Letting you in on a secret…

ememby_differentawesomeJack is nervous to start school. My fearless child who never lets anything hold him back. Who counts past 800 and would keep going if I let him. My youngest who has displayed more stamina and stubbornness in his 5.5 years than I will ever hope to have in a whole lifetime. Mr. Full Throttle, Guns Blazing is nervous.

My fearfully and wonderfully made kiddo is anxious and I figured this out because a) he has been acting like a crazy cling-on child and b) he asked to wear a long-sleeved shirt when he visited his kindergarten class. As soon as he asked, my heart jumped into my throat because I knew why. Why, on a morning that was already warm and humid, my child who regularly runs around shirtless in the winter, was asking for a long-sleeved shirt. He wanted to “hide” his little hand, his lucky fin.

I have tried very hard to never ask him if he is worried or anxious about something because of or in regard to his little hand. Yes, we talk about it often but in the context of what he can do, or why other people (mostly kids) might be curious about his hand. I have never wanted to suggest to him that his hand should make him self-conscious or anxious or worried, especially if he never indicated that he felt that way about it. Sort of how we only know that the sky is blue because someone taught us the name of that particular hue, but if they had told us it was green – we would call it green until otherwise corrected, none the wiser. Clearly he knows his hand is different, but unless he tells me that the idea of it causes him worry, I wasn’t about to suggest that it should.

But now it appears that he is indeed worried. Which I sort of knew would be coming and actually his surgeon had said would probably happen when he entered school (and again in the teenage years) – that there would be some anxiety or uneasiness around that transition until kids got to know him (which can happen in minutes) or had sated their curiosity. It is 100% normal for people to wonder why he has one smaller hand. Oh, but I cringe just thinking of how that curiosity presents itself or will be phrased: “What’s wrong with your hand?” and those are the nicest alternatives… kindergarteners have a smaller vocabulary where “wrong” is rather benign when faced with options like strange, weird, gross or anything else negative (and the vocabulary will only get bigger and meaner as he grows – a future I pray for fervently; I know that bullying is not tolerated and that people take so many things in stride but stray comments and lingering stares are still bothersome to kids and as hurtful as anything overtly stated).

So when he asked for the long-sleeved shirt, I paused and then asked, “Hey buddy, are you worried about school and maybe anxious about your hand?” He asked what anxious meant and I told him it was like being nervous or not knowing what people would think or wondering if they would look at it. And he said that yes, he was anxious about it. And so I told him he could wear a long-sleeved shirt if he wanted but that people were only curious about his little hand because they didn’t have one of their own and maybe they wondered how he had one (reminding him again that I loved his little hand and that we are all different). And I asked him what he tells people when they ask about it and he repeated, “I just say, that’s how God made me. I was born that way.” And then we revisited the Lucky Fin Project’s Facebook page and I showed him pictures of the kids and adults on there who were going to school just like him and doing lots of other activities. I remembered that there was a post from Jordan at Born Just Right about her advice for kids like her going to school. So we watched the video and read her books that she gives to the kids in her class before she starts school. And once again – what a gift that community is to us! Jack didn’t change his mind about the long-sleeved shirt, but I could tell he was less anxious about it and more ready to face the day than he had been 15 minutes prior. (And after Jordan’s video, he asked to watch all the videos the Holderness family has created – they are super entertaining and we have watched them so very many times, but they have nothing to do with limb differences.)

I wish he wasn’t anxious about school in any way but I certainly wish he wasn’t anxious about his hand at the same time I also know it’s only natural for him to feel that way. Jack’s old enough to notice the stares (which quite frankly stink – it’s so much better to just ask a question rather than obviously stare) and he gets frustrated when he can’t do something the same way or as easily as his brother (like monkey bars – which can be done, it will just take perseverance which he has in spades). At his request, he and I both went and talked to his teacher together, with me guiding him to tell her what we’ve taught him to say about his hand. “I was born that way. It’s the way God made me.” And then he showed her that he can bounce balls and clap and do all the things any other kindergartener can do (this was right before he stole plastic coins out of her toy cash register). I will email her all the info I normally tell his teachers and we’ll go from there. We have prepared him the very best we could for the first day of school and I just pray that he makes a new friend or two quickly and isn’t held back by any thoughts of his little hand.

Ironically, his little hand really isn’t the first thing you notice about him. In fact, it isn’t something people always notice at all… it can take many months of seeing him before many adults take note. I think this is two-part, the first being because it truly does not hold him back – there is absolutely no “dis” in his ability, he is simply differently-abled when it comes to certain things like bike riding, monkey bags and swinging tennis rackets. And second, he does try not to draw attention to it – he certainly doesn’t introduce himself by waving his little hand in people’s faces and often tucks it behind him or up into his sleeve. On this last point, I’d love to see a change in him… I mean the kid doesn’t lack for self-confidence, so I’d love to see him more outwardly proud of that little hand – not hiding it when he’s in new situations.

