These are a few of my favorite things…

My favorite things about parenthood (thus far):

  1. I love the moments where memories are being made for my kids.  It is that moment when your kids walk into Disney’s Magic Kingdom and see the castle or Mickey for the first time.  It is when your daughter learns to ride a bike after days of practice.  It is that moment when your son realizes he can climb up the bounce house and slide down all by himself and wants to do it over and over again.  It is when your child is upset because they feel bullied at school and you role-play how to handle this situation the next time.  It is all those times (however few and far between they may be) where you sit down to dinner as a family and talk about the best part of your day.  I believe you can feel these moments in a visceral way.  It is as if I can see and feel the snapshot or memory being made in all of these instances.  These moments often bring me to tears because I am so full of joy, love, and gratitude.  These are the moments where I truly think there is no greater gift than being a parent.DSC_0328
  2. I love the comedy.  I have laughed (and cried) more as a parent than I ever did before kids.  Sometimes I have even found myself laughing through the frustrating, challenging, and messy moments of parenthood – laughter can be a very healthy and necessary coping mechanism.  Kids say and do some pretty funny things.  My kids literally make me laugh every single day – intentionally or most often unintentionally.  I love the way my kids talk, their questions (even if they can sometimes get a little repetitive), and observations on the world.  I wish I wrote more of these funny things down because I have forgotten as they get older.  One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is sit down with Les and share funny stories or things that the kids said or did during the day.  The rest of the world may not be as amused, but they always make us smile and giggle.                                                                          DSC_0903
  3. I love to watch them learn and find their way in the world.  It really does seem like they grow up so fast.  Isabella recently learned to read and it was a truly remarkable thing to watch.  I mean one day she was my cute little toddler that knew her alphabet and a few sight words, and now she is reading to me and writing stories at school.  How did that happen?  I can’t even really say that we “taught” her how to read.  I mean we read to her every night and we had her practice sounding out words and trying to read sentences and she just got it.  It seems like she learns so much every week – from school, from us, from her friends, and just her surroundings.  Kids really are like sponges, and I love watching each of mine soak up the world around them.     DSC_0255
  4. Parenthood makes me want to be a better person.  I have always been pretty self-motivated and tried to lead a good life, but now there are three little people watching my every move and counting on me.  That can be a lot of pressure, but also a moral compass like none other.  I am always thinking about the example I am setting for my kids.  For instance, I am a screamer.  I yell at my kids way more than I would like to.  I know that when I get frustrated, am trying to juggle too many things, or am in a hurry – I tend to yell louder and more often than I should.  I don’t want them to think of me as a mom that is always raising her voice or losing her cool.  I want to set an example for how to remain calm and graceful under pressure.  I want to show them how to manage those frustrated and angry feelings in a constructive way.  I will not be perfect.  I would never want to put that kind of pressure on my kids anyway, since no one can be perfect.  I want them to see that I try to do the right thing and the kind thing as often as I can.  I want to show them how to handle mistakes when they inevitably happen.  I want to show them how to live their best life and be the best person that they can be.  In doing this, I am trying to do the best that I can and live the best life possible for myself and for my family.  DSC_0712
  5. Parenthood has brought me closer to my family.  I appreciate my parents so much more now that I am a parent.  I understand them and can relate to them on this entirely new level.  I can finally appreciate the sacrifices that they made for our family growing up.  If I ever blamed them for anything, I have long forgiven and forgotten those things as I have come to understand that they did the best they could with what they had (time, money, energy, patience, etc.).  Watching my parents as grandparents is one of the most unexpected joys I have experienced since becoming a parent.  My parents give their time and their love so freely, and I am immensely appreciative of all they do for my kids and our family.  I appreciate my mother-in-law and father-in-law on an entirely new level too.  I already knew that they were wonderful grandparents because I had seen them in action with my nieces, but it is still so special to see the way my kids light up when they get to spend time with Grammy and Pop.  I feel lucky to have three wonderful sisters, an amazing sister-in-law, and an awesome brother-in-law that are the best Aunts and Uncle my kids could possibly ask for.  I have three beautiful nieces and an adorable nephew who will be their forever friends and playmates on the road of life.  I value family so much and am so thankful that parenthood has allowed me to appreciate my family on another level.  DSC_0358
  6. We are in this together.  No matter what happens, no matter what kind of crap comes our way in life, we will face it together.  We have each other’s back.  We are not alone.  There is great comfort in this knowledge.  There is a love and a connection that will forever bind us together because we are family.  I am yours and you are mine.  I took my vows seriously when I got married over 10 years ago, but that sense of forever means more now that we are not just Les and Jess.  We are Les, Jess, Isabella, Jacob, and Noah – Levin party of five.  I know that nothing in life is 100% certain, but there is certainty in family – that we are connected to someone else, that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves, that there is a love there that is binding and forever.  IMG_0760

