Category Archives: Everyone Has a Story

Name change parties and a happy boy.

Kids are funny, yeah? Unless you teach them something isn’t quite right, they roll with it. Unless you teach them that one is better than another, they think everyone is equal. Unless you teach them that a little girl who never felt like a girl at all, but more like a boy who is now living his true self is sick and wrong, they’ll think it’s the most logical thing to do. Be who you are, don’t worry about what others think.

I asked Luke what he would say to someone who didn’t support him, who thought it wasn’t right for someone with girl parts to really be a boy and live like a boy. He said, “I would tell them that it’s okay to be who you are and you should just accept people for who they are.”

Kids get it.

So when I went to Luke’s school and spoke to the principal, the school psychologist, and his classroom teacher, we all pretty much agreed that this would be a smooth transition, that children would be accepting. Because that’s how things should be. Treat others how you would like to be treated. Call me crazy, but I think maybe that even includes transgender children and adults. So imagine my surprise when one of the teachers refused to be supportive (not Luke’s classroom teacher and not the school psychologist or principal…they were and are so amazing. My kids are so lucky to be at that school). She refused to take this as an opportunity to teach her students that Alice isn’t transforming into another person completely, she’s just changing her name to Luke and would like to live as a boy…that same friend is still there, just with shorter hair and a different spelling of the name. Imagine my surprise when she not only put his name change party invites into a sealed white envelope for her class, but also posted about it on Facebook, telling parents that the kids have no idea what’s in the envelope and she wanted them to see it before making a decision. The invite literally just said, “name change party.” I didn’t use words like transgender or queer or go into detail about our situation.  There wasn’t even a rainbow on the invite for God’s sake. It was a simple invitation to all of Luke’s friends to come and celebrate this huge change.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Some adults will make a big deal out of things no matter what. Even when it makes it harder for children, harder for families, adults still feel like they  need to insert themselves into every situation and try and take charge. This isn’t something that anyone can really take charge of. It’s not something that can change. This is just the way it is, and if you know Luke, you know it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

This weekend was Luke’s name change party and how lucky are we that so many people came?

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All these people were here for Luke. Parents I had never met, close friends, kids from the other class, siblings…all of these friends were here to tell Luke that he’s great. That this change is one that will be met with love and support more often than judgment and hate. These are the people who will be his allies, his helpers, the people he can go to when things get hard.

Oh, these friends of ours (and so many that weren’t able to come and aren’t pictured, too!)

I think I took more Polaroid photos than I did normal ones, but this is a pretty good representation. Luke’s face never quit smiling.

We had food and goodies and such a great time.

Gifts. People brought Luke gifts.

What’s one way that someone can show you they love you? By traveling hours and hours for an event that they know is almost as important as a birth to you. (It was. That might sound crazy but this was so important.)

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These guys know life isn’t easy and they know it’s going to be even harder for Luke. They know that the one teacher who isn’t supportive is just a tiny taste of what we’ll be met with for years and years. They know that one thing that a child can never get enough of is love. My kids have no doubt about who they can turn to when they need it.

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These are my people. And all the ones on the other side of the camera. And all the ones to the side and behind us. All the people who see Luke for who he is, what his heart shows, how he treats others, how he loves and how we love him. These are our people, whether they were at the party or not, those who show us love and respect and compassion – those are our people.

 

There’s a song in Hamilton (I know, I know) and the lyrics make me tear up every time.

 

“…you will come of age with our young nation.

We’ll bleed and fight for you.

We’ll make it right for you.

If we lay a strong enough foundation,

We’ll pass it on to you,

We’ll give the world to you

And you’ll blow us all away

Someday, someday.”

Every time I sing this song, I think of what I’m doing for my kids. How hard I’m working, how hard my family is working, how hard my friends are working. It’s not always easy to speak out when you know something is wrong. It’s not always easy to be who you truly are, especially when so many people so loudly disagree. It’s heartbreaking to see someone hate your child when they don’t even know them.

But if we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll give the world to our children. And they’ll blow us all away. That, I know, and that’s why I’m willing to fight and make it right.

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That Time I Quit Facebook (gasp)

I’ve taken quite a break, yeah? 2 weeks which is a long time for this little blog. A lot has happened in this head of mine. I used to love all things social media. It was so much fun seeing pictures of my friends, reading funny memes, catching up on people’s families and vacations and everyday adventures.

