Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Christmas Card Round-Up

Well, here it is folks: the only picture of the entire family looking at the camera that was captured this year.

We are at a roadside cranberry bog in Cape Cod.  When I say roadside, I mean we looked for one near us on the map, pulled up next to it, and asked the men harvesting if we could walk around and look if we promised not to touch anything (oh, outings with children).  I would love to say that I'll get around to writing about our fall trip to the Cape, but my track record this year says don't hold your breath.  I'll just say it was a borderline magical time.  (Again, thanks Janie and Big!)

Anyhow, I had Mary snap a few shots real quick because the previous day's attempt to snap a family photo in a picturesque spot yielded only this:

And here's grace- I didn't even plan our color coordinated outfits in the bog picture.  (Not that I coordinated our outfits in this picture either.  Please don't think I approve of G's T-shirt/fleece vest/track pants combo.)

Anyhow, here's what we've been up to this year:

Joe and Me:

Oh, you know, surviving.  Just kidding.  Sort of.  We did a whole lot of thriving too.  Joe did some great furniture projects: an incredible farm table with bench, plus a table and chairs for the playroom. He also took up the guitar.  Joe has been meaning to do this since college (because it seems the ladies love a Christian guy that can play a few worship songs on the guitar).  I don't think that is his current reason for playing and it's been really fun for all of us.  I have dabbled alongside on the ukelele, but am not near as disciplined as Joe.  I can still only eke out a few chords. My other main activity this year has been working out on a regular basis.  In the Spring I started attending group fitness classes at my gym and it has CHANGED MY LIFE.  Or at least my workout life. I look forward to going to the gym, I actually GO consistently, I workout way harder than I ever would on my own, and I am in the best shape I've been in since high school.  Not saying I LOOK like I did in high school. Mercy. Anyhow, to the moms out there thinking about joining a gym in the new year- find one that has good child care and GO TO A CLASS.  I take boot camp type classes and cardio kickboxing, but any class will do.  And it's a great outing for the kiddos.

G (6):

Well, as you can tell from this picture, orthodontia is in our near future.  Bless his heart, between Joe and I his teeth never had a chance.  Neither did his lungs.  But I digress. He's in first grade and really enjoys school.  You will rarely meet a more social kid in your life.  If he has to go a day without playing with his friends it is ROUGH.  It often involves weeping and gnashing of teeth.   You know, sackcloth, ashes, the whole bit.  His favorite thing right now, by far, is Pokemon.  Good grief.  The neighborhood kids introduced him and since then every single allowance dollar has been spent on Pokemon cards.  We can't understand it, but I guess there are worse things.  He also loves scootering, baseball, spaghetti, and his sister.  

Joshua (4):
Looking at cranberries.
At the beginning of this year our therapist predicted that big things would happen for Joshua between the ages of 4 and 5.  Namely, we hoped he would potty train and make huge strides in his expressive language.  In the middle of last year's winter both of those things seemed impossible.  At the end of the summer it still seemed highly unlikely.  But something changed this fall.  He decided he didn't want to use a diaper any more and between school and home working together he has potty trained.  What a joy to not change a 4.5 year old's diapers any more!!!

Even greater, he has decided to start talking in the last month.  What??!!!  Who is this boy? It is such a huge change, I can barely describe to it.  He is able to tell us with one or two words what he wants, be prompted to say almost anything, and is WAY more interactive.  Plus, he is able to show us what he knows and we (home, school, therapy) have all been shocked to learn how much! He knows all his letters and their sounds, his numbers, shapes, and his colors. He can identify at least a few sight words in books plus his name and again, colors.  Because of his communication we have had FAR less tantrums.  This change in him has been such a gift: we are thrilled for him and yet feel undeserving on our end of things.

Baby A (2):

Oh, this girl.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: she is such a gift.  I'm sure there has never been a more precious child.  She recently turned two and is just at the most fun stage.  Lots of new words and lots of opinions.  Baby A continues to be laid back, happy, fairly obedient and is a BIG TIME Mama's girl.  Her brothers ("Bubba" and "Jahwah") are the light of her life, even though "Jahwah" (Joshua) still doesn't give her the time of day.  The highlight of her day is going to get the boys off the bus. Other favorites are Mickey ("Key"), Thomas the Train ("Nomas"), baby doll with stroller, talking in general, and anything someone else is currently playing with.  We love having a little girl in the family and I can tell that G is (im)patiently waiting for her to be a bit older so they can really play. 

A big KUDOS for those of you that have made it this far.  Merry, merry Christmas! Thanks for being a part of our lives this and every year.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Well, there I was in Cardio Kickboxing class.  I take classes 3 mornings a week at my gym, and this one is by far my least favorite.  But I take it because I love the instructor and know it's good for my body.

(Side note: Actually, Mary and I borderline worship this instructor.  We have discussed how we're afraid that if she told us to run and jump off a cliff we probably would.)

On the best of days it takes all of my physical energy and mental focus to get through the hour long class.  The first time I ever attended I was, no joke, seeing black spots before the WARM UP was even finished.  But a couple of weeks ago we did a series of moves/kicks that I just could not do.  It was fast, it was new, and it involved switching my body weight from one side to the other in a strange way. (Didn't that make sense?) Looking around, I'm pretty sure I was the only one struggling with it.  That's nothing new and frankly doesn't bother me. But not only could I not make my body do the move,  it started making me dizzy and a little nauseous.

And then.  And then I realized I was experiencing a tiny tiny bit of what it's like to be Joshua.  Except that's his every day, all day.  His whole life. His brain and body are struggling to make connections and pathways that the rest of us do effortlessly. And then I really got sick and ran out of the class sobbing.

I stood out in the hallway of the gym completely broken.

Grieving for his frustration, his struggles.  Thinking about how hard he works everyday to communicate, to learn. Crying for how much I love him. I was undone.

But it was good.  Brokenness is good.  Because it is after we are broken that God can come in and put us back together in a different, better way.  He is re-shaping my heart for Joshua and I desperately need that.  Because all too often I am frustrated with Joshua and how he's behaving.  And I needed a little taste of what it's like to be him so that I can hopefully be more gracious.

A little Joshua update, he is rounding the corner of being potty-trained.  We are oh so proud of him! He is also doing a lot better responding to his name and mimicking sounds and words.  My relationship with Joshua is the best it has been since Baby A was born and I am so grateful for that.

Hope to be back with another post soon.  Way too many things piling up and Baby A turns 2 this month for goodness sakes.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Living Next Door to Close Friends: A How To

Tonight I'm sitting in my living room writing while Joe, Matt and G play an assortment of guitars/mandolin in the background. Well, it might be generous to use the word "play" in regard to Grayson and his guitar, but it's very sweet nonetheless.

The Stephenson gang: Matt, Mary, Carolyn, William and Thomas have been living 4 doors down from us for almost a year.  In townhouse speak, that's right on top of one another.  And it has been such a gift. How else do you spontaneously end up playing tunes together on a work night after the kids are in bed? Or only cook 4 nights a week, because your compatriot cooks the others? And best of all, have a 10 pm backyard sledding party?

Recently a few of our friends have wondered how this can work.  How can you live so closely and be so intimately involved in each other's lives and remain good friends?

