It’s potty time!

We’re in the world of potty training in this house (with more than one kid) and I have had the lyrics of the Potty Time theme song stuck in my head for days: “Listen to your body.. it’s time to go pottyyyy.. it’s Potty Time!”

Which is why I have to share a great product that’s making potty time a little more fun in our house: Rachel Coleman’ s Potty Time DVD and sing-a-long CD. (This post is not endorsed by Rachel — only by my little ones!)

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You may have heard of the Signing Time series — we watch those a lot around here to help the kids learn basic sign language. At first we started learning basic signs to help Kate communicate as she finds her words, but then we realized how helpful and fun it was for all of the kids.

The DVD has a lot of catchy songs as it talks to kids about growing up and using the potty — but what I’m enjoying even more than the music (which we’re all singing around the clock) is the Potty Time app feature that allows us to “Facetime” with Rachel and tell her about our successes (and our accidents.) The kids love this, saying: “We have to call Rachel!”

I just let Rachel know that we want to have a call with her…

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I tell her which type of call we want to have:

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And before we know it, the phone is “ringing”:

 

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If it’s to brag about how good we did, she tells us how proud she is:

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And if we call her about an accident, she positively gives encouragement to keep trying:

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Pretty fun stuff. And along with a few jelly beans, it has been quite the motivator.

It’s potty time!

Feed and water

At dusk, I creep out onto the thick Bermuda grass with bare feet, making sure to watch for fire ant piles.

I open the tall garden gate that needs to be tightened, peek at the diminutive lemon bush to see how the lone lemon is doing and drag the long hose down the hill to the new raised garden beds that smell like cedar wood.

With all the magic and wonder that the world can hold, the seeds we planted have sprouted (first-time enthusiasm) — and every night, I go to nurture them with a little water and some conversation. Here you go little watermelons, I coax. A drink for you, my pumpkins. I didn’t forget about you little Black Eyed Peas.

I do the watering, of course, the planting and the watching — and eventually the harvesting — but the real caretaker is Mother Earth herself. And I have been surprised by how thoughtfully we had to help her prepare for her little seedlings. After all, if she doesn’t have her proper nutrients, her balance, her sunlight, her hydration, her proper conditions — well, all is a big flop.

But maybe I’m not really all that surprised at all.

Four years ago, I sat in a seminar for work at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I was lucky enough to be invited to go as a young writer for the ad agency I worked for at the time, but I sat amongst mostly high-tier executives in a college classroom getting lectured by a well-respected Harvard professor. She had a lot of interesting things to say about all sorts of intriguing topics – but one phrase in particular stuck in my head:

Feed and water.

Feed and water, she said, was the most important thing an executive could do for his or herself. Because — like the raised cedar bed holding watermelon seeds — you can only give what you have. And if you’re not healthy, nobody else will be either.

I think this stuck with me, mostly, because when she said this I wasn’t thinking about my role at work; rather, my one at home.

Feed and water.

Mothers, glorious mothers, we give all of ourselves. Every last drop of energy and love and thought and time goes to feed and water and care for the ones we love (and oh, it truly is a privilege!) but also, we can only give what we have. I have never felt guilty for making my most basic needs a priority: healthy food, enough sleep, a little quiet time, some exercise, a little time with my husband, nourishing friendships. It doesn’t take a lot — but just enough to keep me well-nourished. And it is so essential for the life of the ecosystem.

This past Sunday, the kids woke up before us and all piled on top of me in bed — every single one of them. “Why are they all on top of me?” I joked, looking at my husband with a full half-bed to himself.

“You are the mama,” he said smiling, “the life source!” And in so many ways, it’s true. It starts from the moment of conception when the mother is literally the life source — and perhaps never truly ends.

So when I’m tempted to ignore some of those basic needs to do something else “productive,” I remind myself that taking care of myself is truly an essential part of taking care of them.

“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

phoebewahlArtwork by Phoebe Wahl

Surprise!

Every morning, I hear them.

Around the corner from their bedroom into the kitchen where I’m making breakfast, two pair of little girl feet come pitter-pattering with excitement against wooden floors. Four-year-old Kate is usually the first to greet me in front of her little sister — arms wide open and a grin even wider: “SURPRISE!” she exclaims.

I’m not sure when Surprise! became her go-to “Good morning,” but it is now one of my very favorite greetings. It’s like every day is a birthday party.

It occurs to me every once in awhile that having a child with Down syndrome is not the typical thing in most families — kind of in the way I realize, suddenly, that I’m wearing house shoes at the grocery store. It’s all so comfortable and routine to me now, I sort of forget that there’s anything curious about it at all.

And that feeling, specifically, was what I wanted most four years ago — the feeling of normalcy that fits as comfy as house shoes. I wanted to move on from the all-encompassing-seemingly-huge-deal of having a child with Down syndrome that hit me like a wave in those first days. But how quickly the wave washed over and passed on to still waters — newer waters — clearer waters.

The surprise of Kate’s diagnosis on the day of her birth was not akin to the usual emotions of a celebratory birthday party — but oh, how that has changed.

I find myself telling her daily how smart she is, how incredibly, truly bright. How fun she is. How kind she is. How she lights up this world like the most gracious guest of honor — Surprise! she says. And she is so right.

It started the day she was born — when the doctor affirmed confidently she would never be able to breastfeed. Surprise! When I was concerned about her not being close friends with her siblings: Surprise! When I felt like we would be held back from the dreams we had — surprise! (Again.)

