Five Zinger Years

Dear Z,

Last Monday you turned 5 years old. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this little fact that you truly are a big girl. I look back often at your pictures from your first year, and that Dadda and I have been trusted with your life still overwhelms me in the best possible way.

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Look at that smile! Those peeking teeth. You looking ever so thoughtful just after you were born. Standing! You were an expert walker before you turned a year old, and now you strut around like you know where you’re going all the time. Like you own the place. This was the most sleepless year of my life, but thankfully you took to sleep training pretty quickly, and we’re just now feeling we’ve caught up.

You continued learning and growing your second year of life. You were fearless. You had an uncanny awareness of everything in your space. Your energy never seemed to run out, and we were learning that you needed some solid time with your favorite playgrounds and toys and books and splash pads to get you tired enough for the rest you needed.

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It’s true that most photos I included in these collages you look pretty dang happy, but it’s important to point out that you cried and were frustrated a lot, too. We shared these emotional states, because we’re trying so hard to learn each other’s language. For the most part we were able to figure out that most of your needs were pretty simple. As long as you were fed and dry and got sleep and enough play, you stayed pretty happy.

I love how much you love to play. I love how much you love to explore, even if it means that we’re constantly chasing after you and telling you what is and isn’t safe. Is this not a major part of childhood?

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In your third year, we pursued our suspicions about some developmental delays you were showing. We took you for an autism screening at the University of Utah, and they gave you an official diagnosis. Which, honestly, was the best news, because that meant that we could take full advantage of resources to help you communicate and develop in other ways.

You started ABA therapy the July after you turned 3 years old, and it has made such a difference. And you have been attending an autism preschool, where they reinforce a lot of the skills you’re learning in therapy. AND Dadda and I try to keep up with your programs and encourage all the little ways you’re learning to do so many things. These skills will continue to open the world to you, and you will get to explore all the opportunities available that accentuate your strengths and give your life meaning. This is so very exciting and completely terrifying.

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What’s so crazy about these years of growth is so much happens with you physically and mentally and emotionally. As you learn and grow, you’re showing signs of you really knowing who you are. You have a very Z personality; you have definite preferences; a way of speaking; a way of showing affection and manipulating people in your cute way to get what you want. Guess what? We’ve been there, kid. We know those ways, and honestly, some of us have never grown out of those ways.

We have two dogs, but the chiweenie, Sia, and you are true buds. She is your first dog, and you two have a special trust that I can’t quite describe. That makes me smile.

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Two weeks ago we went to Florida, and you got to go to Disney World. I dare say you were the most well-behaved big girl in all of the Magic Kingdom on the first day, and at Hollywood Studios the second day. You also got to go to the beach for a little bit, and you also loved every single moment of that experience. The way your senses process your world intrigue me. Just what does the water on your skin and the sand between your toes make you feel?

This past Friday I attended an autism conference at Utah Valley University. The keynote speaker stated as a general rule, the age of autistic people is about 2/3 the age of neurotypical people. In your life, this rings true that you’re about where most 3 1/2 year olds are in terms of speech and social skills. At your yearly wellness check up last Tuesday, you’re in the 60th percentile of kids your height and the 70th percentile of kids your weight. You’re gonna be taller than both your parents in a few years, but that’s where comparisons end. You’ve begun a path to your own life, and you’ll get to a point where you’ll make some pretty important choices that will shape your life the way you want. It won’t matter how other people your age are doing compared to you. Actually, age doesn’t matter at all. Live your life. You do you.

One of the biggest blessings we have from your supposed delays is that we get to cherish these extended development stages. We get to enjoy your childhood for longer: that curiosity, the amazement at the world; the hugs, the smiles, the wonder. Maybe these will continue on to your adult years, but we’re going to breathe it all in right now, in this very moment. We are present for this, this glorious moment of your turning and being 5 years old.

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We love you, big girl.

Love,

Mom

 

Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

Preschool – First Day

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Look at that photo. She looks so depressingly grown up. She does look pretty confident, though, which I love. Like she’s saying, don’t mess with me, mofos. I’ve been so nervous about today, Z’s first day of preschool. She had no idea what was going on. Reilly and I told her that she was going to a new school, and that she would ride a bus, and that she would have fun teachers. I made her try on her backpack several times yesterday so that it would be familiar to her and she would think it’s hers. Both Reilly and I like this backpack, but I don’t think Z cares very much right now.

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The day dragged on, and Z getting up at 6:30 didn’t help. We had breakfast and played and watched a few music videos. We hung out and cuddled and sang songs together. I reminded our little girl that she was going to school today, but I doubt she understood. She probably understands now that she’s there.

