Face of hope

Face of hope
Courtesy: TIffany Kay Photography

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanks and Giving

Our week started off a bit shaky - as many of you know, we had a little "scare" with Megs early in the week.  At first, I blamed it on storms.  It was very cloudy and rainy and Meagan was very out of sorts and extremely tired.  She is so pressure sensitive, we have learned that when weather changes, or pressure systems come in with warmer or colder weather, Meagan reacts, and typically reacts dramatically. We normally have a "weather day" as we call it, and then she's back to her bubbly self the next day.  I became concerned on Monday however when she seemed to not have recovered from the weather change.  She wouldn't wake up on her own, and when I woke her up for PT, as excited as she was to see Melissa, she was very tired and out of it.  She ended up even falling asleep in the middle of her PT session.  As the day went on, she was either fussy, sleeping, or when in a decent mood, extremely wobbly, off balance, and her speech was slurred. We were also watching a friend's child that day, and when the mother came to pick her up (who also knows Megs very well), and commented how Meagan was definitely not herself, I knew my concern was well founded.

Wouldn't wake up for anything

On Tuesday, we were hoping she would wake up better.  But she didn't.  She continued to be lethargic.  She asked to go to sleep constantly or to go to her crib.  This is unusual because she typically fights going to bed.  After being awake a total of 48 minutes on Monday, I became concerned Tuesday when she seemed to be following the same pattern.  I also noticed the catheter in her neck seemed extremely twisted and kinked.  I was hoping we weren't heading for another disconnection, as had just happened on her birthday in September.  She was acting awfully similarly to that day and it was worrisome.  Every time we tried to wake her, she simply asked to go back to bed.  Her tried and true test - Irish dance class - didn't even prove to work that night.  If she's just grumpy or tired, she will typically perk up for dance class and then crash afterwards.  But she didn't perk up much at all.  She was very tired and wanted to go to sleep or had slurred speech while trying to snuggle with the dance parents.  I was convinced we were heading in to the ER that night.  I went ahead and emailed "Elsa" Blair (Dr. R's PA) and she told us to come in the next day and they would work Meagan in the schedule.

Wednesday morning, I had to wake Meagan up again.  We headed in to Dr. R's office and he did a thorough exam.  He noticed Megs was not herself and was concerned as well.  Luckily, he was confident that her shunt had not disconnected but was concerned with her behavior.  After checking her out, Dr. R concluded that it was not a shunt emergency, but that she was on "high watch" because of past occurrences.  He told me he was on call the rest of the week and weekend so if she did not turn around in two days, to come in and he would expedite her to a CT or MRI and go from there.  As we went home I was hoping it was just a few off days or a kink in the shunt because we really didn't want Meagan to end up with another surgery.  When your normally active and funny child is mostly like the picture below, your radar definitely goes off and you hope for the best.

As Thursday approached, I was hoping for a turnaround.  We asked friends and family for some extra prayers and were hoping the previous 72 hours were just a few "brain days" and we would see our old Megs return. And thankfully, that's exactly what we got.  Meagan woke up in a good mood. Even better, she seemed more happy, more aware, and more like her old funny self. She was still extremely tired, but when the girls were having hot chocolate and she tried to grab their spoons and "feed them"... I knew Megs was on her way back.

Meagan was a lot better Thanksgiving Day - but still extremely tired.  
She slept for about 5 hours in the afternoon!

We had a great Thanksgiving day with my family and some of our dear dance friends, and Meagan continued to improve.  She still slept a bit more than normal, but not nearly as long, and when she was awake she was much more engaged with her surroundings.  As the weekend went on, we were having a wonderful time - spending time with my parents, taking the girls to the dance studio to practice, and starting to get out our Christmas decorations.

Tonight, as we got out the tree to put up, Meagan completely freaked out.  She was not ok with the change in our living room and had the biggest fit.  Not even coaxing her with lights or pretty colors, or even Pop Pop (whom she will usually do anything for) could get her out of her fears.  For some reason (which we will never know), Meagan did not like the tree.  She did not like the lights.  And she certainly didn't want any of it in her house.  Welcome to the life of a family with a child who has sensory issues.  So often we focus on her hydro complications or epilepsy set backs, other challenges slip through the cracks.  But sensory issues with Meagan are very real.  She doesn't handle transitions well, she doesn't like certain sensations or changes in her environment, and for a family of 7, this is very hard to deal with at times because we never know when she will react or become "unglued" from even a subtle change. And tonight was one of those moments.