“I just want you to comfort me”

Sometimes Isabella is four-and-a-half going on fourteen and sometimes she acts exactly her age. Tonight we had a little of both. Isabella is my oldest child, my daughter, and probably the one I worry about the least. We had a rough start with a difficult delivery, lots of trouble nursing, and three to four months of colic, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing. She is sweet, smart, generous, imaginative, playful, and sometimes sassy. She hit all of her developmental milestones early or right on schedule and has blossomed over the past two years in Montessori school. She is starting to read already and has wonderful critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Isabella is polite and a fairly good listener. Although she looks just like my husband, she inherited quite a few of my personality traits including being a good negotiator and debater. She can be very convincing in arguing her side and trying to get what she wants. Les is in trouble when the two of us team up and try to get what we want (new shoes, a vacation, a pool or new car one day????). She can also be sensitive and emotional. This could be inherited, since I can be emotional and overly sensitive at times, or it could just be a girl thing.

With two mischievous, and very needy, young boys constantly demanding my attention, Isabella, unfortunately. is the one that often has to fend for herself. I count on her, as the oldest and as my most responsible child, to make safe and smart choices. I rely on her to speak up if something is amiss or if she needs something. Isabella is very good about playing on her own or with friends, requiring the least amount of my hands-on time between my three children. She is so outgoing and eager to make a friend wherever we go. We were at the park the other day and she did not hesitate to run over to a young girl that was swinging on the swing set and ask her to play. She is young and innocent enough to not know the sting of rejection or the arbitrary social constraints that prevent so many older kids and adults from going up to a stranger and inviting them to join us in play or engage in conversation. We are lucky to have some great kids in the neighborhood with whom Isabella loves to play, especially two of her best friends that live next door. The three of them enjoy playing outside, dressing up, doing arts and crafts, and playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls. They get along very well, with only the occasional hurt feeling or disagreement thrown in for good measure.

After a busy four-day family trip to Philadelphia, Isabella could not wait to play with her friends. She got to go to Gymnastics camp with a school friend this morning and got to play with her neighbor friends all afternoon. By the time I got home from work today, dinner needed to be made and I had to go next door to pick her up from her playdate fun. After little sleep the night before (due to our long drive home from Philly) and a very busy day of activity, Isabella was tearful and exhausted. She started crying about a seemingly trivial issue of whether she had missed her American Girl doll’s birthday. I am not sure if she thought of this or if the birthday question came up while she was playing dolls with her friends, but she was inconsolable.

I tried the rational approach, telling her that she could choose any date for her American Girl doll’s birthday. I tried to reassure her that we had not missed her doll’s birthday. I even got out the computer and tried to look up the actual birthday of her doll. I tried to ask questions to see if she had been in a disagreement with her friends and attempted to coach her on standing up for herself if she did not like what her friends were telling her. The more I talked and tried to reason with her, the more she cried. I did not know what else to say. Frankly, I could not believe I was even going to these lengths over such a silly issue. As I tried another approach of reasoning with my very unreasonable and overtired 4-year-old, Isabella threw her hands up and said, “Mommy, I just want you to comfort me. You keep talking and making me more sad.” Wow! She was right. I was so busy trying to make dinner and give advice and offer solutions, I had not stopped to simply wrap my little girl in my arms and smother her with hugs and kisses. I stopped what I was doing and sat her on my lap and just held her. I rubbed her head, held her like the child that she still is, and just let her cry for a few minutes. I waited until the tears stopped and she was feeling better – maybe five or ten minutes. Bedtime followed shortly thereafter.

Tonight reminded me of a couple of important lessons. Four-year-old girls are not that different from thirty-four year-old women. I know when I am tired, sad, and frustrated and just need a good cry, I don’t want my husband to offer advice or solutions. I usually am just looking for an understanding shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear to listen to my woes. Once I finish my good cry, I am usually fine. Although I have never said the words “I just want you to comfort me”, that is exactly what I have thought on numerous occasions. Isabella is growing up, sometimes faster than I would like. As she gets older, the problems and disagreements she will encounter will only multiply and become more complex. I have so many things I want to teach her, and my initial instinct is always going to be to try to help her navigate the world and find solutions to the challenges she faces. I need to remember that she is still my little girl, and I always need to give hugs and just listen before I start doling out advice. Parental guidance and problem-solving usually goes down better with a healthy dose of comfort and empathy mixed in.

