Thursday, February 23, 2017

I didn't spray paint the pizza.

I woke up yesterday with a pressing need to spray paint some bottles gold in order to use them as red carpet and gold decor for a pseudo-Oscar Viewing Party.

Don't worry. You haven't missed the Oscars. We just partnered with ABC and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation to host a little get-together for pizza and Speechless -- to watch and discuss an episode about an Oscar-viewing party. We quickly agreed when they asked. But our "little" get-together grew rapidly as everyone had more than a handful of people they wanted to invite. But still -- pizza and TV. No worries.

ABC sent the poster -- my movie-loving crew were excited!

And I was still feeling fairly laid back about the event when I went to bed Tuesday night. But Wednesday morning I woke with my usual "We're having a party and it must be splendid" fervor.

Wade calls it a manic mode.

The welcoming crew -- they helped our guests to the ramp and welcomed them to the party!

I want to argue that. I wanted to dispute it even as I was baking brownies between the coats drying on the gold-painted bottles on the porch. But when I grabbed the black napkin holder and added it to my gold-spray-painted madness, I had to concur that perhaps, just maybe, quite possibly, he has a point.

Some of my people.

Here's the thing and it frankly just is what it is: I love people. I love the fellowship of being where my people are. I love to sit around a table and break bread -- or pass our favorite dips -- and just be with friends and family. I love to watch my kids with their friends and to hear their laughter echo around the room. I really love a party.

Claire and some of her people.

But as far back as an early early play date -- before the trio even turned three, when I showed up and couldn't get my crew into the home -- I realized that all homes can't open their doors to welcome us. I know that all the parties my friends throw can't include us. I know I have family and dear friends whose tables aren't accessible for my family to pull up a chair and break bread.

Making new friends!

And so somewhere along the way I realized that hosting the parties would have to be the way my people gathered. And without even meaning to....I began to assume that the parties had to be good, I mean really good, so that my people would want to gather here where my family could be included.
And this pizza party, well most of our guests were in the same boat as us and so this invitation might be a less-than-common-occurrence for them like such things are for us. So I needed to elevate this from JUST a pizza party to a PARTY.

Cue the gold spray paint and mania.

THOSE SMILES!! Benjamin, Mason, and Jordan.

The pizza was yummy and the episode pretty much resonated in every detail. In case you missed it, last night's episode of Speechless involved parallel stories between the Moms, the Dads, JJ (with CP) and his friends, as well as a storyline about JJ's brother Ray.

They just got so much exactly right. But of course, it was the moms that were screaming at my heart: When a new mom joins Maya's Special Moms Support Group and shows up dressed pristinely, with her hair perfectly coiffed, they all stare at her stunned. One of the moms mumbles, "Where are her stains?"

Oh yea. 

I spent the first eight years of the triplets' life walking around with holes in the knees of my jeans (and not in the cool way) and something somewhere on my clothing that you can bet didn't belong to (or even come from) me.

My trio with friends -- they might be to old to call it a play date but I am celebrating
their laughter and fun with friends all the same!

The other moms -- led by Minnie Driver's character, Maya -- initially want to be like and hate this new mom all at the same time. They show up for the Oscar party with beautiful hair and ironed clothing. And after some wipe-your-eyes-from-laughing moments (you really need to watch), they end up at new mom's clean, organized and lovely home. Oh y'all there are heated words, food fights and hurt feelings. Before Maya's daughter intervenes and forces them to talk. And that's when things get real:

"We want to believe we are the best mums for our kids. It is terrifying to believe someone might be better." -- Maya

Oh that. Sigh. I can honestly say I struggle sometimes with other special needs moms. It can be so hard to hear about the hours this mom spends on therapy every single day while I am sitting here thinking ouch, I can't imagine forcing Benjamin to do that. Or a mom who shows up with every medical record laminated in a color-coded binder. And I'm like, "Oh yes, color coding! I did that once. When the triplets still napped twice a day. I haven't had time to match colors since then." Or the myriad of amazing moms who work out, cook organically, start their own name it and believe me if we play the comparison game it can get ugly quickly.

We compare ourselves. And because this road is ours alone -- rarely have we seen or known someone to walk it ahead of us -- we can be filled with self-doubt. What if the way I am doing it is the wrong way. What if there is in fact a better way? What if my child could have accomplished x, y, and z if ONLY I had been like that mom.

