Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Happy F I V E Ez!

I remember the entire week before Ez turned four I was up late looking at his baby pictures and crying. Four felt so big compared to three. He was no longer a toddler, and definitely not a baby. All of a sudden we were entering brand new "little kid" territory and I didn't feel at all ready for that. I had no idea what four held in store for us, but I felt like the changes would be big. 

And they were.

They were big and necessary and difficult (even the good ones) because that's just the way change works. It's scary and uncertain and hard.

But Ez, he showed us time and time again that he could handle big changes. He can do hard things. He can be uncomfortable and frustrated and come out stronger and better. He's my little bull, through and through. 

I thought I'd feel really sentimental going into five too. We already know even more big changes are on the horizon, and big decisions have to be made. But this time around they don't feel nearly as scary. And that's because I know Ez has got this. I have nothing but confidence in his ability to grow into the amazing person he's already becoming. 

Dear Ez,
As I was looking back through old videos I realize how much responsibility I've placed on your shoulders over the years. I thought you were such a big boy when your brother was born, and now I realize you were only two, even younger than Declan is now. You were doing your best to figure out the whole big brother thing, just like I was doing my best figuring out how to be a mom of two. As the first born you definitely got stuck with a set of rookie parents; thank you for showing us so much grace over the years. You've taught us about patience, loving big, laughing easily, forgiving quickly, never giving up, and always eating an apple a day 🍎😉

We celebrated your birthday with a school party on Friday, an Ez Day birthday eve - aka a day filled with your favorites: Wacky Tacky, Panera Bread, Toys R Us, the splash park, and cake + presents, and then a family birthday party on Sunday (aka Mother's Day). 

I couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day gift than getting to celebrate the boy who made me a mom five years ago. You've exceeded all my expectations about being a parent a million times over and your daddy and I couldn't be more proud of you. Love you more, love you most, love you to the moon and back 🌙

I remember each of these days like they were yesterday:

Friday, May 4, 2018

Making Sense of An Autism Diagnosis

In February we received some news that we had been waiting on for six long months: Ez is on the Autism spectrum. In some ways it was a complete shock to us, and in other ways we knew on some level for awhile, if that makes any sense. I knew that he displayed sensory issues and had several meltdowns in extremely loud environments. I knew that his speech was behind the curve. But it wasn't until he started preschool last September and his teachers brought their concerns to us that all the signs of autism really started falling into place. We started the process of getting him assessed, a process that took way longer than we thought it would, and involved three separate appointments, one that was mostly me talking with the doctor and getting what felt like hundreds of pages of questionnaires and forms to fill out, the second was the actual assessment, and the third was when we got the news. 

The time between that first appointment and the second (about a month and a half) was the roughest part of this journey for me. I tend to exaggerate because numbers aren't really my thing, so they either fall into the category of "a lot" "average" or "not a lot". I'm telling you right now that I'm not exaggerating when I say that one of the forms I had to fill out asked me no less than SIX times if my kid was weird. 

Is your son/daughter weird?

And then, I guess, in case I didn't know what that question meant, they followed up with:

Do his peers find him weird?
Does his teacher find him weird?
Does he react oddly in certain situations?
Has anyone ever called him weird?

And, the kicker:
Do YOU find him weird?

Let's just say I had a lot of sleepless nights over those stupid questions. At first it was a visceral protective "if you call my kid weird one more time I'm gonna punch you in the face" parental reaction. (And I swear, I'm not a normally violent person. At all.)

Once I got mostly over my anger at the wording, I started dwelling on another troubling facet of an autism diagnosis - doctors don't understand this disorder enough to even nail down the symptoms properly. "Weird" is not a symptom, yet there it is, being used as a tool to diagnose autism. Being diagnosed with something that doctors don't completely understand adds a whole new level of anxiety to the process, and unfortunately it's one that, for the time being at least, we'll have to learn to live with. I'm comforted by all the strides that have been made in understanding autism in the last few decades, and I'm hopeful that even more knowledge will present itself in the near future, but for the moment we've had to learn to sit with the anxiety of not knowing. Not knowing if the treatments they recommend today will still be considered the best treatments a few years from now. Not knowing the cause or even exactly what the differences are in how his brain is processing information. Not knowing things is not one of my strong suits. In the age of Google, it seems like I can get answers for most things in a matter of seconds, but this is not one of those things, and it has been hard to process that.