Apologies

This is the start of what may become a regular series on the blog entitled Apologies.  I feel the need to apologize a lot lately – to the kids, my husband, my friends, my boss, my coworkers, and complete strangers.  I am usually either failing to live up to expectations, doing too much of something (usually yelling), or not doing enough (work, time with my husband, attention to the kids).  Sometimes I am apologizing for my own shortcomings and other times for the shortcomings of my children.  Today I have to apologize for both.

I apologize to Moe’s for the awful tantrum my 17-month old threw in your dining establishment today.  We were just coming in to pick-up a big to-go order and this 5-minute trip turned into a 15-minute nightmare.  I know I tried to say that he never acts like that, as if that would excuse  the scene he was making, but that was not a total lie.  He has never acted that way in a restaurant.  He usually only throws those tantrums at home.  What was I supposed to say – “Sorry, my kid is acting like an out-of-control little monster, and I am a terrible parent for not knowing how to get him under control”?  I guess that would have been more accurate at that moment.

I apologize to the hard-working employees, especially those that helped clean up the messes we made along the way.  Sorry about the entire snack container of pretzels Noah threw all over the floor.  I did my best to clean up, but I am sure that we left some pretzels under tables.  I am sorry about all the napkins my 3-year old pulled out and left all over a table as I ignored him, while trying to gain control over my flailing 17-month old.  I apologize for leaving a very messy, stinky diaper in the bathroom trash can.  I usually try to take those outside in a special bag, but it was all I could do to just escape the bathroom with my tearful, poop stained baby and very restless toddler.

I apologize to the other patrons that were witnessing the screaming, flailing, crying, and hitting debacle in front of them with a mix of disgust and pity.  Noah threw himself on the floor kicking and crying for no good reason at least 3 times.  To keep him from hurting himself and to get him off the dirty floor, I thought it would be slightly better to let him lose it in my arms and hurt me instead.  Of course, I tried to soothe him, distract him, and calm him down to no avail.  I was well aware that all eyes were on me, wondering why I could not gain control over this tiny, emotional person.  I especially apologize to the little boy who put his hands over his ears and did not take them away until we left the restaurant.  I know that we were interrupting your nice, peaceful lunch out on a Sunday.  Sorry!

I apologize to the two nice ladies who approached me asking if I needed any help.  I know it is hard to watch a miserable little baby and be so helpless to quiet him down.  Unfortunately, there was not much you could really do to help, other than putting the lids on my salsa cups and helping me out to the car with my bags so I could contain my miserable child.  I especially apologize to the second kind woman who saw me burst in to tears as she was helping me at the salsa bar.  I hope you don’t think I am crazy.  Your innocent question was just the final straw that sent me over the edge.  My tears were a result of a long, frustrating morning with a grumpy baby and an even more frustrating and embarrassing 15 minutes at the restaurant.  I know you were judging me, at least a little, but just know that we were simply having a bad moment – both of us.  I am usually much more calm, composed, and in control.  Noah is usually not such a terror, at least not to that degree.

Lastly, I apologize to Noah.  I know you are still a baby – barely able to handle your emotions, especially on command.  You are usually a sweet, happy guy and love to run errands like this with me.  Maybe you’re not feeling well today (hence the awful diapers) or maybe you just did not want to be on this particular errand.  Either way, tantrums are never acceptable, especially in public.  At home I can employ my usual defusing strategies like ignoring, time-out, or redirecting you with a toy or food.  Those strategies are much more difficult when waiting in line to pay at a crowded restaurant.  I am sorry for losing my patience with you and for putting you in that situation in the first place.  That still does not excuse the tantrum, especially the hitting (we are working hard to discourage this particular behavior).  Even when I don’t like your behavior, I still love you and always will.

Enough apologizing for now.  Noah calmed down once we were in the car driving home from Moe’s.  He went down for nap and slept for three hours.  Despite the public humiliation earlier in the day, I braved another outing to the mall with all three kids after nap.  I am proud to say that everyone behaved.  I maintained control of myself and them, and we had a good time playing at the mall playground and shopping at Gymboree.  I know this won’t be the last time I feel the need to apologize for a bad tantrum or less-than-ideal behavior from one of my kids, but hopefully this won’t be a regular occurrence.

My Plates are Crashing

Wow, it has been over a week since returning home from our anniversary vacation, and I am swamped!  I feel like I am literally trying to juggle 20 different spinning plates right now and any minute they are all going to come crashing down.  I probably should not even be typing this message right now because my real job (the one that pays me to work 3 days/week) has several pressing deadlines staring me in the face.  Oh well, I loaded up on caffeine in preparation for a late night and early morning.  I need to vent for 20 minutes on this blog and then I will be able to tackle those work projects.

