Birthday Revelations

I turned 30 a few weeks ago.  For years I can recall family and friends wallow in sadness about leaving their twenties behind; about how everything would so different. Gone would be the days of pulling all-nighters and slacking off. Although that is exactly what I did the night before my birthday, and I paid for it many days over.

It seemed that turning 30 was the official mark of adulthood; no more screwing around. Then there was this lingering expectation that people around this new age would have their lives in order at that point. I was genuinely puzzled by this.  Who made these rules? No, seriously who?  I have a few questions. I expected to feel something similar as my twenties came to a close. But I didn’t, which makes sense because I have never mourned the passing of another year.

I was excited for my birthday, and I would tell me friends that “I am going to own my thirties.  They’re going to be some of my best years.” They would look at me with disgust for my eagerness to reach a new decade, wondering how I could feel excited about getting older. For the past ten years, my life shifted and transitioned more than I was ever prepared for. There are many things from my twenties that I am not proud of, but there were also invaluable experiences that I am so grateful for. Within those years were monumental, life-changing moments that shaped me into the woman and person I am today; the good, the bad and everything that falls between.

The months leading up to my thirtieth were very challenging.  During those months, I spent a lot of time focusing on where I was at in my life and what I wanted to doing that I already was not. I was facing big, ugly stuff and overcoming endless hurdles. Challenges that forced me to dissect many smaller facets of my life. Which led me to this blog, this place I hold so dear to my heart, and how it became one of the main areas I devoted my mind to during that time. And it is funny because I spent basically zero time blogging while this was all going on.  I’ll explain.

Since I started blogging, I have genuinely enjoyed it.  It has been the gateway to my scattered thoughts and has healed my worried heart many times. Blogging was something I never thought I would do.  Hell, I was not even real positive about what a blog really was until I had Tessa.  But here I am, nearly six years later, pouring my heart into my little piece of internet real estate.

If you have been a dedicated reader here, you know that much of what I write about or to is Tessa; the motivation behind the blog.  I had not experienced the lows of writing until I learned that my blog was ticking some people off.

Hmmm…maybe I am a real writer after all…

Things were said and assumed about me and my character; but it wasn’t until my thoughts and words were being used against me or shared negatively in other blogger groups or posts as examples of how not to write or rather what not to write about surfaced, that I stopped writing. Fear of opening my heart, sharing too much, saying the wrong things and having my words policed in other forums held me back. I retrieved from blogging and withheld my desire to journal until I could figure out what I was ever really trying to say in all of this writing.

I know that it is impossible to please everyone and that is not the reason I write in the first place.  I am a big fan of a little idea I like to call don’t like it, don’t read it.  However, I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me think about things. So bravo haters, you win.

Dr. Seuss always gets it right.

I had a lot of “come-to-Jesus” talks with myself.  Perhaps it is not my place to share things about my daughter’s life with the rest of the world the way I have been doing it.  Does this make me a bad person?  Does this mean my character is flawed? I don’t really think so. As a mom, I was simply reacting to what my heart felt like it needed and wanted to do. And selfishly, I needed lots of healing and blogging provided that for me.  Especially before, during and after my daughter’s battle with leukemia.

As my blog grew, I caught myself writing just for the sake of writing; hoping to meet arbitrary deadlines. Most of the time I was trying to promote advocacy and inclusion for my daughter, but I walked straight into seriously unfamiliar and rocky territory.  All I wanted to do was shout out to the world, “Love my kid and accept her,” but–if I am being honest–the world doesn’t owe me or her that. Clearly my intentions have been misunderstood a time or two. In advocating for her, I somehow put boundaries up around her without knowing it.  We do not need to prove anything about her, nor does she of herself.

I guess maybe it took confronting myself through ugly times to reevaluate the end goal here. In these revelations, I have decided to shift the tone of my blog. Down syndrome and cancer have held a huge place in our lives, but they aren’t our entire lives.  There is so much more to me than those two things.  It took a lot for me to realize that I can write about other things, too. For instance, I can go on about how I shamelessly pin things about raising chickens on Pinterest (there is some interesting stuff out there by the way).  Or I can talk about the exhaustion of being a working mom or about health and fitness.  I can spill for days on the perks of country living or my daily struggle with anxiety and PTSD. And that is exactly what I plan to do. Who knows…maybe a new blog name in the future.

There will still be days where I talk about extra chromosomes and cancer and how they have impacted my life, but I will not apologize for my personal feelings or experiences regarding either because I do think it is okay to speak for ourselves and share our stories.

