Thursday, September 18, 2014

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Speak?

When we moved to Florida one of the challenges I knew we would face would be finding new therapists for Mason.  There's a process:  see your Primary Care Physician and request a referral, wait for the referral, schedule an appointment with the referred therapist, have an evaluation of child's development, schedule regular therapy sessions, begin therapy.

It's pretty straightforward, but this always exhausts me.  Yes, bringing all of my children to an appointment is a challenge, and that in itself can be tiring.  But, the evaluations with therapists are what I most dread.  For thirty minutes to an hour, I'm forced to think on all the ways that my child is not like other children his age.  Questions are asked like, "Does he distinguish between objects in a group?"  "How many words can he say?"  "When he plays with toys does he use them appropriately?"

Then, we move onto the observation of Mason's behavior.  Inwardly I try to will Mason to point to the right picture when asked to find the cookie or the ball.  I know he knows what these things are, but to point to it?  We're not there yet.  Instead, he finds the baby on the page and gives it a big wet tongue kiss.  (Insert very proud Mommy moment here because this obviously shows how much Mason loves people!)

The evaluation ends, and even though I know what the therapist is going to say hearing the words, "So, the test results show that there is a severe delay in his development," still hurts.

In that moment I have a choice to make:  dwell on the delay or think of how far he's come and keep pushing forward to help him.  I'll be honest.  Some days I dwell on the delays.  Maybe this will always be a struggle.  But, can I just tell you that God has been so good!  He is making it easier and easier for me to rejoice and move forward.  The psychologists would probably call this acceptance; I'm going to call it grace.  And I'm ever so grateful for the strength God gives.

Last week was Mason's second speech evaluation since we arrived here.  The first clinic had a waiting list of 4-6 weeks.  Since we're only living her until December, I didn't want to wait that long to get him started.  I was able to find another clinic, very close to Isabella's school, and he starts speech therapy there this morning.  I instantly liked his therapist when I saw that we had the same sandals.  The evaluation process and her way with Mason really sealed the deal for me; I think she's going to be great.

Yesterday I shared about Mason's physical developments over the summer.  Up today:

Speech Developments

Comprehension.  Mason understands so much!  I can tell him to go get his shoes and he does.  He starts heading for the stairs when I tell him it's nap time.  Just in the past few days when I ask if he's stinky, he'll point to his diaper.  (And I even think he said diaper a few times).  He may not respond with words when asked a question, but his facial expressions communicate his excitement, his disagreement, and his confusion.

Body Parts.  We've been working on these for months.  This summer, he's finally gotten some down.  He can now point to his belly, head, nose (or my nose) and mouth.  Occasionally he does hands, and I'm really trying to work with him on feet.  It helps that Jennavieve is almost on the same level now, so we can work on these things together.  She keeps pushing him to learn more.

Animal Sounds.  There's still some confusion as to what is and is not an elephant, but Mason can definitely tell you what a dog says, sometimes an elephant--complete with trunk raised and all--, and last night he said 'moo' for the first time.  Even though they aren't words, it's part of the speech development process and we cheer and jump up and down when he acquires something new.  Many times our animal sessions end with a dance party to 'What does the fox say' (per the request of my two oldest children).

Words.  Most of Mason's words are just grunts.  This is tiring.  And now Jennavieve has picked up on it.  We're working hard with both of them to replace the grunting with something else, whether sign language or an actual word.  Mason can sign 'please' and 'more', and he says 'Daddy' distinctly.  When he starts calling me Mommy we're going on vacation, or something.  I can't wait to hear him say my name.  I can't tell for sure, but I think he calls Jennavieve 'Dede'.  This week I've been trying to have him distinguish between eat and drink.  It's pretty obvious when he stands at the fridge grunting, that he wants a drink, but now he's actually signing it and making the 'd' sound.

Mason has a long way to go before he's using words appropriately.  But you know what?  I know he gets it.  He knows what's happening around him.  He understands us.  He tries to tell me things, and even though he doesn't use the right sounds, he communicates with me.  While I look forward to the day when he can say words and speak in sentences, there's also something special about this secret language he and I have.  It's rewarding when he grunts, I translate, he smiles and waves his arms, and I know that we've understood one another.