What follows is a primer on how we do it.  Because like any relationship worth having, it does take some work.  However, during our 24 hour road trip a few weeks ago, Mary and I discussed the ins and outs of it all and were amazed to see how God has orchestrated things for our good.

1. Grace: When you see someone every day you're going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Along with laughing, you're going to be annoyed, and disappointed, whether with an adult or with a child.  We all need an extra dose of grace for one another and just like God's mercies are new every morning, we all get to start over with each other in the morning too.  It's important to always think the best of people: chances are that if you chose these friends in the first place, they would NEVER do anything to hurt you on purpose.  So be quick to forgive and be thankful that they are so forgiving towards you as well.

2. Communication: We have a running joke about communication around here and the route it takes and doesn't take.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to name any names Matt and Mary)  But truly, communication is so important.  Whether it's what we're eating for dinner, who is babysitting at what time or how you FEEL about something.  And listen, if you're spending this much time with people, you're going to have to say some hard things.  It's not fun, nobody wants to, it's really awkward and there might be tears.  But if you're going to get to the good stuff and really be family it's going to be required at some point.  Here are a couple of tips for these conversations:  have them in the car- it's a lot easier when you're not staring each other in the face OR do it over drinks. Seriously.  (No drinks in the car) And watch your tone!

4. Parenting: This is tricky. No matter how similar your beliefs, personalities, and humor, there are bound to be differences in your parenting. Instead of judging how you would do things differently (as if your parenting is the end all), cheer one another on.  Share your struggles on the dark days and show your support.  When you live next door, your children will be raised like siblings.  i.e. there will be lots of bickering.  Mary and I especially, being home all day, have found it very helpful to communicate with each other about correcting "the group";  what we're comfortable with the other person doing with our child, and what we think is/isn't working.  It can be such a joy and comfort to have your friends right there in the trenches of childrearing with you.

Carolyn and Baby A at the grocery store.

William and G on a hike.
5. Don't Double the Work: I love to plan meals and cook.  Mary doesn't.  Mary loves to do art and science experiments with the kids.  I DO NOT.  We are so thankful to have each other to lighten the load throughout the week.  Who says you can't have dinner together 4 times a week?  That's one less kitchen to clean and someone is getting a break!  Plus, you eat things that aren't necessarily in your own rotation.  Mary makes a mean pizza.  And I cook red meat for Matt (Mary only deals in poultry).  We are convinced that cooking in bulk saves money. We also give each other breaks.  If I'm running errands with only Baby A, I'll grab Carolyn or William to come with me.  Mary routinely takes Joshua to her house so that I can have some down time.  For you and your friend, it might be driving the carpool or going to Costco for both families.  Whatever it is, figure it out.  This has to be one of our favorite things about living close.

6. Other friends: You still need 'em.  Yes, it's so much easier to hang out with someone next door, but it's important to continue to cultivate other friendships.  First of all, you're going to need a break from each other.  Second, every friendship is unique and sharpens us in different ways. And I don't know about you, but I need lots of sharpening.  So even though you feel like you're going out of the way to plan ahead and drive across town, it's totally worth it.

In conclusion, do this! Life has been so much richer having friends close by to do daily life with.  And an absolute necessity if you don't have family nearby.  Do I think it's crazy to go out of your way move to be near your friends? NO!  Would I do it again? YES!

We love you crazy Stephensons!  Thanks for putting up with us. (And don't ever leave)

We are clearly NOT of the selfie generation.  Cannot get our act together.
Oops, where's Mary?

Where's Ashleigh?

There.  Except Matt and Joe look a little too cozy.  But I guess that's what happen when one climbs into the lap of the other.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What's Joshua Like?

I think upon hearing the word "autism" one can immediately have a certain picture in their head.  At least I used to.  But all people on the spectrum are different.  And while talking to my counselor recently, I realized that she (and probably others) has the wrong idea about what Joshua is like. So today, I'm going to tell you all about him. And I think it's going to challenge your view of these kids.

From birth, Joe and I have always described Joshua as laid back. He still is.

See?  Right there.  You weren't expecting that.  I wouldn't either.  I know that doesn't square with all of my talk about his fierce tantrums.  But really, those are just a small, small portion of his life.

He has always been very happy-go-lucky with lots of smiles and laughter.  Like G (and unlike Baby A), he is a snuggler.  Today we spent about 30 minutes with him laying against me on the bed while I read and he played iPad. He loves to be tickled and thrown around. He's quiet a lot of the time because he doesn't really talk, but can go through periods during the day with LOTS of loud, happy outbursts.  More and more these outbursts are words:  "Yucky!" "Yes!" "Jaaaahsh" (Josh) "Mickey!" "1-2-3!", etc. He wakes up at 5:45 am every morning and runs down the hall towards our room saying "Daddeee! Daddeee!"

Joshua LOVES to play with his siblings and other kids.  He doesn't have the skills to do it on his own, but when we facilitate he can play a mean game of chase or wrestle. And actually he has been reciprocating with William (age 2) lately.

He can now get in his car seat, has been opening the front door (oh dear), and is getting much better about sticking near us in public. They call him "Joshie" at school and he loves it there. He loves to be outside and will walk anywhere holding your hand. He has always, always been drawn to music and I can't wait for the day that he can pick up an instrument. He has deep connections with those he is in a relationship with. When he wants to, he makes STELLAR eye contact. And as Mary says, it's like he looks into your soul with those big blue eyes.

He is comfortable with new people.  If you engage with him, he's cool with you.

His favorite thing to watch right now is the Kids TV 123 channel on YouTube. It is full of educational songs, simply illustrated, and some with catchy tunes. Actually, all 3 kids like it.  Besides Mickey Mouse, it's the one "show" they agree on.  Joshua has been singing along to many of these songs and repeating words from them at random times.  Most memorably, "Yucky! Yucky! Yucky!" all through church.

We always tell him he's going to get by in life on his good looks.

We have been doing some potty training.  And I use the term "training" very loosely. There is no underwear involved and it's all very laid back.  Basically, we sit him on the potty with the iPad several times a day.  Sometimes he does some business, sometimes he doesn't.  If he does, we make a big deal and he gets a few m&ms.  If he doesn't, we just get him off and put his diaper back on.  We started the process because, without going into detail, he started showing some signs that maybe he was done wearing a diaper.  The difficult part is communication...because he's not great at it...doesn't see the value in it a lot of the time. If he is regularly using the potty by the fall, we will start the hard core portion of training, with his teacher leading it from school.

We're working on starting ABA therapy with Joshua. It's complicated to explain, but it is one of the only medically proven therapies to help people on the autism spectrum.  Joshua already receives some ABA therapy at school, but we (and his other therapists/teachers) believe he would REALLY REALLY benefit from a more intensive approach: one on one, several hours a week. The hard part is that it is cost prohibitive without insurance.  We do pay for some therapy out of pocket, but ABA is thousands a month and that is just not possible.  Interestingly, most of the states mandate that insurance companies must cover autism therapy.  However, Blue Cross (and most other federal government providers) realized they didn't have to provide coverage because they aren't a state, so they DON'T.  Shady, but true. We believe there is one insurance option for us that will help pay, but of course we won't be able to get started until January 1st.  We're thankful for advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, without whom I doubt any insurance companies would cover therapy for children on the spectrum.

