Mill could not start Kindergarten this fall because of her November birthday. I strongly believe she would have done absolutely fine with kindergarten curriculum however I knew she’d benefit socially from a preschool experience. We decided to enroll her at the private, Christian school closest to our home (it came with great reviews from neighbors and colleagues).
When I visited the school, I was impressed with what I saw; sight words on the walls, daily schedules, letter identification, bookcases of age appropriate books, and clean spaces. I think I was expecting pre-school to look like the daycare facilities we toured when she was younger but this was far from that.
Millie and I went to drop off her emergency medical information and the administrator allowed us to visit her classroom and meet her teacher. Summer classes were in session so when we got to the classroom, Millie was more interested in meeting the students rather than her teacher. They were working on a, “write the room” activity and Millie just joined in. I met with the teacher while she worked and played. When it was time to leave, Mill cried and asked why I didn’t sign her up for summer classes! She was so ready for school.
Getting school supplies for Millie was fun, pricey but fun. She wanted everything to be pink and sparkly; her backpack, her lunch box, her pencil pouch, you name it. We decided on a Barbie lunch box (that was big enough for both breakfast and lunch containers) a Skip-Hop preschool-sized backpack that looks like a koala, and a pencil pouch with a glittery butterfly. We filled her backpack with everything from her class list; glue sticks, safety scissors, colored pencils, crayons, skin-colored crayons, washable markers, and a paint set.
Dietary Needs: I was vegetarian when Mill was born and she was exclusively breastfed. After she’d eat, she’d projectile vomit, and her doctor told me to try limiting my dairy intake (cheese was three parts of my food pyramid). Chris also has a lactose intolerance so this change of diet benefited him as well. Four years later and veganism is our lifestyle. State law mandates that each child receive a milk (specially from a cow, 2% dairy) every day. To not have a carton of milk placed in front of my child, I had to have forms signed my Mill’s pediatrician stating she has a lactose intolerance and that she should be given water in place of milk. Oat and soy milk are allowed however, Millie doesn’t drink either.
Included in the weekly price, her school provides breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I highlight the monthly menu with the foods Millie can eat – apple sauce, tomato soup, carrot sticks, etc. I still pack her breakfast, lunch, and two snacks to ensure she has plenty of food to eat during the day. I also pack a small, daily joke card with her lunch because Mill is super into telling jokes lately. Her teacher reads it to her and she’d recite it back to me when she came home. Here’s some of her favorite lunches:
– left over pizza, grapes, cucumbers
– Pasta salad, peaches, dairy-free laughing cow cheese
– Sandwich (white bread, butter, and strawberry jelly) chips, apple slices
– Black bean and corn dip, tortilla chips, blueberries
The week before school started, I tried to best prepare Millie for pre-k. I made her lunch in the new containers so she could practice opening them. I created a schedule for her mornings and posted it on her closet door so that she would know the routine. I bought hanger labels with the days of the week on them so that we could pick out her outfits ahead of time. We read books about starting school. We took, “first day of school” pictures days before the actual first day of school so the first morning wouldn’t be so chaotic.
I was really anxious about Millie starting pre-k. Chris and I thought up worst case scenarios; what if she went into a bathroom stall and there was poop in the toilet? Would she know to pick a new stall? Would she try to flush it? Would she just hold herself? All the prepping in the world wouldn’t prepare her for every possible encounter she’d experience on her first day.
The night before Millie’s first day of school, I prayed with her as she laid in bed. Before I closed her door, I heard her say, “I can’t wait till I come home to celebrate your birthday mommy.” My heart melted. In the hustle and bustle of the new school year, I completely forgot about my birthday. She’s so incredibly thoughtful. I cried on the couch for the next 10 minutes about my baby (my early baby!) starting school. The next day, I turned 30 and Millie had her first day of pre-k.
Chris took Millie to school in the morning because I started back to work, my ninth year teaching. He said Millie told him that she was nervous which of course made me worry. When I picked her up from school at the end of the day, the nerves were gone. She told me she made a new boy-friend, Daxon, and her teacher said she had a great day. She even slept during nap time! When I told her that she’d be coming back the next day, she was excited.
I was so proud of Mill the day her teacher told me that she was so helpful to a new student. At four years old, her character is so kind. Everyday we received excellent reports on Millie’s work and behavior. They have a weekly special; art, gym, or music. She has learned about about the life cycle of a tree, how different color apples taste, the difference between warm and cool colors, Scripture, etc. Some days she’d come home with her hair styled different – she had the longest hair in her class so of course the other little girls play with it and the teachers!
So far this year, they have had a fall festival where the pumpkin patch came to their school and gave out pumpkins and doughnuts, a trick-or-treat event with the old folks home next door, the firemen did a presentation, and a reunion with a family who’s been apart because of active duty. We are so excited for their upcoming Christmas program. Millie has been practicing hard on the lyrics and the dance moves of both songs they’re performing.
Adventures from June-August; kinda like a list, more like a diary entry. A post to remember this summer.
We kicked off the summer with a trip to Louisville, Kentucky. We were visiting friends, Kristin and Kyle (Wells’ Godparents), and planned to see a botanical garden along the way however, it poured down rain. We changed plans to an indoor adventure instead. We stopped at the Louisville Slugger Museum to see the worlds largest baseball bat. The ivy on the wall and the hall of fame stars on the sidewalk were super cool. Millie picked out a pack of Chicago Cubs baseball cards and Wells loved swinging his blue, souvenir bat. We stayed the night with the Merkle’s, where the kids loved playing baseball in the basement with Uncle Kyle, and in the morning we left for the Cincinnati Zoo.
We used our Wonderfold Wagon at the zoo. There were a lot of hills so Chris was the one doing the pushing. Many people complimented our wagon and asked us questions about it. Millie and Wells have the freedom to move around while also being safe; I love it and wish we would’ve bought it sooner. We fed the giraffes expensive pieces of lettuce, ate at the food court, and saw the sifakas jumping around. Both kids love Fiona, the premature hippo who’s basically a celebrity now that Cincinnati needed some positive press after the death of Harambe (R.I.P).
The next weekend we went strawberry picking. I was inspired by a friends Instagram story; I never knew Ohio had strawberry fields. Chris has fond memories of strawberry picking as a kid and both Millie and Wells love to eat strawberries so I figured this was something fun we could do as a family. We were given two buckets and were told the best area for the ripest strawberries. We were surprised by how small they were compared to the strawberries we buy from the store. Wells was not interested in picking but he was interested in eating them! He sat down in the strawberry plants and turned the caboose of his khakis, pink. Millie was not enthused about touching the berries, especially the over-ripe ones that felt “squishy”.
Unfortunately, both Millie and Wells started this summer with a nasty cold; the snot was never ending. We seem to catch every germ. We wanted to play with friends and explore new places but we also wanted to keep everyone safe. Monday, Wells took his first bath in the sink. While Chris and I attempted a tile reno, I sat Wells on the counter to play in the sink water. Before I knew it, Wells had sat in the sink, fully clothed. I stripped him down and let him play in the water. On Tuesday, we roasted marshmallows using our tabletop fire pit. Neither kid enjoyed the taste of burnt marshmallows. Wednesday, we went to the thrift store and bought a water table, two ladles, and a new bathing suit for Millie. Wells tried to feed me octopus soup! We had a great time playing outside and eating strawberries! Thursday we ran errands, Millie had a fever, Aunt Lindsey came over, and Grandpa came into town. Friday we went to the library and signed up for the summer reading program. Wells very clearly said, “library”. I am so proud of how hard he’s working to communicate.
Here were some of their favorite reads:
No Pants by Jacob Grant
1, 2, 3, Jump! by Lisl H. Detlefsen
Goldfish on Vacation by Sally Lloyd-Jones
The Flower Man a wordless book by Mark Ludy
June went by entirely too fast. The kids enjoyed finger painting, chalking, and bubble blowing. We saw lots of family members at my cousin Carson’s graduation party and afterward both kids got to order their own pizza from Mod (Millie says she won’t be putting cucumber on her pizza again). We went to Hobby Lobby to get a decorative welcome mat for my mom who just bought a condo in Ohio and while I pushed Wells in the cart, he scared an old lady who was passing by! He said, “Ah!” and pointed at her as soon as she turned down our aisle. He’s a rascal. My in-laws came to town and we went out to eat at BrewDog to celebrate the closing of their new home. (The kids are getting ready to have all of their grandparents in Ohio!) Millie ate a vegan hamburger meal and Wells ate a soft pretzel. Wells enjoyed playing ladder toss, outside, after the meal.
