirl. My batch of simple syrup should be cool enough by now actually....will let you know if it paid off and was worth the effort! ;)

My version of strawberry goop - hope it tastes as good as it looks!
My official strawberry taste tester - she gave her seal of approval!
My little farmer - he had to wear this shirt to ride with daddy while spraying today!
Just wanted to pop in and wish everyone a very happy and safe 4th of July! Hope you can spend some time with family and friends and be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy every day and those who devote their lives to ensuring those freedoms to us all!