In the meantime we're hoping to hire a local special ed grad student out of George Mason to hang out with Joshua a couple of days a week.  This will accomplish a few things: another person for Joshua to interact with, someone with knowledge in the field to work with him, and it gives Joe and I a little bit of a break.

If you haven't met Joshua in person, I really hope you do some day.  He is a joy.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Cape

Listen, I have no business referring to Cape Cod as "The Cape".  That is surely reserved for people who live there and/or those like Mary who have spent their growing up years vacationing on the island.  I have now been there once.  But, OH did I love it.  I mean, I really, really loved it. And as Joe keeps telling everyone, I have practically planned out the next 30 years of our family vacations there, so I'm using it.  The Cape!

Mary's family owns a cottage on Cape Cod that has been handed down for generations. It is New England old ramshackle, cedar shingle covered cottage perfection.  Old wallpaper, uneven floors, antiques everywhere, original kitchen perfection.  You know the smell of an old house?  To me it's a great smell, so homey.  It had that.  Her parents were up there staying for a couple of weeks so Mary and I left the big kids with the Dads and took the babies with us for a long weekend on the Cape.

The drive should have been about 8-9 hours with stops for the kids.  And I don't know how it happened, but in BOTH directions we made navigational errors that resulted in a 12 hour drive.  We can't even be trusted with a GPS.  However, on the way back, we did end up driving through the most delightful little town just north of New York City, Mount Kisco, (not to be confused with Mount Crisco.  I know, I'm hilarious) and also saw MOST of the Connecticut countryside.  On accident. I didn't realize CT was so hilly/mountainous.  It was gorgeous.

And you know what?  Mary and I NEVER get to have un-interrupted conversations, so even being in the car for 12 hours without most of the kids was a joy.  We drove through all sorts of cities on the eastern seaboard that I had previously thought were small towns.  New Haven (where Yale is), huge place, with a downtown skyline and everything.  Same with Mystic and Bridgeport, among others.   It tickled me to no end to pass through Rhode Island and Massachusetts as I've always been fascinated with New England.

Cape Cod itself was wonderful.  Let us not forget that Dawson's Creek, though filmed in NC, was set on Cape Cod.  And I never understood how the kids were always walking everywhere.  But now I do.  There are small towns/villages everywhere around the island and so many of them are walkable.  The place we stayed was one block off of the town's main strip.  All day long we could pop up the street within 5 minutes or less to grab a coffee or lunch or visit the boutiques.  The rest of the time was spent walking the neighborhoods or to the beach or sitting on the big screened in porch and gabbing.  I tell you, I didn't realize how uptight my body has felt recently until I was completely relaxed up there.  I had my first lobster, first clam chowder, and first true outdoor shower.  We read, played with the kids, enjoyed the cool breezes and did what could be described as "nothing".  It was marvelous. And on Sunday morning, as the hour of going home drew closer, I could feel my body starting to tighten up again.  Ugh.

Early morning snuggles with Mary.

Being entertained by Big (Mary's Dad) 
A was so happy to spend hours playing on the porch. 
Sweet time with my girl.  Not matching on purpose.
In nearby Chatham
 Janie and Big: I can't thank you enough for this weekend.  It was such a gift. Mary, thanks for sharing your parents and letting me tag along.  Joe and Matt: Thank y'all for the time away and for wrangling the rest of the crew.  I can't say this will be a one time thing.  (Love ya!)

And to my dear Cape Cod, I'll see you in October.  xoxo

Friday, May 29, 2015

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


Joshua and Baby A are going at it again.

April and most of May were a nice respite for this family.  Not many tantrums, lots of happy time outside, and everybody getting along.

Joshua has made some great progress this Spring.  Twice he has used language spontaneously (correctly) with us.  Using language spontaneously is saying a word on your own, as opposed to repeating or imitating.  As I've mentioned, he has been doing a lot more imitating, which is huge, but to move forward we need him to realize the power of language by using it himself without prompting from us.  (Besides "Daddy".  The boy has no problem with that word.)

The first time Joshua spoke, he and Gran were sitting looking at the iPad and he was having trouble with it.  I came up to help out and he said "Go!", while pushing me away with his feet.  The only reason I was absolutely certain that he did, in fact, mean to say Go, instead of just coincidentally making that sound, was because of the physical response with it.  I was thrilled to "Go"!

A few days later Joe had grilled some sausages and Joshua spied them on the counter.  Out of nowhere he said, "hot dog!"  We couldn't believe it.  He was given all the "hot dog" he wanted.

We so want him to realize the usefulness of talking that we would do just about anything to reinforce this behavior.  If he walked in after school today and said,"Mommy, I want a pony", I'm pretty sure I would go out to the horse farms in Leesburg and make enquiries.

Joshua has also been doing a lot of "singing".  He first sang with his current favorite "Knick Knack Paddy Whack", but also, after almost 4 years of faithful viewing, he has started to sing along with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  His singing is a lot of word approximations, with the correct ones thrown in here and there.  He generally comes in and finishes the "words" at the correct time.  Below is a short example from a few nights ago. You'll hear the words "five!", "home", and "as we jive".

So sweet.

However, we've noticed that when Joshua starts making big strides, there is also an uptick in tantrums.  I think the correlation is due to the fact that as Joshua begins to understand more, he becomes more upset and frustrated by his limitations.  And who can blame him?

The tantrums have been coming at the drop of the hat.  You know how I talk about my lack of margin?  Well, Joshua has NO margin right now. No margin with food, no margin with the iPad, no margin with us, and most of all, NO MARGIN WITH BABY SISTER.  When she cries, he cries.  And that makes her cry louder.  And then he's banging his head on the floor.  And I'm picking her up, begging her not to cry in my desperation.  Ugh. Some of the tantrums are quickly remedied and forgotten, others turn into a bad mood.

And during this time, I'm struggling to remain upbeat and hopeful.  Because isn't it hard to be grateful for the progress we've made when things go badly? It is RIDICULOUS that I have such a difficult time remembering all the good God has done when we have hard days.  It just serves to remind me that I am human, and He is God, full of love and never-ending grace for our whole family.

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Michelle Goes to Morocco

This took place a year and a half ago, but it's a story that needs to be written down.

We were so thankful to have many friends and family come visit us when we lived in Morocco, and over Thanksgiving our second year our dear friend/former roomie Michelle P came.  

First, let me tell you a little about Michelle.  She is LIKE A BOSS.  Super smart, go-getter, funny, etc.  She has worked all over DC, including the White House.  And not just the White House, the WEST WING.  In fact, she is so good at everything out there in the political/corporate world, that I have always been scared of working for her.  I'm a hard worker and all, but she would EAT ME FOR BREAKFAST.  All that to say, she has always worn the pants in our friendship.  When we moved up to DC she showed me the ropes, introduced me around, preset my radio stations.  It works for us.

But in Morocco, it delighted me to no end being the big girl.  Michelle had never been to a muslim country and couldn't speak French, so she was dependent on ME.  (This is the first time she is being told of my glee.) 