July started with COVID. I went to a worship concert, unmasked, and another woman I went with tested positive after, too. The worst part of it was we were sick during the Fourth of July and my cousin Donaven, who’s currently serving our country in the Navy, came home to visit. Thankfully, we still got to see him (from six feet away). The kids watched Red, White, and Boom on the T.V while eating banana splits in their sleeping bags. Our town set off fireworks at the local high school that we could see from our backyard, too!
We have season passes to the Franklin Park Conservatory and explored the children’s garden with Lindsey, Logan, and Ben. The kids enjoyed pushing the hula hoops down the hill, watching and performing puppet shows with mangy-looking puppets, playing restaurant with the plastic food in the mud house, and pretending like they were birds making a nest of sticks. Wells spent time at the koi pond watching the fish. He was fascinated by the toy train. Wells was apprehensive about wading in the sandstone creek and wouldn’t let go of my hand but he grew confident and explored on his own.
Food competitions are regularly watched in our home – we’re currently undertaking Master Chef. We decided to have a baking competition of our own. Millie, Wells, and I mixed the cupcake batter and of course, they licked the beaters. We’re vegan. No raw eggs were consumed. Mills were topped with hot pink icing and Wells’ were blue. Of course the icing stained their lips and teeth. I let them add sprinkles and we tasted both cupcakes. It was decided that Millie’s tasted better because her sprinkles were less crunchy than the ones that Wells used. The cupcakes were served on Mickey and Minnie Mouse plastic party plates that the kids wouldn’t let me not buy at the store.
I got the feeling like we weren’t doing enough with the kids this summer. (Now that I’m typing everything out I can see that was absurd and just my anxiety.) I think because last summer we spent a week at the beach – financially, that wasn’t in the plans this year, I still wanted to do something special. I looked for activities relatively close so that we could plan a day trip. I had friends go visit the Ark Encounter in Kentucky and really love it. Chris was on board with the trip so we left on a rainy, Saturday morning. What better weather to visit the Ark? The car ride was three hours long but the kids rode perfectly. We took Noah’s Ark books to read along the way and we ate Tim Hortons; they love the birthday sprinkled Timbits.
When we got to the Ark, we had to take a charter bus to get on location. Wells thought he was hot stuff getting to sit in his own bus seat. Millie was so excited to see the beautiful, bright rainbow arch (Gods promise) entering the complex. The Ark was insanely massive; bigger than I could’ve ever imagined (the dimensions are actually listed in the Bible). I thought the kids would be overwhelmed by the size but they were excited to see the different exhibits inside. Millie thought the ancient animals (wax models) in the cages were creepy.
There was a petting zoo on location with lots of goats. Millie did not touch the goats (I don’t blame her – poop pellets were everywhere.) We got to watch a live, animal show with a scorpion (which glows under a black light – who knew?) a sugar glider (which made us miss Cooper), and a pig named, Festus that the kids got in stuffed form at the gift shop on the way out. The buffet on location was delicious and super accommodating to our vegan diet. There was a really awesome playground but Amelia got knocked over and the fun was over. Both kids fell asleep as soon as they were strapped in their car seats and slept the entire way home.
The next week of summer vacation was packed with fun activities. Millie and Wells made crown crafts from the library and decorated them with gems and stickers. We went to the pool and Millie went under the water with MawMaw (she did not like it). We took a trip to the Columbus Zoo with my friend Katey and saw the elephant baby, Frankie for the first time (He was so fuzzy!). Uncle Nick’s girlfriend came to town and we all went out to eat at CapCity Diner; it was our first time eating there, they gave us a private room, and the food was delicious!
Our last weekend of July was spent in Ligonier, Pennsylvania with our friends, and Millie’s Godparents, Jane and Todd and their two children, Maisey and Luca. Of course Mille and Wells were excited about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood but they were most anxious to see their friends. The night before we were supposed to leave, Wells tripped in his crocs while helping me water the neighbors flowers. I could tell by his cry that he was in a lot of pain. He wasn’t bearing any weight on his left foot. Immediately, I knew he could have a toddlers fracture. We let him sleep it off and examined him the next morning. He was putting weight on the injured foot but was still limping. We decided to go forward with our PA trip and keep him mostly in the stroller. If his foot got worse, we’d have no choice but to get it checked out.
To start our road-trip, we grabbed Tim Hortons and I entertained the kids by putting Mickey Mouse characters on Chris’ seat (it’s the little things). Once we got there and met up with our friends, we went to the water park and the girls immediately ran to the kiddie splash area. Maisey wasn’t afraid to put her head under the water but Millie wasn’t trying it. Maise ended up drinking a lot of the water and was sick later in the evening, poor girl. Wells and I ended up standing under a bucket that poured an intense amount of water on my back. We had a great time swimming together. Luca dirtied a diaper and we put on dry clothes to enjoy the amusement park.
We grabbed a soft pretzel and some lemonade before watching the end of a Daniel Tiger show. There was a meet and greet afterward with Katerina and Daniel – Wells stayed on my hip and Millie was just curious enough to wave to them from afar. We rode on Trolley through the neighborhood (Millie informed Maisey that all the characters were made out of cardboard) and the weather shifted. Just before the sky opened up, we ran back to the parking lot and managed to stay dry while it stormed the rest of the afternoon.
After a thirty minute drive, we checked into our hotel. We met up with Jayne, Todd, Maisey, and Luca for dinner at a restaurant called, Sharkys. Wells loved their aquarium and we loved the food. That night, we all changed into our pjs and played games in the hotel lobby. The kids exchanged gifts, colored My Little Ponies, played with clay, ate sprinkled popcorn, had a dance party; it was awesome.
In the morning, we shared a breakfast table with the DiMascio’s and said our goodbyes. We left for the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum where they had a Daniel Tiger exhibit. The exhibit was amazing; it looked just like the show had come to life. We saw some of the original puppets from Mr.Rodgers’ Neighborhood and Mr.Rodgers’ red sweater. Wells enjoyed building Daniels neighborhood with blocks. Millie added a leaf to the “thank you” tree. The kids loved the interactive clock shop and the musical radio.
The rest of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum was also loads of fun for the kids. Millie climbed up a super tall rope web, they launched balls on a track with a pulley system, they made car ramps, and created a musical assembly line. Wells and I went into a room at an angle. I literally ran us both into a wall (my knee caught the brunt of it.) Millie loved playing with the sand art and Wells liked the seesaw that blew bubbles. We grabbed a snack at the cafe before we left; Wells loved the bite-sized pancakes. The yellow bridges leaving Pittsburgh were cool. We definitely will visit PA again.
August was a blur. I started to have back-to-school meetings and by the 22nd we were all in. I tried to make each day we had left together, special. We visited the Columbus Zoo with my dad; the kids always have a great time with Papa. He rode on the carousel and bought them blue and pink cotton candy. Wells tried to feed the baby gorilla popcorn and the baby fell backwards! It was so sweet. We went to the Ohio State Fair with Chris’ parents (Grandma and Grandpa), his brother (Uncle Nick), and my friend Shauna. Both kids enjoyed riding on the rides and eating pineapple whip! We even watched a pig race. We swam a couple more times at Mawmaw’s pool; Millie was brave and went down the water slide! At home, we made cement garden stones, played with modo (a fragrance free play-dough), baked banana bread, and completed craft kits.
For my 30th birthday, Chris took me to Chicago. This was the first time that I spent a night away from Wells and we were gone for more than 48 hours. Chris’ parents stayed at our house and we FaceTimed them often. Both kids slept well for them! I was so impressed. My babies are growing up and it’s hard to believe that they won’t stay 4 and 2 forever.
A cognitive speech delay refers to the condition of children whose speech function is significantly below the expected average for their age.
Wells was such a ham at the pediatricians office for his 18 month appointment. He proudly walked onto the scale, waved at every nurse in the hallway, and peeked his head into another room to say, “hi” to the doctor. As we waited for our visit, I was given a behavior and intellect survey. I quickly became aware of what the average 18 month old could do and what my son could not. “Does your child put two words together to make a short phrase?” We clap when Wells says half of a word correctly. “Does your child say 50+ words?” Does “eee” count as a word? I looked over at Wells, sitting with his ankles crossed on the table, and my eyes begin to well.