And then it got hard.

Friends would get upset if pictures weren’t liked (dumb). Arguments broke out among people who would never have the balls to talk the same way face to face. Passive aggressive quotes and pictures were posted after hard situations with friends. Unfriending or unfollowing sent a stronger message than what it might just look like at first glance. Social media became a mean place, an angry place, a place that reminded me how courageous and outspoken people are behind a computer screen. I’ve never understood that. I say what’s on my mind, face to face or through a keyboard. Friends get awfully brave when they don’t have to see the hurt in a face. All of this has happened over the course of the last couple years, at different times, in different ways, nothing I’m saying is towards just one person or one circumstance and sometimes it’s happened not to me but to friends and people I really care about and that is just as bad.

This year has been a rough one for me at times. I talk about anxiety a lot, so *SURPRISE* I’m talking about it again. It got really bad to the point of me going to the ER thanks to a panic attack. I decided to give up Facebook. Everything posted by friends who I’d been hurt by felt like a personal attack, even if it wasn’t. I found myself being uber sensitive when that’s not who I am at all. And it feels weird and ‘off’ to feel like who you are is changing, not in the way you want.

So here’s what I’m doing to remedy the sitch:

  • I’m blogging more. Blogging is like my journal and publishing my journal is like therapy to me. Being able to go back and read what I’ve felt is important to me and I think that if anyone can relate to it, it’s important to them too.
  • I’m seeing a new doctor who is helping me sort things out better than I ever thought I’d be able to do. I’m learning a lot about myself and I’m rediscovering my confidence and positive self image and that means everything.
  • I’m quitting Facebook. I’m teaching myself not to care about what people think of me as long as I’m kind and generous. I’m learning that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone is mine and that’s okay. I’m learning to let it go and letting go of Facebook actually helps quittttttte a bit believe it or not. I value people for exactly who they are and when what they portray online is different, it makes me upset and I feel betrayed. I take things too seriously.
  • I’m learning to let things go (see above comment about taking things too seriously). I’m trying to just let things go. With some help from meds because, honestly, not everyone can be like Danny.
  • I’m prioritizing. What’s important? What’s not? Let go of what’s not and don’t do things just because people ask you to. <—- I get sucked into a lot.

 

I’m so happy, that’s the truth. My kids are incredible, Danny is amazing and my friends are great. I try to reflect all my feelings in my posts — so there’s lots of party posts and fun posts and vacations posts and kid posts and scattered throughout are these honest posts, the ones where I admit to feeling a bit lost sometimes and when my struggles are shared. That’s a true representation of my life. It’s so good and fun.  And just sometimes it’s not. I think anxiety gets smashed together with depression a lot. And sometimes I know they go together but for me they don’t; I don’t have depression and I’m so thankful for that. My anxiety is very pinpointed, it’s directed at something very specific and it centers around that completely. I think people are sometimes surprised to learn about my anxiety disorder and the fact that I really struggle with it sometimes. I appear to be confident and I am in many areas of my life: as a mom, as a wife, as an advocate…so it doesn’t affect every piece of my everyday. And that’s hard for people to wrap their brains around. “So, you have anxiety, but you just took all your kids to the Farmer’s Market alone. And had a good time. You don’t have anxiety.” I usually just nod my head and laugh. Because even though it’s hard sometimes, life is also awfully funny.

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I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a doctor of psychology or psychiatry (although if you give me some symptoms and ask me for a diagnosis, you bet your ass I’ll pretend to be one and give it my best shot. Diagnosing is my favorite hobby.). I’ve seen medical professionals and counselors and psychologists and while I’ve received guidance and been prescribed medication, I’ve learned that anxiety isn’t really something that you can get rid of.

All aboard the anxiety train, because I’m gonna take you for a little ride. (Do you think I’m as clever as I do? Say yes.)

I currently feel like I’m in the middle of one of those dust tornadoes. Ya know, the swirls of dust you see when it’s windy outside? Have you ever just wanted to go stand in the middle and twirl around with it? I feel like that. All around me – the people, the situations, the relationships among all of them – is normal. It’s standing still and is just fine. Meanwhile, I’m spinning and I’m surrounded by junk spinning with me. Everything is jumbled up and I feel like everyone knows it and can see it. This happens every so often. A situation will trigger my anxiety something fierce and it takes a lot of effort (not just from myself, but from friends and family) to clear that little dust tornado away.