Coming home from vacation was bittersweet.  We were actually ready to leave Florida because we were dying to see the kids.  They made us a “welcome home” sign and showered us with hugs and kisses upon our return.  Noah, my baby, was especially clingy and maybe just a little traumatized from our absence, but he is coping (and I am coping with my mommy guilt about leaving him).  While we were thrilled to be back with our  children, we were not ready to leave the relaxation and stress-free days of vacation.  I was doing pretty well sticking to a diet (I still need to lose 10 pounds or so that I have kept on since my 3 pregnancies and kids) and surviving on 6-7 hours of sleep a night.  However, my body got spoiled on vacation and got used to at least 2 delicious meals a day (in addition to dessert) and 9-10 hours of sleep.  Needless to say, my body and mind have been fighting to get readjusted to a more deprived state and are not happy about it.  Coming home also meant coming home to our insane schedule.  Here is a little taste of our last week since returning home:

Wednesday:  Back to work for me, kids at home with Les for part of day and Nanny part of the day.  Jacob had 1/2 day at school.  No school for Bella.

Thursday:  I worked ALL day – left at  7 AM and did not get home until after 10 PM.  This sucked even more since I usually don’t work on Thursdays.  I switched my days around since I had a few presentations I was responsible for on this day.  Jacob had his last day of school.  Les did the speech drive with Jacob and brought Isabella along for the drive.  Nanny stayed with Noah during speech.  Les (super dad) did dinner, bath, and bed routine.

Friday:  I was off, but Les had to work all day.  Packed tons of kid gear for a big day in Virginia Beach.  Took kids to VB for 11 AM speech.  After speech, we picked up my dad, got smoothies for lunch, and took Noah for his first haircut.  Dropped my dad off,  went to my in-laws house for naps for boys and to celebrate father-in-law’s retirement (Les met us in VB after work).  Late night for kids.

Saturday:  Needed household supplies – groceries, home depot stuff, craft supplies, and Father’s Day gifts.  Schlepped kids to multiple stores, went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and playtime.  Les went to work at 2 PM, and I did afternoon and evening routine with kids on my own.

Sunday:  Big Day – Father’s Day!  Gave Les father’s day presents and we took a family trip to Super Wal-Mart for MORE groceries and supplies that we did not get Saturday.  Had all of husband’s family over and made Father’s Day brunch.  Cleaned up and helped Isabella and cousins organize a lemonade stand.  Prepared food for my family to come over for Father’s Day BBQ.  After the BBQ, Les and I left to go to a Dave Matthews concert (self-imposed craziness, I know, but totally worth it).  My parents did bath and bedtime with kids.

Monday:  Les worked.  I was off because I am working Thursday again this week.  Took Isabella to camp at Virginia Living Museum.  Took boys to museum and for a walk.  Had one of Isabella’s friends from camp over for a playdate and helped them with some craft projects while boys napped.  Packed up stuff for a late afternoon outing to Busch Gardens (we have season passes and love being able to go for just a few hours).  When Les got home from work, we went to the amusement park for 4 hours and put the kids to bed a little later than usual.  Les and I stayed up late pre-cleaning the house because we were having a cleaning person come the next day.

Tuesday:  Work day for me.  Les has to sleep during day because he starts working the overnight shift tonight = the beginning of a crazy few days ahead where we won’t see each other much.  My to-do list is a mile long – work to do for my job in preparation for my meeting, Jacob b-day invitations to mail, more grocery shopping, bills to pay, birthday gifts to buy, and another trip to get ready for over the 4th of July.

Wednesday:  Les sleeps and goes right to work when he wakes up because he has a meeting before his shift.  I will be gone all day and evening because I have a big work meeting.  The nanny will be with the kids all day and my parents will do dinner/bath/bed.  I will come home at 10 so my parents can go home.  I should be staying at the hotel where my meeting is, but I have no one to be home with the kids since Les is working overnight so my boss said I could stay the night at home as long as I am back bright and early.

Thursday:  Out the door as soon as nanny arrives and at my meeting all day.  Finally home Thursday evening, but Les still working two more nights so we won’t see him until Saturday.

Friday:  A nice long day spending time with my kids – finally!  Lots of stuff to do, but probably won’t do anything except play and snuggle my kiddos.

So….. this is my life.  I know it is not much different from anyone else’s crazy life, but it mine and most days it feels like I am just trying to survive.  I have many moments during weeks like this where I really question whether I am making the right choice to work outside the home, away from my kids.  These busy work weeks make the balance seem very off and make me feel like my priorities are not quite aligned.  I also don’t have any time for the things I really do enjoy, like blogging!  I have started 5 different posts – my Fifty Shades of Grey review, Cancer Recap, Father’s Day post, my take on the attachment parenting debate, and my synopsis of the Lance Armstrong investigation and the sham that it is.  This is the good stuff I really want to be working on, along with planning Jacob’s birthday, catching up on scrapbooks, organizing my office, finally getting my finances and bills in some sort of order, and just spending more quality and consistent time with my children.  I know it will settle down and the balance will shift back soon.  It usually does, at least long enough for me to decide to keep up this balancing act of working in and outside the home a little while longer.  I just need to get through this week.  I need to look forward to a great 4th of July vacation with family and friends.  I need to stop writing and get to my work so I can maybe get 5 hours of sleep tonight.  I need to take a few deep breaths and   move forward with the tasks at hand.