I love this little monkey.  I love him just the way he is.  Even if he never says my name, he knows I'm his Mommy.  And I pray that he will always feel how much he is loved and how proud we are to have him as our son.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

He's Come so Far

There were days when I thought Mason would never walk.  I had prayed for him to be walking by his second birthday; his birthday came and while he could walk behind a cart or holding onto both of my hands, he refused to let go.

This summer was a summer of growth in many areas of Mason's development.  When I look back over the past three months I stand in awe at what God has accomplished through this little boy, and I can't help but smile at how far he's come.

Over the next few days I'll be sharing some of the specific ways that Mason has developed recently.  It's encouraging to me to recount, and I hope that those of you who have prayed for Mason will be encouraged as well!

Physical Developments

Wednesday morning Mason has physical therapy for 30 minutes.  We have been going to the clinic for the past few weeks and we've enjoyed getting to know his new therapist, and experiencing the fun things that she has in her room, like this cool jungle gym!

In Georgia we were privileged to have in-home therapy, which was wonderful!  The situation here is a bit different, and that has been an adjustment for me, but I'm thankful that Mason has something to look forward to by being in a new environment for his therapy sessions.

I shared in this post that Mason and Jennavieve were both taking their first steps.  That was about a month ago, and now Mason is walking all over the place!  He has definitely made the transition from crawler to walker.  Sometimes when I see him toddling around I still cry at what a blessing this is!  If he falls, which he still does from time to time--balance is still a bit tricky for him--he finds the closest thing and pulls up again to keep walking.

Over the last two weeks he has been able to bend over and pick up toys, stand back up and continue walking.  We're working now on getting him to stand up on his own without help, and walk up and down stairs.

One of the biggest shifts in this area of development has been Mason's desire.  Now he wants to walk.  In fact, when we head for the car, he refuses to hold my hand.  I have to figure on a few extra minutes each time we're going somewhere, because he still moves at a pretty slow pace.

When we pick Isabella up from school we have to walk inside to get her.  Most days I try to let Mason and Jennavieve take turns walking in, the other rides in the stroller.  Mason looks like such a big boy walking down the sidewalk to get his big sister.

Last week at the end of his therapy session, his therapist let him ride the tricycle.  Oh my goodness, I thought I was going to burst!  She had straps on the pedals to keep his feet in place, but other than those and a gentle guiding on the back he was riding that bike by himself!!

When we reached the waiting room to sign out he did not want to get off of that bike.  We literally had to pull him off and he fought me all the way to the car.  I love that he is enjoying all of these new experiences.

My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord for giving us these blessings.  I struggled to learn patience while we waited for Mason to get to this point.  There were tears, anger, and discouragement for sure.  God used all of those things, though, to teach me to trust Him.

Thank you to those who have prayed!  And thank you to those of you who read these updates and celebrate with us!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Finding Our Rhythm

Moving always has its way of shaking things up a bit.  I like consistency.  And that translates into just about every area of my life.  Each time we move I have to learn a new place, unpack our belongings and figure out a new home for the pictures and dishes in differently positioned spaces.  New jobs take time to become familiar, and relationships start from nothing.

All of this takes time.  Time that isn't so free when you're also trying to figure out change for the other five people in your family.

If it was just me, I could wander aimlessly around town, hang pictures on the walls a million times before getting it 'perfect', and go door-to-door visiting for hours with my new neighbors.  The reality is, that can't happen right now.

So, instead, I hustle to feel settled, easily become unglued and this makes me lose step to the beat that is happening around me.

//From Routine to Rhythm//

Routine has been my best friend for years. Through high school, college, single life, married, and even with children.  I realize to some people this seems absurd, maybe boring, but that's just how I always felt I functioned best.

Over the past two months that we've been living in this new place, I have been extremely frustrated at what I considered the lack of routine in my life.  Yes, there were fun elements to it:  we went to the beach, took walks, had spontaneous dinners out--all good things.  But, in my home I felt like things were out of control. Cleaning was sporadic. My two youngest always had sticky black legs from crawling around the dirty linoleum floors, and we ended up grocery shopping every few days because I couldn't decide what to plan for our meals.