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When this happens and the trigger is centered around a relationship of some type, I start worrying about every relationship I have. I worry that I’ve done something to make everyone think twice about being my friend and I spend lots and LOTS of time scrutinizing every text I’ve sent, every conversation I’ve had and every greeting I’ve made to make sure they were appropriate and okay. My worst fear is people thinking I’m mean or malicious or a bad friend. That gets really exhausting. It leaves a constant knot in my stomach and lump in my throat.

I tend to talk through situations over and over with a few people – my mom, my dad, Danny, my closest friend. I’ll recount conversations or situations and search their faces or voices for a hint that I’m in the wrong and have made a poor choice. I’m high maintenance when this happens and I know it, but I’ll go nuts if I can’t talk it through. Not everyone sees this, only a very select (sarcasm) few. They’re awfully understanding and know this about me and I think – i hope –  they know that that role they play in my life keeps me from losing it. I’m kidding but I’m not. Life would be a lot harder without them.

Usually these little ‘episodes’ (that sounds so dramatic) don’t last long. A few days, a week at the most, where something is bothering me. Then I go back to feeling like myself. I’m productive and a normal friend and, “..are you sure?” isn’t a constant question I ask. And what’s so weird is that even when I’m in the middle of it, I go about my day and few people would suspect a thing. It’s all internal which makes me feel even weirder.

What drives me crazy is that I’m confident. I’m happy and silly and a really good friend. I’m smart and driven and if I want something I work really hard to make it happen. So when my anxiety hits me, I don’t feel completely like myself. I can still be happy and confident and silly and all those things but not as much as usual. And that’s a yucky feeling. Anxiety is a really yucky feeling. And even though I don’t have that awful feeling every second of every day, I know that it’s never permanently gone. It’ll come back and I’ll deal with whatever it is all over again. I’m bound to be that high maintenance friend for a couple days and I’ll likely drive myself crazy with my lack of self-confidence. But just like I know it’ll come back at some point, I also know that feeling doesn’t last forever.

 

 

For friends of people who have anxiety: Be soft. Be kind and understanding.  Try to think that sometimes if they seem a little unlike themselves, they’re probably just trying really really hard not to show you they’re having a rough time. Wait around, because it’ll pass. That’s hard to do, I know. But it’s worth it. They’ll be themselves in no time.

 

(ps – I’m fine. I’m more than fine, I’m great. This totally, 100% was not a post in which I’m hoping to receive lots of nice comments and words of support…for real. I’ll feel really uncomfortable if that’s what you think. I’m really lucky in that I know what to expect and how I can best deal with it. But writing about it is good for me, and that’s why I do it. And I think it’s important to know the hard things about people as much as the good because it all goes together, right?)

 

i am brave because…

I am brave because this…

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…can be this…

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…and all that crazy chaos can blend with the organized and they’re both still standing.

Because despite words like ‘anxiety’ and ‘ocd’ and ‘stress,’ I pull myself together everyday and look forward. I am generous with my time and any talents I might have in the hopes that my kids notice and pass it on to their kids and they to theirs and so on. I cry when I have to and am not ashamed to let my kids see. Feeling is important. So is accepting shortcomings and trying hard to overcome them and work harder on yourself. I’m brave because I’m constantly working to find the balance between my tattooed skin, colorful hair and young and stupid decisions and school pickup, diaper changes, lunch making and well baby visits. And I’m brave because I feel like it’s working, but I keep at it until I know it is. And sometimes, that’s hard.

Follow @webravewomen on Instagram and be a part of their amazing project. I’ve been following Ashmae Hoiland for quite some time now and all her posts are beautiful. Her words flow magically and her open mind and eye for beauty are quite lovely. When they urged their followers to complete the sentence “I am brave because…” I wasn’t too sure. I’m not always brave. I ask for help a lot from my closest people. I am afraid of most of the decisions I make: afraid I’m making the wrong one(s), afraid of consequences, afraid of benefits, you name it. But I got to thinking and I realized that we’re all brave in some way. Maybe we’re brave because we finally got the confidence to cut our hair after having it long for so long. Or maybe we’re brave because of things we’re giving up for our kids or for our spouses or maybe we’re taking leaps of faith that are hard for us. Or maybe we tried sushi for the first time ever. I think we’re all brave sometimes. Maybe not always. But sometimes, we are all brave.