I want to stop for a moment at this point just to say loud and clear, I am not at all saying autistic kids are weird and those assessment form questions are NOT my own words. I don't even think being weird is bad. However, when you start hearing it in relation to your kid it makes all the mama bear protective instincts go on high alert.

So that was my thinking from about late September until past Christmas, and then (sorry, I know this is long, but you're getting months and months worth of thoughts compacted into one lengthy post) I switched gears to thinking, so what if he is weird. Every person I know on an intimate level is weird. People in general are basically weirdos. Myself included.

Every recent Disney movie touts weirdness. Follow your own path. Be yourself. Your differences are your strengths. And that stuff is so easy to get behind until you have teachers saying to you, (in nicer words), your kid's weirdness is a problem. 

These past few months are when it really started to hit me about what makes parenting so tough. When they're babies it feels like the no sleep and keeping them alive thing is tough, and then they turn into toddlers and you realize just how easy you had it with a newborn, and then you start getting into the emotional stuff and the decisions that will impact them for the rest of their life and realize THIS is the hard stuff. 

Now we're navigating that path of finding a very fine balance between staying true to Ez and his "weirdness" while also giving him all the tools he needs to thrive in school and beyond. For us at the moment, that means lots of assessments through Ez's new ABA therapy, the school district, an occupational therapist, and then we move forward with new plans and schedules to help him in the areas he needs help. This is still a very new process for us, and there's so much we're learning on a very tight curve, but, through it all, Ez continues to impress me with his resilience. Even when he's declining to answer questions an hour into the assessment, I'm impressed that he's using full sentences to do so ("I don't want to answer that question" or "I already answered that" 😂). We're learning to celebrate the little victories along the way. 

The thing that helped me get past all those questions was realizing and really focusing on the fact that calling Ez autistic doesn't change a thing. He has always been, and will continue to be, our Ez. Autism is not a label that can sum up Ez as a whole, nor any other person who has been diagnosed as autistic. Those questions on those forms don't sum him up. They take all his worst qualities and ask them repetitively, but they left out all the best stuff. 

I read a quote that sums it up well: 

"If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.

All autistic people are unique, all people are unique. 

So, just to balance things out, here's a little note for you, Ez, so you can always remember some of your best traits that you won't find on any standardized forms:

You are the most stubbornly determined boy I've ever met (aside from your father), and also the snuggliest and most loving. You're so empathetic and in tune to people's emotions and will always try to make someone feel better if they're upset. You work so hard to learn new tasks, and you always succeed. You love to sing and dance, you show unprompted gratitude, and you are one of the most festive people I've ever met (tied with me and Gangy). You've come so far this year, in language, potty training, going to school (and spending time without any family members around for the first time ever), being a big brother, and learning so many new things. It really is astounding how much you've grown in a short year, and I'm so impressed with how well you've handled so many big changes. And, most of all, you're brave. You do hard things even when they scare you, and that makes me (and your daddy) so, SO proud of you. 

And a note to you, Decky, (who hasn't gotten much mention here, but will also be assessed this year), 
You are an uncontainable ball of energy, yet you also have a tremendous amount of focus. You will sit there and examine something and take it apart and put it back together until you get how it works. You don't have a ton of words in your vocabulary (not English ones, anyway), but you're still one of the most communicative people I know. Your daddy and I joke that if the four of us were ever stranded in the wilderness, we'd have to rely on you for survival. When you want something, you find a way to get it, and often that involves scaling furniture. You give the sweetest out of nowhere kisses. You don't know the meaning of fear. Your unbridled joy at the sight of balloons or bubbles is one of the greatest joys to witness. The sound of your giggles is one of the most infectious sounds in the world. You make your daddy and I so, SO proud.

