Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Two Kinds of "Strong"


For those of you with children, do your kids have a "lovey"? You know, that comfort object that must go everywhere your child goes for years on end making it impossible to keep clean?? If you have ever had a child that had a comfort object or if YOU were that child (totally raising my hand over here) then you KNOW how precious that item is...especially at bedtime.

This past Sunday we were getting the kids ready for bed when the unthinkable happened: our oldest son, Gabriel, could not find his beloved Babydoll (yes, a baby doll aptly named "Babydoll") anywhere. Gabriel is almost 4 years old and I kid you not, this had literally NEVER happened since we gave him that precious doll at 18 months old.

Gabriel, 18 mos old with his new doll that basically became a family member

Immediately my husband and I went into "keep the toddler calm" mode while simultaneously starting to dread the potential fallout of such a scenario. We calmly looked through the house, retracing every step since we had returned home from an evening Mass while racking our brains for what we were missing. Long story short, Gabriel definitely had Babydoll at church, he definitely had him as we left the church, and I distinctly remembered handing him the doll after buckling him into his car seat. Yet, the doll was nowhere to be found in the car OR the house and we did not remember seeing him carry it inside.

It was a puzzle for sure, but most importantly we had to figure out how to talk Gabriel through what was probably a terrifying prospect: going to bed without his comfort object.

Like all "wise" parents, we purchased a duplicate babydoll long ago, but we did this far too late in the game for it to make much of a difference. Gabriel refers to the dolls as his "old babydoll" and "new babydoll" and does not at all hold the other doll in any more regard than he does his other various stuffed toys. This means that whenever his beloved Babydoll "needs a bath" we have our work cut out for us as we attempt to temporarily substitute the back-up doll for the real deal.

Many toddlers in this scenario would be extremely upset - angry even. Our sweet Gabriel was undoubtedly upset, but he completely bypassed anger or frustration and went straight to on-the-verge-of-tears and shaky-voice sadness, completely breaking my heart in the process. I remember asking him if he felt sad, him nodding yes, and collapsing into my arms for a big hug.

Thankfully, the bedtime story that Gabriel picked out was Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona and the Twins, which gave me the bright idea to explain that the new babydoll is actually Babydoll's twin. I distracted Gabriel with some light-hearted imaginary play about them being twins, we read the story, dressed the "new" doll in a special outfit, and Gabriel went to sleep peacefully.

All in all, I think my husband and I handled the entire scenario pretty well - but you can imagine how much it did NOT feel like a coincidence that the first thing I read the next morning was this article, which discusses basically the same scenario from our previous night! Go ahead, click over. I'll give you a minute to get caught up....

After reading the article I still felt like Michael and I had done a pretty good job, but I realized that I hadn't said too much of anything to Gabriel about the emotions he surely felt beyond briefly acknowledging his sadness.

The article helped me realize that I really wanted Gabriel to understand how proud I was of him for how he handled the situation -- and that while we have talked a lot about physical strength, this was a prime opportunity to teach him about other kinds of strength.

So, the first thing I did when I entered Gabriel's room was to greet him, plop him down in my lap, and begin telling him how strong he is becoming. At this point he had his old Babydoll back in his arms (another story for another time), but I rehashed that he must have felt sad and missed Babydoll when he went to bed, etc. etc. Then, I asked him if he knew that there were 2 kinds of strength - and of course, he said no because I had never blatantly explained this to him before.

I went on to inform him that other than how strong our bodies are on the outside, there is another kind of strength - which is how strong we are on the inside. I threw out various scenarios about how someone that is strong on the inside is able to calm down when they are angry, is able to say sorry when they make mistakes, can forgive people when they apologize for their mistakes, or can learn to be calm even if they feel really sad. I told him that when he felt sad about not having Babydoll but was able to fall asleep at bedtime anyway he was being very strong and I was proud of him. Of course I reminded him that everyone gets angry or sad sometimes, but told him that learning how to be strong on the inside and knowing what to do when we feel angry or sad is really important - and that I was so proud of him for growing stronger on the inside (I know, I repeat myself with toddlers a LOT - but they don't get quite as sick of hearing things said over and over again in different ways as us adults do). ;)

All of this probably sounds super cheesy, but I'm sure to my 3.5 year old who listened attentively as I spoke those words while hugging him in my lap it was anything but.