Everyone Has a Story – Margaret

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My new blog series focuses on people whose stories are not quite as straight forward as others.  Those who have struggled or had a rough time or who are remembered for things that are only just a tiny fraction of who they were. And those of us who knew their story sometimes want to tell everyone about it.  Tell them who they were and the amazing things they did.  The things they loved and the things they were good at.

And not every hard story deals with drug addiction or alcohol or a disability.  Sometimes people are remembered for the diseases they had or the fact that they were so young when they died.  And even if that’s true, it is just a sliver of what they were.

My friend Megan is in her 30s.  She is the owner of Children’s House Montessori, the school my kids attend.  She has a son and a step daughter and her husband owns a tree trimming business.  And we get to hear about her mom:

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Margaret was a librarian, a professor, a mom, a wife, a grandma, a daughter, a friend.  She also died too young of a rare form of cancer.

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My mom was born in Alaska but grew up in Southern California.  My grandpa said she was always willing to help him…paint the house, garden…she loved being outside riding her bike and roller skating.

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She was strict I guess but she was also a lot of fun, too. We played outside a lot and she would take us to the beach in the summer when we lived in California. We had to keep our rooms clean…she would threaten to come through with a big garbage bag…but she never did.  She liked all of our friends and even if she didn’t, we never would have known.

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I have five siblings.  My two oldest brothers, Cel and Carlos are 1/2 brothers but my mom and dad raised us as siblings not worrying about half or full.  There is also my brother Jeph, sister Leah, and my brother Sean.  Cel died a few years ago.  We’re all pretty close.

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Really, it’s mostly all the little things.  Her being silly and pretending to sing opera, her little comments about things that I thought she didn’t know about but had totally figured out…

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Her smile.  Her hands.  She never really thought of her physical beauty or was vain.  She was very practical and took really good care of herself.  She would wash her face each night with just warm water and a wash cloth.

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This is difficult to answer because I miss so many things about her.  I suppose my most favorite thing was her mind and the way she viewed the world.  She read a lot and was always seeking knowledge.  She was extremely generous, but secretly.  She never sought recognition.

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My mom found a lump in her neck in the summer of 2003?  I am terrible at years.  I was living in Chicago working as an actor and my parents had come to see the show I was in.  We had a lot of fun seeing the city together and I loved that they stayed out late, went to great restaurants and bars and the museums. They had a good visit and I remember the casual way they told me she was going to have this lump biopsied.  It was scary but she seemed so healthy and happy.  I ended up leaving Chicago because the biopsy showed that she had a sarcoma (soft tissue cancer).  I didn’t want to be so far away and my acting contract renewal was pretty binding and it would have been difficult to leave.  She had some pretty scary surgeries and things seemed to progress pretty quickly.

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My parents decided that she should go to MD Anderson in Houston for treatment.  I learned there that her sarcoma was very rare.  I had the opportunity to go with her and we lived together in a hotel room from July until Christmas Eve.  During that time I admired her dedication to her work.  She worked every day teaching online. She also believed in going outside every day, no matter what.

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My mom taught children’s literature at LCSC so she was constantly reading young adult lit and children’s books.  She read a lot, every day.  She didn’t watch a lot of TV but we would watch Law and Order and cop shows sometimes.  She liked movies, usually old musicals, comedies…she didn’t like scary movies.

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I am thankful that she taught me to be a good mother.  She taught me to love to read and how to camp.

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I miss her so much that I seek out her presence. I feel it when I am teaching or singing with the kids.  I see her in Noah (Megan’s son) especially when he is reading or excited about a book.

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I don’t know what she would tell me know.  I wish so much that I could talk to her.  I need her advice and ideas every day.  She would probably remind me that I know what I’m doing.

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I don’t know if people know how much she gave and how much she thought about them: her friends and students and colleagues…our friends and children.  She was so worried about everyone.  She was a very private person and did not express herself often in words.  A lot of people might not realize that she was working right up until her last day.  She was planning and checking in on things for her students. I think that is one aspect I struggle with so much.  She did not want to go.  She wasn’t finished. I know there is no answer to “why” and some people will say it happened for a reason.  All I know is that I miss her every day.