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It’s so weird thinking of our 3-year-old riding a bus. I mean, that’s what big kids do. Yesterday I emailed her teacher asking if an adult would sit with her on the bus to school. I totally stressed out about it. I know that if someone’s not sitting beside her, she would want to get up and wander around. But the teacher reassured me an aide would help Z with the whole bus experience. The teacher also said that everyone would make Z’s transition to the school as smooth as possible.

That helped me feel a little better, but just a little.

Grandma sent a text saying to give her a big hug and tell her she’s going to do fantastic. And that’s what I did.

Though the day seemed to drag, the time for the bus to arrive sneaked up on us. I helped Z put on her shoes, and we walked out to the curb. I sat on the ground and pulled her to me so she could sit on my lap. I held her tight.

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The bus pulled up to the curb. The door opened, and the aide stepped off. She said hello to Z and handed me a form to complete and explained some stuff. She helped Z onto the bus and guided her to a seat on the same side as our house. I took a picture of the bus, and the aide helped Z wave at me as the bus pulled away. I smiled and waved back.

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I went back into the house and cried. I’m still sort of crying.

She’ll be home soon, though. I hope she did okay.

Three Zinger Years

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Dear Zinger,

Happy third birthday, my love! I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking of what to write you for your birthday. I thought I could plan something elaborate and fun and recap the last year of your life with a flourish, because your third birthday is a really big deal. The planning didn’t go so well, but I’ll still reminisce this past year with you. You have grown so much, and the world anticipates all the new things you have yet to discover.

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Dadda and I worry about you all the time. We’ll keep worrying about you as the world continues to open up to you. That’s what parents do. We wonder how you’ll play with other kids, communicate your wants and needs. You do express yourself well; all it takes is one look at your irresistible face, and we can tell what you’re feeling.

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You want to be independent so badly. You’ll climb the countertops to get what you want. If you need help with it, you’ll bring it to us, at which time we realize you’ve climbed the countertop, which is a big no-no. But you’re stubborn and persistent. These characteristics will ultimately prove valuable to you in this world, if you use them the right way.

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Lola and Poppy are in town to celebrate your birthday, and you’re so eager to show them how much you know. Just last night you led Lola to the bathroom, where you brought the iPad, then brought the stool to the toilet, put your potty seat on the toilet and had Lola help you with your pants. You then sat on the toilet and went potty. Lola was so very impressed.

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Only recently have you started opening the refrigerator to retrieve one of your favorite foods, yogurt. You’re getting stronger and more resourceful, and if there’s a way to do something without our help, you’ll figure it out.

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A few months ago, we bought a house with a back yard and lots of space to play. You seem to enjoy it. You’ve found your little niches where you love to play, but it seems that you can fall asleep anywhere, which is so convenient.

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For some reason, you’ve gotten a lot more energetic as you’ve gotten closer to 3. You run, skip, jump, and dance so much more. Jumping on the couch, jumping on the bed. Running from one room to another. Going down your slide while watching one of your favorite movies. Climbing the fence, throwing rocks. Spinning and spinning wherever you are. You’ve also gotten a lot more curious in your old age, and it’s so much harder to keep up with you.

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You’re also putting a lot more stuff in your mouth that isn’t supposed to go there. Just the other day I barely saw you eat a giant booger before I could do anything about it. It really grossed me out, and we need to do better at catching you eating prohibited things. We actually need to be better at teaching you not to eat those things. Ah, parenting. Thanks so much for your patience, little one.

 

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We love how you’re participating more at school (daycare). We love how excited you get when you want to show us something. We love how often you sing and how you recognize the songs we sing to you. We love that you like watching music videos, how Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and ‘NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” are among your top favorites lately.

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So much is happening in the world. So much legitimately weird stuff. You’re oblivious to most of it, but we do want to teach you how to navigate all the weirdness in a constructive way. We want to teach you how to give beauty and goodness to the world. I know you’re only three, but you’re actually already three. You’re growing too fast. I would like to stop time just for a little bit, just for today, to really sit back and enjoy remembering the past three years with you.

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We’re having a party for you today: balloons, yummy food, family and friends. Toys and clothes and everyone cherishing your life. We hope you like it. Thank you for bringing us so much joy, for teaching us, for making us love more deeply and way beyond what we originally thought our abilities were.

This next year will be very exciting, and we cannot wait to live it with you.

Happy birthday.

Love, mom

30 Months

Dear Z,

Can I have a few minutes?

Something sad happened today. The youngest child of two of my high school friends passed away. They posted a photo of their daughter on Facebook. The little one was in a wheelchair, smiling. Sending her off with a farewell full of both sorrow and joy.