A little note on this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder since one sleepless night, months ago, when I was struggling to make sense of all the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head: - I almost didn't post this. Part of me feels that this is Ez's (and possibly Declan's) story to tell and it's a big thing to share online. But, one of the things that has helped me is reading other family's and individual's accounts of living with autism. Every journey is unique but it is still helpful to see that others have successfully navigated these roads before. So, after months of sitting in my drafts folder, I decided to send this post out into the light of day and maybe one day someone else feeling these similar emotions will read it and know they're not alone. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Disney World

We got pretty much the best Christmas gift ever last year, my parents brought us, as well as my brothers, on a weeklong Disney World vacation. I miss waking up to zebras and ostriches outside our balcony, hopping on a bus and spending the day surrounded by all things Disney, then capping off the evening with a family dinner alongside all our favorite characters. I'm not sure how it's already been more than four months since our trip. There was so much anticipation leading up to it, and then, in a completely magical, sugary, sleep-deprived whirlwind, it was over. You can bet I'm still gonna blog about it though. 

This trip was Declan's first ever flight, and the trip there was pretty brutal. Our flight, which I believe was supposed to leave at 10 pm got pushed back to 2 am. Basically we got deposited in an empty terminal with NO food or drinks so Declan didn't get his pre-bedtime milk, and we paid the price BIG TIME. From the second we walked onto the plane he was screaming hysterically, trying to escape. I wanted to hold him on my lap for takeoff, but they wouldn't allow that, so he had to be strapped down crying his head off. Once the plane was in the air I sat wedged on the floor between the seats in front of us so Decky could sleep on two chairs. As uncomfortable as that was, that was the most peaceful part of the flight. So yeah, brutal. But - he did great on the flight back, so right now he's got like a C average for flying. Not awful, with only two flights under his belt.

After that plane ride you'd think we'd go straight to the room to crash all day, but nope. We are Disney rockstars. A four hour delayed flight, zero sleep, and screaming kids were not going to get us down. We went straight to Animal Kingdom for our fast passes on the new Na'vi River Journey. We all enjoyed it, even though I haven't seen Avatar since it came out, so most of the references to the movie were lost on me. Animal Kingdom wound up being our favorite park of the trip because:

  • it's the most different from Disneyland, so it earned lots of novelty points 
  • it has the safari ride, which was hands down both boys' favorite 
  • Expedition Everest is the best roller coaster EVER 
  • and they have an amazing play area for the kiddos in Dino Land 
  • Oh, and carnival games - who doesn't love those?? 
We capped off the night at Epcot where we magically had the park to ourselves and wandered through all the countries, drinking British beer and chasing two sprinting kiddos who somehow had boundless energy and were literally two countries ahead of us at any given moment. Joe had to run full speed to catch up, and I tried to chase them down, but, you know, my beer was spilling so... #priorities

Speaking of Epcot, that was our second favorite park, and would probably have been our favorite if it was just me and Joe. We were lucky enough to get some alone time there and just wander around sampling various country's food and drinks and taking in all the sights. If we lived close enough, I'd definitely do a date night there again. As for the kiddos, they loved the Three Caballeros ride, which is tucked away in Mexico and never had any wait. We overutilized that ride whenever we needed a break. We didn't get a chance to try out the Frozen ride because it broke down, but I'm sure that would've been a hit as well. The finding Nemo area kept the kids entertained for hours throughout our trip. We were able to walk onto that ride several times in a row in the evening, and the kids loved wandering around the aquarium. There's also a nice little play area outside the Mission Space ride, past the gift shop. Can you tell we highly value play areas? Sometimes parents need breaks too...

Magic Kingdom was definitely the most like Disneyland, and it was also the most crowded of the parks, so I don't feel like we explored it as much as we would have otherwise. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride was the highlight for us, since the Snow White ride at Disneyland is pretty lame. The Seven Dwarfs ride is the first real roller coaster Ez has ever ridden and he wavered between a little scared and absolutely loving it. The smile on his face (see below) was one of my favorite parts of the trip. If the line hadn't been so insane we would've ridden it over and over. 

Hollywood Studios was the last kingdom we visited, and it was our least favorite. I think a lot of stuff is closed for the upcoming Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land (which would've been AMAZING to visit!) and there wasn't a ton of kid stuff, so we hung around for Grampa's birthday lunch and then headed back to Animal Kingdom. I will say, that buffet was probably the most memorable, because Decky barfed, not once, but twice, and we caught it all on camera since it happened to be right when Minnie and Daisy were at our table. Never a dull moment with these kids...