As my husband continued to unpack the tree and put it up, Meagan was not having it! She was very upset and did not like it at all! It is times like these when although sad, you really do have to keep your sense of humor.  If we relished in every moment that Meagan did not enjoy, we would never enjoy anything as a family.  Sometimes, you just have a smile, or even giggle, and find the humor in the situation.  And that we did.  As sad as it was she didn't enjoy the tree going up, it was also funny to watch her come up with any excuse to get the tree out of the house.  The video below was Meagan's initial reaction to the tree being put up....

After seeing her reaction, we tried every avenue of distraction.  Focusing on the lights, the fun, Santa coming, my parents being here, etc... I sent the video to my brother with the humorous line of "well decorating should go great this year..." because last year she was already afraid of our Christmas figurines.  I know I have spoken highly of my brother before, but I just have to do it again.  Instead of just responding that it was cute, sad, or funny, he took time out of his night to record a sweet video for Meagan.  For some reason when he calls, Meagan responds - she races to the phone or to the sound of his voice and intently listens.  As I have noted before - these two are kindred spirits. :)  Nick encouraged Meagan to help with the tree and talked to her about how awesome it is in his video.  He spoke excitedly and lovingly, and helped to make it "no big deal"....he told Meagan to help her daddy and how fun having a Christmas tree would be.  I showed Meagan the video and she watched it intently.  She listened and hung on every word and really enjoyed seeing her uncle.  Then, after watching it, without the bat of an eyelash, Meagan scooted over to our tree all on her own! She approached it without fear.  She seemed to enjoy the lights, and even tried to touch the tree.  I turned on my camera and recorded her new attitude towards the tree to show my brother.  As you can see, when I even mentioned my brother's name, she scooted as fast as she could towards the phone - she probably thought he was on Facetime! For whatever reason, she connects with him - and in times like these, that is an even bigger blessing.  I forwarded the video on to my brother with a simple "Thank you."  Sometimes, all that can get her through a major sensory issue is a little encouragement from the guy who "gets her."

There is so much we have to be thankful for this year.  We have a wonderful family, special unique children, and unwavering faith that allows us to both endure and enjoy all of it.  We are so thankful that Meagan avoided another hospital stay and thankful for a trustworthy and knowledgeable doctor. We are thankful for understanding and for humor.  And we are thankful for the special occurrences that get Meagan through her random rough patches we don't know how to navigate.  What I have realized this year, is that Meagan truly helps us to be thankful everyday.  Even holding her on Monday as she whimpered and slept, I couldn't help but thank God for her presence.  I was so happy that even though it was a bad day, she was resting in my arms.  And today, I am even more thankful that she is back to her happy and spunky self.

We always know each day can bring the unexpected.  But with a child like Meagan, we are reminded of that a bit more.  Things can change in an instant and it's a constant battle to focus on the positive and what is versus what "could be."  But we are getting better at that, and feel blessed to have all been home together as a family this holiday week. We sincerely wish each and every one a blessed Thanksgiving week, and hope this Christmas season is starting off as it should - with remembering thanks for even the trying moments, and then giving thanks to God for others that get us through those times with love ..... and even a little humor.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

School rules

Well, the right school that is :)  We have ended the first two weeks at our new school and I must say - very impressed! Each child seems to be thriving where before we had thought or were told that they weren't capable of doing so.  It has been a joy to watch them flourish these last two weeks!