I never met this impressive little girl, but I know my friends. Over the years they shared photos and let us get to know of their daughter’s fighting spirit and cheerful personality. I stared at the one photo today and wept. I commented with condolences, trying to be strong for these friends who have to be so heartbroken right now.

Before today’s photo, my friends posted photos of their other children posing with their sister. There was so much love, and I was hoping and praying so hard for her to pull through. It was not meant to be. I am grateful to have seen these precious last moments of her life, so full of joy and compassion and love. Her family surrounding her, cherishing their time left with her in mortality.

At this moment I’m thinking of bedtime. You know the routine: go potty, change into an overnight diaper, brush teeth, say prayers. Dadda gives you a big kiss goodnight, and I lie with you for a few minutes as you wind down for sleep.

Usually you take my hand and lead me to your toddler bed. I lie down, and you lie beside me. The soft purple and pink beams of your night light roll in a small circle on the ceiling, and Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” plays softly in the background.

We talk for a little bit. I ask about your day; I describe mine. Sometimes one of your legs rests on top of me; sometimes we hold hands.

This is my favorite part of the day.

When I try to get up, you grab my hand or hold my head down to make sure I stay with you.

A few more minutes.

A lot of people consider turning 30 years old a major milestone in their lives. This week you turned 30 months.

You’re getting taller.

More observant.

More opinionated.

You tolerate a crowd of children, but most of the time you’d rather play alone. You’ve shown this numerous times at daycare and in the church nursery.

We won’t force you to make friends. You might be a lot like me in this regard. I either reach out, or I don’t. I either reciprocate friendly gestures, or I don’t.

I hope that you become better than I am. For that to happen, I need to be better than I am.

I told you about these friends tonight, as we lay in your little bed, trying to sleep.  I was blinking back tears in the darkness. I told you my friends were sad, that you would have loved their daughter. I squeezed you a little tighter, a little longer, hoping the embrace somehow would reach my friends.

Thirty months.

As we snuggle every night, I think about this, how the time passes. I dread the moment when you’ll no longer want me lying beside you, talking about our day. You’ll hurry me out of your room instead of getting me to stay. I will yearn to find warmth and comfort in the pride I have for our wonderful daughter. Wonderful you.

This abstractness worries me. I equate it with a void of a little body beside me in a little bed. The absence of gazing through the dark at each other, eyes connecting the way only a parent and child’s can connect.

Until that moment, I will lie next to you. I will enjoy the space you occupy, the warmth you emanate, for as long as you let me.

Even if it’s just for a few more minutes.

Love, Mom

Two Zinger Years

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Winter is finally starting to retreat, and the warm weather calls to you every day. When you lead us to the door to go outside, we are excited to help you put your clothes on and let you roam the great outdoors. Two years ago, you were a little too comfy in Mama’s tummy, and we coaxed you so to join us in this wonderful and crazy world.

Two years later you’re taking it all in.

Last week we were watching The Good Dinosaur, and one particularly sad part made me cry. You came up to me leaned your forehead toward me. You do this when we want you to give us kisses. We say, “Can I have kisses?” and make a kissy face. But I didn’t do this last week. I was crying quietly and wiping away my tears because the dinosaur was saying goodbye to the human. When you gave me kisses with your forehead, it was hard not to cry even harder.

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In the past year while watching movies, you often laughed at sad parts, but now you also get sad, and you scream when the little girl Merida screams. You are developing a sensibility about other people. You are developing empathy.

At the same time, you don’t like being around a lot of people. You’re still unsure of other little kids. You recognize them; you acknowledge their existence, but you’d rather not interact with them. You appreciate the safe place of family and familiar friends. I’m grateful you cherish this, and I hope you continue to do so for as long as you can, because there will be moments when the world seems a little scary, and we won’t be able to hold your hand or pick you up and hold you. We want to teach you how to handle those moments well. We’ll still be there, just not in the same ways we are now. This makes me profoundly sad.

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But I am so exquisitely happy that it’s your birthday. It’s hard to believe two years have already passed, because I was just reminiscing about my constant need to pee, which seems was only yesterday. (Which it wasn’t.) You’re saying a few words here and there. You’re getting stronger and faster. More curious. More mischievous.

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You love light switches and doorknobs. And bubbles. Climbing to higher heights. Sprinting between rooms. Squealing during sacrament meeting. Reading your books. Singing your favorite songs; chilling out on the floor for a few moments before another burst of pure energy. Basking in the sunshine. Giving Mama and Dadda hugs and kisses. And mastering potty-training all the while.

We couldn’t be prouder. Or happier.

This crazy world sure needs more people like you.

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You are a joy and a blessing, dear daughter. Wonderful Z.

Happy birthday.

Love, Mom