His doctor reassured me that because he’s male and has a talkative older sister, we shouldn’t be worried. “It just hasn’t clicked for him yet.” I asked about a speech therapist however, that was not an option for Wells because he had no other signs of delayed development. She said, “He’s content; it’ll come. Model speech. Incorporate more sign language and give him choices.” I was told at his two year appointment we will reevaluate, which put a timeline on us, and that pressure was heavy.
Wells’ hearing has been checked. When he was born he didn’t pass his first hearing exam in the hospital; he had womb fluid in his ears. Before we left the hospital, Wells passed his hearing test. At eighteen months, Wells understands what we ask of him; cognitively, he is fine. Wells has great social skills; he plays with his sister and other children. Wells might not speak words yet but he communicates through pointing, body language, sign language, and grunts. Every adult is, “mama” right now (which absolutely destroys Chris because he still doesn’t say, “dada”). When Wells would call Chris, “mama” Chris would respond, “No. Say, ‘dada. Da-da’”. After doing some research, we learned saying, “no” to his vocalizations could actually hinder him from attempting to speak.
Following some advice from my best friend, Lindsey, I began following some vocal pathologists and speech therapists on social media. Watching their stories and reading their posts made me feel like we weren’t alone with Wells’ speech delay. A particular post caught my eye that read, Early Intervention; not “wait” and see, check and see. The post was about support for children 18-36 months old with cognitive delays. Our pediatrician said that insurance would not cover speech therapy until he turned two however, this program was state funded as long as the child qualified. I decided to fill out the questionnaire and I received a phone call within a week to schedule a virtual evaluation.
For the virtual evaluation, Millie got doughnuts with Mawmaw so Chris and my full attention could be on Wells. Signed into the Zoom meet was the Help Me Grow service coordinator, OT (occupational therapist), and a speech pathologist. Chris held the phone and I played on the floor with Wells with the toys that HMG recommended; blocks, Little People, books, Melissa and Doug knob puzzles, balls, etc. The therapists asked questions about his daily routine and his skills. We were all so impressed with how much Wells was showing off. He acknowledged the specialists, he stacked blocks 12 high, he identified colors and body parts, he jumped like a frog, and made animal sounds!
The specialists were using the Bell Curve to determine if he would qualify for state-funded therapy. He scored extremely high in the motor skills and comprehension categories. Once his speech score was included, it dropped his score significantly but not enough to qualify for state funded help. I was devastated. Without hesitation, I began advocating for Wells and the help that I knew he needed. I mentioned that we had taken advice from a speech therapist that I work with and that we were not seeing improvement in his speech. I reiterated the frustration we feel, especially Wells, when he can’t communicate his needs. Thankfully, the speech pathologist on the video conference heard me. She said, “My clinical opinion trumps the Bell Curve score. It is my opinion that Wells needs intervention in expressive speech and I will take him on my case load.”
The next step was to meet with HMG to compose an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan). An IFSP is provided based on the concerns of the family and the child’s needs. The plan must include: an assessment of a child’s present levels of development, a statement of goals, support services that will be put in place to achieve those goals, date services will begin, and the identification of the service coordinator. A re-evaluation is done every 6 months. Wells’ goals were to expand his expressive vocabulary and to use family names ie. Mia, Dada, Papa etc.
We were able to schedule in-home meetings, twice a month. Wells’ speech therapist’s name is Katie and she is extremely kind. We meet around Wells’ nap time so he’s not been in the best of moods however, she lets him draw in her planner and he loves that. She listens to Wells while he plays and gives Chris and I ways to better communicate with him. Our first assignment was, “imitation”; getting Wells to copy the faces we made and then asking him to repeat a word. We also were encouraged to sing with him and let him fill in the words. Katie also told us to stop saying, “Wells say …” and since we’ve stopped putting him on the spot, he’s picked up more words. Because Wells is so active and advanced in his motor skills, Ms. Katie recommend we add repetitive words to movement like, “One, two, three, jump!” Verbal routines and elimination ie. “ready, set, go” multiple times then “ready, set” and he should fill in the blank with “go”. After a month of speech therapy, Wells seems more confident in trying new words.
Millie and Wells met a little girl while watching the penguins swim at the Newport Aquarium. Millie introduced herself right away, full name and age. The little girl introduced herself. Wells puts both hands on his chest and said, “Wells”. I got tears in my eyes; I was so proud of him. He knew what the girls were saying and without being prompted, he joined the conversation. He also has started babbling. It’s not often but it is encouraging because he is using his tongue, “dee di do do da da”. When he uses his little voice he has the sweetest smile on his face – he knows it pleases us.
Here is a running list of Wells’ said words (not all consonants are there but he attempts) :
One, Two, Three, Four, Five
Everyone has an opinion on Wells’ delay and the resources we are giving him. I’ve heard, “Once he starts talking you won’t get him to shut up!” This comment was not helpful. When we are dealing with Wells completely melting down when he can’t communicate his needs, his verbal skills when he’s older does not help him now. “Boys are late talkers, he’s fine.” My son is more than fine. He is beautiful, healthy, and intelligent. He is getting help for a diagnosed delay. “It could be worse.” Chris and I are very blessed and we are aware that Wells’ speech delay is a mild impairment compared to other children who have more severe delays. We also know that this is our reality and we are trying our best to provide Wells with the best possible resources to be successful with speech and will continue to aide him with any other aspect of life.
My father being in the delivery room was not in my birth plan. He bought a “little brother” onesie from the hospital gift shop and to his surprise, I was mid-push in active labor when he came to show me. He watched as Wells entered the world and was placed upon my chest. My dad went out into the waiting room where his wife, my step-mom, was watching Millie. She asked my dad how I liked the onesie and was completely surprised when he told her that baby Wells was born! He explained that the baby had been delivered while he was “delivering” the outfit. Together, my dad and step-mom brought Millie to the delivery room to meet her baby brother.
Millie stood nervously at the entrance of the room until her daddy welcomed her over to my bedside. She ran with great two-year-old-gusto into his arms. He kissed her on the head as he lifted her up to see the new baby. Millie saw Wells sleeping in my arms. “Oh, baby Wells!” After the many months of telling Mille that she was going to have a baby brother, she finally was able to meet him. Chris and I were given matching hospital bracelets that linked us to baby Wells and the nurse gave Millie a bracelet that said, big sister. It was purple and adorable but Mill didn’t like it around her wrist and had the nurse cut it off. Sitting on the bed, she sang him, “Happy Birthday”.
The nurse took Wells to get his measurements and Millie followed; she wanted to be where her little brother was. Millie demanded her daddy, “pick me up” so she could have a better view of Wells. She informed the nurse that she was the big sister and made a comment about her stethoscope (a word she picked up from watching Doc McStuffins). The nurse was very impressed with her vocabulary and let her wear the stethoscope around her neck. To my surprise, Wells weighed over eight pounds! I was in disbelief because my ultrasound the week prior, the tech said he was weighing in at less than seven. After having Millie, a 4.8lb baby, Wells was giant! As Wells started to fuss, Millie got upset. She was already protective of her little brother.
Millie was to come back to the hospital the next day to take “fresh 48” photos (pictures taken within the first 48 hours after birth). I found out that Millie had gotten sick after eating breakfast. She had never thrown up before. I blame the puking on her grandparents because I guarantee they gave her way too much sugar. The hospital pediatrician said it was okay that she come up as long as she wasn’t running a fever. (The world was very different a week before the lockdown.) Millie bulldozed into the room and no one would have ever guessed that she got sick earlier in the day. She had on an outfit that matched her brother’s.
We laid Wells on some pillows next to Millie in the hospital bed. She was so curious; she kept trying to pull his hair up to see how long it was. “I hold him, daddy?” She rested her cheek on his head and it about melted my heart.
This post has been so difficult for me to write because my current reality is incomprehensible. When you are able to read this, time will have lessened my waves of sorrow however, right now, it’s all very raw and emotional. I’m going to try my best to write through my grief so you can see your mother’s honest vulnerability.
On September 22nd 2019, your aunt, my only sister, completed her battle with bi-polar depression. How can I begin to explain the person she was? Words cannot describe her contagious laugh. The mere stories I will tell over the years will never give justice to her vibrant life. No longer is the person who would sing to you in your car seat to make you smile. How can I possibly make you feel just how much she loved you?
Your aunt was the sun, our Shani-sunshine.