Close mutual friends of ours that lived in Casablanca picked her up and brought her to Rabat.  We caught up and enjoyed precious hours being together.

Me, Michelle, Diana

The next few days I would drop Michelle at the Marine House gym on my way to work.  She is an avid cross-fitter and loves to work out.  Afterwards she would walk down to the embassy, we would have breakfast together and she would hang in my office while I worked a couple more hours. The office I worked in was kind of the social center of the embassy (however humble) with couches, a computer and small library with people popping in and out all the time, so it worked great.  One afternoon I took her to the medina, once I sent her out with our favorite tour guide for a few hours, and one afternoon we walked to our favorite little french restaurant downtown. 

I miss you Typotes.
But the real story starts on Wednesday evening, the night before Thanksgiving, when we departed for our trip to Marrakech.  Marrakech is arguably the most famous city in Morocco with the snake charmers, djemaa el fna square, and maze-like medina, so we had to make it down there. I had never traveled on my own in Morocco, nor taken the train anywhere, but I was fairly confident going in to the whole thing.  Joe dropped us off at the train station and I spoke my abominable french to buy our first class tickets.

Do not think this first class thing is a luxury.  It's the difference between safety and the possibility of air conditioning, and riding with someone's chicken on your lap.  We got out to the platform and stood under the sign for Marrakech.  I know this is the truth because we took a picture of it (see below), and it indeed said "Marrakech".  So the next train pulled up and we got on.  Yay!  We had done it- we were off!  

Feeling confident on the train.
Except when the conductor came by to punch our tickets he told us we were on the wrong train.  WHAT!?  How is that even possible?  (See sign above) It turns out the next train to pull in the station after this one was going to Marrakech.  No, there wasn't a sign for it, said the man.  Well, OF COURSE, Morocco.  Luckily, we were able to get off in Casablanca and wait for the correct train.  We made it on to our train, after repeatedly asking if it was going to Marrakech, and continued our ride.  My confidence had waned.  

We arrived in Marrakech and exited the train station to get a taxi to our hotel. We were immediately accosted by a slew of cab drivers wanting our business.  The way they acted you would have thought we were Beyonce on a night out in L.A. I picked a guy off to the side, rewarding him for being more laid back and we walked to his taxi.  (I chose wrong). I told him we needed to go to Les Jardins de la Koutoubia hotel.  What he didn't know was that I was not a tourist,  and I knew exactly where we should be going.

The streets around the train station are one-way, so I knew we had to go away from the city center before we could go towards it.  However, this taxi driver missed several turns and just kept going.  Two scenarios entered my mind:  one, he's going to drive us into the desert and do Lord knows what; two, he's going to drive us all around town to hike up the fare before delivering us to our hotel.  For her part, Michelle had her own fears.  During her morning bible reading time, her verse for the day was something ominous in Revelation.  Neither one of us can remember now exactly what it was, but the main idea was "Woe to you, you will be destroyed".  So as soon as she heard me having a heated exchange with the driver in French, she was PANICKING.  (Thankfully she didn't mention this until the next day).

Once the driver realized I knew we were going the wrong way he finally headed in the right direction.  (Oh, thank you sweet Jesus).  He pulled up to the end of the street where the hotel is and thus began the argument over the fare.  Oh dear me, he tried to pull a fast one.  And what killed me was that instead of bargaining with me over the price, he was VERY ugly about it, screaming and waving his arms.  I finally gave him more money than I should have just to be done with it.

We grabbed our bags and headed towards the hotel.

This is where I need to describe the atmosphere of Marrakech at night.  IT. IS. CRAZY.  Moroccans are all about the nighttime- they stay up late and sleep late.  They head out with their children to grocery shop, run errands or eat after 8 pm, when all of the expats' children have been asleep for an hour.  The public places are most crowded after dark.

We love Les Jardins de la Koutoubia hotel because it is a 5 star hotel located right in the medina.  To get to the entrance we had to navigate a street crowded with shoppers, donkeys with carts, zooming motorcycles, and beggars.  There was one guy in particular who was insisting on carrying our bags and showing us to our hotel.  And when I say insisting, I mean pressed up against me, trying to take the bag out of my hand, and shouting.  This would NOT happen if we had a male with us.  I continued to use my most forceful "LA!!" (No! in Arabic) until we were in sight of the hotel porters who came and shooed the guy off.

We finally entered the hotel and I will never forget the shell shocked look on Michelle's face.  It makes me grin even now.  I HAD WORN THE PANTS!

The great thing about the Koutoubia is that once you enter, it's like a peaceful oasis.  I don't know if they have that place soundproofed or what, but it is quiet, full of smiling staff, and the only aroma is of fresh flowers.  (As opposed to a mix of fuel exhaust, body odor, spices, animal feces, etc outside).

Image courtesy of the hotel.

Because the hotel loves repeat customers from the American embassy, they upgraded us to a nice suite.  The rest of the evening was spent eating steak frites at one of the hotel restaurants and sleeping.

The next morning we headed out to the medina to walk around and shop.  I didn't have to get a tour guide because I remembered my way from an earlier trip.  As we got deeper in the maze something in a shop caught my eye and we went in.  It was an upscale shop with rugs downstairs.  Vintage rugs.  Oh dear.

The owner of the shop spoke excellent English and we realized we had stumbled across a hidden gem.  Fast forward an hour and Michelle finds the rug of her dreams and because of our connection with the embassy he gives her a GREAT price.  While she was paying he showed us his wall of fame which included (recent) pictures of everyone from Hilary Clinton to Tory Burch to Will and Jada Smith to the American ambassador.  Oh, and an ancient picture of a married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. IF I had made a large rug purchase in Morocco, I would certainly have made the trip back to his shop.

The rug.
We spent the rest of the morning shopping and fending off men standing WAY too close to us.  They just don't believe personal space is a necessity if you don't have another man with you.  I feel this was different than in the Rabat medina.  I went down there all the time on my own, and maybe it's because Rabat doesn't have as many tourists or it's a much more laid back city, or because I knew so many of the shopkeepers, but the men were overall much more respectful.

That afternoon I took a glorious nap after sending Michelle to the spa for a hammam treatment. Hammam is like a turkish bath where you get all sorts of naked in a sauna-like room, and then a woman comes in and scrubs all the dead skin off of you.  Michelle is fairly modest and it's possible I didn't explain to her exactly what was going to happen....she came out with that same shell-shocked look.

That evening we had drinks and ate another lovely dinner, this time at an asian restaurant.  Our waiter enjoyed dressing us up.

The next morning we went to the train station and got back to Rabat drama-free. I was fairly proud of myself for navigating our trip successfully (If a Peace Corps volunteer reads this they are laughing/rolling their eyes that I'm patting myself on the back for such an easy feat), and Michelle was proud of her rug purchase.

We went out for a celebratory Moroccan meal with Joe and Matt and said goodbye the next morning.

Sorry Mary, you were on maternity medevac. Also, look at all those Blackberry phones on the table.  (Horrors!)
Sleepy evening goodbyes with Joshua.
And here's where I tell you about how United airlines inadvertently paid for that rug.  Michelle, while thrilled with her rug purchase, was still sweating the price a bit.  This was definitely an investment piece.  On the way back, she got bumped from standby in Frankfurt, offered up her seat, and was given a voucher for several hundred dollars.  What?  We're still not sure how that all happened, but as Michelle always says, "I'm God's favorite."