Reilly had to jump in to math of course mid year.  She was a bit nervous about this because she could never quite grasp the math fully at her old school.  After just a few days of some extra practice to grasp the concepts, she was right on board with all the new math, even though they were concepts she hadn't studied yet.  She said the teacher really explained everything well and she was even doing extra pages in her workbook!  Reilly brought home her first progress report and of course has kept her good grades - but even better was seeing her 98 in math. Yep...98.  Reilly had struggled with math at her old school - she had maintained a high B, but had to spend literally hours at home learning the concepts since many were thrown at her in school but not thoroughly taught for fluency.  This last year, we had received letters that she would need tutoring in math or she may not be passed on to the next grade in that subject (again, this is a girl who had a high B....she wasn't failing....but she needed tutoring)..... so needless to say, Reilly was EXTREMELY happy with her A in math and even happier that she understood the concepts.  Even with her missed sick days, the teacher worked with that, cut out the busy work and class papers, and only had her make up the tests or important lessons of the week. Her teacher told us when kids are sick they need to rest, get better, and concentrate on catching up on concepts and any missed tests - the daily work is not important to make up and would only bog her down.  That really helped her to stay on task and not be inundated with paper after paper that really weren't helping her grasp concepts.  I must say, I love Reilly's new teacher and her positive outlook.  I love that she seems to teach things thoroughly and works them hard during the day to make sure they really grasp concepts.  This helps Reilly to leave school feeling accomplished, and also having a full understanding of the lessons from the day - not to mention, it cuts down on the homework since things have been taught correctly during the school day.  Win - win.

Kaitlin is probably the biggest change for us overall.  She is thriving on learning, she is making a ton of friends, and she cannot wait to get on the bus to go to school each day.  This is a stark difference from the very subdued girl we started to see go downhill over the last year at her old school.   At her last conference, Kaitlin was told she has a "reading problem."  There was no back up testing, no official reading specialist who had done a proper evaluation, and I just wasn't seeing it at home.  So Kate left quite disappointed and held on to that notion that she had a "problem."  It especially bothered me this was said in front of her - an 8 year old shouldn't hear those things.  Conferences should really be adult only so free speaking can occur and teachers and parents can openly discuss a child's performance.  Now I had a child who was focused on her new "reading problem" and she was losing joy in something she used to love to do.  I encouraged her to just forget about that and try again at the new school and if something came up, we would properly diagnose it and get her help so it didn't impact her other academics.  Well what we have found couldn't be farther from the original opinion.  Kaitlin is reading extremely well.  She grasps concepts in comprehension and in recent nights, I have even had to go tell her to stop reading so she will go to sleep! Her teacher knew our concerns going in, and has said that so far, she sees no issues with Kaitlin and reading.  She said, quite the contrary - that Kaitlin is a smart and energetic girl. The teacher said of course Kaitlin is quiet most of the time, but that with some encouragement and light hearted fun, she is always able to make Kaitlin feel comfortable to read aloud in class.  Kate even told me she now likes to read out loud in class! (something she used to dread).  Kaitlin's new teacher even makes an effort to always emphasize how much of a blessing Kaitlin is to her class and her teaching experience.  Hearing things like that from the person that has your child all day at school is very reassuring that they are not only being taught well and excelling in academics, but that they are also loved - which is so important at those younger ages! I am so happy for Kate that she is loving school again and that she has a loving environment to fuel that curiosity for learning! And as if it could get any better - Kaitlin has her lunch at the same time as Meagan.  Can we say cute overload? :)

Anna is really enjoying making new friends.  She plays with any kid in her class and is very sweet.  She is excelling at all her subjects and judging by the comments coming home on her papers, her teacher really loves to read all her writing paragraphs and stories.  Anna is extremely creative and has shown this at her new school.  Her writing has improved drastically and now she even writes more than is required because she thinks it is fun.  She has been able to learn a lot, and is excelling at reading and math.  While doing this, she is also having a lot of fun.  Being only in first grade, the teacher likes to push them academically, but, she also has a classroom that moves a lot.  They still have centers and fun activities to break up the day because she said while they can start to learn "seriously" they won't take learning seriously if it's not fun.  She's correct! These kids are 6 and need a fun environment.  Anna's centers focus around math or numbers but in creative ways and really lets the kids get up and do different things during the day.  Anna loves this because as she told me, she is "not sitting and writing all day and getting cramps."  ha - the eyes of a 6 year old! I am really enjoying watching her blossom in her new classroom.