Bright– Shani was so incredibly smart and she was such a good student. I teach with women who taught your aunt in grade school and they all loved her personality and work ethic. They refer to her as one of their favorite, most memorable students of their careers. Throughout her schooling, she had completed her masters degree in psychology and was working towards a Psy-D, Shani was always the “teacherspet”and proudly, the top of her class. I always thought, if Shani was in school, her mind was in the right place. I knew nothing about the mania that accompanies bi-polar disorder and what she felt necessaryfor the success in her prestigious, doctoral program. Her energy source was the same disorder that would lie to her and put her down.
Nurturing– Our bodies need the sun’s vitamins and you could call Shani, my vitamin D. If I was having a bad day, or I was walking alone in a parking lot, if I needed someone to talk to, Shani was only ever a phone call away. She loved to FaceTime with you and we would, daily. She was the first person to babysit you while I went to my six-week OB appointment and she took the sweetest pictures of you inside of your stocking. During the last phone conversation we had together, she commented on how sweet your little voice sounded and how much she missed you. We were making plans for her to come visit for your second birthday and how she thought I was ridiculous for wanting to rent a kangaroo.
Shani and I would talk about our futures with one another; pool side, on the porch, sitting on her bed in the early hours of the morning. She always said she would carry children for me if I wouldn’t have been able to. She was so excited when I told her I was pregnant for you. She said that she would be the “cool aunt” that you could go and live with during your rambunctious, teenage years. She wanted you to be able to talk to her about your crushes and all the awkward things you wouldn’t want your mom knowing about. She threatened me by saying that she’d tell you all about my years in high school. She had plans to help pay for your college. She had plans to care for you and her future family.
Your aunt knew a song for every occasion and she had an incredible voice. When she auditioned for women’s chorus in high school, she sang, “Lean on Me”, which is incredibly fitting for the friend that she was. If we couldn’t spend Thanksgiving Day together, she’d call me up and we’d sing the turkey song over the phone. On the day you were born, she kept singing, “Edelweiss”. Small and white, clean and bright. You look happy to meet me. She listened to all genres of music; gospel, show tunes, rap, country, etc. She even dabbled in recording. Her range was great and she had an ear for harmony. I had amazing opportunities to hear Shani sing; beautifully at a wedding reception, in the church at Bridgewater, and my favorite memory of her voice – singing to you cradled in her arms.
Shani cared for everyone. It didn’t matter race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. When we were kids, she would find dead mice in our garage and make beds for them out of old shoeboxes and try to keep them as pets; completely disregarding Gams wishes to throw the dead rodent away. In high-school, she started an equality club for the LGBTQ community (sorry if I didn’t use the correct acronym, Shani – she would be quick to correct me if it’s wrong). She got a speeding ticket in college while taking her sick roommate to the hospital. Shani had no money to give but she gave freely to friends and causes, despite what I had to say about it. She had clients who clung to her every word and had her cellphone number incase of emergencies.
Shani would make sure everyone was well fed. She loved tomato sandwiches in the summertime. Shani was always the one to cut up the fresh pineapple. Your aunt worked at Johnny Rockets, a diner where she would dance and sing in between serving milkshakes and she had so many regulars because of her bubbly personality. She had so much fun baking my bachelorette party cakes; one black and one white, you’ll understand that when you’re older. Shani was always first to try my vegan recipes and was supportive of our family’s lifestyle. Last year, she urged everyone in the family to stop using plastic straws for the sake of the sea turtles.
She took you to the beach when you were six months old and bought you toys to play with in the sand. She always bought you things that would help grow your brain. The Veggietales DVDs and Noahs Arc toy were gifts from her for your dedication because she wanted you to grow in Christ. She wrote you a book and bought you so many books; she didn’t just read them to you, but she encouraged you to read them aloud. Shani cared about the students that I taught, too. My second year of teaching, Shani bought my entire classroom clipboards for my birthday. She helped run a fundraiser for my class to get ukuleles. On her spring break, instead of sleeping-in, Shani ran the music for my choir concert.
I desperately wish that she could have turned off the voices inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. To everyone else, she was vitamin D.
Dazzling – Her beauty was effortless. We are so fortunate to live during a time where pictures and videos can be retrieved in seconds because some of her radiance was captured in those quick moments and short clips. She exuded confidence. (Now, I question how much of that was a facade due to her disorder.) Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. She would talk about getting her ears pinned back, having an eyelid procedure, and needing a boob-lift; I vetoed the surgical nonsense every time she brought up because your aunt needed none of that. She had the most shiny hair, the quirkiest placed dimple under her eye, an hourglass figure, a pixie nose, and most petite hands and feet. The Friday before Shani took her life, I told her that I wished she could see herself the way that I saw her, but now I know that the darkness of the disorder would prevent her from feeling that way.
Consistent with the rising sun is unforgiving darknessand unfortunately, Aunt Shani experiencedthat, too.
Your aunt struggled to find men who were worth a damn. There were plenty of men interested in her and she would date them when she felt like it but she was notorious for falling for the guys who needed, “fixing”; the divorcee, military men with ptsd, her exes. I told her many times, you can’t force someone to change and that we only have control of ourselves – but the disorder kept her from having control of her feelings. Shani told me that she would never, “settle” in a relationship and that she believed in soul mates; I argued with her about this. I wanted her to find stability in a relationship. Now, I wish I could have done more to help her obtain stability within herself.
We shouldn’t stare directly at the sun. I would wait for the “right time” to tell my sister things, not knowing how she would react. If you would ask Shani a personal question about her love life, significant choices, or her mental state, she would quickly change the subject, get irritated and defensive, and remind you that she was, “fine”. My sunscreen was you. No matter how frustrated she’d be with me for asking too many questions or how upset she’d get when I wouldn’t agree with her on a political stance, I could change the subject to you and her entire attitude would change. She always agreed with my parenting choices and would never tire of the stories I’d tell her about you.
I don’t remember life before my sister was born because as far back as I can remember, shes been there. Shani has always been there just as the sun has been burning for 4 billion years. I never thought I’d have to live life without her. Life ceases to exist without the sun and I’m having an impossible time without mine. Learning to navigate this changed world is incredibly difficult; the finalization of death. There are nights when the tears won’t end. I no longer listen to the radio or watch television for the fear that something will remind me of her. I have to push myself to speak to my friends, do anything outside the house for myself, and celebrate the holidays. And I’m sorry for the times you see me crying in the kitchen – I just hate that you’ll never get the opportunity to be in your Aunts wedding or to hear her beautiful voice at Christmas time.
But you, my love, are a light and I need you to know that during this time of heavy darkness, you will forever be my saving spark, my energy source, and the illumination that keeps me going. I pray that God will carry us through this time of heartache and that Shani is resting in paradise with our Heavenly Father.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
I love you, Ashani Leigh Pompey and I’ll never stop. It sucks that we can’t make any new memories together but I know that one day, I’ll get to see you face to face and tell you all about this crazy, beautiful life. On the other side, my baby sis, my sunshine.
“The stars at night, are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas!”
My little family was invited to my friend Amber’s cruise ship wedding, ported in Galveston, Texas. I love weddings and I had never been to Texas so I was eager to propose this trip to my husband, Chris. Unfortunately, I cannot stomach cruises. “Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat, baby!” (My thinking is being interrupted with musical interludes; bear with me.) I have been on a cruise once before. It was a five-day, Carnival cruise that sailed from Florida to the Bahamas. I was green the entire time, even when taking motion sickness medicine, and bedridden for two days because of the nausea. It was safe to say that there would be no cruising for me but thankfully, the wedding took place while the ship was docked. I called Amber’s travel agent and got to work planning our Texas vacation.
Columbus to Houston:
We flew Southwest on a flight with many others attending the wedding including one of my best friends, Shauna. The plane had almost forty unmanned seats so we were able to take Millie’s car seat on board with us, even though we had not purchased her, her own seat (funny what brings me joy in my adulthood). Millie fell asleep and I watched, “How to Train your Dragon 3” (I don’t always adult) using the Southwest app – hooray for free video streaming!
Houston to Galveston:
The humidity in Houston was aggressive; I felt sticky from the walk from the plane to the terminal. My ears perked up hearing a string quartet playing live music in the airport lobby. We grabbed our luggage, packed up our bright, blue rent-a-car, and went to Walmart to grab an umbrella stroller to use throughout our trip. (We did not bother bringing both a car seat and a stroller on the plane.) Chris picked a Minnie Mouse stroller for Mill and I found a cute, Texas tank top for six bucks.