It is enough to make you want to pull a "Minnie Driver" as we refer to it in our house....and mess up New Mom's uber-organized pantry!

And then the writers of Speechless nailed it again:

New Mom: "I think we need to give each other and ourselves a break. It's like we have the same problems, right? We just come at them from different angles. We're sisters, not enemies."

Oh do y'all remember how desperately I want sisters?? And to have them gather around my table???

We talked for a while after the show -- we spoke of a need to be organized, the impossibility of staying organized, and the beauty of finding the balance. The moms were sharing and getting to know each other -- all new friends, all at different places in our journey, all sisters.

The kids were also making new friends and finding their own way. College kids with CP and without showing love and friendship to those younger and some older on this journey. Elementary kids with CP and without, finding a bond in laughter and pizza -- is there anything better?

And for our group of 30-something that ranged in age from 8 to well, much older than 8, we spent an evening doing what family does, breaking bread (and more than a few chips) and gathering around the TV to laugh and cry and enjoy a favorite TV show.

And as my husband led one of our new friends to the ramp, Jordan looked at Wade and asked, "Dr. Shrader, can we do this every month?"

To which my soul cried, "Yes Jordan, yes we can!! I happen to have spray paint in a myriad of colors!"

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Collar buttons are from the pit of hell. Wisdom from the Pulpit.

In the days before satellite radio, podcasts and the Internet as a whole, my Daddy drove the highways of Mississippi for work every single day. And as he traveled, he listened to sermons. He probably had more spiritual instruction in one week than most people have in a year. He shepherded my brothers and I with a wisdom borne of his hunger for Godly instruction and discipleship.

And so when he was fighting cancer in the early 1990s and called me to recommend an evangelist he had heard on the radio, I eagerly listened and arranged my schedule to hear the man speak the next time the program aired. The gentleman, David Ring, is an evangelist who happens to have Cerebral Palsy. His message was beautiful and my heart was encouraged listening to him. When in the days following my dear Daddy's death, we learned that David Ring would be speaking near our home in Huntsville, AL, Wade and I went. I went to honor my Daddy's memory. I went to have my heart encouraged. I went because of that phone call early in his cancer fight. I went because I missed my Daddy so very much and this felt like sitting beside him on the church pew.

I had no idea that I went because three years LATER, I would give birth to three babies months too early and my two boys would have Cerebral Palsy.

I had no idea that what I found healing in the grief of my Daddy's death was really so much more. It was in fact my Dad preparing me for the years to come. He shepherded me through all the years he lived and in this final gift -- he would shepherd me through some of my scariest days. Because of my daddy, I knew that my boys' future was bright and that no diagnosis could prevent God using them every single day.

Today, David Ring was speaking a couple of hours north of us. Wade heard about it and asked if we wanted to go. The college kids came home. We re-arranged our schedules. And we loaded the van and headed north.

I might have "Amen-ed" a little too loudly when he said Cerebral Palsy and buttons don't go well together. I might have really "Amen-ed" too loudly when he said that the small buttons on collars are straight out of the pit of hell. His humor was funny in the early 90s. Healing even in the months after my Daddy's death. But today, he was talking from a place that spoke to my Mama-heart.

And when he said that the blood of Jesus is ENOUGH to even overcome Cerebral Palsy, the tears might have leaked out a little.

Twenty-three years ago, I went to hear this man because my Daddy wanted me too. I wanted to honor his memory. Today, I went because I needed to say thank you to David for being faithful with his story so that Wade and I would have hope twenty years ago.

I went because I needed to sit on the pew next to my Daddy and be shepherded by him again.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Friday, February 10, 2017

The other side of the coin.

Before Christmas I wrote a post about Benjamin's personal goals (feel free to click over and check it out), as I desperately needed to encourage young mamas whose son or daughter might not be reaching some milestones. I was desperate to remind them of the dreams still tangible -- still attainable, still in front of them!

I feel strongly about the subject. I said once or twice in the post -- and possibly a billion times in life  --  that my boys are worth far more than the sum total of their gross motor skills. Far far more.

But in all fairness, two sides of the desire-to-walk-with-Cerebral-Palsy-coin live in my house. And I would be negligent if I didn't tell you the other side.