Last but not least, Meagan has absolutely blossomed at school.  If you remember the first week we did have tears - as expected - with me dropping her off and throughout her day as she would get distracted but then want mommy and cry.  I am happy to report that last week, we had no tears.  :)  Meagan absolutely LOVES school.  In just two weeks it has helped her with so much.  She is following the routine of the class, and is learning to follow outside instructions.  The teacher gives the students jobs like in any typical preschool, but incorporates them with therapies for the kids.  The students are shown a picture chart and they indicate (however they can whether it's a noise, pointing, or a look) which job they would like for the day.  For example, Meagan picked the flower last Tuesday.  This meant her job was to water the plants.  The teacher coordinated this job with Meagan's PT.  So when the PT came, they worked on walking to get the watering can, walking to fill it up, walking to the plants, and then standing while the PT helped Meagan water all the flowers.  On Wednesday, Meagan was line leader.  That day they worked on routine and structure - how Meagan had to stay with the class and stay in line, but lead when they would tell her to..etc.  And she wasn't confined to her chair either.  Meagan scoots on her bottom - so she leads on her bottom :)  This made me so happy to hear because that's Meagan - that's how she gets around and her teachers just incorporate it right along with the class.  They aren't worried about Meagan being in a chair or being "upright" like "other kids".... if Meagan needs to move in line, or move about the room, or other things, she does so - scooting along on her bottom.  And the other kids don't even bat an eyelash - that's just Meagan and in two short weeks, they get it and accept her for it.  That is inclusion.  And it's a wonderful thing.

Of course with preschool comes all the silly crafts - Meagan made a few this week.  She made a handpainted turkey to help decorate for Thanksgiving and also made hand cut outs that the teachers helped form in to a turkey hat.  It's quite cute - and quite hilarious.  Even these little tasks help Meagan in so many ways.  For example, she cannot stand things on her hands - even working at home it's always a battle.  But in school, she seems to be making progress.  The first two days paint was put on her hands she cried and didn't like it.  But upon seeing the other kids doing it, and the teacher really talking to her about how it's fun to make things, last week when paint was put on Meagan's hands, she didn't cry.  She instead studied her newly painted hand, and then reached out and asked the teacher "what color?"  So she is making progress in sensory areas too which is so important.

Meagan's crafts from the second week!

The problems that were happening and snowballing at our old school were so detrimental to the girls, it warranted a big change. It was a risk and a leap of faith, but now in hindsight, we are so happy! They only have one childhood and as mom, it's my job to protect that as much as possible.  Nothing will ever be perfect, but, having an environment now that is so inclusive to all the girls, that is so loving and genuine, and that has such open transparency and communication from the administration are all  things help to deter problems before they start - and if there is an issue, these practices at the school make it easy to address the problem and move forward in a positive manner.  Knowing the openness and respect is there for parents is a huge deal - especially when it is ultimately us who allows school the privilege of schools being around our precious children day to day.

When I picked Meagan up on Wednesday from school, she was all smiles.  She gave a big "hi MOMMY!!!!" and I loaded her in the car.  I leaned down and gave her a hug and said "So Meagan do you like school?"  Meagan sat about 30 seconds (we have delay with brain and her retrieval process... :) ) and finally looked at me and said "yessssss" I said "That's so great Meagan! What do you love about school?" .... another 30 seconds went by and Meagan dipped her chin into her chest and with the biggest smile said "I have friends."  School rules.

Happy healthy girls

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Letter to Meagan's followers - It's Your Turn

To those who follow Meagan's story,

I'm going to venture a "little" off subject here as I write today's post.  Veteran's Day has always been a day that has meant a lot to me.  Being raised in a military family, and living around the world growing up during peace time and war time, I got to see first hand the willing sacrifice the men and women of our armed services put forth daily in their military service.  I was raised to always respect men and women in uniform, recognize their selflessness, thank them for their service, and do what I could to support them no matter how small it seemed.