Hang in there with me as I get through this week.  I will finish those posts I mentioned soon and probably start several more that take me too long to finish.  I would like to promise that I will be a consistent blogger, but I am just trying to do the best that I can managing the other very important plates that are spinning out of control at the moment.  Once I get those under control, my fun side project of blogging can resume.

Goodbye Florida

  Goodbye Florida.  It has been fun, but it is time to go back home.  It turns out that 2-3 days is enough time for a vacation without the kids- at least for the first one.  We miss our little ones and our crazy life.  We feel rested, reconnected, refreshed, and ready to tackle a busy, fun-filled summer.  It was so nice to have this little time-out together.  We confirmed what we already knew on some level – we are still Les and Jess.  Sure, we are mom and dad to our three kids, but first and foremost we are individuals, and husband and wife.  We have taken time away individually over the past five years for work trips, vacations with “the guys”, or my recent trip to see my sister in Germany.  I know those trips were very therapeutic and re-energizing for each of us, but those trips also put the burden of parenting and running the house on the other partner.  We have tried to allow and encourage each other to take time away over the past five years.  Parenting can be hard work, and everyone deserves a little break to remember who they are as an individual.  It also reminds the person at home how much they value and rely on the other person.  Parenting is definitely easier and more fun together.  I admire single parents, because I know it can be very challenging and sometimes quite lonely to do that job alone.  Of course marriage and co-parenting has its share of challenges too, but I know Les and I appreciate each other and the role we each play in parenting.

I don’t think either of us doubted that we still had it as a couple, but it was just nice to confirm that we are still crazy about each other after 16 years together, 10 years of marriage, and three kids.  We still have plenty to talk about (other than the kids), we still love each other’s company, and we still have that spark.  This vacation not only made us excited for our next trip away together, but also made us more excited for our next family vacation.  There were so many times on this trip when some of the experiences we had felt a little bit empty without the kids.  We would comment how much the kids would love to see this or play with that.  For instance, “the kids would love all the shells on this beach” or “they would have so much fun playing in this pool.”  We are in a new phase of existence as a couple, one where we can’t necessarily separate the “us” of our marriage, from the “us” of our family.  We love this phase and are immensely grateful for the family we created.  We just have to remember that without the “us” of each other, we would never have the beautiful family that we do.  I guess we’ll just have to get the babysitters on reserve and pick a date in 2013 for our next trip together.  We wouldn’t want to forget what made it all possible, right?

Jacob – A Special Kid From the Beginning (Part 2)

Looking at these two pictures reminds me just how far Jacob has come.  I wish I could have seen this picture of him running with a football when he was 11 months old and I was a frightened that he would never sit properly, crawl, or even walk.  So many people encouraged me that it would come in time, and I believed them for the most part, but I still worried.  Jacob’s gross motor skills have improved exponentially over the past year and a half.  He walks and runs everywhere.  He still falls quite often when on uneven surfaces, but we have been lucky in escaping any real injuries or trips to the Emergency Room.  He is still in physical therapy through the school and privately, working on navigating surface changes, stairs (alternating feet up and going down safely), jumping, and overall core strength and flexibility.  From initial appearances, Jacob looks like a pretty typical 2 and a half-year old, which is such a tremendous blessing and a relief.  I feel like he will eventually be able to do everything his peers can do physically, even if it takes a lot more time and effort.

Our biggest challenge over the past year has been Jacob’s speech delay.  At the age of two, Jacob really was not talking at all.  He said mama, dada, and Bella and that is about it.  All of his therapists told us that children usually master gross motor skills before mastering fine motor skills, including speech.  Since his gross motor development was so delayed, this somewhat explained his speech delay.  He also needed to imitate sounds before he would be able to imitate words.  At two, Jacob was delayed in a lot of his fine motor skills and really was not imitating much at all.  He still was not clapping, not signing much (despite lots of effort on this), and not doing much fine motor play (block stacking, pop beads, etc.).  He would gesture, point, grunt, and cry if he wanted something.  Two-year olds can be challenging, moody, and difficult to understand anyway, but most two-year olds have a basic supply of words and/or signs to communicate their basic needs and wants.  Jacob did not have this, which was leading to a tremendous amount of frustration on his part and ours.

