Friday, March 30, 2012

For the Love of Babies

Upon completion of her breakfast this morning, Lainey set out to the bathroom where she carefully prepared the sink for her baby doll's bath, gathering folded towels for cushion, a bottle of hand soap, a small washcloth, and a toothbrush-turned back scratcher. I watched as she gently submerged her baby and quietly wiped her clean.

You know those moms who don't offer any guidance in selecting toys and are very careful to let their children be who they're going to be? When it comes to dolls, I'm not one of them. I love baby dolls. I still walk through Toys 'R Us and stop to smell that strawberry-meets-baby-powder scent of doll plastic, and eBay quickly predicts Madame Alexander and Lee Middleton in my search bar. My kids had no chance; they were going to play with dolls. Thankfully, it took no convincing.

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We have five Barbies in our home--two with their hair chopped off, one with a Sharpie-colored face, all of them naked, and four (one's banished to the dark, sandy confines of our beach toy bag) living in our bath tub where my girls make them dive off soap dishes and wear shampoo cap hats.

But babies? We are the Duggars of dolls.

They're everywhere. Birthday gifts, hand-me-downs and the most likely culprit, Brett and Lainey's "grocery shopping" trips. We've sent them to Goodwill, we've given them to friends. Strangely, they reappear.

And I'm not complaining.

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Nella has picked her favorite--an old doll of Lainey's with a soft middle and light blue shoes. She totes her everywhere and, after several days of repeating the same thing over and over, we determined she named her baby "Boppy." To test our theory, Brett and I have hid the doll, made it reappear, asked her who it was, told her to go find Boppy and, sure thing, it's Boppy.

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While we used to joke that Nella bossed her babies around, she has arrived. She is gentle and kind, and I can't help but smile watching both my girls exhibit characteristics I hope they see in me.

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For all the days I rocked my own baby dolls to sleep and for all the moments I witness my girls loving on theirs, I'm so glad I'm not playing house anymore. It's for real.

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*****

Friday Photo Dump:

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Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12x12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you want to follow the feed.


*****

Sponsor, Crystal & Co. is returning to sponsor this month. Texas Native and mom of five boys, Crystal has created a resource site for moms where she shares crafty tutorials and quick & easy meal planning ideas for families. Crystal's easy recipes and crock pot solutions (including desserts) are sure to help you manage your day a little more easily.

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Check her out!

*****

Have a great weekend!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Easter Best: Hallmark

This post is another Hallmark sponsored post. I am being paid by Hallmark to write it, but all writing, ideas and opinions are mine. Thankfully, Hallmark and I share the same idea--that little moments are to be celebrated and that good people, good efforts and good intentions deserve a spotlight. See Hallmark Life is a Special Occasion for more details, like them on Facebook, and/or sign up for their e-mail messages HERE.

There were two things I always knew when I was a kid—how many more days until my birthday and what holiday was around the bend. Once I understood superlatives, a holiday ranking system was developed with Christmas taking first prize for favorite, Easter coming in at a close second, and Halloween and Thanksgiving tying for third.

Christmas was easy—it was everybody’s favorite and, as a kid, you can’t argue with presents. Easter was a little trickier though. I mean, I know there’s an Easter basket, Peeps, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Whopper eggs, pastel-wrapped Snickers, Cadbury—okay, never mind. Clearly, it’s a deserving holiday.

It wasn’t just the candy though. No, there were cheap hats and lace gloves too. And, come Sunday morning, the annual photo of me and my sister in our Easter finest—also known as Little House on the Prarie-meets-Golden Girls fabulousness, the poster children of Glamour “Don’t”s (i.e.: don’t wear polyester, don’t do matchy-matchy, don’t lick your lips so many times before Easter Sunday that you go to church with a rashtache, don’t abide by “Lace is more,” and don’t forget to check your tights for runs). We were like the Hilton sisters, except way more wholesome. And poor. And not blond. And not famous. Okay, we were nothing like the Hilton sisters.

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Childhood Easter memories are, for me, a lot about church. My dad was a pastor, my mom the church pianist, and our celebration pivoted around my parents’ church responsibilities. It began with Palm Sunday when we joined other Sunday School kids in a reenactment of the Bible story. One year, we were actually given real palm fronds—a rare sight for Michigan kids—to wave as we walked down the sanctuary aisle singing “Hosanna.” I see palm fronds all the time now and every once in a while, when I lean over to pick a fallen one off our driveway, I say “Hosanna” as I throw it away. Actually, that’s not true.