Michelle- we are still so honored that you came to see us in Morocco.  We love you SO much, and you will always have a spot on Team D JV!

P.S.  Thanks for letting me wear the pants.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sometimes the Days Are Bad

**Side note:  This was to be published last Wednesday, but our computer charger died and, I have no idea why, but it took the new one 5 days to get here.  Matt generously offered to finish it on his computer, but I guarantee this is what it would have said: "Ashleigh had a bad day.  I kept asking why and she would not answer me.  She was mean to me.  Finally Joe and Mary gave me a summary of her day and I may have laughed a little.  With her, not at her, of course. The End."**

You know how most people only put their happy, good-looking stuff on social media?  This is not that. As Joe would say, "This is REAL life, y'all!"

It started Monday night when Donnette (Joe's mom) and I brought Baby A and Joshua back to the house for baths.  Joe stayed behind at Matt and Mary's where we had just eaten dinner.  Usually Joshua leaps into the tub with enthusiasm, but for some reason last night I had to wrestle him the entire way up the stairs.  We got him in the tub and things were fine...for awhile.

He's at the age that we don't have to watch him like a hawk in the bath. But while we turned our back that night he jumped out of the tub, ran in our room, GRABBED the iPad, and jumped right back in the water.  He has never tried anything like this before, but you just never know what (brilliant) idea he will think of next.  It took me a good 5 minutes to pry the ruff-and-tuff protective case off before I could get it under the blow dryer.  All while he sits screaming bloody-murder in the bath because we have so wronged him by taking the iPad away.

The fun continued Tuesday morning when Joshua realized he would not be playing with the iPad before school. (It's sitting in rice) Joshua gets up really early in the morning and we let him play with it while we prepare to function for the day.  Or at least drink a few sips of coffee.  Well, he started banging his head like he meant it.  In the middle of the tantrums, Joe had to leave to take his mom to the airport. By this time Joshua had a nice big mark on his forehead. I was attempting to feed him a different breakfast than the ones he usually has, because we were out of everything.  Well, this was too much to bear on top of losing the iPad.  After battling for probably too long, I caved and gave him his beloved LaraBar.  He ran upstairs to play in his room and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Oh, I should have known better. (Update: after 48 hours in rice, the iPad is fine)

A few minutes later while I was foolishly sitting and drinking my coffee, I heard his footsteps coming down the stairs.  And then something that sounded like water running.  I jumped up to find him completely naked and peeing down the stairs.  Yes, not fun, but I can handle cleaning urine off of wooden steps.  It was the hands and feet COMPLETELY COVERED in POOP that got my attention.  What followed was a mad dash to spray him down and put him in a bath with a few capfuls of bleach (just in case), while I removed his comforter to also spray down (outside) and begin cleaning his room, the hallway and the stairs.  Poor G later found poop on a doorknob that I was unaware of. (Update: 3 days later G found poop on one of his toy planes.  Poor kid.)

Simultaneously, G and I are battling it out over whether he was going to school.  He had been sick the day before and long story short, this exact thing happened again.

At some point, I called Joe at work to complain about the past few hours and ask him what I should do about G, and long story short (again) I get mad at him because I am MAD AT THE WORLD.  I basically hang up on him.  (Proud moment there).

All of this happened before 7:45 am.  And here's why this was such an ordeal to me: I. cannot. handle. mornings.  We, yes we, have a whole plan in place to help me survive mornings with a little bit of dignity and to help me show grace towards the children.  Obviously, children don't always get the memo on these things and you deal.

I finally got Joshua dressed and on the bus (phew) and came back to continue dealing with G.  I was certainly not my best self to him yesterday morning.  I took him to school around 10 and I really don't think he's going to pull his "I think I'm sick, but really not" bit again.

As the day continued I felt better, but as soon as those boys got off the bus my blood pressure shot back through the roof.  I made it through dinner and Joe did bedtime, but for the rest of the evening I was really, really discouraged.  I've mentioned before that I don't have a lot of margin these days, i.e. it doesn't take much going wrong to make me feel anxious and out of control.  We have had a great couple of months, and I think that's why when this day hit me so HARD, I felt like a failure.

However, the next morning Joshua set out to win me back and spent a lot of time curled up in my lap before school, giggling.  And like all you other parents out there, I started over.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


A few months ago my counselor asked me how I felt towards God regarding Joshua's diagnosis.  In other words, was I upset with God for the challenges we face with Joshua?

In a word, no.

Since I became a Christian in high school, I have been very thankful to have the belief that everything that comes my way is sifted through the hand of God. Thankful, because all things have a purpose in the greater plan of my life.  And as I've mentioned once, or a thousand times before, I believe our challenges help us grow.  So I can have peace about Joshua knowing that the sovereign hand of God rests on him.

But just because I have peace about the situation doesn't mean there hasn't been grief, hurt and insecurity.

The insecurity is what I really want to talk about.

I think all parents, at some point, doubt their ability to raise their children well.  And parents of a special needs child, even more so.  I can't tell you how often I just feel at a loss to meet his needs. The lack of skills to teach him.  The lack of intelligence to sort through the research. The emotional strength to keep going during a hard day.  But here's the truth that I have to remember:

God chose ME to be Joshua's mother.  Me.  And there is nothing more encouraging than that.

When I am dealing with a tantrum, or he's biting me out of frustration, or I'm sick with worry about his future and feel completely incapable of being his mom, I remember that I was chosen. Our family was chosen, his brother and sister were chosen.

And I get to witness the little miracles sprinkled throughout his week.  Like this morning at the bus stop he walked over to a sign with house numbers on it and proceeded to point at each number and say its name.  (WHAT?!) I also get the kisses.  The giggles.  The deep, long looks in the eyes.  The squealing excitement when we play together.

So even though I don't always feel up to the challenge, it is a true honor and joy to be Joshua's mom.

I encourage all of you moms to remember that you were chosen as well.  God picked you just for your child.  Yes, that one that you just found playing in the toilet.  The same one that only wants you when they are hurt or scared or excited.  And they are so, so lucky to have you.

 Happy Mother's Day to you and to me!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Mother's Day Mama!

For all those times you:

  • Got up with me in the middle of the night (and get up with my babies in the middle of the night)
  • Painstakingly taught me a task that would have been easier to quickly complete yourself
  • Vacuumed with someone attached to your leg 
  • Disciplined me when you were tired and would have rather let it go
  • Cleaned up throw the middle of the night
  • Sat through weekends of volleyball games
  • Fixed my lunch to take to school (PBJ, cheetos, cookies)
  • Gave me grace when I didn't deserve it
  • Drove my friends and I around
  • Did without so I could have more
  • Held me while I cried
  • Faithfully prayed for me
  • Listened to me plead my case (oh, the belly button ring)
  • Let me talk things over and over and over (friends, boys, coaches, kids)
  • Spoke the truth over me, even when I didn't want to hear it
  • Showed up at a moment's notice...and continue to do so
  • Were on my team (and my biggest fan)

....and so much more.

Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.  The word "hero" is just not enough.

Love you so much.

p.s. Just for the record, this seems like such a paltry list for everything you do.

p.p.s. Sorry I don't have a list of recent sermons that reminded me of you.  Ha!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Happy Mother's Day Donnette!

Have y'all met Ami D?

Donnette in the middle of the dessert; still a smile on her face.

I hope so.  Donnette is truly a joy.  And today I'm going to tell you some stuff about her.

The first time I met Donnette was in Spring of 2001.  Joe and I were very newly dating after being friends/ skating around that issue for about 6 months.  Her and her sister Charlotte were driving into College Station on a stopover at their other sister's house, Zee.  I can't remember what all the plans were originally, but Donnette and Charlotte were in a car wreck during the trip.  They still made it to Zee's and wanted us to come for dinner.  Or maybe Joe just wanted to bring me.  But probably the sisters did because Joe had never had a girlfriend and I'm sure there was some big time curiosity involved.  

We showed up and realized the wreck was worse than we thought.  Charlotte had the biggest, blackest eye I had ever seen and was laid up in a chair.  (If Charlotte is EVER sitting down with her feet up you know something has gone terribly wrong). It wasn't until I saw her a couple months later that I could tell what she actually looked like.  So even though I don't remember what Donnette's exact aches and pains were, she had to have been hurting SOMEWHERE.  Instead, she had ordered Outback take out and was bustling around making sure I had everything I needed and was just as sweet as she could be.  I have never forgotten how down to earth, kind and hospitable she was to me that first evening when she herself had just been through quite an ordeal.  

A few weeks ago during our church's Sunday evening service, Seth taught on 1 Peter 4:9 "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." As he explained what that looks like in many different scenarios, I thought of Donnette the entire time.  

Donnette always has a servant's heart whether she is feeding all of Joe's college buddies, helping me move classrooms in my teaching days, or chasing after our kids.  Whenever Joe and I were early married and would fly to her house for a holiday she ALWAYS invited my parents to unselfishly share in her visit.  And no matter who you are, you will be made to feel like family in her presence.  Not only have I experienced it, I have watched others do the same. 

There was another message at church recently that goes along with the idea of hospitality that made me think of Donnette.  (Donnette, are you feeling very spiritual right now?  You should be) Our pastor Mike was teaching on the sin of partiality in James 2. The sin of partiality is a fancy way of saying that we should treat all people with honor and respect whether they are rich or poor, that we should show love and mercy not only to those people we like, but also those we don't.  

And here's the thing about Donnette, she is kind to all, whether we are with her girlfriends back in Texas, in the medina in Morocco or at our church in Virginia.  And really, kindness doesn't to it justice.  Because whereas I, with my sinful heart, can put on a show with people I don't care for, and act nice, Donnette genuinely appreciates everyone and you can tell in the way she shows them respect. 

So yes, Donnette, I have been watching you. You have been a godly example in these and many other ways and I pray that I can be as loving and gracious as you are to all people.  

Thanks for caring for me so well.  

Happy Mother's Day. I love you.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A List

I'm going to be honest here.  While contemplating today's post, the first thought that came to mind was "All the Ways My Children are Driving Me Crazy Right Now".  But I slowly talked myself out of it because one, all of us moms could write that post, and two, truth be told, my kids could probably write the post "All the Ways My Mommy is Driving Me Crazy Right Now".  So instead, a list:

1.  Y'all, the apocalypse is coming.  Joshua was not interested in Cheez-Its today.  Anywhere, anytime, if everything else in the world is wrong, a Cheez-It can fix it.  A few months ago he decided to go off hot dogs, which was a sad day.  So his lunch options are shrinking.  I finally pulled out the next best thing after school, tortilla chips (our favorite: Costco brand organic tortilla chips) and that sufficed.  Oh Joshua, please like Cheez-Its tomorrow!

2. The only important thing in life right now to G is racing:  cars, planes, people.  That's what he wants to watch on TV, play on the iPad, and do as his exercise.  If you come to our house, chances are you will end up in a foot race. This past Friday his school held a fun run.  Basically, instead of having a school fundraiser of selling gift wrap and candy, they have the students solicit donations and they run laps for 15 minutes.  I, for one, am a huge fan of this.  ALL the money goes to the school AND it encourages physical fitness. Brilliant.  Anyway, we were given the option of showing up to cheer them on.  So Mary and I took the little kids to watch. It was like a real race with a DJ and balloons and a water stand. I had dressed G in his work out clothes and "fastest" shoes because, as Mary noted, it was probably the most important day of G's life.  Oh, we had the best time.  He was so proud, and ran so fast every time he came by us (Please see the 9 second video below) and if you have seen him (or FaceTimed) in the last few days your ear has been TALKED OFF about this "race".

3.  Just a couple of notes for me to remember about Baby A: Her favorite word(s) right now sounds like,"I do".  It's not that she wants to do anything yet, but that's what she says for ANYTHING she doesn't know the word to.  Go outside? "I do" Meatball? "I do"  Play with cars? "I do" Help? "I do". Her other frequent words include no, na-na (banana), go, night-night, bye-bye, Mama, and Dada.

4. G is really asking a lot of questions about heaven recently.  Heaven is a tough concept for him because at this age he wants to live with Mommy and Daddy forever.  Joe explains to him that in heaven it will be better than our favorite day we EVER had and we get to be with Jesus.  But at this point G says he only "loves Jesus medium".

5.  Back to Joshua, that boy is imitating like crazy!  It's so exciting, because that is one of our major goals for him right now.  He consistently imitates "Cheez-It" and "Juice", but has also imitated "Joshua","Ready", "Bubble", words I can't think of now, and lots of random sounds.  Yay Joshua!

That's it for today, see y'all Friday!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

About that Moroccan Artisans Festival

This weekend we caught wind of a Moroccan Artisans Festival taking place down in Old Town Alexandria.  After naps today we loaded up the whole crew and headed down there.  This is where I shamefully tell you that after 9 years of living in this area I have never been to Old Town.  It's pretty much all Beltway between here and there, so you can forget it during the week.  Unless you want to sit in standstill traffic.  Anyhow, I would liken Old Town to Charleston, SC with slightly different architecture.  So, you know, amazing.

After a cold and dreary week, today was finally sunny and warm-ish.  We walked up to the square where the festival was held.  They were playing a little fast and loose with the term "festival".  It was a few white tents with some Moroccan-ish looking shiny fabric splashed behind.  Supposedly there was food, music and dancing during some portion of the weekend; when we were there it was one lady applying henna to hands.

As far as the goods being sold, Joe likened it to a Marjane going out of business sale. Just packaged up and shipped over.  Mary and I liked one blanket, and this is when we discovered that the customer service was oh-so-the-same as in Morocco.  As in, not their strength.  Queue the flash back...One time in the Rabat Medina, I stopped in at my shoe guy's place looking for a specific pair of shoes.  Here I should also note that in Morocco there is a guy for everything.  We had a shoe guy, a custom framing guy, a pouf guy, a rug guy (in Marrakech), a scarf guy, a leather guy, a car repair guy, a flower guy, and my favorite, our fruit guy.  Back to shoe guy.  I can't remember the specifics, but let's say I was asking for a pair of brown shoes in a size 6.  He looked and looked and couldn't find any.  He asked his fellow shopkeepers up and down the street to no avail, and he finally showed me a black pair; the only color he had in a 6.  I politely declined, thanked him, and said A bientot! (I will see you soon).  Well, that did not sit well.  He was upset that I wouldn't just take the black shoe even though I wanted the BROWN one.  I hadn't even given a hint that I might consider that black one. And really, I can't say that I left there shocked by the events that took place.  The customer is NOT always right in Morocco.