One of the great things about the Early Intervention program is that they are a direct link to the IEP and developmental preschool programs offered through public schools.  A child can stay in the Early Intervention program until they are three, but it seems like they encourage you to get them in school for a more stimulating, therapy-rich environment than the few hours of at-home therapy you get through early intervention.  Our daughter Isabella was in a Montessori school and we were very happy with the environment and the development we had seen there with her.  I am a big proponent of Montessori education, but I also feel like different kids need different things at various points.  This is a lesson, not just of education, but of parenting multiple children.  Montessori would not have been the right fit for Jacob, and I am not sure if it ever will be.  The developmental preschool through the public school system was a good fit for Jacob.  We went through the IEP process and he started the 2011-2012 school year with 2 days/week.  Jacob’s amazing, patient, smart, and caring preschool teacher helped advocate for him to go to school 3 days/week in the middle of the year.  Jacob enjoyed going to school.  He was fine getting on the school bus (so scary to send a 2-year-old on a bus, but he loved it).  He came home from the half-day exhausted, but happy.  The classroom is a language-rich environment, with therapy built-in to the entire program, in addition to more individualized speech, occupational, and physical therapy.  Because many of the other kids in the class were also delayed in one or multiple ways, we decided to also put him in a regular preschool class at the JCC for the other 2 days/week.  This way he would have some sort of school or activity every morning of the week (much easier for creating a routine), and he would be exposed to many different types of kids and learning environments.

We did see Jacob make progress at school, but the progress was not as fast as we would have liked.  By the time Jacob had his second IEP meeting at the end of 2011 (where we were requesting 3 days/week), we felt like his progress was stagnant.  This was a familiar feeling with Jacob’s development.  When he learned to crawl, it took him another 8 months to learn to walk, and it seemed to take forever.  With his speech, we kept expecting a “language explosion”, but he spoke less than 10 words from his second birthday to two and a half.  Progress just seemed so slow, which was so very frustrating and defeating at times.  In addition to increasing his days at school from 2 to 3 days and adding the 2 days at the JCC, we changed his private speech therapy as well.

We had been seeing a nice speech therapist at our home once a week from August 2011 to January 2012.  I had suspected that Jacob may have Apraxia, in addition to some dysarthria and hypotonia.  He fit the profile in a lot of ways and this speech therapist confirmed that he probably did have Apraxia.  She really focused on building his mouth strength through focused exercises in chewing, blowing, and whistles.  Just as Jacob had low tone in his body, his mouth was very weak as well.  These exercises were like PT for the mouth.  Jacob’s mouth did seem to get stronger, but this did not necessarily translate to improved speech.  Jacob also  did not always cooperate for these hour-long therapy sessions.  Overall, we just felt like we needed to try something else.  We had Jacob evaluated by a speech therapist in Virginia Beach (a 45-minute drive away) who was an Apraxia expert when he was 18 months old.  She said he was too young to diagnose with Apraxia at that point.  In January of 2012 I decided to attend an Apraxia support group meeting in Virginia Beach and I ran into this speech therapist again.  She suggested I bring him back in for another evaluation.  We did  the evaluation and have been schlepping Jacob to Virginia Beach twice a week for speech therapy and physical therapy since February of 2012.  Although this therapist does not think Jacob officially has Apraxia, she does agree that he has dysarthria and that the low tone affects his speech – it is just a lot more difficult for Jacob to talk than for other children.  She is good – what all speech therapists should be!  The drive is a pain, but worth it for good therapy that I finally feel is helping him.

I had suspicions that Jacob had some food allergies or sensitivities for a long time.  Even as a baby, with the severe reflux and eczema issues, I knew that dairy was a bit of an issue.  I tried to alter my diet while nursing him for 7 months, but I could never pin point what exactly bothered him.  When I stopped nursing, we tried him on regular formula, which he did not tolerate.  He seemed to do better on soy formula, and eventually soy milk.  We still gave him regular yogurt and cheese occasionally, which he LOVED, but it did not love him.  If I noticed the eczema flaring up, I would try to cut back the dairy, but sometimes he would still have skin issues or crying fits at night even when the dairy was cut out.  The other problem was that he seemed to crave dairy and would cry and throw tantrums at the fridge begging for yogurt or cheese.  I understand that my job as a parent is to set limits and control the nutrition, but it is hard to constantly fight over food, especially when you can’t figure out exactly what it is that is causing the problems.  He was also starting to refuse certain foods that he used to like – pizza, pasta, and some bread.  We took him to an allergist for skin testing at 18 months, but egg was the only thing he showed a slight allergy to.

