When is parenting the hardest?

I put a Facebook post up on my personal profile this morning.  It resonated with other parents, as parenting struggles tend to do.  So I’m going to elaborate on my post here, and we are going to clearly ignore the fact that I have not written on my blog in 2 1/2 years.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, parenting babies and toddlers is the toughest thing I’ve ever done.  Just to give myself a little creditability in this area, I have four children, they are currently 6, 9, 15 and 18, so I’ve undeniably done the baby/toddler thing a few times.  Two of those four had significant developmental delays including autism, so to say life was hard sometimes is a minor understatement.  We are talking about the kind of hard where you are hiding behind a sofa in the corner of your living room (hiding from a two year old, mind you) and whispering on the phone to your husband, with your serious voice, “Come home now or I’m walking out that front door and I don’t think I’ll ever return.”  True story.  Those years after our last two were born were tough.  Obviously, I’m still here, I didn’t walk out that day, nor would I ever, because being a mom has always been my biggest dream and baby, I’m living the dream!

I’m a mom in my 40s now and I’ve told many up and coming parents, those that are just entering the ride, to hang on tight, because the baby and toddler years are the hardest years.   You are physically exhausted, this is a level of sleep deprivation that you never knew existed.  Your brain turns to mush and you answer questions 45 minutes after they are asked and think you gave an immediate response.   You walk around in a zombie-like trance and wonder why you are standing in the closet with the orange juice in your hand.  You gave up changing your shirt three shirts ago and are just at peace with the spit up on your shoulder.  You’ve decided that the smashed banana in your hair is better than vomit, so you’ll just leave it. And we haven’t even discussed your inability to shower, brush your teeth or pee!  It’s rough.

BUT, I’m going to have to take it back.  I was terribly wrong, the baby and toddler years aren’t the hardest years.  It’s the teenage years.   And not for the reasons one may think.  I remember being told about how obnoxious teenagers can be, how they don’t communicate, they keep secrets and they grunt responses.  But it’s not hard because your kids become rebellious, snarky, ego-centric versions of themselves once they hit 13.  Honestly, that doesn’t happen to a severity that people tell you it does.  Teenagers are rad!  They can have intelligent conversations with you, they are fun and funny, they have unique perspectives, they are courageous and do amazing things.  The reason it’s so stinking hard is because they’ve reached an age where it is no longer an option to tether them to your hip, this is seriously frowned upon.  You can’t hold them in a rocking chair for two hours, you can’t love on them with hugs and kisses all day long.   The biggest kick in the gut though, is that you can’t protect them like you once could.  They just walk out there into a messy, scary world, and they take your heart with them, and you don’t know how to keep them safe and keep the bad stuff away.  They are literally out there on their own, with their oh-so-few years of wisdom and a whole lot of hopes.  So what do you do?  Personally, I hit my knees and I pray, I pray like I’ve never prayed before.   I also say, “Make good choices.  I love you.”, each time time they walk out the door, but if I’m being honest, that’s more for me than it is for them.

And when they get hurt, because let me warn you, they will get hurt in ways you never imagined, you shatter into a million pieces.  Other kids will say stuff to them that will feel like it’s breaking them, they will have their hearts set on a specific goal and it won’t be achieved, they will fall in love and that other person won’t feel the same way about them, they will face physical pains, they will likely face an existential crisis and you don’t even know how to guide them because you’re scrambling to even understand how they ended up here.  So while you are busy shattering into a million pieces on the inside, you will find a way to remain stoic and you will look like you know what to do and that you are in control.   And when your bedroom door shuts at night you will fall into a heap of tears and heartache and beg God to show you how to help them.  Sometimes the strength it takes to help your kids will feel like the most impossible task you’ve ever faced.  You will yearn for peace and understanding, wisdom and knowledge, patience and clarity.  Their hurts are the kind we wished they’d never face.  Remember (or maybe you are still there) holding that wee babe and looking at their sweet, sleeping face and thinking, “Nothing in this world is going to get through me, I am fierce and I will keep all harm away.”  Now they stand before you, at 15, 17 or 19, and begin to tell you what they are facing and you feel the blood drain from your body and you can’t stop that feeling of failure, because you didn’t do it.  You didn’t protect them from the big, mean world.  And you look at them and all you can remember is what their soft, baby skin felt and smelled like when they were 2 months old and you become enraged that anything in this world would come against them, all the while battling your guilt (and we all know that doesn’t help anyone).