Mason is my second born. A minute and a half after Benjamin, and a couple minutes before Claire, came the tiniest of our three. He weighed in at barely 2 pounds and required the most attention right off the bat. We had named him Mason after my amazing Daddy and I was petrified that Daddy would hold him in heaven before I got a chance to because his nurses wouldn't let us "disturb" him.

Thankfully, that all changed three days after the triplets' birth when Nurse Trish arrived back at work from a conference. She called me over to his little isolette and explained something called "kangaroo care" that she had been studying. Apparently studies showed that the smallest babies had been proven to thrive when placed in their diaper only inside the Mother's shirt, up against her chest -- skin-to-skin. Nurse Trish was willing to help Mason try it, if I was. I could not agree fast enough. This tiny little bitty baby who had struggled for three days to get enough oxygen and to regulate his body temperature, took a deep breath and began taking big breaths. His numbers were perfect the minute I buttoned my top. Perfect.

And with that discovery, this tiniest little peanut began to fight like mad. And 19 plus years later he is still fighting.

Benjamin, Mason in the middle, and Claire

Mason would distinguish himself as the triplet that needed to be fed first. The other two were patient waiters (Claire often had to be forced to eat.) but Mason demanded what he wanted when he wanted it. And with that same tenacity he would watch Claire. She would move to the toy she wanted and obviously that very much appealed to my tiniest peanut. He would work and pull and stretch. And he would repeat this process until he figured out how to commando crawl.

Mason was 15 months old before he was able to get up on all fours and crawl but he did it. And when the physical therapist brought out the little bitty reverse walker at 20 months old, he was ready to try. Well, I should clarify that -- he could crawl really really fast by that point. He wasn't completely interested in the walker, unless there were people clapping for him when he used it. Our therapist, dear Miss Lou Ann learned very quickly to take him to the hospital hallways where people were bound to see this cutie-patootie and cheer! it worked like a charm.

Physical Therapist Miss Lou Ann and Mason in the hospital corridor looking for his cheering section -- and his biggest cheerleader, Claire.

My point is this -- Mason wanted to move. Benjamin was talking in paragraphs -- he was advanced with his speech and he recognized it has his own strength. But Mason was using all his energy to move. He was driven. And though he DID talk, his energy was far more focused on his movements.

While Benjamin watched his sister moving, walking, jumping, climbing with an almost why-bother mentality, Mason would watch her hungrily. He worked to emulate her actions. He wanted to run and jump like she did.  When she climbed the ladder to our fort (a play structure that came with our first home purchase), he tried also. He worked his little legs, he pulled, he stretched and then he sat back and just stared at the structure so long that I almost swooped in to distract him.

But then, this 3-year-old did an extraordinary thing -- he climbed up the slide to get to the fort.

Mason was determined. Mason was driven. And Mason was a kid who set goals and went after them. Even if it meant taking a less-conventional route.

Today, Mason walks with cuff crutches -- we call them Power Sticks (because what three year old wants CRUTCHES....but when you love the Power Rangers....and your Mom convinces you that these sticks will give you the power to walk....well, the name stuck!).

He is a sophomore at Millsaps College -- a small liberal arts school known for its academic rigor. He of course has made all As and one lone B in his three semesters there so far. He is a student body senator. A resident assistant in his dorm. And joined a fraternity.

Because Mason is worth far more than the sum total of his gross motor skills.

And so even though these two boys were born a minute and a half apart and raised exactly the same way -- they placed different expectations on themselves. They set different goals.

But please hear me loud and clear -- Benjamin's contentment in rolling through life was not a matter of goal-setting. No. His physical limitations are considerable. I have always been so grateful for his personality and spirit of acceptance. He is a force to be reckoned with and has huge goals and dreams -- he just recognized early that walking did not need to be part of that. And when I caught his vision, I was better able to knock down barriers to help him reach HIS goals.

Mason is also committed to making the world -- and his corner of it -- a better place. But his physical limitations were less and he recognized that he wanted to move. So he did. So he does.

I could not be more proud. I fairly beam with pride in both my boys and both of amazing girls! And really, the take away is the same for them: my job as Mom is not to help the kids reach my goals. My job is to help knock down the walls that get in the way of them doing the work to meet their own goals.

Believe me, my sledgehammer is well-worn and I keep it handy.

Carol - The Blessings Counter