Come Easter Sunday, our house was lively well before sunrise. As we prepared for early services, we scrounged our drawers for the good tights, slipped into new dresses we had laid out the night before, buckled shiny white patent leather shoes, straightened our gawdawful hats and filled our tiny purses with Chapstick and Jolly Ranchers that would keep us entertained through the boring parts of Sunday service. There was music—always music. The Old Rugged Cross and Because He Lives. And once church was over, we returned home where my mom and dad made it special. Egg hunts and ham dinner and the overall tone we kids loved to feel—that it was not an ordinary day but an exceptional one.

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Our own family tradition: Shredded wheat bird's nests with chocolate eggs (a bag of marshmallows, 3/4 stick of butter, microwave, crumble shredded wheat biscuits and stir until desired consistency. Form into baskets and dry on waxed paper)

Holidays are when I clearly feel the honor of carrying the torch—of repeating traditions and establishing the same kind of celebrations my parents created for us. And the beauty of doing it twenty some years later is that we have fun making it our own. I don’t practice my faith exactly like my parents practiced theirs and I respect and learn from friends who practice different faiths than mine, and yet we all make opportunities this time of year to create meaningful celebrations with our families and our children.

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Trying something new this year--painting some of our eggs.

There is music, there is good food, there are lessons we share, there are traditions we continue. I look forward to the next couple weeks and all the ways we make them special—all the ways we make them uniquely ours.

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Oh, there will still be ugly hats. There will still be candy. And hey, we live in Florida...let the palm fronds continue.

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Easter dinner, Passover Seder or whatever it is you celebrate…let it be colorful, let it be meaningful, let there be memories.

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What are your favorite Easter memories? Or, have you started new Easter traditions with your own family? Hallmark and I would love to hear your stories. In your comment, please share how you help make Easter a special occasion.

To see other Hallmark posts on this blog, click HERE.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Monday

I just finished walking Nella under a canvas of midnight blue sky speckled with radiant stars and a bright sliver of a moon. I pushed her in her stroller and opted to go barefoot--a very embracing-Spring-thing-to-do. Except along with a bright sliver of a moon and radiant stars, late March also delivers millipede covered sidewalks, an inviting path for bare feet. I stepped on one and then ran the stroller back home like Flo Jo.

There were other walks this weekend though. Better walks.

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Walks are always welcome interruptions to both mundane and crazy. Sometimes we slip out the door unannounced and wander the neighborhood for an hour. Other times we make a big to-do, gathering leashes, baby dolls and strollers, convincing as many who will oblige to come with us just for a spin around the block.

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This weekend, we reunited with an old friend.

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Even though our weather shifts aren't as recognizable as the snow-to-tulip transformation present in so many other places in the country, I still feel new seasons every year. I purposefully open windows, buy flowers, take longer walks, eat outside and go barefoot on millipede-free occasions. My kids will know seasons. I will make sure of it.

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We did just that this weekend, slipping out for a Kiwanis Club fundraiser date Saturday night but returning back for a craftastic Sunday.

Inspired by this San Fran studio tour, I knew I wanted to make my necklaces more accessible and visible. Instead of hooks, I decided to use long nails with flat heads that had enough surface area to hold some hot glue. Once I knocked the nails in place, I hot glued a couple drawer pulls, a piece of a broken brooch and some vintage-inspired buttons (bought a variety bag a couple years ago) to the nail heads and, Voila...pretty wall hangers.

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Easy, extremely inexpensive and it serves multiple purposes--accessibilty as well as adding interest to the wall.

*****

The rest was cozy and weekendish.

Good food.

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Good weather.

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Good weekend.

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Darling hair bows from A Little Lady Etsy shop

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*****

Last week's Friday Photo Dump:

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Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12x12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you want to follow the feed.

*****

Winner of the Scentsy Barista warmer and Yuzu Dragon scent bar, generated by random.org is Comment #73, Jen: You have more (luck, karma?) with your picture taking than I do turning my camera on. Great pictures - I'm glad that the time with your mother and George was awesome!