Then, I read a post by the Nester on routine vs rhythm.  She defined routine and rhythm like this:

Routine: something cheerleaders did when I was in high school to 90s dance music. It had predetermined, robotic movements and it was either correct or incorrect, and it was obvious if you messed up. Routine focuses on rules and doesn’t like to be changed.
Rhythm: a frame of mind that suggests more of an art. If you have rhythm, then whatever you decide to do with intention fits in the dance. Rhythm feels like choice and nuance and paying attention to your surroundings. Rhythm is alive and open to adjustments based on the circumstance. Rhythm focuses on needs.

At first I kind of chuckled because I would definitely fall under the 'robotic movements' and I always felt like I was messing up because we hadn't settled into a good routine yet.  Later that day, as we were hanging out as a family after dinner, getting ready to start the bedtime 'routine' I realized that although we weren't following strict rules, we had a sweet rhythm.

For some reason I felt pressured to keep my consistencies in every area of my life.  Breakfast is at 8, laundry is on Friday, grocery shopping on Monday, plucking my eyebrows on Sunday, etc.  I was focusing on my own rules, hating that things were changing, and then berating myself for not keeping it all together.  The reality was that everything was going just fine.

Myquilin said it beautifully in her post:

Where I get into trouble with pre-planning my meals is when things change and I get all worked up over changing my precious plan. Suddenly it turns into a routine that’s the boss of me.

Routine had become the boss of me.  Instead of providing me with the freedom and direction it had previously given, I was feeling crushed beneath the weight of expectations for myself and basically flipping out.

Releasing the idea of a routine enabled me to feel the rhythm around me.  We were learning to embrace the changes, pay attention to what was taking place around us, and focus on the needs of our children. Our rhythm was good.

//Keeping the Beat//

I started taking piano lessons when I was eight years old.  It came pretty easily at first, learning how to plunk out simple tunes, memorizing the notes in each scale.  But then I progressed on to Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart and somewhere between Mary had a Little Lamb and Fur Elise, I discovered that I could not keep a beat.  My teacher made me get a metronome and I would practice each day with that little machine tick-ticking away to keep time, giving me the beat I needed to stick with the rhythm.

There are a few practices in my daily life that help me to keep the beat, my metronome, if you will, making what I now call our rhythm seem not so harried, flow more smoothly, and help to keep me from getting unglued when things change.  They aren't all earth-shattering practices, but I share them with you to maybe help you notice some of those things that you do (or might need to do) in order to keep your beat.

Set the coffee the night before.  There's something about making coffee in the morning that just sort of sets me off.  When I discovered this, it became much easier to add coffee prep in with cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, rather than grumbling about having to start it in the morning.  It's also an added bonus to be lured out of bed at 5AM by the smell of fresh coffee brewing.

Plan out a grocery list and meals for one week at a time.  Buying in bulk is wonderful and in the past that has worked well for us.  The past two months have revealed that I dislike that right now.  It's less overwhelming to prepare for one week, and I find myself more excited about cooking dinner and being creative when I only have to think ahead for seven days.

Rearrange daily activities to fit into the rhythm.  As I mentioned above, breakfast has always been at 8, and my babies always stayed in bed in the morning until just before this.  With Isabella's school schedule, we leave the house at 7:10, so I lost almost an hour of my morning time.  This was hard for me at first, but there's no getting around it.  Our kids are all in bed now by 7:30 in the evenings, so if I'm disciplined (which isn't always), I can utilize that extra time in the evening to accomplish some of the things I had previously done in the morning.  Laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping get done.  But now they are squeezed into times between Mason's therapy sessions and picking Isabella up from school.  Errands don't have to take place first thing in the morning, and I have learned to be okay with that.  I'm just keeping with the rhythm.