Everyone has a Story.

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I’m giddy about this post.  I think I’m starting a series that is important and interesting and unique and inspiring.  And I’m giddy about starting it off with this mom in particular.

I have a very strong belief that everyone has a story and that their story is important and should be shared with the world.  Especially those who’s stories are hard to hear.  Who’s stories aren’t all unicorns and rainbows and who’s stories are difficult and frustrating and challenging.  Because, here’s the thing:  everyone’s story has something to offer the world.  Beautiful stories make us happy.  Difficult struggles make us think.  Frustrating stories can help us to reflect and problem solve.  I think by listening to people’s stories, we learn what we are doing wrong.  We learn more than we thought we might.  And we can change the way we view others.  And maybe, little by little, we can help fix the world.

Let me introduce you to:

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She’s blonde.

She’s tall and thin and the word ‘model’ comes to mind.

She’s 35.

She has the palate of a 4-year-old and loves mashed potatoes and simple foods.  (dude.  I love her.)

She was born is Florida, but grew up here in the PNW.

She doesn’t watch a lot of tv, reads like crazy and loves a good TED talk.

Oh…..and she has:

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Noah is 8 and has the very rare “18p Deletion Syndrome.”  But life with Noah is amazing.

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We knew that there was something going on before he was born. His ultrasounds showed that his bones were measuring smaller than they should and he only had one kidney. My doctor warned us that it could possibly be Down Syndrome, but we had to wait until he was born and even then it took a few more weeks of waiting forthe blood work to come back to get his actual diagnosis. So I had time to prepare myself and I had already grieved in a sense. When the results were back we went tosee Noah’s doctor. He told us it was called 18p Deletion Syndrome and that it was very rare. He printed off information from the internet to help us understand. This isn’t a diagnosis you learn about in medical school. Most doctors will never see a patient with this, so he was learning right along with us. I felt fear. Many questions ran through my head. Would he ever talk? Would he walk? And the main one, would he live? My love for him was so deep and this was scary stuff that I had never even heard of. But I also felt determined and immediately started researching and getting him set up with all of the services he would need. That is usually how I work. I feel deep, paralyzing fear and need to just sit with that for a while and then I go into action.

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My labor was difficult. Noah had a lot of birth trauma and difficulty breathing. He didn’t cry when he was born, but made these heartbreaking, tiny grunting noises. He was taken from me very quickly. Because of the difficulty of my labor I wasn’t allowed to move until the next day and he couldn’t leave the NICU to come see me. That was difficult. I made my Mom stay with him at all times. She would peek in andgive me updates and then go right back to him. When I finally got to see him he wasunder an incubator that was helping him breathe. His head was swollen and half of his face was paralyzed from a forceps delivery and his body was very still. Noah stared at me with the one eye he could open and he gripped my finger. That grip told me he was going to make it and it made me stronger too. He still grips fiercely. This boy has very strong hands and they radiate his feelings. I felt love and tremendous fear. It was then that I got a glimpse of the journey ahead of us and our bond was instant.

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Hiis sweet face. He has a smile that makes his eyes crinkle and I swear they sparkle.I can tell instantly by looking at him how he is feeling. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. I also love his giggle. It is infectious and makes everyone around him laugh.We will often be out and about and something will make him giggle and whoever is around will turn and watch him and start laughing with him because his laugh is so awesome.

question4His curiosity for the world and everything and everyone in it. He is a chatterbox and has many questions. His soul is deep and wise and he soaks in everything around him. He can sense when someone needs an, “I love you” and he offers it instantly. He is rarely bored and wakes up every day with a big smile and raring to go. He putsit all in perspective. Noah has had more than his share of bumps in the road yet laughs and loves his way through each day.

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Yes, his school day is different from a typical school day. He arrives earlier than the other kids. That way he has time to put his stuff away and get ready for the day without the chaos of a lot of children and noise around him. He has pull-outs throughout the day so he can focus with one on one attention from an adult. For example, certain subjects are more difficult for him, so he will work on that with a special education aide or one of the assistants. He has one aide that is assigned to him who is with him on and off throughout the day. She is always with him at recess,as he has motor delays and can fall more easily than other kiddos. He also receivesSpeech Therapy and Occupational Therapy at school. The majority of the time he is in the classroom with his peers, but he has extra assistance when he needs it. His days follow a consistent routine so he knows what to expect.