Both of my sweet, strong boys (and -surprise!- Babydoll)

Honestly, this felt like one of my better moments as a parent but I'm not sharing this to feel good about myself. Rather, I think it's important for us parents to remember that we have immense power in either dismissing or rightfully addressing our children's emotions - and that they may not learn some things unless we explicitly spell it out for them. My son literally had no idea that there is a type of strength beyond lifting/moving/carrying heavy things until I told him.

I'm sure there are lots of parents that have already explained this concept of both outer and inner strength to their 3 year-olds, but even though we talk a good deal with our kids about emotions this was one topic that had not yet been blatantly discussed. I'm thankful that the article I read helped me recognize this and address it at a time that made sense to Gabriel, which I think is something we're all striving to do for our children. So, if you haven't heard about the train analogy that can change how you see your crying child, consider this a (hopefully) helpful reminder from me to you. It helped me have a beautiful conversation with my son, so here's hoping it speaks to someone else out there as well!

"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult."
Psalm 46:1-3

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10 More Weeks?!


Ever since I shared about our daughter's hydrocephalus diagnosis I have received an immense amount of love and support, so I wanted to give ya'll the latest updates as you continue holding us in your thoughts and prayers:

You may recall that at our 18-week anatomy scan our baby's lateral ventricles in her brain were measuring about 15 and 16 mm (normal measurements in-utero never exceed 10mm). Then, at 22 weeks her vents had increased noticeably to about 21 and 23mm. Well, last week I had another high-risk ultrasound and learned that at 26 weeks the swelling in her lateral ventricles had progressed to 31.5 and 31.1mm.... 

It's plain to see that in just two months our baby girl's vents have doubled in size and are already more than three (3!) times the normal size...and baby girl isn't due until mid-October.

I am absolutely doing my best to stay positive and focus on all the good things we can celebrate about our growing baby's health, but if I am being honest I felt very subdued after discovering the latest measurements. After all, I have read a LOT of other parents' stories about measurements at various gestational ages through some online support forums for ventriculomegaly...and once I knew that our baby's vents were already 31mm at 26 weeks I began to feel more deeply just how massive our child's swelling is - because even amidst the other severe cases our baby girl's measurements this early on are some of the worst of the worst I have heard of.

But, we had our big appointment scheduled with the pediatric neurosurgeon yesterday afternoon, which gave me something good to look forward to!

I was incredibly anxious because my husband & I had been waiting for this appointment ever since our 18-week anatomy scan. This was THE appointment that could help give us better insight about what to expect when our baby is born (because there is nothing to do regarding the pregnancy beyond monitoring the swelling and waiting, but so many unknowns about once she is born) and I am happy to say the meeting was incredibly fruitful.

We walked away from yesterday's appointment with all our questions answered (truly - because I was prepared with a typed-up document and made sure we didn't forget to ask a single thing), a clear understanding of what needs to happen surrounding labor/delivery & our baby's first few days, and continued confidence that all the care we have been and will be receiving is absolutely top-notch.

After speaking at length with the pediatric neurosurgeon these are a few things we now know:

  • A C-section is necessary (our baby's head is already measuring 5-6 weeks ahead because of the swelling, so not only will her head be too big to deliver vaginally, but we cannot risk putting extra pressure on her head which would likely cause bleeding in her brain).
  • As soon as she is born, our baby girl will be taken to the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN: what Duke calls their NICU) to ensure she is stable, will have an MRI, and will be prepped for surgery (she will be given nutrition through an IV because her stomach needs to be empty for surgery).
  • Our baby girl will have the shunt surgery (to drain the excess fluid build-up and relieve the added pressure on her brain) within 24 hours after birth.
  • She needs the shunt surgery to remove the pressure on her brain ASAP, which means the C-section will be scheduled at 37 weeks (as soon as she is full-term).
  • Assuming that she is stable and surgery is successful, we are looking at a recovery stay in the ICN for about 2-7 days (which is much less than I had anticipated based on reading other people's stories!).