We stopped at Fuddruckers to eat dinner. There aren’t Fuddruckers restaurants in Ohio so it was neat eating at a restaurant that we never been. There were arcade games and while we waited for our dinner, Chris attempted to win Millie a stuffed animal from the claw machine – he was defeated. There was also a “test your strength” game that measured how tight you could grip two metal rods. Of course, Chris thought it was hilarious when my strength measured, “wimpy”. We ate our veggie burgers and left for the hotel.
The roads in Texas are atrocious and I was so thankful that Chris was the one executing them. I felt like we were constantly merging. It didn’t help that some of the roads in Galveston were flooded from a storm the night prior.
Our hotel room had a balcony with a beautiful view of the gulf. Seeing the water got us excited to get to the beach, so we packed our towels and left for the boardwalk.
There was a strong wind coming off of the water but that didn’t stop us from having a great time. The gulf was warm and the sand was packed down from the high tide. Mill was so light she didn’t leave footprints when she walked. I stood in amazement watching Millie brave the water. Looking out into vast ocean didn’t phase her; she ran to it.
The next day, as I was taking pictures at my friend’s wedding, Chris watched Millie and they ate free food (the staff didn’t know that we weren’t cruising). It was hilarious when Millie started a babbling argument with the cocktail waiter when he didn’t hand her an alcoholic beverage at the reception. The wedding was absolutely beautiful.
After the wedding, we met up with my friend, Alicia, at the Kennedy Space Center. We were impressed with the amount of exhibits with interactive learning. Millie loved exploring the space center. We bought Millie an astronaut doll and named her, Sally Ride. Strong women raise strong women.
Best tex-mex in the world, PapaCito’s Cantina. Fact. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Our waiter, J-rod, was amazing; he brought us free food to try because it was our first time eating there and he gave Millie a ball of dough to play with while we waited for our meal. The food was beyond delicious; Chris had fajitas and I ate nachos – the flavor was out of this world! I wish a PapaCito’s Cantina would open near us.
Shoutout to the Fairfield Inn and Suites for having veggie sausage in their continental breakfast buffet. Us vegans were extremely appreciative.
Chip and Joanna Gaines definitely put this city on their back. The hotel receptionist said that the Silo District brought Waco back to life. We spent three hours at the silos; eating cupcakes (Oh. My. Gosh. Yum.) shopping at Magnolia, drinking sweet tea from a mason jar, and playing in the garden with Mill – she had to smell every flower and whisper, “ahhh” in admiration.
Waco has a National Park with preserved mammoth remains. A park ranger walked us through the excavation site and apparently Millie already knew everything because she would interrupt the ranger to address the group with her baby babbles and hand gestures.
We stopped at Magnolia’s, Little Shop on Bosque, the Gaines’ original home decor store, to pick up a new shirt for Millie after she spilled the sweet tea down the front of her. The store was so small – I’m sure it must be humbling for them to see how it all started. The shop currently sells discounted items so we were able to get her a nice, linen shirt for cheap.
If you are wanting to shop in Waco, look no further than, The Spice Rack. This building houses hundreds of vendors selling the cutest stuff. I was able to pick up Millie two new pairs of Burt’s Bees pjs for less than $10 a piece. Mill left with a rubber duck wearing a cowboy hat, that we named, Dolly Duckton. “Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition.” Unfortunately, I took a tumble walking up the stairs to the bathroom…so that was embarrassing; praying that not too many people saw. Good news though, I was not hurt, only my pride.
We visited Cameron Park to hike Jacob’sLadder, the infamous country club climb. It was a steep incline and the steps were uneven stones. I was grateful that Chris carried Millie up because I struggled to keep my balance. The view from the top was just okay which was disappointing after reading such rave reviews and not to mention, the mosquitos were atrocious. I’m sure if we lived in Waco, we would visit this park often because it was spacious, shaded, had picnic tables and play gyms for the kids, hiking trails, etc.
Waco has a walking bridge with larger than life, longhorn sculptures to memorialize the cattle trade that took place there. Millie was excited to be able to run around and she was fascinated by a beautiful girl and her sparkly heels, taking her senior pictures. There was a large gap below the railings of the bridge that a toddler could easily tumble through and fall into quick-moving, water. Needless to say, we kept Mill close to us on this adventure.
Experiencing the Stockyard was like being in an old Western film, sans the bar fights and shoot outs. Mille and I sat on the back of a longhorn (she didn’t care for that) and she went on a pony ride. The man administering the rides told us the horse she rode was named, Lil Sebastian. He later admitted he heard Chris and my conversation about Parks and Rec, and he couldn’t help himself; the pony’s actual name was, Peanut. “He’s 5,000 candles in the wind”.
Our COSI membership had reciprocity at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Amazingly, there were tons of fossils, not just casts displayed. The gemstone exhibit was beautiful and the children’s area was a lot of fun for Mill. It was designed to look like downtown Dallas and for an out-of-stater, I appreciated the personal touch. At closing time, Millie still wanted to play, so she enjoyed the splash pad at the entrance of the museum. She was soaked but wasn’t cold- Texas is so hot.
We spent our final evening swimming in the hotel pool (we saw a woman’s boob completely out of her swimsuit), watching a Cubs baseball game on tv, and ordering sushi for dinner that we ate in bed.
Our trip to Texas was another grand adventure for my little family. I’m so grateful for the memories we made and the moments I won’t soon forget.
On March 3rd 2020, I delivered Wells with my husband, grandmother, father, and photographer in the room. If I would have had him on his due date, just two weeks later, I would have had to birth him alone. While we packed up our bags from our hospital stay, breaking news declared a mask mandate in Chicago and we feared Ohio would be next. We asked my nurse for masks; “I’m sorry, we are down to our last two boxes on this floor.” Chris immediately regret discarding his mask from labor and delivery.
My mom planned to stay with us for six weeks; helping with Millie and the housework while I focused on healing and bonding with Wells. Chris didn’t get any paternity leave so my moms help was a Godsend. A week after we came home from the hospital, the government shut down the state boarders around New York; my mom couldn’t stay with us indefinitely if Ohio chose to follow suit. Selfishly, I wanted my mom to stay and help but alas, my mom went back to Virginia.
Planning for this pregnancy, we knew that I would not get paid for the entirety of my maternity leave. My sick days accrue; if I work a month without taking a sick day, I earn a day of sick time. I had proudly saved twenty sick days which meant I would get two pay checks during my six-week maternity leave. After my sister passed in September of 2019, I used three weeks of my sick time, grieving her loss. On top of being pregnant and losing my sister, I was definitely stressed about the amount of unpaid leave I would have to take. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a weeks worth of sick time from myself so we would receive at least one paycheck during my six-week, maternity leave.
I had one sick day left to use when I got a phone call from a friend and fellow teacher that we were going to start teaching, virtually. Could I also workvirtually (make money) while still on maternity leave? I was able to convince my OB that I could, “return” to work as long as work meant teaching from my couch. I fed Wells, Millie watched Mickey Mouse Club House, and I was posting music assignments at the same damn time. The pandemic allowed me to stay home for 21 weeks without a single, unpaid day.
As if new mothers aren’t paranoid enough, add a global pandemic to the mix. Thankfully, Chris’ company assigned his department to work from home so we weren’t getting germs from his job. Groceries were bought through delivery services and bags were sanitized at the door. Once Wells gained back his birth weight and was no longer jaundiced, we didn’t take him to another pediatric appointment until he was six months old. I should have gone to my six week OB appointment – I didn’t. I had a terrible, terrible pain in my right nipple from a latch issue – I didn’t receive outside help. My cousin unexpectedly passed away and we didn’t attend her funeral. I wasn’t comfortable breaking our “bubble”, so we stayed in.
Chris working from home turned out to be a blessing. He was able to hold Wells during his lunch hour and help change diapers between meetings. Wells definitely got more time with daddy due to the pandemic. I had planned on spending quality time watching Cubs baseball during my maternity leave, but the season was postponed and there was no baseball to be watched. We used this time at home to potty train Millie. She didn’t like feeling poop in her diaper so she would take the diaper off and the poo would get everywhere – it was time. We stripped her naked, packed away the diapers, gave her tons to drink throughout the day and constantly encouraged her to sit on the potty. We rewarded her, even if she sat on the toilet just to toot. We bought her cute undies with Frozen characters on them. We experienced more victories than accidents, but there were many accidents, especially when we would play outside. Within the month, she was completely potty trained.