3 generations of Veterans:
 Grandpa's grave (Army Air Corps, WWII), my father (USN, Vietnam),
 my brother (2nd Recon Bravo I Marine Corps, Iraq)

Our family has a long history with those serving our country.  From my grandfather, to my father, to my father in law, to my brother, to Brian's brother in law, and many cousins, uncles and close friends along the way.  Of our veterans, besides my father of course, my closest relationship is with my brother, Nick.  I will never forget when I took him out for his 21st birthday weeks before my wedding and he told me he had enlisted.  I was not surprised - growing up he had always talked about joining the Marines.... I knew it was just a matter of "when," not "if."  Nick served 4 years active duty in the Marine Corps -  2nd Recon Bn - Bravo 1. He sacrificed a lot to fight in Iraq and other areas for us all to be safer earning many recognitions including a Purple Heart. (He would never tell you though because that's just him - and any Marine - honor and humility.....) Thankfully, he came home, but many of his brothers did not.  Because of my close relationship with him, I will always remember everything they went through and make sure my children grown up knowing as well.

Fast forward to Meagan's birth.  We of course had a c-section planned and were given the date of September 22nd.  As the date neared, we heard that there were a few emergencies that were going to actually bump us to September 23rd.  While I wasn't happy about waiting another day to meet Meagan, I was happy that her new birthday was going to be on Nick's birthday. Although Nick was my "little" brother, I looked up to him tremendously.  I watched him honorably serve two intense tours in Iraq, work through loss and TBI  to power through college on his own, finish his degree, get a great job, care for his son, and even find time for bringing awareness to post-war Marine injuries by taking part in things like the George Bush Wounded Warrior Ride and other events.  Knowing all Meagan would have to face,  I was honored to know our special little girl would be born on such a great day.

Nick on the Wounded Warrior Ride

Once Meagan was born, there were a lot of adjustments in our lives as you know.  Even though Nick was far away, his concern and questions were never far.  He would often text or call asking how she was doing.... or in true "Nick" fashion, send me something so funny I would be "that" parent laughing out loud in the middle of the NICU.   I remember all the visits we have had since then when he has held her, played with her, and praised all her accomplishments.  He calls her his "brain buddy" because he knows she "gets him" on those off days.  Sharing a birthday isn't their only commonality - they both have an infectious sense of humor, and are the kindest people you would ever meet. Nick is an incredible father to his son, the best little "big" brother I could have asked for, and is a loving and supportive uncle.

Nick and Megs - a special bond. 

Now why all this attention on my brother and his fellow Marines today? As you know it is Veteran's Day today.  We see all the Facebook posts and pictures honoring those we love who have served - but what are we actually doing about it? What can we do since we are not the ones voluntarily putting our lives on the line for freedom? What else can we do besides passing along oh so important stories of brave men and women on to our children? How can we show them true action on our part to say thank you?

For me, personally, it is my brother and his fellow brothers, both fallen and still here, who I would like to support.  Nick recently made a webpage asking for support for his fellow Recon brothers and their families.  As he states on his page:

 ..." [Your Marine Reconnaissance Foundation]... donation goes directly to helping Marines and their loved ones battle through tough timees and austere conditions. Additionally, take pride in the fact that you are supporting the tip of the spear in the Marine Corps - the dirty, hardened, cammie-painted men of the Reconnaissance Community...."  

He goes on to say:

"To show my committment to this cause I will be competing in several Triathlons throughout the 2015 season - 3 of which are Half-Ironman events!  Through training and competition, I am in store for pain and misery - However, it is nothing compared to what some of my Recon-brothers and their families have to endure due to wounds, injuries, or financial distress.  I've been there, I received help myself, and now it is time to give back." 

So I say to you - it's your turn.  These men and women have sacrificed not once, not twice, but time and time again.  Even after their active duty ends, their duty to us and their self sacrifice never ends.  Because that's just how they are made.  Next time you just want that $5 pack of gum at the checkout, or the $6 Starbucks coffee, or maybe instead of that cute new top you have been eyeing at the store, or the new electronic game you have been waiting for..... take that money, and sacrifice a little of your luxury to donate to the MRF. There is no amount too small and even better,  your donation goes directly to help these Marines and their families. You can visit my brother's webpage HERE to make the donation - and I encourage you to please pass the link on to others.