Yes, I was definitely wrong when I thought those baby and toddler years were the toughest.   I miss the cuddles, I miss the goopy hands that were always grabbing for me, I miss when the biggest ouchies were a scratched knee and a sibling taking a toy. Now the ouchies are matters that are much more complex and much harder to resolve and I’d do anything to have those teenagers at my side daily, so I can guard them.  And trust me, they go from 2 to 15 at the speed of light.   My advice to parents is to love on them, at any age, love, love and love some more.  Listen more than you lecture, understand more than you judge, hug more than you discipline and always forgive.  Why?  Because they mimic us, they watch us and I need their forgiveness as much as they need mine.  And parents, we are in this together, lean on those people around you that have already walked down this path you are on, they know where the curves are.

My two oldest. On the left my son was 5 and my daughter was 2. On the right, they are now 15 and 18.

The Single Most Important Tool to Help You Achieve Financial Greatness

Before I tell you about the “tool” that will help you, I want to share how we recently lost our way in the financial forest.  I wish I could claim ignorance as the reason for being lost, but I graduated from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University about 15 years ago, so I definitely know how to stay on track.  What happened for us was summer arrived, we were lulled into complacency by it’s warm sunshine and schedule free days. One day after the oldest two were out of school we hit the road (literally), driving nearly 6000 miles on our road trip to visit family in Indiana.  We went on vacation and so did our budgeting.  Then my husband took me on a marvelous trip to Maui at the beginning of September as a delayed celebration of my 40th birthday. IMG_3590  And let me tell you, Maui was exquisite, stunning scenery, delectable foods, amazing adventures and we came home with empty wallets and an empty “emergency” fund, because, obviously, having fun in Maui was a dire emergency.   We were home about one week before the inevitable money fight between husband and wife began.  Because let’s face it, money fights do not exist when there is abundant money being used wisely, they happen when money is exiting the building like it’s on fire.

Fortunately, my husband and I are seasoned money fight people and quickly knew that a sit down, let’s reign it all in and make a plan meeting was in order.  Our meeting was Sunday afternoon, we gingerly navigated through the “where did you spend that extra money” and “why didn’t we pay that off” questions.  But relief came once our budgeted spending amounts were decided upon jointly and we were once again telling our money where to go instead of chasing after it.   So is that the most important tool? The budget? Well, yes, technically…….but my favorite aspect of budgeting is cash envelopes.  These things are a piece of art.  They make the budget work, without them the budget is nothing more than scrap paper.  Because when you look and see that you spent $2,125.29 on groceries in August you begin to feel the air around you get thin, your fingers start to tingle and your heart beats a pace you’ve never known, not even after Shaun T kicks your butt in an Insanity workout.  How?  How did we eat over two thousand dollars of food?  Food rations for the children starts to cross your mind.  We feel the need to raise chickens and have a cow in our suburban back yard.  But honestly, we already knew that we can feed our family of six on $300 per week, but we were winging it all summer, buying what we wanted, when we wanted it without a care in the world, nor a plan.  This is where the most important tool, in my humble opinion, comes into play. Put that $300 in an envelope and that’s all you have for groceries for the week, so guess how wisely you start to shop?  Yep, you are instantly grounded and paying attention to those weekly grocery ads you usually delete out of your email.  You suddenly say no to the Costco cheesecake and dark chocolate covered blueberries.

The budget is first, it is king, it is the kind, yet firm ruler of the coinage.  However, those blessed envelopes make all the difference and are my sense of peace when lost in the financial forest.  I can rest in the fact that we will find the path out if we are faithful in using cash.  In wrapping this up, here are my words of wisdom, first if you haven’t had the immense pleasure of discovering Dave Ramsey, do it…..do it now.  Second, put those budgeted cash categories into envelopes, it’s an amazing feeling to know you are following your plan to financial freedom.  Third, my gift to you is a lovely cash envelope template.  I used to pay a pretty penny for pre-made envelopes, which seemed counterintuitive, and the plain mailing envelopes were too simple for me, I needed the register.    I made this template, Cash Envelopes, so I could print my own envelopes any time I wanted very inexpensively and use cute paper, because after all, we have four girly girls in this house, we have cute paper everywhere.  Enjoy it, use it, share it.  And I wish you abundance in your financial journey.

 

Click here for template:  Cash Envelopes

Receiving the Autism Diagnosis

I was reading a post today on Facebook from a mom who is going through the process of trying to find answers to the troubles they are having with their toddler. It took me back a few years, to a time in our lives that I felt like life was swallowing us up.