It’s our job to keep building up that confidence and giving him opportunities where he meets others with limb differences or sees their accomplishments. We will keep giving him the vocabulary to talk about his hand and practice with appropriate responses to people’s inquiries. Sometimes we have to make stuff up on the fly, for example: One of the school-aged kids at daycare who both my boys are friends with so I am confident he had the best of intentions, asked Jack if he could give him a dollar to touch his hand. I get the other kid’s curiosity and frankly, one of my favorite things is feeling his little hand grasp onto my fingers because it is so unique. Jack didn’t seem bothered by this request, but since he was asking me about it, I knew he wasn’t certain it was okay for this kid to have asked. So I told him honestly, if he wanted to do that, it was okay with me that “Fred” wanted to give him a whole dollar for something as silly as touching his hand and I explained that he was probably just curious about Jack’s little hand because he didn’t have one and wondered what it was like. And then, God bless him, Liam piped up and said, “Yeah, he doesn’t have a cool little hand. I kind of like having a brother with a little hand!” Right or wrong, “Fred’s” request was not mean-spirited and what’s important is that Jack feel comfortable in these situations and how they play out. We take them as they come and figure it out along the way – which is pretty much the sum of parenting. No matter how many kids you have, they are all different – all with their own individual set of worries and differences – we need to love them and build them up so they can thrive and succeed. Our job is to make sure they know they are awesome – just the way God made them. Because the one thing we have in common is that we are all different.

Recipe Sharing: Lemon Herb Dressing

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A brief intermission to share with you my new favorite dressing/vegetable topping…
I recently made this delicious Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde from Smitten Kitchen. I adapted the sauce/dressing because a) I HATE parsley with a passion and b) have tons of basil out on my deck. I made some other tweaks and very much enjoyed the leftovers on salads for the next couple weeks. Here’s my version in case you would like to make your own. I’ve been having it on fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or grilled veggies. Enjoy!

Lemon Herb Dressing
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4-1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 t. dried thyme
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. sea salt
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (or more to your liking)
2 T. capers, drained (these could probably be left out, but you may want more salt or to substitute kalamata olives instead)
juice of one lemon
1/2 c. olive oil

Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor (or blender). With machine running, drizzle in olive oil until you get the consistency you desire. Store at room temperature in airtight container for up to two weeks. Alternatively, you can make larger batches and pour in large freezer bag and lay flat in freezer until frozen. Break off and thaw portion you would like to use as desired.

One more week…

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School starts in one week. Well, technically 1 week and 1 day. And I gotta say, those 8 days cannot go fast enough. Try as I may to want to make the most of them because I know that once school starts life is different and crazy and filled with structure, must-dos and battles over homework, I’m also more than ready for a little break from all this togetherness with my precious children. I love them but we are all driving each other crazy.

We need time apart. And I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. The common refrain I hear (and echo) when I get together with my friends is, “Oh my goodness, are your kids driving each other (and you) crazy, too!?” The end of summer is near and we all know it.

Full disclosure: I sat on the couch yesterday, in tears because Liam was being mouthy (and generally 8) and Jack had refused to stay at my parents’ house as planned. I was disappointed to not have an anticipated break from my highly spirited and intense youngest child and mad at myself for feeling disappointed; and frustrated with Liam for not helping matters (because he was grumpy about not get a break at home from his brother). Simon was tired from having worked all day on a normal day off so I knew he was hoping for calm when he got home. We were all spent and feeling annoyed with each other. It’s not a great feeling to have as a parent, but it is inevitable, that much I know. I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way, not the first or the last… parenting is hard. [Yes - I've said versions of this before here, here and here.]

After a little time out, we regrouped and split the kids up and went on an outing. The evening ended up much better than the afternoon. And this morning I heard Jack telling Liam that it was the best day ever because I had told them they could play Wii and have candy before breakfast. Each day is a new day and while we are still ready for school to start, I’m no longer in tears and on edge (my kids are still driving me nuts and now there is a thunderstorm happening so George is losing his mind). But maybe you are and maybe you need a reminder – the list above is like my parenting mantra… the things I repeat to myself when I feel overwhelmed. Hope they help you and if you don’t need them now, you probably will at some point (if you click on the image you can download a printable PDF).

Long lost update

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Let’s pretend I’ve been regularly posting so it’s not strange that I haven’t done so in a while. Also that perhaps I’ve just been having too much fun living life and having a husband that is home. You should not read that line at all sarcastically, because while it is still and adjustment, having Simon home every night is capital-A Awesome! Plus he goes to bed at 9:30 so I still have a bulk of the evenings to myself. :) It’s a good gig.

Simon has just headed off to a two-night 80s concert extravaganza with long-time friend Nick. I am so glad they have each other for these things, because I would not joyously be joining him in seeing Firehouse, Skidrow, WInger, Tesla, Def Leppard and Kiss. No thank you. Liam is at my parents’ house for grandma and grandpa bonding (which sounds like he just got to run errands with grandpa yesterday) and tomorrow Jack and I go to Lansing for the night and then I bring Liam back with me on Sunday so Jack can have his turn with errand running and slushie drinking to his heart’s content.