The week before Wells was born, our realtor called wanting to show us a house that checked every box on our “wish list”. We dropped Millie off at my dads and I waddled through the open house. It was in a neighborhood with better schools, gave us a thousand more square feet, and had a fenced in backyard. Also, homes in our neighborhood were selling quickly at above asking price. The market was right, the house was perfect, but I was doubting how the timeline would work for us. The same day Wells was born, our offer on the house was accepted.
The worst part of selling our home during the pandemic was having to leave the house during showings; there was no where to go because everything was closed so we would load both kids in the Jeep and drive around, praying that no one entering our home was COVID positive. I would sit my postpartum butt between the two car seats and read to the kids while we ordered French fries through the Burger King drive through. The house inspectors and appraisers were weeks behind because of the shutdown. The contractors that installed our new floors had to break for two weeks because they had been in close contact with COVID-19.
All of our activity memberships expired; COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory, the Zoo. Zumbini went virtual and we tried classes through Zoom but Millie lost interest. She was getting stir crazy staying home; heck, I was too, so we would do at least one activity together everyday. It was nice to spend some one-on-one time with her because well, Wells. She loved when I would ask her to wash the dishes in the sink or when I’d let her scrub her toys. We made multi-colored foam in her water table. I taped shapes on the floor for her to organize her blocks. She loved to finger paint. We colored eggs for Easter. We became quite the bakers; she loved watching the baking competition shows and trying new recipes. We jumped in puddles on rainy afternoons and watched for, “sworms”. We would adventure in our yard where she found some fallen pine cones which she called, “coconuts”. If we were blessed with good weather, Chris would take Millie to the park across the street on his lunch break; until yellow caution tape was wrapped around the slides and the playground was off limits to promote social distancing.
The holidays were different, to say the least. We celebrated Palm Sunday by fanning around artificial leaf decorations left over from Millie’s second birthday and blowing bubbles in the back yard. Thankfully, I bought Easter gifts early because most stores were shut down. Church was virtual and we watched Easter service from my phone. Maw surprised us by decorating our tree in the front yard with eggs shaped like rabbits and ducks. She didn’t come in because she knew she’d want to hold the kids and she just couldn’t. (She had been in and out of the hospital after our cousin’s liver transplant and it just wasn’t safe to be around each other.) There was no Fourth of July parade and although we heard fireworks all through the night, we could not see any.
In November, Millie turned three and our governor had given clear instructions that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather together. Realizing I couldn’t throw Mill the birthday that I wanted for her, made me empathetic towards those who had to cancel their events due to the pandemic; weddings, trips, graduation parties, etc. It broke my heart to tell family members and friends that they could not come over to celebrate with us. So on Millie’s third birthday, my parents and the in-laws came over to celebrate and we FaceTimed others while she blew out her candles.
One very ordinary evening in December, Chris had a sore throat. Neither of us thought anything of it until he had chills throughout the night. He called our family doctor who then scheduled him to be tested for COVID. By the time of his test, he felt like he had been hit by a truck; even sitting was painful. Chris received a positive covid test and two days later, Wells and I had symptoms; body aches, fatigue, and a fever to follow. Wells slept the worst he ever had in his life. I could tell by his cry that he was in pain. Following suite, within the next two days, my grandmother who watches the kids during the week was symptomatic. Her and I both lost our taste and smell. Covid had infested our family.
Five days after Chris tested positive, Mill still had no signs of the virus. We were so impressed with her immune system! We must not have knocked on wood quick enough because without warning, my energetic fire ball was melting into the couch. Millie was lethargic and had a fever of 100.3. We called the pediatrician and she told us to give her children’s Tylenol and monitor her symptoms. We put her in the bath tub and encouraged fluids. Once the medicine was in her system, she was back to her normal self. You could tell when the medicine would start to wear off – she’d slow down, get rosy cheeks, and her eyes would gloss over. She took her medicine while I sang, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Sweet girl didn’t fight it at all. Her symptoms lasted 48 hours.
The virus did not keep us from:
Worshipping the Lord
Going to VA
Playing in the snow (Millie makes the best snow angels)
Moving my grandma into a new condo
Making Christmas cookies and giving them to our neighbors
Sending Valentine’s cards
Going to the zoo
Not everyone had our same comfort level for socialization during the pandemic. We were not fearful of a virus with a 98% survival rate, we had faith in our immune systems, and we agreed with Pastor Doyle when he spoke about togetherness. Unfortunately, many family members missed out on important birthdays, holidays, and other once in a lifetime events because of their own anxieties about safety. The thought process was, “I want to be around for the holidays that they’ll remember.” but no one can guarantee tomorrow. [Millie (3) and Wells (1) just because you might not remember this year, doesn’t make your experiences any less valuable. I’m blogging so that if one day you don’t remember, my words may be enough.]
“If you’re a pandemic baby and you’ve been in quarantine your whole life, you get overstimulated by everything ’cause all the strangers that you see have masks on, and you’ve never really had a playdate in your life.”
I worry about how much this year has affected our children. One year out of my thirty is nothing, but one year to my three year old? That’s a third of her life. Wells? His entire life. Children aren’t as resilient as we like to think, you know? Why do so many adults find themselves in therapy – childhood trauma. We have absolutely no idea the ramifications of living this closed off, pandemic life. Millie was supposed to start dance this year and Wells doesn’t know what it’s like to be around other children. I’m heartbroken and concerned for our children, this generation now labeled as, “Gen C”.
Crazy things about COVID:
This started during an election year.
People hoarded toilet paper and sold it for obscene amounts of money on the internet.
Your Great, Great Uncle Bobby, who is bedridden in a nursing home (suffers from strokes) survived the virus!
There were directional arrows on the floors of stores and MawMaw became the aisle police. Although, she told me if I needed to go down an aisle with an arrow facing the opposite direction, to just walk backwards and act like I “forgot” something.
Millie was told she had to wear a mask upon entering the Disney store.
People were also concerned about murder hornets (I’m still not positive about the murders – were they murdering bees? People?)
The sports stadiums were empty (they broadcasted with fake audience cheers, it was bizarre) but some stadiums offered fans to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the seats. Gam got Millie a cutout for the Shoe so she was “at” the Buckeye games.
I thought I’d finish this blog post months ago (I began writing in August of 2020) but the pandemic trudged on. Ohio is now in a state of “purple” meaning we are worse off when we were in the “red” during our initial shutdown (the colors are arbitrary). Children are back in school full time, sporting events are being held with spectators, vaccines are being administered through drive-thrus – I don’t know what’s next for parenting in the pandemic but I’m glad this blog can be updated because I’m sure it’s not over.
At 33 weeks pregnant with Millie, my OB instructed me to go to labor and delivery. I felt miserable; pounding headaches, swelling to point of discomfort, dizziness and fatigue. I left the OBs office completely unable to accept the reality of induction. Instead of rushing to the hospital, I had my husband take me to Arby’s. As I pumped ketchup onto my tray, a lady grabbing napkins said to me, “If you have a girl and see blood in her diaper, don’t be alarmed, it’s her hormones.” What? Suddenly, I had lost my appetite for ketchup.
33 weeks came and went during my second pregnancyyet, everyday the thought of preeclampsia was a very real concern. I checked my blood pressure with an at-home monitor, I constantly analyzed the size of my ankles, and I actually iced and elevated my feet at night. 34 weeks into my pregnancy, we lost my step-father due to a massive heart attack, just four months after unexpectedly, losing my sister. I was fearful that the grief and stress would throw me into labor but thankfully, the baby stayed put.
37 weeks of pregnancy is considered full term; something I never was able to experience with Millie. I still feel a tinge of guilt for not being able to carry her longer. I was ecstatic to have made it to term with this pregnancy and also surprised I didn’t feel entirely miserable. Don’t get me wrong, the pelvic pressure was painful and sleeping comfortably was a challenge, but life wasn’t completely intolerable; nothing like what 33 weeks pregnant with preeclampsia felt like. My OB said we made it to term because of the daily dose of baby aspirin but I like to think that he was comfortable in my sisters arms, in heaven.