On our last day in Florida, we were super fortunate that our blogger turned real life friend Courtney (of Sweet Turtle Soup) and her sweet family came out to swim and visit with us. I've followed along with her family's Disney adventures for so long and it was amazing to be able to transfer that to the real world. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip, and in a total blogger fail I didn't get a single photo...whoops. 

If I had to recap the highlights of the trip, I would say Declan leading the way sprinting through Epcot was pretty hysterical, Ez getting a brand new monorail every day because they break so easily and the stores exchange them no questions asked became a running joke, rides and carnival games with my brothers, Father Christmas with my mom, the Winnie the Pooh buffet's parade with Grampa and Ez, an Epcot date with Joe, and, when it all comes down to it, lots and lots of amazing family memories that I know we'll all remember forever. Ez still stops what he's doing whenever a Disney World commercial comes on to shout, "That's Disney World!! WE WENT THERE!!!" Thank you so much to my mom for planning the perfect vacation. We love you!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Happy Easter!

Our Easter started off with an egg hunt and meeting the Easter Bunny at Ez's school the Friday before Spring Break. Ez was by far the least experienced egg hunter there. He doesn't really understand the egg hunt hustle and he'd spot an egg and kind of mosey over in that direction and it would get snatched before he made it there. There were like two hundred eggs for a dozen kids though, so he got quite a few, smiled cheesily for an Easter Bunny picture, and then he was so ready to leave and begin Spring Break. I don't blame him, for some reason I was feeling very ready for a vacation too. 


Our next egg hunt was the next day at our friend's church. It was by far the most extravagant egg hunt we've ever been too, and thousands of eggs were dropped from a helicopter. It was awe-inspiring and also a bit terrifying, depending on who you asked. (←Declan) Thankfully there were lots of balloons to compensate, and both boys came away happy. 

We took a brief break from Easter festivities to spend the day in the hospital for Joe's throat infection, which, despite antibiotics, wasn't getting any better. He wound up having strep throat and an abscess, so after several IV bags, lots of needles, and even more antibiotics, he's finally feeling like himself again.

Our Spring Break was filled with lots of family time, play dates, and CRAFTS. Lots and lots of crafts. We made Easter cards for the grandparents, decorated bunnies, and lambs, and chickens, and, of course, Easter eggs. Not that I'm complaining, of course, I love painting with my boys. And now that I've realized the paint washes fairly easily off our table it's a relatively stress-free activity. 


On Easter weekend we did another egg hunt, accumulated more balloon animals, and spent a low key Easter afternoon with family where Ez and Declan got new Buzz Lightyear and Zurg dolls and basically there world was made. 

Wishing you all the happiest Easter and a wonderful start to Spring!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Easter Crafts

Ez has been 1,000% into crafts since he began preschool. Seeing him go from just drawing scribbles to actual shapes has been the funnest thing to watch. I remember kind of dreading crafts because I had to help with every. single. step. He's at a fun age now where he wants to do everything himself, and I get to relax and make my own crafts, which he always kindly exclaims, "Oh, Mommy! You did great!"

The right craft can keep him entertained for hours and with all the rain we've been getting we've got about 382 completed Easter crafts...and counting 😆 Ez gets so excited when we hang his artwork up on the wall, or, if it's an especially cherished piece, he'll keep it for his own personal collection. Decky is turning into quite the little artist as well. If it causes a mess, you can bet he'll be there.

Last year I shared these 7 Easter crafts and we've managed to work our way through most of them, with Ez asking for new crafts daily. His favorite was definitely the crayon/watercolor eggs. Mine is the bunny and carrot footprints, which is one of my favorite keepsakes to hang on the wall each spring, even if both boys HATED having their feet painted. I'm sparing them the footprint art this year, but in exchange I'm definitely hoping to get a few thumbprint bunnies out of them. Here are 8 more Easter crafts that we'll probably get around to over Spring Break next week.

Easy Peasy Fun Chick Puppet
School Time Snippets Tissue Paper Easter Egg
Kid's Craft Room Handprint Chick
The DIY Village Bunny Painting
One Little Project Paper Roll Bunny
Crafty Morning Pom Pom Egg Painting
Crafty Morning Fingerprint Bunnies & Carrots
Craft Ideas Egg Shaped Hen

What's your favorite rainy/snowy day activity to keep the kids from going insane?