The more this goes on, the more I realize that the fact that life is full of surprises is not really all that surprising at all. Or disconcerting for that matter. Who would want to live in a world where nothing ever surprised them? Where the first wildflower of the season didn’t cause a stir of joy? Where the unexpected thunderstorm didn’t bring on an impromptu movie night? Where a surprisingly wonderful conversation in a smoky bar atop a sushi restaurant couldn’t lead to marriage? (Ah, now that was a sweet surprise.)

This morning, they did it again — around the corner into the kitchen with open arms and big smiles. And I did what I do every day. I squatted down to their level and threw open my arms wide to welcome them in.

“Surprise!” Kate said, falling into my arms.

“You’re here!” I responded, pulling her in close for a hug. “I am so, so happy to see you.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

DSC_0112Artwork by Kristen Johns

The power of a matriarch

It’s June 1st. Summer is here. Perhaps not the official summer solstice quite yet, but June means summer to me. It means porches and watermelon and lazy afternoons.

We made our way through old country towns for an inaugural summer road trip to see family this past weekend. “Main Street” towns — each with a post office, an antique store and a cafe named after the owner: “Welcome to Carol’s Place.”

We whirled by cows resting by over-filled ponds (it’s been a rainy season) and made pit stops in small-town grocery stores with talkative clerks who each had a story to tell.

Between towns, we admired the pastoral beauty of the afternoon sun swept against deep green countryside. And when the speed limit dropped to sleepy-town speed once again, we waved at old women with wrinkled lips sipping coffee outside of hair salons.

It was the back-road way to part of my back-story. A scenic view to visit the East Texas town that my mother grew up in — one that I’ve spent summers visiting for years now. The weekend was full of family and a high school graduation, dreams looking forward, stories looking back. The up-and-coming downtown is bringing new life to the rich history there, a sentiment that felt most palpable as I sat drinking a Caramel Macchiato on the patio of a hip coffee shop, just a few stores down from where my Grandfather owned a dry cleaners decades ago.

I love going back there. It is a rare place in the world where as much as things change, the best things always stay the same. And while walking around the old cemetery at dusk, I was reminded of this story I wrote of the woman who grew all the beautiful people who gather there together — my grandmother.

Written almost 4 years ago on her birthday, I wanted to share it again today:

I heard her scamper across the kitchen linoleum in her ever-so-worn, blue Isotoner house slippers.

They had holes in them — but she didn’t care, it wasn’t about style for Grandma. They matched her over-sized, over-stretched, decade-old nightshirt that fell like a window drape to the top of her wrinkled, skinny legs. She fried bacon, scrambled eggs, sipped black coffee and hummed to Willie Nelson on her kitchen radio. And I – just a kid – laid content in the guest bedroom, listening to the comforting morning soundtrack of Grandma’s house.

Her house sat atop a hill that sloped into a dusty pasture with a man-made “tank” that bred Water Moccasins and catfish. Piles of cow patties peppered the summer-scorched grass, while coarse-haired heifers slept under the shade of the East Texas oaks. In the back, a barn stood proud, filled with hay and rusty farm equipment. Its chipped, red siding served as a lighthouse to hungry, homesick family members arriving “home” from wherever they happened to be.

Growing up, I happened to be in a lot of places. As the daughter of an Air Force officer, I moved every few years, traveled across oceans — and lived on a few different continents. But in the midst of all the changes, there was one thing that stayed the same: the house on the hill in East Texas.

We visited every summer and many Christmases and Thanksgivings. Family gathered and caught up and exclaimed a big Texas, “Well I declare, you’re growin’ like a weed!” while Grandma smoked unfiltered Camels and scribbled crossword puzzles on her stained, cushioned lap desk.

It was a comfortable place where time seemed to stand still. It held the comforts of childhood memories and familiar faces. But most of all, it held the diminutive matriarch that wasn’t much into small talk, but who loved a mean game of Yahtzee.

And then one day: something did change in this place that always stayed the same.

The Camels took their toll on the invincible woman who smelled like White Rain hairspray. The lung cancer soon metastasized to take more organs — and soon after, her life.

Suddenly, the house that was so full of memories felt eerily empty. The weary travelers, who looked for their lighthouse in the distance, now saw only a dim flicker. And somehow, they would have to travel forward without it:

The first days, weeks, even years after a matriarch dies are the hardest. They are the times when we learn if the fabric of our family is strong enough to hold without the thread. But then, slowly, we form new threads. New tribe leaders emerge. New traditions begin. And though the memories of our loved ones are never lost — we find a new way to go on in the spirit of their legacy.

We still gather in her house every year for holidays and summers. We still fry bacon and scramble eggs and sip coffee. And we learn that the power of a Matriarch lives on long after she is gone through the women and men that she loved so well.

And so it will be for generations to come.

chicken

Artwork by Martha Anne Hearn

Like coffee in the afternoon

I have become such a traditionalist

That is,

So in love with the rituals that thread day into day

Like coffee in the afternoon

Or the way the morning sunlight peers into my bathroom windows

The way the cat always half-sits

on my legs in the evenings

Or the way my bed-headed baby springs to the edge of her crib after naptime:

Mama, you’re here.

I love when the world feels small.

When neighbors wave while walking dogs,

and oh look, they planted roses;

When friends are so comfortable that they put up their feet,

When a heart is so comfortable it lets down its guard.

They say it takes a long time to grow an old friend,

and perhaps the same to grow an old soul,

but nevertheless;

the older I get,

the more I delight in the little things

(that are really the biggest of things)

that perhaps even my great, great, great

great

grandma loved most.

Like a husband’s worn boots by the mudroom door,

the smell of onions in a cast iron pan,

the giggle of a tickle fight,

the whisper of a 2-year-old’s secret —

and a cup of creamy coffee in the afternoon.

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