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.