At 37 weeks and 6 days, I started having contractions seven minutes apart. Laying in bed, I would check my phone with each pain; 3:07, 3:14, 3:21. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was being woken up by my alarm. As I was getting ready for work, my husband urged me to stay home and call the doctor. Wanting to save my sick time, I went in to teach. During my planning period, I called my OB to tell him I had contractions through the night. He responded, “get to labor and delivery”. I drove home, snuggled with Mill on the couch, and waited for my baby daddy to come home. My husband packed the car, we kissed Millie goodbye, and this time, we didn’t stop for a cherry turnover.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were sent into triage where a nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, checked my lungs and pulse, and she gave me a sani-wipe and cup to collect my urine. As I sat down on the toilet, I opened the wipe and simultaneously, it jumped out of my hands! The wet wipe flew through the air, nearly six feet, before hitting the tile floor! Reactively, I screamed and then I couldn’t stop laughing! My husband and the nurse thought I was crazy but it kept the atmosphere light; labor terrified me after my experience with Mill.
My vitals were normal except my blood pressure, 118 over 96. The nurse explained that the reading was a mistake; the bottom number “didn’t match” the top number. She checked it again; 135 over 95. She seemed concerned that the readings were slightly elevated so she was going to consult the resident doctor on duty. Of course I was stressing thinking that the pre-e had returned but there were no traces of protein in my urine, so that kept me sane. Waiting for my blood pressure to go down, I ate a bag of mini pretzels, watched an episode of Friends (ironically, it was the episode where Rachel and Ross are at the gynecologist), texted my parents, and peed again. The nurse returned, checked my BP, and it was even higher than before! Over and over again, the cuff would squeeze my arm, release the pressure, and I would dauntingly peek at the numbers on the monitor; my blood pressure remained high. The resident doctor, who looked younger than me, asked about my birth plan. I explained to her that if the preeclampsia had returned, I wanted a c-section, which had been discussed numerous times with my OB. She began explaining to me why she would not give me a c-section, even if the pre-e had returned. I stopped her and said, “I know that I am able to elect for a cesarean birth.” I was no longer interested in speaking to this resident. My blood pressure reading was highest after that conversation.
My OB was in the hospital giving a tour to a newly hired doctor in the practice, so he stopped by my room to discuss my, “options”. He told me that he was admitting me for gestational hypertension. He explained that my history with pre-e made him too concerned to send me home with an elevated blood pressure. The doctor informed us that there were risks to induction, especially premature lung development, particularly in boys. A day before Millie was born, a steroid shot was administered into my leg to better develop her lungs. Unfortunately, there is no evidence shows the steroid being effective after 34 weeks of pregnancy, so the shot was not an option this time around.There is a fine line between gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia and my doctor thought the induction outweighed the risks, given my history. Gestational hypertension is a form of high blood pressure and it occurs in about 6 percent of all pregnancies.Delivery heals the mother from the hypertension.
I was being induced for a vaginal birth, with a c-section as plan B if my blood pressure continued to rise. The doctor promised me that this delivery would be different than my first and that I was being closely monitored. I signed some papers, shoved my underwear into my purse, and tightly held my husbands hand as we left triage. I was full term. This baby spent weeks longer in utero compared to Millie. I’ve done this before; affirmations I told myself walking to labor and delivery.
We started the induction at 4pm with a twelve hour dose of cervadil; a vaginal insert that ripens the cervix. Like a tampon, the medicine is attached to a string. Unlike a tampon, it is placed super far up the vaginal canal (I swear, the nurse was elbow deep). The first four hours on the cervadil were a breeze – mild cramping. My grandma brought Millie to see us before her bedtime. This was the first night that I wasn’t sleeping under the same roof as her. It broke my heart when she didn’t want anything to do with me. She was scared of the machines and my IV.
I was uncomfortable during the next four hours as the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Around 3am, I wanted the epidural but I was only 3cm dilated. The resident OB wanted to wait on ordering the epidural until I dilated further so he offered to give me pain meds through my IV to take off the edge. I urged both him, and the nurse to consult with my doctor because we had discussed this exact situation after my traumatic experience with Millie. I had dilated so quickly with her that I was unable to get the epidural and I did not want that to happen again. Thankfully, they consulted my doctor who approved the epidural.
I gave birth to Millie without an epidural and I was not about to do that again. Although, I was scared that the epidural would hurt, that I would move during insertion and become paralyzed, that it wouldn’t take, or that the baby’s heart rate would drop, I was terrified of another natural labor. I was overwhelmed with the pain from the contractions so I pulled up a video of Millie on my phone, to focus my energy on her pure joy. As I watched, tears rolled down my cheeks; partially due to the pain I was experiencing but also because of my love for her. I was assured that the anesthesiologist was the best they had. He was an older man who talked me through everything he was doing. My husband was asked to wear a mask and a hair cap while the procedure took place. He held my hands as I sat up straight, at the edge of the bed. The medicine felt like a bead of cold water rushing down my spine. I do not remember any pain during insertion. Slowly, my legs started feeling heavy and I knew the epidural had worked.
Pitocin was administered and for the next two hours, 4:30-6:30am, I experienced some mild cramping. The epidural provided great relief to the clinching pain of the earlier contractions. My grandma had joined us in the birthing room. Her presence was calming as she rubbed my legs. My birth photographer, Sarah Shambaugh, arrived and began taking pictures of the process. Around 6:30, it felt like I needed to poop; nothing hurt, I just felt a sense of urgency. I remembered feeling that way before Millie was born and I knew it was time to push. The nurse examined me and sure enough, I was fully effaced and 9.5cm dilated. The nurse called my doctor, who was twelve minutes away. Longest twelve minutes of my life.
I was instructed not to push until my OB arrived. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks in response to the discomfort I was enduring. I told my husband that I didn’t care to wait for my doctor any longer, as long as someone would catch my baby, I needed to start pushing. My bed was raised, nurses helped lift my legs into the stirrups, and a resident doctor began dressing to do the job. In that same moment, my doctor entered the room and prepared for the delivery. I breathed a sigh of relief while grimacing through a contraction.
Pushing was difficult because I couldn’t exactly feel what I was supposed to be doing due to the epidural. I was anxious to push and didn’t like the wait time between contractions. I forced all of my energy down and with every push, the baby moved further through the canal. My doctor was so supportive; using words of encouragement and massaging the tissue so I wouldn’t tear. My father snuck into the room and held up a “little brother” onesie as a means of encouragement. The thought was endearing but I also didn’t want my dad to see my vagina. My husband helped lift my head up towards my chest and my grandma pulled my legs back while I pushed. I could not understand why this labor was taking so long – comparatively to my three push labor with Millie. My OB used his hands to turn the baby’s head in a more opportune position. Impatient, I decided that I didn’t want to wait for the next contraction to start pushing again and that is when the baby progressed enough that my doctor could see the hair on his head. My husband looked – gross. My doctor predicted that the next push would do it; I would meet my son.
Clinched teeth, chin to chest, toes curled; all of the tension released when Wells was born. It is absolutely amazing how exhaustion and pain evaporate away the moment of birth. A wiggly, slime-covered, baby boy was placed on my chest and my entire being began taking him in; he was heavy, he was pink, he had hair, and he was crying. My husband cut the umbilical cord as nurses suctioned fluid from his mouth. We stayed skin-on-skin while my family met him. When it was time to feed him, he latched quickly and correctly, which made nursing simple. While he was on my breast, I felt the bottom of his little feet; so soft.
My sweet, perfect boy. Life may be unpredictable, but my love for you will forever be constant. Welcome to the world, Wells.
I only know myself as a big sister; I don’t remember being an only child for the first two years of my life. I am a big sister to, two awesome people who I will always see as, kids. I cherish the memories of helping my brother get ready for school in the morning and talking through the bunk beds with my sister at night. Running to the car we’d yell, “shotgun!” to see who was going to sit in the front seat. I remember sticking up for my siblings at school; I about pounded a kid for calling my sister fat and I wasn’t very nice to the bully taking my brothers lunch either. My sister would keep my secrets and my brother could always make me laugh. I am proud of my siblings and I am grateful to be their big sister.
I always knew that I wanted to have a basketball team amount of kids, if the Lord would allow. The preeclampsia that I experienced with Millie scared me of the birthing process but never out of wanting to expand our family. To allow my body time to recover, my OB asked for me to give myself two years before getting pregnant again but when Millie was 20 months old, we found out we were expecting. I was still breastfeeding Mill and continued until she was 22 months old, when I entered my second trimester of pregnancy. I was instructed to take a calcium supplement as my vegan diet didn’t allow much calcium to go around for myself, a breastfeeding toddler, and a growing fetus. That aside, we were excited that Millie was going to be a big sister come March!