Afterall, these  are the ones we rely on to keep those luxuries we enjoy everyday.  These are the ones we rely on to sit in dirt, or fields, or sand while we snuggle in our comfortable beds.  These are the ones we rely on to walk towards bullets or bombs while we safely sit in our homes.  These are the ones we rely on to give their lives - so that we may have one more day to wake up in a free land.  

One proud Marine sister and one grateful American
Semper Fi

My brother and his brothers

Monday, November 10, 2014

First Day!

Today was Meagan's first day of school! It was actually the first day for all the girls (except Maura who will finish out her pre-k 5's where she is currently).  Everyone was excited but a little nervous this morning naturally.  I decided it would be best to drop Meagan off first since she gets so upset when each of her sisters leaves during the morning for school.  That way she could get settled while I walked the other girls to their new classrooms.

The principal walked us to each classroom starting with Meagan's.  Meagan's teacher came and greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside.  She showed us the hook where Meagan could hang her bag with her name on it.  We had packed her some diapers, a bottle, pacifiers and a few dry snacks if she would eat with the other kids.  (I give her a full tube feed before and after school so they don't have to access her gtube there just yet).  Meagan didn't cry.  She looked around, seemed curious at all the little people her same age, and started to ask "what's this? ... what's this?"   I made a point to not stand around forever because I knew she would be a little upset when I left - afterall she's been literally at my hip for over 3 years, even through hospital stays..etc.. I never leave her.  So I gave her a big hug and kiss and told her to have so much fun with her teacher and new friends.  She started to fuss a little bit as we left, but nothing unexpected and nothing her older sisters hadn't done on their first days.

Next the principal walked us to Reilly's classroom - her teacher is the grandmother of 20 and comes from a big family and loves history.  Nice but very strict and structured - perfect match for Reilly.  Then we went to the opposite hall where Kaitlin walked into her classroom - her teacher is very sweet and soft spoken just like Kaitlin and she seemed fine to just go on in and get settled.  Anna was the last to be dropped off - she was probably most nervous because she is a "mommy's girl" but as soon as we walked in her new teacher gave her a big hug and told her all the fun things they were going to do.  I knew she would be just fine especially with that extra love and hugs as she made the adjustment.

Maura and I left the school and went about our day.  She headed off to her normal preschool schedule and I was (very oddly I may add..) "kid-less" for a few hours! I intended to get a lot done, but instead ended up at the doctor to address a lingering cold I have been fighting over the last few weeks.  The doctor was very nice and fit me in - within a half hour I was walking out with a bronchitis and early pneumonia diagnosis and some medication to help everything turn around and start healing.  By the time I left, it was the perfect time to go pick up Meagan.  I was nervous but excited to see her.  I knew she had probably done great, but it's still always nervewracking wondering how they did on their first day.

As I arrived at the school, I walked in to the front and the teacher was wheeling Meagan down the hallway in her chair.  Along side her was another little boy who also leaves early in the day.  When Meagan saw me, of course, her eyes lit up and her little legs and arms got very stiff with excitement.  She said "Mommy!" and I made my way to her and gave her a great big hug.  The teacher was so nice and stayed for several minutes to chat with me about Meagan's day - the things she did well with and the things she struggled with.  Basically, she had done very well and had an amazing day! Towards the end of the few hours there, the teacher told me she started to get a little fussy for me, but again, that was expected.  Even the music class Meagan attends (and LOVES) required a good three weeks for her to become acclimated - and I am there with her for that.  So this will take a few weeks of good routine, getting to know her sweet teachers more, and also realizing that everyday, I will pick her up and take her with me.

Meagan gives a thumbs up for first day of school

Meagan's first report - it will be so helpful to get these everyday to see where she's
 growing and where we need to have reinforcements.