Congratulations, Jen. Please send your contact info with the subject line SCENTSY GIVEAWAY WINNER to kellehamptonblog@comcast.net

*****

Sponsor Dashing Bee is returning, continually adding new spring/summer items to their online consignment shop. For those who haven't discovered Dashing Bee, they offer an impressive selection of baby and toddler clothes and shoes, baby gear, toys, maternity clothes and more--gently used, great brands, and affordable.

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All above items, currently available at Dashing Bee

Use Code DASHING10 for 10% off your order.

*****

I'll be back tomorrow afternoon for a Hallmark post.

Good night.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

To Listen.

It's been over two years now that this blog has had a readership extending beyond family, friends and the handful of moms who came to read ramblings of a mama in love with holidays, cute shoes and a blond little girl who completed her world. It was an interesting transition at first--putting myself out there knowing that my dad wasn't the only one reading or commenting. Sometimes it's been challenging. Mostly, it's been inspiring.

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I follow the golden rule of "To Thine Own Self be True" and I do my very best to write from the heart, regardless of what people think. "Be honest, yet open," I tell myself, "Be vulnerable yet respectful." From the day I wrote Nella's birth story, I knew that some of the things I was writing about might be hard for people to understand--that maybe I would be judged, that maybe I would be misunderstood. Writing openly about both my vulnerabilities and joys in life as well as a handful of topics in between has been a good experience for me. I've become more confident both as a thinker and a writer and more compassionate toward myself and my own personal journey as well as that of others.

I learned very early after Nella was born that the community of parents who have a child who is differently abled is amazing. Through the challenges they've faced, they have acquired strength, compassion and remarkably impressive motivation to advocate for their children. I also learned that there is a broad range of opinions, some held quietly between parents who advocate privately for their children and some expressed openly and ardently on forums, blogs, at conventions and support groups, in books and e-mails and message boards. Our common ground? We love our children. We want the very best for them. We hope they will be happy and accepted.

Today I received two e-mails, both of them kindly written and well articulated. They drew my attention to the fact that my explanation to Brett that adults with Down syndrome generally have a "child-like mentality" might not be the best choice of words. That the world needs to know that adults with Down syndrome are accomplishing many things, holding great jobs, going to college.

And they're right. The kindness and understanding in which they expressed it made me really listen.

While the moment Brett and I shared was special, and my use of "child-like" referred to something I admire in the individuals with Down syndrome I've met--an enviable enthusiasm for life, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from others and to refine my vocabulary to advocate as sensitively and effectively as I can. It is important to me to join the many others who are working to change the stereotypes and prejudices regarding Down syndrome, and the future of our children depends on it.

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Finding my own voice and form of advocacy, especially using this blog, has been challenging. Nella is two years old. We are learning. Every day.

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Learning feels very good to me, and I am comfortable talking about how we are learning. But the best kind of learning involves making mistakes. And today, I learned the importance of listening.

"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing.
It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of
our words that we are able to affect the most profound changes in
the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention
an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for
the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied,
unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden.
In this culture the soul and the heart too often go homeless.
Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people,
they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time. And in
the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone. Eventually
you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone,
the unseen singing softly to itself and to you."
~Rachel Naomi Remen

It is an honor to give readers a window into life with special needs. That window looks different for every family, and ours does not represent all of them. What I do hope you always see is that, no matter what our children look like or what they are able to do, they deserve to be valued and celebrated. Life deserves to be valued and celebrated, and I am grateful this blog is a place where I can share that. Celebrating life--common ground we all share.

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I have very big dreams for both Lainey and Nella. I have very big dreams for myself. And as I move forward in sharing a piece of our life on this blog, please know...I am listening.

Thank you to the two kind mamas who modeled true advocacy so beautifully in their e-mails today--to kindly guide and teach.

*****

Scentsy Giveaway winner and Friday Phone Dump will be in Monday's post. Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3-21, 2012

Tonight we gathered under periwinkle skies for a beach sunset to honor 3-21. On the twenty-first day of the third month, we celebrate three copies of the twenty-first chromosome along with thousands of other families across the globe who share our journey. We were joined by many others who came to celebrate, lying blankets that overlapped other blankets on the sand like giant circles in a Venn Diagram so that somewhere in the middle there was common ground--a place that united us all, regardless of our differences.