Our doctors have never been able to see evidence of a corpus callosum in our baby girl's brain, but the neurosurgeon explained that we won't really know about this until after the shunt has time to work - because the build-up of cerebral spinal fluid prevents them from seeing the full picture. Once the swelling goes down we will know more about the corpus callosum (whether it is thin, partially formed, or fully absent) from future MRIs. So right now we only need to be concerned with treating the hydrocephalus and we can tackle any potential other brain anomalies later when we cross that bridge.

Despite learning some hard truths about what our baby's care will necessarily look like in her first 24+ hours, my husband and I walked away from yesterday's appointment feeling much-relieved and at peace. We have a lot to prepare for in the next couple of months, but at least we have the knowledge we need to mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare ourselves. First and foremost I need to ready myself (and all my pregnancy nesting) to meet this baby girl in only TEN MORE WEEKS!

27 weeks

Thank you again to all of my wonderful readers that are keeping us in your prayers! 

+Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.+
+St. Gianna, pray for us.+
+St. Gerard, pray for us.+

"Pray, hope, and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer."
-Saint Padre Pio

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Let Freedom Ring!


Did y'all have a happy 4th of July?! Ours was very low-key and perfect because of it. :)

We spent the month of May traveling a lot (my husband had a guys' trip, I had my sister's commencement, & we took a 5 day trip to see my in-laws over Memorial Day) which was followed by Peter's 2nd birthday then a weekend trip to the mountains. Whew! We still have a LOT to accomplish locally as we continue settling into our new house and preparing for our baby girl's arrival, so the prospect of staying put for Independence Day was music to this pregnant mama's ears.

25 weeks

So, awhile back my husband and I decided that we would simply enjoy some local festivities, grill some good food, dress the kids in red, white, and blue and call it good. We even picked up some sparklers, which in my opinion was going above and beyond the call of duty with our kids' ages and everything we've got going on right I consider the day a huge success!

The kids certainly had fun because we spent the morning at a local "old-fashioned" celebration where they got to sit on a fire truck, explore an old train caboose, and Gabriel was able to do a bit of putt putt, play a carnival game (which he amazingly won!), and participate in a karate "class" so he could break a board!

I wish the instructor's writing wasn't so sloppy, but it says:
"Gabriel's awesome board break!"

Plus, we parked down the hill from the festival and parade area, which meant we had to cross some train tracks and got there just as a real train arrived, backed up, and switched its track. A real, up-close, and personal train encounter PLUS ending the day with their first-ever sparklers?! Suffice it to say, our boys think celebrating America's birthday is pretty fantastic ("America's birthday" is perhaps not the best explanation of the day, but was the most age-appropriate thing I could think of to get them in the patriotic spirit). ;)

Good thing these boys have a dad to let them have fun,
because I would never have let the 2 year old do this!

Seriously, though, how BLESSED we are to live in a nation where "...all men are created equal...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Declaration of Independence)

God bless America!!!

"God Bless America, 
land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her 
Through the night with a light from above; 
From the mountains, to the prairies, 
To the oceans white with foam, 
God bless America, My home sweet home."
-excerpt from "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Our Little Oratory: Creating a Family Prayer Space


A few years ago I was given David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler's book, The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home. At the time my oldest child was still a baby and my husband and I had not yet figured out how to best incorporate prayer into our daily family life, but I was longing to improve in that department. I failed to read the entire book all the way through (because hi, I had a young baby), but simply having it on our bookshelf after reading bits and pieces (and packing and unpacking it for a bunch of moves) helped me hold on tight to - and better solidify - my vision for our family's future prayer space within our home.