The Backstory

Our third child was born in April of 2009. J, as we all call her, was a stunning baby girl. Born into this world without complications or issue. Within her first few weeks, I noticed that she was different from her older two siblings. She was so unbelievably fussy. The nights were the worst, she’d wake up crying every hour or so and nothing calmed her, she’d nurse and then cry some more. We staggered through this infancy stage with her, doing the best we could with our sleep-deprived selves. J hit most milestones, enough that I wasn’t concerned about development or such, she never rolled much, but she did it, so I figured she hit the mark. As we approached her 18th month I was concerned, J wasn’t saying any words, just making a few sounds, nor was she trying to imitate words or actions. She wasn’t following any simple instructions and seemed overwhelmed by her environment. When I would voice my concerns to others, they would brush it off and say things like, “That’s just kids, they all move along at a different pace.” I remember feeling foolish, I mean there wasn’t anything terribly alarming going on, because she was healthy and interactive with us. So we kept living life.

Once my girl reached two years old, my momma instincts kicked in and I knew that things were not right. The speech was not coming along she was not putting two words together, let alone a short sentence, she was terrified of upward movement even jumping, she played independently not with others, she didn’t seem to comprehend anything we were saying, the behavioral issues were extreme, there was screaming, kicking, throwing objects at others and nothing calmed her. At J’s two-year-old well child visit I explained my concerns to our family doctor and he too was concerned and suggested that developmental evaluations needed done.

Therapy Begins

Very quickly after the initial calls were made to the names given to us, our home was descended upon with various professionals, there to help us find answers. Mind you, I was in my last month of pregnancy with our fourth child at this time, so life was feeling crazy.   It was quickly established that we had developmental delays going on with J. She scored low across the board on every evaluation done, except hearing and eyesight they were both spot on.   So therapy began, J was under the care of 4 different providers, all coordinating together, working to help “catch her up” and to calm her. The one thing I poignantly remember during that time, which is causing tears to spill over even now, was J’s sensory issues.   Texture, sounds, certain movements or a tone of a voice would inundate and overwhelm her and she would flail, bang her head on the floor, scream and cry. It was horrible for her; it was horrible as a mother to watch. I could see how something that others wouldn’t even notice would feel like a personal attack to her. One of our wonderful therapists worked with us to develop a safe spot for J. After many trials and errors the spot that clicked for J was my lap, so when she would have an episode I would sit cross-legged on the floor with J on my lap and I would wrap my arms around her little body and squeeze firmly, reassuring her that it’s okay, while I rocked swiftly back and forth murmuring the words, “Calm body, calm body, calm body.” The phrase “calm body” was one we would use for years to come, as it was therapeutic for J. It still hurts my heart to remember how out of control her little body felt in my arms, how distraught she was.

For the next year, we had an average of 4 to 5 appointments per week for therapy sessions, and in some areas we saw improvement, some we saw declines. Speech improved through techniques like sign language and visual aids. Behavior was one of our biggest challenges, normal disciplinary techniques were completely ineffective with J, they just frustrated her more and caused more stress for us. I remember one day, I was sitting on the sofa, nursing our then 9-month-old baby girl, and J had finished the drink in her sippy cup, which was cause for instant rage for her. She took the sippy cup and threw it at me as hard as she could, I was not able to move quick enough and it hit me square in the temple. I sat there bawling holding our infant daughter. I was crying because it physically hurt, but also I didn’t know what to do with my emotions, I was angry, I was overwhelmed, I felt inadequate to mother J and I had three other children who needed me too. It was a harsh moment for me, a place of darkness, I couldn’t see a solution and I felt scared.

By the age of three, J was placed in a developmental preschool through the public school system on an Individualized Education Program, otherwise known as an IEP. For any out there that need a definition (because I certainly did) there is a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. This law mandates that the public school system establish an IEP for every child receiving special education services.   Well, that was a gut punch, we didn’t see our daughter as “special-ed”, but that’s the category she fell into because she wasn’t meeting standards, she couldn’t even pull her pants up by herself at the age of three, nor understand simple commands. At three, she had the comprehension of an 18 month old. Little did we know how that preschool would become a place of success for J, the educators there were incredible. We saw the biggest strides with J during her 2 ½ years there.