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We passed shovels to babies who scraped sand and filled buckets. We exchanged stories of where we grew up. We watched as both big kids and little kids chased seagulls and braved the still-chilly water of the gulf.

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Unlike two years ago when we spent this same evening on the beach, there was no ceremony tonight--no tears, no prayer, no speech. The meaning of this day was fully present in the unspoken.

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I've been thinking about this post all day--how I want to represent awareness today, what I want readers to understand. I could give you a lot of facts and figures. I could talk about important major headlines in the news right now like prenatal testing and abortion politics. I could tell you about inclusion and its importance in the education of all children. These are all critical topics--things I read about, things I care about, some of which I'm still figuring out.

But what I express best is what's on my mind right now.

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Right now, I am thinking that Down syndrome is the best thing that ever happened to our family.

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It is amazing what can happen when you open your eyes to the world around you. It is amazing to be afraid--to feel it, to acknowledge it, to face it head on. And oh, Good Lord, is it ever amazing to be transformed by love in a way that awakens parts of you that needed to come alive.

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I think about a lot more now--what kind of person I want to be, how challenges make us grow, how the world is changing, how we need to be reminded that we cannot control everything and if we could, how predictable and flat our world would be. I am so much more aware of beauty. Of people. Of unique differences that make our world rich and interesting.

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I want to be a great mom. I want to be strong and amazing. I want my children to be strong and amazing. I think we're headed in the right direction, and Down syndrome is teaching us a lot about that path.

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A few months ago, out of the blue, Brett asked me "Hey babe, will Nella be smart?"

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These questions always catch me off guard. Brett's so very go-with-the-flow and doesn't really have a lot to say about Down syndrome. He's always said "Let her show us who she is" and he's pretty unphased by any information I present. Between the two of us, I'm definitely more the research girl. He says Nella's a better teacher than books, and he's right. But I wanted to address the situation appropriately.

He must have sensed my confusion as he quickly followed with, "I'm totally okay if she isn't smart. I just want to know...could she be smart?"

I formulated my response thoughtfully. "Babe, I will never say what the future holds because I will never put limits on my child. I think she's brilliant, but she might not be able to show it quite like Lainey does." Feeling the need to maybe soften the blow or prepare him a little more, I continued. "Adults with Down syndrome generally have a child-like mentality, Brett. You know that, right?"

He stopped and thought for a moment. "You mean, when she's older, it will be like we still have a kid, right?"

I braced myself for sorrow. "Well, kind of," I answered.

And I waited.

He raised his head and his eyes met mine. He was beaming, smiling, excited.

And, with tears, he finally said, "That is so awesome."

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*****

Tonight I am grateful for what we are learning. I am inspired by the way challenges are shaping us. I am fueled by any remaining fear and sadness. I am motivated to see people for who they are inside--for what they have to offer rather than what they are lacking or how they are different. I hope you are learning this with me.

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In explaining to Lainey our celebration tonight, I expounded on the deeper meaning of today. "Remember how Nella has Down syndrome?" I asked. She repeated the term "Down syndrome" and quickly connected it to our Buddy Walk last year and Nella's therapy visits. We went on to talk about a lot of other things that make people beautiful and unique as well. "We're all different in a lot of ways but we all like a lot of the same things too," I reminded her. I then initiated a list of all the things that make us unique and awesome. "Some kids have wheelchairs, some kids have blond hair, some kids run fast, some kids run slow, some kids have brown skin, some kids have blue eyes, some kids know how to read, some kids don't, some kids talk differently, some kids are short, some kids are tall..." and when I came to the part where "some kids have Down syndrome," Lainey smiled and took ever.

"Just like some kids wear green shirts and some kids wear blue shirts, right Mama?" she asked.

My eyes pooled with tears and I hugged her. "You're right, baby." I answered.

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Thank you again for coming here.

Yes, there are more challenges. But tonight, what do I want you to be aware of? Well, I hope you see it like my wise 4-year-old daughter.

The world is rich with unique differences. Some people wear blue shirts. Some people wear green shirts.

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Happy World Down Syndrome Awareness Day.

To learn more about Down syndrome and the many accomplishments of individuals with Down syndrome please visit ndss.org.

If you are pregnant and have a new diagnosis or you know someone close to you who is expecting a child with Down syndrome, visit
downsyndromepregnancy.org for a wealth of helpful and assuring information.