The teacher was very sweet and said they had so enjoyed having Meagan in the class.  She pointed to the little boy and said "Isaac."  The teacher said that Meagan had been calling some of the children by name already and loved to talk.  (No kidding! :) )  She explained that Isaac was a speech student and usually didn't say much when he would leave school.  His dad came in to get him and Meagan put her hand up and said "Bye Isaac.."... in a very muffled voice, the sweet little boy said "Bye".. Meagan's teacher lit up with joy and told us that typically, he doesn't say goodbye all the time or on demand and how wonderful that he had answered Meagan.  It was awesome to see how even in just a few short hours, these kids had really impacted each other and helped each other with their own weaknesses while at the same time bringing out their strengths.  I'm very excited for what this program will mean for Meagan - how it will help her expand her horizons and get her through some of her sensory and transitional struggles we have to deal with as a family - but also how she will impact other kids.  Not to mention her OT, PT, Speech and other helpful therapies that will positively impact her development. We all know Meagan isn't shy about telling you what she thinks!

As for the other girls, they all had a great day.  I waited at the bus stop and off came 3 smiling girls bubbling with excitement to tell me about their first day.  Anna told me she loved her class, the teacher and everything about it - but that she still had to do work.  I laughed - I told her "It's not a vacation Anna, it's school!" She told me all about having fun at PE, making new friends, and riding the bus.  Kaitlin was just as excited - telling me about all the fun she had chatting at lunch and reading at school.  I was happy to hear this because previously, she had been told she probably had a reading issue and had been very down about her reading.  I wasn't convinced as I saw her read and comprehend well at home, but could not find a way to light that fire again.  Apparently, this transition worked.  Kaitlin had reading homework and not only did what was assigned, but did it 3 and 4 times over. She then called daddy and read to him over the phone and continued to read 3-4 more books throughout the evening.  I was so happy to see this as she had really been lacking confidence in her reading prior to today.  When Reilly got off the bus, she was happy but she looked awfully grey to me.  As we settled in at home, I could tell she wasn't feeling well and asked her about her day.  I was concerned she had a bad day but soon after she started talking, I realized the poor kid was sick.  I took her temperature and she had a fever.  I called the local pediatrician where you can easily walk in and they said they would see her. As soon as we walked in she was very tired, still feverish, and ended up getting sick all over the floor.  As soon as that happened my first thought was strep (because classically, Reilly always gets headache, fever and vomiting).... The doctor came in and agreed and ran the test -  Sure enough - strep! Ugh, poor kid! As the meds kicked in later tonight and she rested more and the fever started to drop, she started to light up more about school.  She actually enjoyed her new math book and had started to understand a lot of the problems she wasn't previously understanding.  She explained that she liked her teacher and that her teacher loved history - which is a huge interest of Reilly so she was very happy to learn they would be doing projects on explorers soon.  She said she hadn't made any friends just yet, but I told her not to worry - that it would come with time - especially not feeling herself the first day with getting sick! She is also excited about a big reading project where they can complete reading several books for prizes and other awards and has already asked me to sign her up for Drama Club - something she desperately missed when it left our other school.  I'm excited for her to go back on Wednesday - this time feeling 100% better - and able to really enjoy her day!

Transitions can be tough but we are seeing all the signs that things are going well.  We even got phone calls from the girls' new teachers today asking how their days went and thanking us for letting our girls be in their classes this year.  I was really blown away by that gesture.  I'm so proud of all the girls today!  Each of them did a great job at staying positive, trying their best at their schoolwork, and opening themselves up to new friends.  I know how hard that is - I was a military kid who moved a lot and often found myself in those "new kid" shoes.  The good thing is I'm much stronger for it, and met some amazing people along the way.  I see the same happening for my girls and it makes me happy that we are finally settling in to our "new normal."  As I was cleaning up tonight, I found a note from Anna that really brought it all together:

"Dear Mommy, I had a great day at school.  Mrs. R is super nice.  She doesn't give a lot of work.  I made two friends today.  We were going to play monkey in the middle but it was time to line up.  It was fun riding the bus. I love school."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

One Window At A Time

Spending a large part of my childhood overseas, I remember going through all the old historic sites and buildings.  Often, there were those houses or castles where you could barely see out the windows - the glass was that old bubbly thick glass that obscured the view.  You could see bits and pieces of what was outside, but there was always enough blur to leave some mystery as to what was behind that window.  I remember in one castle in particular looking out to see blurred green which I assumed (correctly) were rolling hills and landscapes, but there was also a blur of colors I couldn't make out.  Upon exiting the castle, I realized those colors were the most amazing garden of all different kinds of plants and flowers...bright and beautiful and very clear to the eye.  If I had not ventured outside on our tour, I would never have seen that garden - my vision would have still been blurred by the bubbly thick window we were stuck looking through from within.