The Diagnosis

At J’s three-year-old well child visit our family doctor, once again, had a recommendation. He felt it would be prudent for J to be evaluated by a well-respected developmental pediatrician in our area. The wait to be seen by him was long, but it was well worth it. He has been a great resource in helping us navigate through everything and see clearly, so that J is well cared for. So during the summer of 2012, J was three-ish, and had already had her first few months in the developmental preschool when we met with the specialist. The appointment lasted hours, he poured over all her history and medical records, he listened to me explain her three years of life thus far and from there he suggested a couple more in-depth evaluations. At our next visit with him, this doctor sat there with such compassion as he very delicately delivered the news to me that according to everything he has reviewed and his life’s work in this area, that our daughter has a spectrum disorder. I sat there like, what? “What does that even mean?” I asked. He then proceeds to tell me that I may know it better as autism. I felt my world come crashing down upon me at that moment. The next 45 minutes felt like a blur as he explained what this meant. I remember a few key points in the conversation, things I didn’t expect to hear, like, “Mainstream schooling may not be a good option.” Or, “She will need to continue with most of her therapies for an extended period of time, if not most of her life.” There was this one, “Do you have a good support system?  The years ahead are going to be fraught with challenges, and you will need people around you.” And this one, a favorite of mine, “You will need to keep a watchful eye on your marriage, the divorce rate among parents with special needs children is astronomically high.”

For those of you that have had your children diagnosed with autism, you may have experienced what I’m about to explain, for those that haven’t I’ll shed some light on the process your brain (and heart) goes through upon receiving this diagnosis. Not that this applies to everyone, but I think many can relate. My first feeling was that of grief, grief for the life my daughter would have lived without this autism diagnosis. Because we were no longer facing developmental delays that would go away, we were facing “a disorder”, her brain was wired different and would never be the same as a neurologically typical person. I felt sorrow in the first 24 hours following the diagnosis. And, if I’m being honest, there was a lot of self-pity going on. I am human, a flawed one at that, and I was struggling to see beyond the diagnosis.

On the second day, there was a sense of relief, because we knew. We knew what was going on now and we could do something. Right?! We could address it. We could figure this out. I bought every book I could get my hands on downloading them to my Kindle, I devoured blogs and websites, I was going to learn about autism. I was going to fight this and conquer! (Hahaha, yeah, there was some arrogance going on there. Be forgiving, it’s a lot to absorb for a momma.)

Then came day three, and every day since then. These days are the awesome days. It was when I realized that autism was not a life sentence, the word disorder shouldn’t even be used to describe someone on the autism spectrum, it wasn’t something I, or my husband, needed to conquer.  What changed? Well, I learned from the experience of others, other mothers who had been where I had. But more importantly I learned from adults with autism. What did I learn? That everything was going to be just fine. My girl, my love, she was born with super powers and it was up to me to discover them, because they were there, they were hidden under the speech delay, hidden under the behavior problems, hidden behind her sensory processing issues and hidden behind her social awkwardness.

Photo credit: Urban Chic Photography

Photo credit: Urban Chic Photography

Let me tell you, it took no time at all to find her super powers once we looked. This girl, Miss J, she’s amazing, she’s artistic, she can remember anything (ANYTHING, don’t try to pull one over on her), she loves to entertain, she is intelligent beyond her years, she is intuitive, meaning she can recognize that you are sad or hurting and she will stroke your arm and love you, she is loyal, she is fierce and passionate, she sees the world from a perspective of beauty.  Out of all four of my children, J is the one who will say, “Momma! Momma! Stop. Look up. Do you see all those stars, isn’t it beautiful?!” In those moments my eyes fill with tears and I look up to the heavens and I say, “Thank you! Thank you for this blessing, thank you that you entrusted her to me, thank you that I get to call her my daughter.”

In Closing

Are we fortunate ones?   Yes. We are. Our J is what they classify as high-functioning autistic. She is verbal, she has learned to do all the normal things any child her age can do, she has toilet trained, she eats well and she now interacts very well in social settings. Many parents are facing challenges MUCH larger than ours.   Our story is not the story of others. We’ve also made some unconventional choices along the way. We felt that J was overwhelmed by all her therapies and over a year ago we withdrew her from all services. It was a good move for her; she was over-stimulated by the busy schedule. Eight months ago we withdrew J from mainstream schooling and the IEP as well, it was not the right environment for our girl.   Although she enjoyed school and being around the other children, her outbursts and aggression increased after she started kindergarten. Within a month of being home schooled she was calmer, more well-adjusted. We have also researched and put into practice some treatments that are considered alternative. Things such as the use of essential oils, removing gluten from her nutrition plan, homeopathy and Brain Core Therapy, all of which have given us measurable success without any risks or side effects.