But back to the "festival".  Mary and I tried to engage the linen guy to ask questions about his blanket, price, etc.  And he wouldn't even respond.  Just kind of gave us the side-eye.  Probably we wouldn't have wanted to pay the American mark-up price for it anyhow, but still, he didn't know that.

The place was flooded with Moroccans, though, and we loved hearing them talk and watching them interact with one another.  That felt like home.

After the 7.5 minute walk through the festival, we headed down the street to the waterfront.  We walked along the docks on the Potomac and ended up in a beautiful, wide open park for the kids to run around.

G, Carolyn, and William turned the sand volleyball court into a sandbox along with some other children, while Joshua tested his boundaries with the river.  Joshua, in an outdoor space near water or a road, without a fence, is always a high stress situation for us.  Oh, there is so much to be said for a playground with a good fence!!!

Joshua finally settled down on the bank overlooking the water.  He seemed very introspective as he gazed out.  Probably thinking one of two things: Either he is coming up with a simple solution as how to solve all the world's problems OR how to sneak some dirt into his mouth while Mom isn't looking.  Who can know?

This one had a GREAT time running and playing with Daddy while Mommy took a turn with Joshua.  She LOVES to be outside, just like Joshua.  Also, she's just about 18 months now.  Sheesh.

We had another great dinner out to end the adventure.  This time involved electronics because everyone was exhausted and it was a sit down.  Still, the Mommies and Daddies got to have a beer and eat a good meal, so that's a win.

See y'all Wednesday!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blessings for G and A

I want to pick up where I left off on Wednesday: how God has been faithful not only in Joshua's life, but G and Baby A's as well.

I've written before about G's health issue and how he takes a daily injection of human growth hormone, but I haven't written much about what his life was like prior to his diagnosis.

From the moment G was born he did not want to eat.  Actually, let me put that in all caps.  HE DID NOT WANT TO EAT.  Not the breast, not the bottle, not a tiny syringe with milk, not a little spoon.  We tried it all.  After putting him on reflux medication and gentle formula he came around a little to the bottle, but it was usually a long, drawn out, tortuous process.  For the first 3 years of his life it continued to be a battle trying to find out WHY he wouldn't eat much.  Beyond his regular pediatrician appointments he had an endoscopy and eating evaluation by a speech therapist/nutritionist. We gave him high calorie supplements used for cancer patients to help him keep up. I remember that right before Morocco he was dangerously close to being put on a feeding tube.  He was picky, and Joe and I rotated being in charge of mealtimes for our sanity.  I feel for any parent out there that deals with feeding issues; it is SO stressful.

Also, starting around 6-8 months G got sick ALL the time.  It got to the point that around 18 months of age he and I didn't even attend church because he was guaranteed to be sick by Tuesday.  He got ear tubes and saw a specialist for his asthma, but continued to get sick.  So much so, that around 2 years old his immunologist put him on a weekly infusion of healthy immunoglobulin in the hope that it would help his immune system fight illness.

Because he was sick so often, we believe, he was developmentally behind.  Not grossly so, but he seemed to lag about 10 months behind his peers.  10 months is a big gap when you're only 2 years old!  It mainly showed in his speech, or lack of it, and he saw a speech therapist until we left for Morocco.

He didn't grow, either.  The only time he made it onto the growth chart (until he was 4 years old) was when he was born at a whopping 8 lbs 2oz.  It was all downhill from there.  He wasn't skinny and kept plenty of weight on, but wouldn't grow lengthwise.

(Do you understand now why we thought Joshua would be our healthy one?)

For the first year in Morocco, G did not get sick.  Although the continued infusions of healthy IG helped, we also suspect it was because Morocco is not the anti-bacterial, purell-ed society that the States are.  Kids were exposed to normal germs and their bodies learn to fight them appropriately.  At some point during that year we stopped the infusions without consequence. But then G got the diagnosis that his body didn't produce growth hormone. The doctor told us it takes 40 days for the injected hormone to really get into his system.  He said the first thing we would notice is G's foot growing.

Well, I kid you not, at 40 days on the DOT, that boy started EATING.  Eating, eating, eating. Khadija would call me at work to inform me he had just eaten his third breakfast of the day.  And energy followed. OH!  So much energy.  And then of course growing too.  It was as if all of a sudden, his BODY WORKED.  To this day, G is the poster child for the success of HGH injections.  In the next couple of years, G caught up developmentally, and pretty close size-wise.  He still receives one hour of speech at school every week, but he is expected to test out of that eventually.

G around the time of his diagnosis, age 3.5

Here's a great height comparison.  Ellis and G are only two months apart in age- and she is average size.  See how far behind he was? He looks like a baby compared to her! Now, at age 6 they could look one another in the eye.

For the most part, G is very good-natured and has a sensitive spirit.  He is mostly obedient and good to his siblings.  He has a soft heart. I think God used his early struggles to develop the sweet aspects of his personality.  And so even though it was a rough few years, I can now see how even then God was working all for good in G's life. And I'm so grateful.

Then there's this one:

Right before we got pregnant with her, I was here in the States with Joshua and had a conversation with two dear friends from church about having more children.  Joe and I knew we wanted at least one more child, maybe more, but after having both boys diagnosed with fairly significant (though seemingly unrelated) health issues, we started wondering if there was something in our genes that was affecting them.  I told my friends I was unsure if it was wise for us have another (biological) child.  Looking back I can't imagine how we would have made that decision, and thankfully we didn't have to because she showed up unplanned!

So far, Baby A, who is not so much of a baby anymore, seems very healthy.  She's on the growth chart, she eats well, she is developmentally on target.

And let me tell you something.  THIS FASCINATES US TO NO END.  It's a new ballgame, and everything she does is like a miracle.  She says several words!  She picks up her shoes and holds them up when she wants to go outside! She points at what she wants!  She wants to help with household chores!  She tries to put diapers and shoes on Joshua! She HANDS ME HER PLATE WHEN SHE'S FINISHED EATING! (We just recently got G in this habit) And while she is average to the doctors, she is a GENIUS in our eyes.

She also throws tantrums and won't watch TV, which is unfortunate when I need to make dinner. We don't know what the future holds for her, but we are all grateful for this time of health!

God has been so faithful and generous to our family by giving us the gift of Baby A. She is Joe and my precious girl, she is G's playmate and object of much affection, and she is Joshua's challenge. (Although, let me write down here that I believe she may eventually be Joshua's champion.)

 We trust God will continue to be faithful to all of our children- even when circumstances may not look like blessings to begin with. We are thankful for a God who cares deeply for each of them...and us.