The first person I told after seeing the positive pregnancy test was my little sister. We had been talking about how I felt fatigued and she encouraged me to take a test. She was at work when I called to tell her the news and she startled everyone in her office by screaming in excitement. From the very beginning of this pregnancy, things were different than my first. The pink result on the pee stick was much more prominent this time around. I was pleasantly surprised that this pregnancy didn’t come with the hyperemesis gravidarum that I experienced with Mill. Due to all the puking during my first pregnancy, I had to miss my sisters college graduation, hospitalized with dehydration. This time around, I was pregnant but also was able keep up with an energetic toddler. We had a gender reveal with our family where we cut into a cake that spilled out blue candy – no surprise that this pregnancy was different, we are having a baby boy.
Millie is a little mommy; she loves babies. At Zumbini, she would rather spend time putting her face in baby carriers of the siblings of her classmates than dance and play instruments. Millie will give her baby dolls stroller rides, she feeds them bottles, and she puts them to sleep by covering them up and kissing them on the head. Anything small is a baby to her. I love her caring nature. There was never a doubt in my mind – she would be an awesome big sister.
I do not think Millie understands that there will be a new baby in our house come March. She is aware that there is a baby in my stomach and that we are preparing our home for his arrival however, how can a two year old comprehend a new life? I still am in awe of the miracle that is a new baby. So here I am, enjoying my time as a one child mama for a little while longer. I will never forget Millies time as my only child however, she will. She’ll forever know herself, like me, as a big sister.
“Does your grandmother always use the restroom in the afternoon?” What kind of question is that? On that particular Tuesday, while my grandmother was taking care of business, Millie slid on a book and fractured her tibia. There was no swelling, redness, or bruising however, she refused to put any weight on her left foot. I could touch her foot and she could move it, so I knew nothing was broken. I had no idea the process that is healing a toddler fracture.
After two rounds of X-rays, neither of which I could be in the room for because I was pregnant and Mill cried for me the entire time while I waited outside the door and my heart broke into a million pieces, the doctor didn’t seeing anything unusual. The doc explained to us that because of her age, her bones would show healing calcification clearer than it would an initial injury.
It had been eight hours since Mill put any weight on her left foot and she could communicate very clearly which foot had the, “boo-boo”. The doctor wanted her in a full leg splint for one week. She explained to us that Millie could not get the splint wet, walk, or take it off. The doctor referred us to an orthopedic specialist that would retake xrays after she’d been in the splint for a week and would re-evaluate from there; hard cast or boot. I was upset for her because trick-or-treat was one week away and her second birthday was the week after.
Mill was miserable in the splint; longest week ever. She couldn’t walk around or play. She couldn’t sleep in her own bed for fear that she would wake up and stand on the splint. She loves taking baths but those were out of the question. I caught her pulling out the cotton underneath the ace wrapping so we had to cover the splint with her dads sock. The splint made her foot so large that she didn’t fit well into her swing, highchairs, or shopping carts.
One week later, I was so relieved to find out that Millie would be given a boot and not a cast. The orthopedic doctor took an X-ray of his own and saw a tibia fracture above her ankle. Thankfully, the doctor referred to the fracture as, “stable” which meant it was unlikely for it to get worse. By staying off of it, she would heal quickly. The boot was clunky but she would eventually learn to walk with it for the duration of her healing. We were able to remove the boot for bath time and outfit changes. The boot was a part of our fall festivities but was able to be taken off just four weeks after the incident. We met with her pediatrician, who gave us his blessing to remove the boot, and he put her on a calcium supplement due to our vegan diet, just to make sure that she is getting enough calcium for her bone development. Once the boot came off, she walked differently for about a week – like her left foot was still booted.
Needless to say, my grandma hasn’t used the restroom since.
“PSA to parents – you only have 18 summers with your children, so make them count.”
Talk about pressure.
I don’t know where I heard that quote but it has definitely stuck with me. I love that I can spend fourteen weeks of summer with Millie but here we are, two summers deep and I already can’t remember what we did during our first summer together! Thankfully, this blog helps to jog my muffled, mommy memory. Leaving Mill every weekday is rough. I love teaching music and the start of a new school year is always exciting but I miss our snuggle time in the morning, eating lunch together, and I especially miss taking mid-morning naps. So, here’s a post to commemorate our summer (because God knows I will forget by fall).
Millie’s favorite breakfast was a bowl of multigrain Cheerios with almond milk and a side of fruit, usually strawberries or blueberries. She’s gotten really good at using a spoon! Her go to lunch was veggie chicken nuggets (dipped in ketchup), steamed broccoli, and black olives that capped her fingers before they went into her mouth. She breastfed twice a day; before her afternoon nap and bedtime.
It was impossible trying to keep the living room clean. I’ve heard, “You can have a clean house when the kids grow up and leave the house but once they do, you’ll miss them in your house, messy and all.” and my OCD does not care about that for one second. Every time one mess would get organized, Mill would have two more activities out, while playing with something totally different! Then inevitably, it would be meal time and I’d have to walk away from the mess in the living room, just to make a new one in the kitchen! It was definitely one step forward and two steps back when it came to cleanliness this summer. It was best just to clean everything at night, after we put Mill to bed, so we could start fresh the next morning. BTW- she started sleeping in her own bed, in her own room, and through the night this summer..so there’s a win!
Traveling to Texas and Washington DC were easily some of our most memorable adventures this summer. (You can read all about our Texas vacation in the previous blog post.) We went to the DC Zoo with my mom, step-dad, and sister. We drove about two hours, braved the heat, and saw pandas for the first time! Mill loved them. Her paw-paw Kev got her a panda book and stuffed animal panda bear. She’s gotten pretty good at saying their Chinese names, too! On an episode of Daniel Tigers Neighborhood, (that’s a regular show in our house now) there was a quick clip of an actual panda playing in his enclosure and before they said the bear’s name or even the name of the zoo, I was able to identify both. Needless to say, we got a little “panda crazy” this summer.
“Pool?” Mill’s little voice would ask constantly because she loved being in the water this summer. She rotated between a striped, watermelon bathing suit and a hot pink, pineapple suit. To dry off, she used the cutest, hooded Daniel Tiger towel. We set up a small, blowup pool in our backyard, which ended up being more work then fun; it would only stay clean for a day or two before getting slimy and gross, the hose water was freezing, and the pool killed our grass no matter where, or how much we moved it. Next year, we’ll be getting a sprinkler. Mill loved going to her Gam’s pool while we were in VA; she would play with other kids, go under the sprinklers, and go swimming in the deep end with her Aunt Nani. At Zoombeezi Bay, a waterpark connected to the Columbus Zoo, Millie enjoyed going down the water slides (she was too little for some of the slides and would end up with a face full of water). On two occasions, Mill got to play in splash pads. Although she loved it, I was a nervous wreck with the possibility of her slipping and falling on the wet concrete; thankfully, that never happened. She liked playing in her water table, especially on the day that her dad and I attempted to power wash the house; we all got soaked.
We did another session of Zumbini this summer with an instructor that Mill loves. The class was early on Monday mornings and every week, Millie was excited to get dressed and go. Mill surprised me with her dancing and instrument playing; she can play the triangle with great technique and started to twirl and stand on her toes. Frustrating to me, some mothers would bring their newborns with them to class, which of course distracted Mill because she loves babies. She would want to touch the babes and play with them instead of listening to the instructor. And sometimes the moms would get irritated with Mill wanting to see their baby – hello don’t bring your newborn to a toddler class. My grandma made Mill a scarf like they used in class so she could continue to practice her Zumbini dances at home. This girl loves to dance.
Millie loves people, being outside, and anything loud so we decided to take her to our community’s firework show. Her patriotic outfit was absolutely adorable and her pigtails had sequin bows. She rode in her wagon and waved at children we passed finding the ultimatum viewing spot. Mill and her daddy kicked around a soccer ball while we waited for the sun to go down. Once it got too dark to see the ball, I tried my best to explain to Millie the loud booms the fireworks would make. I showed her a fireworks video so she would know what to expect from the show. During the fireworks display, she bounced between mine and Chris’ laps, completely unafraid. Mill was interested in the fireworks for the first three minutes and then asked for baby videos; she loves babies.
We found out in July that we will be having a baby, expected in March! Good thing Mill has taken such a liking to them. Next summer will be different but I’m sure just as memorable.