The day before my birthday, I walked to the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta while on a work trip.  I paid $43 (ouch) to walk around the aquarium by myself and watch the animals do their thing, trying to get plenty of pictures to take back to my girls.  There were at least twenty different elementary schools there with their students, and I looked like genuine creep taking a selfie with a penguin…but YOLO!

While I was there, I sat down in a massive viewing room. I thought a lot about the direction I hoped my blog would take and what I truly wanted to write about in the future as I stared into the big blue wall of water. I also thought a lot about the direction I hoped my life would take, but fully accepting that my plan is already in place. I am really just along for the ride. The rest of the aquarium was rather noisy, but I sat among the crowd in total tranquility as an enormous feeling of gratitude washed over me.

Turning thirty showed me that I do not exist because of the approval of others. It opened my eyes to the idea that I can feed my soul in more ways than one, and that the most meaningful relationships I will have in my life are happening right now. Most importantly, it provided me with fresh perspective and the chance to wipe my slate clean once more.  Cheers 30.  Let’s do this!

Dear Tessa: Birthday Shenanigans

Dear Tessa,

A week ago today, you turned five!  I am not even close to sure how that is possible, but it is.  When parents have told me in the past, that it feels like yesterday when their babies were born–you’re getting to that age where I understand that so much more.  It literally really feels like I held you for the first time yesterday. No tears, though.  I did not go there this time.  You will be happy to know that I only shed maybe two tiny tears the night before your birthday this year. That’s right…no prolonged sobbing this year. I know you are proud.

This year’s birthday was under-celebrated…I won’t lie.  Your dad and I closed on our new house Monday morning and you spent most of the day at daycare with your friends.  Some friends stopped by to check out the new place, and we didn’t end up lighting your candle and singing Happy Birthday until 9 p.m. Whew.  Now that’s not to say your special day went by uneventfully.  No, you provided us with light entertainment that afternoon…

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I will set the scene:  chickens, you, your sister, your brother, me and a hose all hanging out in the yard.  Interesting combination.

Your big brother and I let the chickens out to roam the yard and snack on some veggies.  You read that right.  We have chickens; five of them.  I have no idea what we are doing or how long this phase will last, but for now this is real life.  While “the girls” (what we call the chickens) were out, you and your sister tossed them tomatoes and cucumbers while your brother sprayed the poo out of their pen and refilled their water.  I was busy making sure they did not try to venture off over the hillside again.  It started out innocently enough and the whole picture was quite adorable, really. Everyone was helping out, giggling and enjoying the nice night.  It was time for the girls to return to their pen, and we had them all grouped together to shuffle them back inside.

Unbeknownst to me, the pump that runs the hose water was still opened up. That is when you quietly grabbed the hose and sprayed the girls…all of them. It was madness.  You sprayed the rest of us too.  As the chickens were losing their minds over the unexpected hose-down, the rest of us were hollering at you to drop the hose.  Kendal was crying.  The chickens were scattered.  But you were extremely delighted in the hysteria you created.  Your diabolical laughter was proof of that.

Mischievous. You have definitely discovered that side of yourself this summer. I will be sure to wish your new teachers good luck next week.

We completed your birthday week with a party at our new place with our family and close friends.  Even though it was extremely humid, it was still a lot of fun.  At one point, while you were opening your gifts, you turned to me and said, “…best birthday party ever.”  You express a lot of things that bring you joy as “the best ever,” and I adore it because I can tell that you really mean it.

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Health wise, here is a quick recap of where you are currently.  Your echocardiogram came back great.  No cleft mitral valve as previously suspected.  No current damage to the heart muscles from chemo. One slight eccentric aortic valve; but not of any concern at this time.  Your follow-up ENT visit went great.  You recovered perfectly from surgery in May just as we thought you did.  You passed your first hearing test ever with flying colors!

We visited your oncologist last week and while we were unable to get blood work that day, everything else looked as it should. Your oncologist also told me that you are also being moved to the Caring For Life clinic from now on. The Caring For Life clinic is a childhood cancer survivor clinic.  The program is designed to help the survivors of childhood cancer as well as their care providers by detecting health-related problems associated with chemotherapy, providing health maintenance education about potential risks, providing emotional support for survivors and family members, and empowering survivors to advocate for themselves.  This is something we thought would happen in a few years; therefore I was pleased to hear that we will starting this in six months. This is a big step in the right direction in life after cancer.

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Each of your birthdays feels better than one before.  Another great year has gone by.  All that you have seen, done and overcome in five short years in remarkable.  I always look forward to the year ahead and seeing what you will do next.  Happy five years to you, little darling.  And cheers to many, many more.

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Love always, Mom.