Happy Weekend!  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's the Little Things

One of the many joys of being Joshua's parents is celebrating his achievements. For Joshua, success comes little by little, and I believe that because his accomplishments are so hard fought, they are that much sweeter.

Two years ago, when Joshua and I were in the States going through his developmental assessments, he learned to walk from place to place (in public) holding my hand.  You may be thinking that the age of 2 seems a little late for that to happen.  But in Morocco, I didn't take my kids in public as much as I do here.  The main places they frequented were friends' houses, church, and the embassy/American Club.  I certainly didn't take them grocery shopping (can't remember if the carts even have child seats??  Anyone?) and when Khadija walked them to the bakery or butcher, they were in the stroller.  But when we were at home in the States for a month we walked back and forth from parking lots to doctors and stores.  We spent a lot of time walking down the hall to our hotel room.  We were on the 4th floor at the very end of a long hallway.   Joshua didn't have a very easy time complying with new things, but I remember him slowly learning, and a total champ by the time we went back to Morocco.  It is such a sweet memory for me.

Last winter, Joshua learned to kiss.  I'm not sure who was more excited about it: us or him!  Of course we had been kissing on him for years, but he finally reciprocated and was thrilled to have a way to show his affection. He squealed, and clapped, and jumped around upon realizing it was something he could do.  And it came about when I was in the trenches of trying to win him back after giving birth to Baby A, so it was extra special for him and me. Kissing continues to be the ultimate in showing his appreciation to anyone, but he also uses it in greeting Joe and I fairly regularly.

It's not lost on me that Joshua learns (big) new things during our really hard season each year: winter. I wholeheartedly believe it is God's kindness to let us see great progress when we are having a difficult time with Joshua.  At the end of this winter Joshua started reciting his ABCs.  He chose the most appropriate time, too.  At our church the children stay in the main service for songs and prayers and then leave for their own classes before the sermon. Thankfully, there is a room off to the side of the main hall for families with new babies or a Joshua.  He was talking during the prayer, saying something again and again, when Joe and I opened our eyes and looked at one another. Was he saying the ABCs???  My mom was there, and a few friends sitting around us, all turning their heads as Joshua finished up the entire alphabet.  Sure, the pronunciation wasn't perfect, but it was close enough that EVERYONE recognized it.  We were all so thrilled!  And it was so fun to have some of our closest friends witness it with us.  This past week, during the same prayer, Joshua was at it again, except this time counting to 20.  In lots of different voices.  He is especially a fan of "five" right now and he'll show you five fingers.  He has randomly been repeating things we say much more often than usual, so we are hopeful this means he is closer to talking.

I'm so grateful that God continues to showme the little achievements along our journey as they are hugely encouraging.  Because even though our days or months can be challenging, I treasure having happy memories of his childhood, just like our other 2.

With my boy during our accidental Four Seasons stay.
On Friday I'm going to talk about how God has been just as faithful to G and Baby A.  Because even though Joshua's 4 year old self would like to think so, it's actually not all about him. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Tantrum Mat: A Public Service Announcement

Do you see this bad boy?

This was a game-changer for me this winter.

During the winter months we had quite the upswing in Joshua's tantrums.   His teacher showed me the mat they put him on at school when he is throwing a fit.  It's a safe place, but also he quickly learned that once he was placed on it he would have to stay there until he calmed down.  WELL.  I went straight home and ordered the exact same one; color and all.

The first time Joshua saw the mat in our house he did a double take.  Oh, it was delightful to watch his face.  I could read his thoughts so clearly,"Who told them about the tantrum mat?!" and "Dang it! They've outsmarted me again!"

I stored it within easy reach of where most tantrums occur (near the kitchen and in the living room).

That's "Cars" playing on the TV.  G is going through his second phase of obsession with the movie. 
 And I'll tell you, having that plan of action was so helpful once he started ramping up.  Sometimes we make it to the mat before a head bang; sometimes not.  We just do the best we can. Once he gets to the mat he will generally cry for a few more minutes. Sometimes I have to sit by the mat to keep him there; other times I can go about my business. Either way, we've been taught not to engage him.  Just let him finish and move along.  It has worked pretty well and I love the consistency for me him and me.

Also, he somehow doesn't see the mat as a bad place.  Sometimes he pulls it out to play on.  That's fine with me as long as we're clear on its main purpose.

All this to say, I know there are many of you out there in the throes of the terrible twos, threes or even (and let's be honest) fours. Maybe you could use a tantrum mat.  I'm sure Baby A will spend some quality time there in the near future.  She is developing strong opinions on a wide range of topics.

We ordered ours on Amazon.

Hope you all had a great weekend- ours was fabulous.  The trees are finally blooming here in Virginia, it was warm, and we spent a lot of time outside.  Many a bubble were blown.  (Joshua and A's current fave).

Happy Monday- I'll be back Wednesday!

Friday, April 17, 2015

About Jordan Spieth

There are probably very few of you that haven't heard about the 21 year old that won the Masters this past weekend. Jordan Spieth is being called a champion on and off the course, and I am drawn to him because of his love for his sister.

Jordan has a younger sister, Ellie, who is on the autism spectrum.  He calls her incredible, funny, and his inspiration. Jordan's mom has spoken about how Ellie's dinnertime tantrums taught her son about REAL life.

Well, that struck a chord.

How many times has G sat and watched Joshua throw major, head banging tantrums over what seems to us (non-spectrum folks) to be nothing?  At the beginning it would scare him, especially if it was in the night.  G went through a phase where he would cry too, in sadness for Joshua, I think.  Usually I would huddle with him and pray.  The tantrums don't seem to effect him in this way anymore.  And at least recently, the major tantrums have been few and far between.  But what is G thinking inside?  How does he feel watching Joshua struggle to communicate, unable to use words at this point?

 Joe and I do not want our kids to have it easy.  (We) They already have it really good living in America, having a free education, plenty to eat and good healthcare.  And feelings of entitlement run rampant through suburbia.  What is going to ground them?  I've mentioned before that I believe it is the trials and struggles the Lord allows us to walk through that we grow as people. And while we don't know all that's ahead, we've seen glimpses of what might teach our kids some helpful life lessons.

For G, we thought he would mainly be effected by the diagnosis of an ectopic pituitary gland. We've always believed that as he gets older and matures, his dependence on a daily shot to grow taller and for his body to function properly, will humble him.  And though the journey to figuring out G's body was long and hard, thankfully, the fix is easy.  So it was easy to champion this idea of him having a "hard" thing in his life.

But Joshua's challenges are not an easy fix.  And I will tell you that from the beginning we have taken great comfort in the fact that Joshua will teach our entire family and be a blessing to others.  I think we especially hope that it will do a great work in Baby A and G.  From an early age they will observe plenty of "real life" as Jordan Spieth's mom puts it. They will have to go the extra mile to communicate with their brother and show him grace.  And Joshua will have to learn to show us a lot of grace when we can't understand his way of thinking.  Oh, that we would let our challenges with each other build character instead of animosity! I pray that Joshua, through his own struggles, will have a soft heart.  And then, as the kids have happy times together, they will be able to enjoy each other and appreciate their differences.

Thank you, Jordan, for being vocal about what a blessing your sister is.  It makes this mama smile with hope.