Thankfully, Jack is currently having a play date because yesterday was intense… just he and I all afternoon with me trying to get work done while he spent 5 minutes at a time occupying his own attention between bugging me to entertain him. I can only do so many puzzles, make so many plastic cooties and draw so many pictures for him to decorate. We tried reading Harry Potter – he made it to page 2 before running off to find something else to do. We also had kindergarten visitation where Jack managed to make off with plastic coins from the cash register. Thankfully I had already alerted his [saintly] teacher of his propensity for kleptomania and she assured me she has had other students with the same problem… though I still feel like I need to get her a stellar back-to-school survival gift just so she remembers that when my child is jumping on her last nerve. In related news, I’ve been reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” and no surprise, I have two spirited children. Go figure, because Simon and I are such un-spirited people.

Work is good – I’ve been doing quite a few design projects that have been fun and creatively inspiring which feels pretty darn good if I’m honest. I just celebrated my 14th anniversary with the company… hard to believe when it often feels like just yesterday when I was starting there but 14 years is a very long time. And aside from the year in Chicago, I’ve lived half my life in GR now… and that feels nice.

Simon and I saw David Gray last weekend over by Detroit and it was a wonderful concert – outdoor venue, all the old favorites along with the new stuff and a night out with my hubby. I realized that like my work anniversary, I’ve been listening to David Gray for 14 years. I never tire of seeing him in concert though I am now of the opinion that he should stick to standing with his guitar and sitting at the piano rather than dancing during his concerts – a dancer he is not, unless he is going for a spastic, modern dance delivery, similar to Delores O’Riordan of the Cranberries (she still sticks out as the strangest singer who mistakenly was dancing that I have ever seen perform). I’ve got no more concerts on the calendar for this year and that’s a little sad but I have faith that something will come up…

For Liam’s birthday weekend we hosted three parties in one day and aside from a little [initial] snafu with the slushie machine, I’d say everything went off as planned (which is to say, successfully). Yes, we did hand out a few bandaids and there was a bloody nose situation, but you kind of expect that with a bunch of kids and free reign (with adult supervision) of a bounce house. I realize it seems crazy to host three parties in one day but it honestly didn’t cause me any more stress than hosting one thing that day… because when necessary, I can plan ahead and be prepared. :) Plus the morning and evening gatherings were potluck so while we hosted a whole bunch of people, we had more scaled back food prep than what we could have. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and loved that even though we were spent, at the end of the night, Simon and I were still laughing as we struggled to get the deflated bounce house loaded into the back of our minivan (does that mental picture get any more suburban yuppie?).

School starts the Tuesday after Labor Day so we just have to make it through next week without incident and we can write off summer 2014 as a success in our family history book. We didn’t take any huge vacations, travel great distances or even make it to the beach more than once but we had fun, we started a new chapter with having Simon on a regular day schedule and we marked many items off our summer bucket list! We really just need to host a lemonade stand and then I think my kids will be fully content. For five minutes.

Eight on 8/8

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This kid turns 8 today (the 8th day of the 8th month)! That’s kind of a big deal. He’s kind of a big deal, too. But I’m rather partial. The rest of you have your own big deals, but me, mine are named Liam and Jack. And today we celebrate the oldest – well, today and tomorrow when his birthday party is happening.
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This kid. He is my joy and my heart. He feels strongly and deeply. He’s always thinking and wondering. With him I’ve had some of my most favorite conversations (and most hilarious).
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He likes to be helpful (when he chooses to be, that is) and loves showing his dad everything that he has learned.
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He’s a teacher, always wanting to sharing what he knows with everyone around him (and I do mean everyone). This trait can border on being a know-it-all, but we’re trying to temper that tendency. But he does come from a long line of know-it-alls on both sides of the family. (Jack gets a doubly whammy of stubbornness and Liam gets great self-confidence and verbosity).
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He’s not quite at the stage where he self-edits, sometimes much to our chagrin, but I love that he speaks his mind and does wacky things to get a laugh (I would prefer he not shout fart as he’s running off to bed – but what can you do?).
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Dear Liam:
There are times you surprise me with your easy going spirit… going off to camp without a worry in the world, never looking back as your ran off with your new friends.
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And then there are times when you are strangely hesitant to try new things and take a chance… which can also comfort me, knowing that perhaps you will chose wisely when faced with tough decisions and won’t blindly follow along with the “pack” despite that easy-going spirit. Your brother could use a little more of your caution.
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You are 100% into electronics and spending your free time watching a screen of some sort. We’re working on finding the happy balance of what you really want to be doing (Minecraft, watching YouTube videos and Terreria) with what you really should be doing (go outside, already, you love it).
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But you will always be my baby and I hope you continue to be as generous with your hugs and your love with both your dad and I in this coming year. And I pray that you start to find the good in having a brother and loving on him, too! I am thankful that you know God and are starting to share our faith – it’s such an honor to field your questions about how the world works and where God comes into play with all that.
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You have so much love to give, you will not run out. May you remember that and let love guide you when you have burst of anger and frustration.
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We are so proud of you for the huge steps you’ve taken this year with school and learning and have loved seeing you thrive at a new school, making new friends and entertaining your new teacher as much as you have the ones from years past.
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Your dad and I hope that you have the happiest of birthdays and the best of days!
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Happy birthday, Liam! We love you to the moon and back (times infinity)!