His classmates are beyond amazing with him. They pretty much all want to take care of Noah and he so uses that to his advantage! One day I was picking him up from school and asked him where his gloves were and he yells across the room, “Hey, Olivia where are my gloves?” And she responds, “I put them in your backpack,Noah.” So yeah you could say he is well taken care of.

question6The word retard, retarded or using –tard as a suffix. The word derived from the words, “mental retardation.” This was the diagnoses given to individuals whose IQ fell below a certain level (the term now is Intellectual Disability). The context that the word is socially used is usually for anything that is considered stupid, crazy, dumb, etc. So yeah I hate it. I am friends with many people with disabilities who feelvery hurt when they hear that word. Saying that you didn’t mean it that way is not ascapegoat. It hurts people. Period. I also dislike it when people say, “disabled person” or “autistic person” or “Downs kid.” Putting the word first defines a person. It sounds as if that is all the individual is about. The correct terminology is, “a person with a disability” or “a person who has autism”. Yes, my son has a disability, but that is not all he is, it is actually just asmall part of him.  (For more information on People First Language, click here.)

question7My friendsships definitely changed when I had Noah. I just don’t have the time to make the effort that I used to. We can make plans with friends and then have to cancel at the last minute because bug has had a big day, didn’t sleep the night before, or solely because we are exhausted and just need to stay home. There are social and family situations that we avoid if there is going to be a lot of noise and chaos because that is hard for him. We also tailor parts of our days around his routine. For example, if we mess with his bedtime routine then it will take him hoursto settle down and fall asleep.

As far as relationships go, having Noah definitely made me look for those key internal qualities first if I felt like I was serious about someone. Love and patience meant far more to me than money, looks, etc. Noah requires endless love and patience. I truly lucked out finding Brandon. He is the most patient, loving and kind person. And he’s also good-looking which was just icing on an already amazing cake.

While my friendships and relationships changed, they also deepened. This isn’t a journey you can take with shallow people. They are either in it with us or they are out. And we are beyond blessed to have a solid, priceless, amazing support system that surrounds us with love. Without our friends and family, I would have lost my mind a long time ago!

question8Like most boys Noah’s age, he loves Minecraft. I mean LOVES. He loves to just have Steve run around, find stuff and kill Creepers. He has every Minecraft toy in existence.

He equally loves the park. Any park. He would go to the park every day for hours. One of his first words was, “slide.” He loves being active and on the move. We alsotake him to the habitat reserve, which he calls the waterfall park. He enjoys nature and we find a lot of peace there.

His favorite TV show is Wipeout. He loves Wipeout, as much as Minecraft, and talks about it just as frequently. He likes to build pretend obstacle courses and play it in the living room. He makes me be Jill Wagner (super-hot model host, obvious resemblance).

question9I wish I could say that I go for a run. Buuuut I just read obsessively and eat a lot of chocolate. I really cherish time alone with a good book and my IPod and Brandon is great about giving me that. Having that is like having water to me.

question10There have been times in the past when I have regretted not going the Montessori route for Noah’s education. It was a decision I wrestled with for a long time. We hadsome struggles at his previous school and there were some really rough IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings. But we moved and he loves where he is atnow and they love him. While I may not agree with the Common Core or the school work that gets sent home, his teachers are all about supporting Noah and having him do what he can do and not forcing him to do more. He is happy there and that is what matters to me. If that ever changes, then I know there are other options out there, but we have been pretty blessed.

question11Just hanging out with him, ya know? Having long talks . I love his perspective on life and hearing what’s on his mind. He always gets me to look at things in a different way. I am curious and excited to see the young man he will be. That kid moves mountains.

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A year from now you will look back and without hesitation know that you would do it all over again. Like all journeys, there will be hills and valleys, but more than anything there will be joy.

Thank you.  Thank you a million times over to Suzanne for telling their story.

(Suzanne writes on her blog, here.)

I want to hear your story — and I know others do, too.  Fill out the form if you have a story you’d like to tell!