Daily time with the Lord.  Some days this looks different than others, but as a general rule I get up and with that coffee that got me out of bed, I journal about life.  Emptying my mind of what's been running through it since the day before helps me prepare to read God's Word.  Generally, I read through a book of the Bible at a time, reading just a few verses.  I read and re-read, sometimes write down verbatim some of the passage, other times I might outline a little of what I understood, and often there is a prayer written down.  I need Truth, and for me, starting the day out by thinking and meditating on it keeps me grounded throughout the rest of the day.

Relax.  A few months ago I asked Bradley how I needed to change most.  He gently told me that I needed to relax.  About everything.  I would get worked up over the slightest thing and it negatively affected him, our kids, and certainly me.  Keeping to the beat doesn't happen very easily when we're uptight and resisting any change taking place.  My best performances on the piano happened when I was relaxed and let the music flow through my fingers to the rhythm.  As I relax I'm able to accept the changes that come and work with them to keep our family going.

Everybody's rhythm is different.  I don't expect you to keep to mine, and I won't try to march to yours.  But whatever rhythm you have, find those things that help you keep the beat, and when things change, you'll be okay to eat breakfast at 8:30, do laundry as needed, even if it isn't on Fridays, and pluck your eyebrows on Thursday instead of Sunday.

What do you do to keep the beat in your family?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

First Weeks of School

We are three weeks into school and still going strong!  Isabella loves going and always comes out of the building with a smile on her face at the end of the day.  Watching her enjoy this new season of life has been a privilege for all of us, and we are so happy with our decision to send her to school this semester.

I've always known that she was a social girl, but this has come out even more in the past few weeks.  When I ask her about her day, the first things she tells me are what different people were wearing that day, including the little girls who have 'these beads in their hair, Mommy.  And, when they shake their heads, they jingle.  Can you do that to my hair, Mommy?'

She didn't finish her snack for the first week of school.  Initially I thought this was due to her talking to those around her.  Nope.  No talking allowed during their short snack time.  So, then I realized that she's not eating her snack because she's too busy looking around at everyone.  She takes it all in, and I love this about her.

After we hear about recess and who wore what at school, eventually she shares with us what they learned.  Right now they're focusing on phonics and letter/number writing.  Much of this we had already done together, but reinforcement is great, and there is oh, so much more to school than academics.  One of the things they learn in Kindergarten is to write in cursive.  She was bubbling over one day when she explained to me that they were learning to write like the teacher.

Mallory has had the hardest time adjusting to Isabella attending school.  The younger two don't understand how to 'play' with her, and so for four hours she's without a constant playmate.  Guess who this responsibility falls on?  Yep, me.  And, I'm learning how to better involve Mallory in some of my household tasks, as well as try to find ways to spend focused time just with her.  On the days when I get it right, she says to me, "That was the funnest day ever!"

 It took me a few days to figure out the drop-off and pick-up system at school (aka, minivan parade), but now I think we have it down.  We try to leave the house around 7:10 so I beat the crazy traffic, getting Isabella to school a little early for some extra time with her teacher.  I'm so thankful that the teacher encourages this, and always has something for the kids to do before the official start of school.

Mason and Jennavieve are pretty much clueless about the change in our family, which is a good thing.  They roll with whatever comes pretty well.  Mason now recognizes the parking lot of the school, and gets pretty excited when he knows we're picking up his big sister.

I'm still adjusting to our new schedule and working to figure out how to best manage everything and everyone.  Something tells me I'll always be working on this as our children get older, job schedules change, and moves with the military happen every few years.  The Lord is teaching me flexibility, something I learn over and over again, and Lord willing, I'll be back on Friday sharing a bit more about this.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Post-Vacation Catch Up

Last week we spent seven wonderful days with my parents, sisters and their families on the gorgeous Alabama Gulf Coast.  Although we weren't too far from our home, it still felt like getting away and coming back was pretty hard.

The alarm went off at 5 this morning and I had to hit snooze twice before finally turning on the lamp and forcing myself out of bed.  Reality stinks.

Not really, but that's how we feel right now when we are still tired from sleepless nights with our #4, who has the hardest time teething.  None of my other babies struggled with this, but when she gets teeth, only snuggling with Mommy calms her down in the middle of the night.  This equals little (or no) sleep for me, but precious moments of cuddling with my little girl.  Night time and nap times last week were spent much like the picture below. She obviously didn't get the memo that vacation means extra rest.