We are definitely in one of those moments right now.  For months, we have contemplated switching our older girls' school.  Details aside, we felt the environment was not as it used to be.  We had noticed other families making changes,  and our girls were becoming increasingly unhappy and frustrated with school.  This was unusual as they are girls who absolutely loved school and used to chat about better experiences a few years before. In recent years, though, silence.  We continued to stick it out in the hopes of change, but I soon started to see this was not the best for the girls.  We finally reached a point where as parents, we knew a change had to be made and this past week, we took a leap of faith, and pulled them out of the school.

I had mixed emotions of course.  I was sad because we had made some wonderful memories through the earlier years - and along the way made some lifelong friends. But I was happy because I knew things had changed and academically and health-wise, I knew this was the absolute right choice.  Making a decision with mixed emotions is hard because it involves a lot of contemplation and research - and then you have to take the leap of faith towards whichever direction you feel is best.  And then you pray.

Leading up to this, I had an involved meeting with our children's new principal.  She was extremely welcoming, detailed, and highly organized. Her love for children was obvious and her background in special education was apparent as she described many inclusion minded programs throughout the school.  She answered all my questions with honesty and thorough information - and she showed me several parent surveys she does each year.  100% of parents responded that school communication was excellent.  I was able to tour the school right then, and observe the classrooms where my girls would be placed.  I even got to look in on the inclusion classrooms where Meagan would eventually be if a spot ever opened up.  Outside of my interview with the administration, I talked with numerous families who attend the school, including several families who had gone through the exact transition we were about to embark on.  From families who had attended years ago, to families currently there, all had wonderful things to say.

 Just when I was almost sure of our decision, I received a phone call.  It was our county special needs coordinator.  She said that although they hadn't expected it this year, family had moved - and there was now space in the special needs program at the new school for Meagan. [If you remember, we originally had decided to not send her since she had been placed at a school further away, and I wasn't impressed with their program.]  Now, with my girls transitioning to the new school, and a spot opening up there for Meagan at this exact same time? And the fact that I loved the special needs program at the new school?  All my girls in the same school? An inclusive and vibrant environment?That was it.  I knew it was a sign from God we were headed in the right direction. This was sounding good.
I still had some reservations though, because I had not told my girls yet of my decision.  When my kids got in the car on Thursday,  I told them Friday (the very next day) would be their last day and we would be starting at a new school, a new adventure that following Monday. I will admit...I was nervous for their reaction.  However, within seconds, those nerves were turned to joy.  What I saw was my girls smiling, almost melting in to their seats with relief, and an immediate sense of excitement for our new path.  They started chatting up a storm, asking questions about their new teachers, and pouring out stories of how they were secretly yearning for a new environment.  The joy was palpable - and for some of my kids, they were the most relaxed I had seen them in over two years. My slightest doubts immediately dissipated and my vision was becoming clearer.

Sometimes we are so intrigued looking through that bubbly glass that we lack clarity.  We get so comfortable, we settle for "what is."  We accept that the glass is flawed and we just have to "get through it."  However, if we never step outside the boundaries and accepting what will "just be" we will miss out on something greater or more beautiful.  If I had stayed inside that castle as a little girl, I would have never seen what those colors were through the warped glass.  I would have always been wondering "What was out there? What was around the corner?"  I'm so glad I stepped outside that day and saw the most gorgeous gardens I have ever seen.  The colors were no longer a muddled mystery, but a clear vision of beauty.  That is how I am choosing to view this transition in our family life. When things are blurry, all we have to do is look to God and what He shows us is best.  Even if there are doubts, He will ultimately make things clear and show us to the clarity we need - one window at a time.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Headed to school on Monday... with her sisters...
 just as it should be! She's so excited :)