Today, as I write this blog, it’s hard to remember the mother I was three years ago. I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learned, I’ve fallen and gotten back up, I’ve had bad days (heck, I’ve had bad months), but I’ve had really good days and I am grateful for this journey. As I type, I listen to my spectrum kiddo explain to her little sister where Idaho is on the globe in my office and then she proceeds to show her where Santa lives, followed by where grandma and grandpa in Indiana live and where grandma and grandpa in Texas live. Yeah, we are going to be just fine. J is going to live an amazing life and I’m totally cool with this neurologically a-typical kid.

Love and light to all of you parents who may be facing a similar journey.

Kim

Turning 40, a letter of thanks

Turning 40 for me was a pretty big hurdle.  I’m not sure why.   30, however, was awesome, I was newly divorced, taking control of my life and I felt ready to tackle anything.  40, not so much.  And it’s not for the superficial reasons one may think bothered me.  I’ve got grey hair and laugh lines and veins, but I’m good with all that.  I think it was more about facing mortality, statistically speaking, life is probably half over and I’m not half done yet.

My husband did the rock star thing and invited 50 or so of our nearest and dearest to a party to celebrate my 40 years.  It was a catered, dinner party, complete with Frank Sinatra music and fancy dresses.  (For real, he’s a good man, a REALLY good man.)  It was a beautiful night, one that I will cherish always.  After the party I went home and wrote a letter to everyone who attended the party.  My intention was to mail the letter with my thank you cards.  But being the loser that I am, I never sent the thank you cards out, and for real, how do you recover from that?  It was four months ago, can I still send them?  Not sure.  I am going to share my letter with you and hopefully some, if not all, of those that attended will see my words.


March 28, 2015

I turned 40 today.  For those of you who have spent time around me during the last couple of weeks, you know that I have struggled with this birthday.  And I humbly apologize for the random outbursts of tears you have had to endure.  40 does not bother me because of the grey hairs that highlight my otherwise brunette hair or the wrinkles that deepen with each passing year.  40 bothers me because of how fast I got here, and I know the next 40 will go even faster.  So as I sit here pondering what this milestone means to me, I want to try to grasp the magnitude of how wonderful my life is right now, in this moment.  

I have friends, and by friends I mean people that I can’t imagine going through life without.  Some I have known for what feels like a lifetime and others we are in those early steps of knowing one another.  But regardless of the history, know that you are my people, my chosen family.  I have parents and step parents, four incredible people who show me unconditional love and support day in and day out.  They are pillars of strength and kindness.  I have my extended family, some of which I share blood, some of which had to accept me when I married into your clan.  You are a part of my world, something special that enriches me.  My four children, they are the heart that beats inside of me.  They teach me daily how to be a better person and they fill my life with joy and laughter.  My husband, it is hard to find the words to express the love I have for this man.  He has stood beside me when the ground beneath us was shaking and he has done so with love, compassion, forgiveness and strength.  

All the people who share in my journey, make this life amazing.  Yes, turning 40 is kind of worse than the flu, in my opinion, but having all of you with me, celebrating, eating, drinking, laughing made it way easier.  And I think that’s the lesson I’m taking away from this milestone birthday…..aging, getting older, that is unchanging, it is going to happen, day by day, but what makes life beautiful and downright breathtaking is the relationships, the friendships, the family and all the people I am fortunate enough to have along with me.

So I thank you, with heartfelt gratitude, I thank you for being a part of my life.


If you find yourself creeping up on the big 4-0, I hope you find time to reflect on all that is perfect in your world, I hope you have a crazy big party to celebrate and I hope you have peace in knowing the experience, wisdom and fortitude 40 brings is worth the wrinkles and grey hairs.  Many blessings.

XOXO, Kim

The night I turned 40.

The night I turned 40.

Hello world!

Having a freak out moment, because here I am, introducing myself to the world as a blogger.  I have written my whole life.  I love writing.  However, nobody has ever read my stuff, besides my dear husband.   Yeah sure, I have a Facebook account and I totally update it at an annoying level, but that’s about it.  So I am stepping through my fear and sharing myself with you.  Turning 40 will do that to you, it will make you evaluate everything and you will do things you never thought you’d do.  This page will be random, like my brain.  I will share experiences, thoughts, opinions, tips, recommendations, maybe a recipe or two and whatever life presents me.  My commitment, to myself and to you, is that I will keep it real, I won’t just show you the flattering side of life, I’ll show you what goes on when no one is looking too.

Introductions…..my name is Kimberly.  I am 40 years young.  I am deeply in love with my best friend and he happens to be my husband too.  I am a mother to four beautiful souls.  My family and I reside in the magnificent state of Idaho.  However, I was born and raised in northern Indiana.  For more detailed info, feel free to click on the about tab.

And off we go!  I look forward to the journey ahead.

Facetune