Needless to say, I really started to suspect some food sensitivities or allergies that may not have shown up on the skin test (not the best test for certain sensitivities or allergies anyway).  I have always had an open mind to alternative sorts of treatment.  I already had Jacob on a special fish oil that is supposed to help with myelination in the brain and speech, not to mention being healthy for you as well.  Even though Les is a physician and I wholeheartedly believe in the benefit of Western medicine, I also don’t believe that the medical community (especially not any one particular doctor) knows all the answers.  We had been to pediatricians, neurologists, developmental pediatricians, allergists, dermatologists, ENT, and several other therapists and nobody really had a clear idea of exactly what was wrong, what was causing the problems, and what exactly we should do to help Jacob.

Although I do not currently think that Jacob is on the Autism spectrum, some of his issues share certain characteristics with Autism – speech delay, sensory integration/processing issues, and some of his GI problems.  I had heard about parents that had “cured” (or at least significantly helped) their children on the Autism spectrum with the Gluten-free, Caesin-free diet (GFCF diet).  I ordered six books on Autism and the GFCF diet and read them in one week.  Why not try this special diet, since it may help his stomach and skin problems that I suspected may have something to do with dairy and/or gluten?  There was plenty of information in the books and on the internet suggesting that speech and behavior improved on this diet as well.  The new speech therapist in Virginia Beach was supportive and said she had personally seen significant improvements in kids on this diet, in addition to being helped by the diet herself.  She also recommended more allergy testing by a different lab (Enterolab) to confirm food allergies or sensitivities.  We tested Jacob with this lab and, as suspected, the results showed that he was allergic to Gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy.  We eliminated the soy, since we had already eliminated everything else.  I cringe when I think about how much soy Jacob has consumed (soy formula, soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy sauce, etc.) over the past 2 years.  After gluten, soy was the next highest score on his allergy tests.  I am trying hard to minimize the mommy guilt over missing this and possibly contributing to any of his problems with the soy.

We have really seen significant changes in Jacob since January.  We have seen the most dramatic improvements in his speech.  He probably has 50 words – maybe not easily understood by all – but 50 words and often tries to imitate other words and sounds.  Jacob is also playing more like a typical little boy.  I still remember the first time I saw Jacob playing with cars in a way you would expect a 2-year-old to play with them (about 6 months ago).  I was so excited and proud that it brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Now he regularly plays with cars, trains, and other toys the way I would expect him to.  This is something you take for granted with neurotypical children, but such a big deal for kids like Jacob. It is almost impossible to say if any one particular thing has resulted in these improvements.  I think the diet is probably the biggest thing that has led to the improvements.  He does not wake up crying during the night (confirming my suspicion that his stomach was hurting), and his mood is so much better.  He can still be a moody, grumpy and whiney toddler, but not nearly as unbearable as before.   In addition to the diet, Jacob is certainly benefiting from 5 days of school/week, more frequent speech therapy with an excellent therapist, and time.  He will be three years old next month.  What a difference a year makes!

There is still a great deal of work ahead of us.  Jacob will be starting a new year of preschool in an integrated class at the local public school in the fall.  We finished his IEP, and he will continue his speech, PT, and OT therapies while attending school 4 days/week.  We will continue to go to Virginia Beach for private speech therapy and physical therapy.  We have to work with Jacob every day on his speech.  I would love for him to be putting 2 or more words together regularly and expand his vocabulary.  I can’t wait to hear him sing songs and have a conversation with his brother and sister while playing.  He still has some strange skin rashes that appear on his legs.  We went to a dermatologist a year ago about this and did not get any answers.  We need to go to a different dermatologist and push for a better answer.  I continue to look for new things to cook and serve to Jacob to accommodate his food limitations.  This diet does involve a lot more grocery shopping and advance planning on my part, but it forces me to make fresher and healthier meals for the whole family.  In the next year I would love to see Jacob learn how to walk down stairs, pedal a tricycle, jump, and sit up in a chair for longer periods without slumping down.  We have lots of goals and look forward to celebrating all these accomplishments and more.  I am so thankful for the progress we have made and more hopeful than ever that my precious little boy is starting to shine through.

Jacob is a sweet, resilient, funny, and smart little boy.  He is such a special kid!  Of course, I still worry about him every day and probably always will.  I worry about all three of my kids, but my fear and concern for him is just different.  I just want what all parents want for their kids – good health, happiness, and the opportunity to be independent and live a full life.  Despite the stress and struggles along the way, I am so honored and proud to be Jacob’s mother.  I would do anything for him.  He has given us so much joy and taught us so much already in his first 3 years of life.  I can’t wait to see what he’ll learn next and look forward to the journey ahead!