Truth be told, we didn't begin any consistent "family prayer" time beyond saying grace before meals until my oldest child was about 18 months old. Since then, we have managed to incorporate family prayer into our children's nightly bedtime routine but it wasn't until we settled into our house that I was finally able to create the little oratory I had been dreaming of since before Michael and I even tied the knot!

Without further ado, here is what our family's little oratory looks like:

My basic goal was to have some religious icons or paintings displayed above a little table on which we can place votive candles, prayer cards, religious images or statues, and liturgically-themed items that we can swap out according to the appropriate liturgical season.

Additionally, I wanted some storage space (either baskets or drawers) so that we can keep extra prayer materials gathered in one easy-to-find space. I use each drawer for a different purpose, but they contain things like rosaries and chaplets, small prayer books or pamphlets, baptism and Advent candles, and religious things geared specifically toward the kids.

Finding the right spot proved to be a simple task once we knew the layout of our new house; my husband and I quickly agreed that the prayer space needed to be in our living room. There are some other spots it would look nice, but we wanted it to be somewhere functional so that we constantly see it and can be reminded to pray. Our aim was to find a prominent spot in the house that we regularly see but isn't completely "in your face" for visitors or guests. With that criteria in mind we quickly found the perfect spot in the far corner of our living room.

The view from our couch

I also wanted our prayer space to be accessible to the kids, so I made sure to choose a table that wasn't too tall, but just tall enough to make it hard for kids ages 2 and under to grab anything fragile.... ;)

I think prayer cards are a great (inexpensive and virtually indestructible!) way to include little ones in prayer and/or introduce them to religious images or Saints, so I bought a little wooden box to hold all our random prayer cards while keeping them visible and reachable. 

Box of holy cards for curious little fingers to grab

Many of the religious items on display change with liturgical seasons, feast days, or whatever special intentions we are focusing on praying for, but the 2 current staples that always remain are things the kids can be really hands on with: the box of prayer cards and the little "priest" that we dress in the appropriate liturgical vestments for the day or season. Peter is still too young to fully comprehend this concept, but Gabriel named our priest Father Gordon (yes, like the express engine from Thomas & Friends) and eagerly dresses him every Sunday morning and/or on special feast days (my older sister is entirely to thank for making us the priest and vestment set; she wrote a tutorial on her blog about vestment symbolism for kids in case any of you feel like crafting something similar!).

What our prayer space looked like on Good Friday (and again on Divine Mercy Sunday)

Not only has this prayer space been something fun to regularly redecorate, but more importantly it has actually reminded me to pay better attention to some of the many feast days within the Church and/or pray more often (and to lead my children in doing so). 

Eventually I added a burlap table runner to prevent table scratches and/or help cushion anything fragile that might get picked up or knocked over by my toddler boys. It could benefit from some ironing (as evidenced below), but it makes a great addition in terms of making me less nervous about kids grabbing everything (which of course does happen from time to time since that's one of the main purposes of creating the space to begin with).

^This is what it currently looks like as I focus on praying for our daughter through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Gerard, and St. Gianna. Just looking at it makes me feel incredibly blessed, because many of the current focal points have been given to me by friends once they learned about our baby girl's diagnosis.

Previously I didn't have anything related to St. Gianna or St. Gerard, and now our little oratory contains relics of them both(!) - in the prayer card front and center and wrapped up in the golden cross of the pink ribbon tied around the OLG candle. These precious holy items are tangible reminders that we do not have to carry all our crosses alone, for not only do we have Saints in heaven praying for us, but we are blessed with people here on earth that are ready to shower us with love if we will only accept it.

It took time for me to share about this pregnancy experience on the blog and my husband and I seriously questioned whether or not we ever should - but I'm so grateful that we did. Neither my husband nor I like to ask for help or feel like a burden to others, but through this experience the Lord is teaching us that sometimes the real burden is to NOT ask for support or help when you need it the most.

So, if you can offer up some prayers for our baby girl I would greatly appreciate it - and please let me know how I can be praying for you, too!

"Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts."
-Saint Teresa of Calcutta