Today we're back to the grind of school for Isabella and figuring out a good routine for the rest of us during our mornings without her.  I'm hoping to order some preschool workbooks for Mallory, who is begging me to do 'homeschool' with her.  She is still trying to to find her way without her big sister around, and I'm learning more and more about my middle girl all the time.

We have some appointments to schedule for Mason's therapy--and hopefully all of that will be settled this week.  It's been a long road this time around, trying to find the best options for his care, and quite frankly, it exhausts me (more on that to come).

One of my goals last week was to spend limited time on the computer, and more time in some good books.  I didn't open my computer all week, and that felt really good.  I was able to squeeze in some quality reading time, and I'll share some book recommendations soon.

Now, we're back to our day-to-day.  The Lord is teaching me to be content and joyful, no matter how my circumstances make me feel.  There is joy in the Lord, and He is constant, so my joy should be constant if it's truly found in Him.  Right?  Preaching the truth to myself, over and over, and praying that I will live it out every moment of the day.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reading with the Kids & a Great Resource

Reading books aloud to our children has always been something that I've enjoyed.  Thankfully, they have each grown to love it as well.  Sitting on the floor with all four of them crowded around is one of the best parts of my day.

Isabella (5) and Mallory (4) have gotten to the point now where they love chapter books.  I think it was two years ago when we started the Little House on the Prairie series.  It astounded me how much they retained at such a young age, so I made it a point to continue to incorporate longer books into our reading times.  Since then we've finished that series, read Ballet Shoes, Charlotte's Web, and the Pippi Longstocking series

As I was researching curriculum for our schooling decision this year, one thing that I loved about so many curricula was the read aloud book list they had for each grade.  Even though we enrolled Isabella in school this year, I wanted to keep reading to the girls each day.  It can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide where to begin, so I just went off of Sonlight's book list for Kindergarten and First grades.

I made a list of all the books they recommended.  My mom told me about Thriftbooks, an online used bookstore.  There are lots of used book options out there, for sure, but I have enjoyed Thriftbooks because they have free shipping.  The books ship within 4-14 business days, so if you need something right away, this probably isn't your best option.  We have no time restraints, so it was worth it to me to wait awhile and save money on shipping.  They didn't have all of the books on the lists, so I have my running list and will continue to check back as time goes on.

Our books have all arrived over the past few days and the girls loved looking through them. They opted to read The House at Pooh Corner first.  We can't wait for the little two to go down for their naps so we can get lost in the Hundred Acre wood.

What are your favorite books to read to your kids?  Any recommendations for places to purchase used books?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five Years

"Thou shalt not murder," the Pastor read as he began his sermon.

I sort of grunted under my breath, "Oh, good grief."  And Bradley kindly put his arm around me.

I didn't want to hear an entire sermon about murder.  I know how awful it is.  I know it's wrong.  And five years can't erase the sting of that very word.  A lifetime won't erase the pain.

I remember the call as if it was yesterday.  It was my Dad.  It was about 2:30 in the afternoon in CA, 5:30 where my Dad was.  I don't remember the exact words, but something like, "I have some bad news.  Your brother is dead.  He's been killed."

My brother, and his girlfriend, murdered.  No warning, no reasons, no answers, no going back.  They were gone forever.

Forever gone, but forever with Jesus.


Five years can't erase the power that is in this Name.  A lifetime won't remove the peace that comes from His presence.

Jesus, who willingly gave up His life to break the power of sin.

Jesus, who rose again in order that we might have life eternal.

Jesus, who gives grace to walk through life's most challenging days.

Jesus, who will one day come again in power and glory.

And as I sat through a sermon about murder and the sacredness of life, I cried, yes, because I miss my brother and it still hurts to have him gone.

But, I also rejoiced.  Because what is most powerful about death is not the pain that it can bring, but that Jesus has conquered it.

Take five minutes, if you would, and listen to this song, and be reminded of the great truth that Jesus has risen from the dead.