Jacob – A Special Kid From the Beginning (Part 1)

Jacob is one extraordinary little boy.  He is my first born son, my middle child, and probably the sweetest AND the most challenging of all three of my kids.  Before I describe some of the details around my handsome little man Jake, I need to provide a little context.  Isabella, my oldest, was a tough baby for the first 3 months (she did not sleep much, not a great nurser, and colicky). Around 4 months Isabella became a much easier baby, and I became a much more sane and confident mom.  Other than our rough start together (more on that in a future post), Isabella was great.  She hit most of her milestones on time or early.  She was social, adorable, engaged, active, and it seemed like she was progressing and learning new things every day.  We felt like we had the hang of this parenting thing and thought we could do this again.

We decided to start trying for a second baby when Isabella was just 8-9 months old because of some of the fertility issues we had.  We did a failed round of IVF in the summer of 2008 before successfully trying IVF again in October.   I had a very good pregnancy and a much better delivery than my first one because it was a scheduled c-section.  I was thrilled to have my healthy baby boy, a big boy at 8 lbs, 4 oz.  He was a much easier baby than Isabella that first month – eating well, sleeping often, and easily soothed.  At about the one month mark he started having some reflux symptoms that were making him fairly unhappy – spitting up frequently, lots of spit bubbles, stomach/GI pain, and fussiness.  Our pediatrician confirmed that it was reflux and we started him on some reflux meds, I altered my diet to try to eliminate things that might be bothering him, and we let him sit and sleep on an incline as much as possible.  At around 3 months, I started to be get all “psycho mom” with worry and doubt about his development.  My mother’s intuition told me something was just not right with my baby.  He was not really smiling very much and just did not seem very engaged or interested in his surroundings.  Les and our pediatrician tried to reassure me over the next few months that he was fine and that it could be discomfort from the reflux, or he might just be a late developer.

There were a lot of little things that worried me in those first 6 months with Jacob.  All I had to compare his development to was his older sister who did everything much earlier than Jacob was doing things.  Many people said that boys develop differently and that I had to just be patient and not stress so much.  My husband is in the medical field, and I know enough about a little to be dangerous.  I was worried about Autism primarily, but there were other scary disorders I did not want to even fathom.  Even Les started to worry at 8 months when Jacob was not sitting, was not really playing/engaging with toys, and not getting around at all. Dr. Lewis, a pediatric neurologist at CHKD, diagnosed him with hypotonia, or “floppy baby syndrome”.  He reassured us that he would eventually sit, crawl, walk, and talk.  As for some of the other things I was worried about, like skin issues (eczema and rashes), speech delays, and some of the sensory and temperament concerns, we would just need to wait and see as he got older.  Jacob did finally sit up at close to 10 months, crawled at a year, and walked at 18 months.

I got him in early intervention services at 8 months for physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.  The therapists were so helpful with all of Jacob’s issues – physical, sensory, speech, play, and feeding – and with all of my concerns and fears.  I try to tell anyone who has concerns about the development of their kids about early intervention services.  No doctors told us about these services that are available in every state.  I found this on my own, as so many concerned parents do when researching ways to help their child.  Jacob received services from his early intervention therapists, and from private physical therapists at CHKD, until he was two.  We will never know where Jacob’s development would be without the early intervention services, but that is sort of the point of these services – to not have to know what a potentially worse outcome would look like.  Jacob was certainly not a “typically” developing boy at 2 and he is still not at almost 3, but we are making progress (more on Jacob from age 2 to 3 in Part 2).

As a parent, you worry about all of your kids.  If you have a healthy, typically developing, smart, talented, and well-behaved kid (like Isabella and Noah) you worry about something going wrong in the future, you fear the unknown, and you worry about how smart or talented or well-behaved they are compared to their peers.  With a child with developmental delays, you have many of those worries, plus the real fear and concern about their present issues.  You wonder if the diagnosis is right, you wonder if you are missing something, are you doing enough, are you pushing too hard, are you giving them enough time and attention with therapy, will they ever catch up and lead a “normal” life.  I could go on and on about the list of worries I have had with Jacob.  Add to that, a heaping serving of guilt and self-doubt (is this my fault, something I did or did not do to cause this?), and you have some serious parenting stress.  I know this was true for me and it is true for so many other parents of kids with developmental delays and health concerns.

I am sure I will have many more posts about our journey with our wonderful and special son Jacob.  In spite of Jacob’s delays and all the fear and worries I have had about Jacob since his first few months, he is such a sweet, sensitive, adorable little boy.  When he does reach those milestones, like walking for the first time or saying a new word or playing with a toy in a “typical” way, they mean so much more because we know how hard fought the journey was to get there.  Many of these moments have brought tears to my eyes – tears of joy, relief, and immense parental pride.  I hope that sharing our journey with Jacob, might help those who are curious or who may be going through something similar.  Please share your experiences and your journey with me.  I have learned so much from others going through similar experiences and look forward to continuing to help each other in the future.