This morning was Zoey’s first Tumbling class for the Fall. She was literally leaping with excitement as soon as we got there. It’s funny because it seems to be the cool thing for students to complain about how teachers make them work so hard, and how they can’t do what is being asked of them. Yet there was Zoey, a good head shorter than the rest despite the similarities in ages, and she was ecstatic to be doing her exercises. Her only complaint during that entire hour was that I was looking at my phone instead of watching her perform her handstands. Today I was reminded of how I am so proud of her for many reasons, including her strength inside and out, her amazing ability to keep reaching out to make friends regardless of how they respond, and her infectious zeal for life. Don’t worry about the complainers, Zoey. Keep doing your handstands. I’m putting down the phone next week. Remember to live big, love bigger, and be kind always.
We have been hearing a lot of new things in our home lately. Many of these are in direct response to Zoey’s most recent appointment about her hearing. A little over a week ago, Michael and I took Zoey to pick up her hearing aids for the first time. We had a few quick lessons in cleaning, caring, and placing them. The audiologist then handed me a ringing, bright pink bundle of tubing and casing to place on Zoey myself. Sidenote: sometimes I build myself up for the responses of my kids throughout the day. Often they aren’t nearly as excited about something as I am. This was not one of those times. I was truly not prepared for that first week at home with Zoey and her new hearing aids. Here are my favorite 5 things that I heard from her for the first time in those seven days.
5. I am now hearing noticeable distinction in her phonics. This month we are reviewing single-letter sounds with a new curriculum. Zoey has been able to recognize the differences between the letters for awhile. However, her version of many letters and short vowel sounds had been very similar. More recently, she is learning phonograms fabulously now that she is able to clearly hear them. For those interested, I will have much more to say about the language arts program we are using once we have made some more progress through the first book. Today we completed Lesson 10, and thus far it has been a huge success.
4. We have heard a much easier attempt at every letter in the alphabet. Twenty-five out of twenty-six letters are completely clear now, albeit after a bit of repetition.
3. I am usually hard-pressed to think of a time when she has used more than three intelligible words together in a sentence. While at the clinic, the audiologist gave Zoey a teddy bear with a cape and felt hearing aids at the same time as her own. Later that weekend, one evening she explained to me that it was, “Super Bear with Super ears, like my Super ears.”
2. She has discovered a new layer in real animal sounds (as opposed to imitated voices from story books). My awareness of this new development first came when we were outside in our yard. The older two kids were climbing a tree in our front yard while the baby napped, and our border collie was keeping guard in the fenced-in backyard. This is a common arrangement of late, and even in her older age, our dog remains ever vigilant and loyal to her territory. We live in a dog-filled neighborhood, which means inevitably there is some sort of interaction going on every day, yet somehow the noise must have continually escaped Zoey until this moment. She stopped mid-climb to exclaim, “I hear Salem barking!”
and my #1 memory of Zoey’s first week with hearing aids…
1. Immediately after I placed a hearing aid for the first time, still in the audiologist’s office, I looked at Zoey once the little battery light started blinking. I asked if she could hear me better. She looked straight into my eyes (which rarely happens) and with genuine excitement exclaimed, “Mama! I hear you talking!” I think we were all a little teary-eyed for that one.
It’s funny how time and experiences change our perspectives. I remember the times when I used to post about every doctor’s appointment for Zoey. I posted about our questions, every medical procedure, many of the tests and treatments, and every so often, a few solid answers. My way of processing this sudden upheaval of Cranio to my organized and planned little world was to document all of it. List it, capture it, question it, follow prescribed treatment, and return for follow-up as needed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Move toward the bigger corrective surgeries, pass through the long days of waiting in a foggy haze, and continue with recovery. More tests, more questions, more plans. At some point it became our new normal. I was able to continue on with less hoop-la and without the intentional driving of a new Cranio Parent, at least most of the time.
The calmer season that follows the initial year or two of constant upheaval is very common for Cranio families. Many speak of it as being “on the other side,” particularly when they are fully treated for the remainder of their child’s life after a single, albeit heartbreaking procedure. I think this concept is a big reason why many personal blogs and pages devoted to craniosynostosis fall by the wayside once a Cranio baby reaches her 2nd birthday. The craziness has subsided and everyone just wants to move on with life as normally as possible. I get it, really I do! I am so thankful that regular life continues and the daily stress of this diagnosis doesn’t usually last very long. Granted, not all Cranio cases are quite as simple, with their medical folders gathering dust as children collect pencils and notebooks for school. We are among those who, even after 5 years, still have many questions concerning what our Cranio baby will be able to accomplish in her life time. We are learning that our answers will largely come only as Zoey tells us what she is able to do, and as we slowly stretch her limits and encourage her to reach higher. There are simply not enough others like her who have already been documented to set forth a regular pattern, so she is forging her own path in every area of life. Really, everyone must do this to some extent, but I find it interesting when even medical professionals refuse to lay any claims on a predictable path for her.
I am very grateful that the circus of appointments are less frequent these days. They still continue in spurts though, regardless of how little attention I bring to them. We have already faced Zoey’s 4th appointment of 2017 with her Pediatric GI surgeon. The novelty has long worn off, and the struggle is real to cart 3 kiddos under 5 through a hospital for an appointment and routine KUB X-ray. Zoey has some differences in her digestive tract that need monitoring occasionally, which may or may not be related to her Cranio diagnosis. When we do go, there is still a feeling a familiarity. Some nurses think Jacob is David because there is no way my second little baby is already 3 years old. Others have crayons and paper on standby for Zoey. I now force a big smile every one of the 3-4 times someone in our path comments on how I have “my hands full.” When I’m not stressed out, I really do love having a loaded up double stroller, complete with sticky fruit snacks in the cup holders and sweatshirts piled in the basket. It’s exhausting and demanding. Every so often I get it right, and I am so proud of myself for the tiny battle I have won. This includes a previous visit to the outpatient waiting room when Jacob pooped through two layers of clothing onto his carrier car seat while waiting in the stroller. It was an unexpected blow, but thank God I was ready for it. I had a complete extra outfit, a good supply of wipes, and even an extra burp cloth to lay on the clean, damp seat for him. I was just buckling him back in when the technician called Zoey’s name for her x-ray. You know, no big deal.
I have many more failed attempts than successes, but let’s face it: I want to scroll back through these days and remember that I got it right a few times too. So here is proof to Future Me: you know that one day at St Mary’s Hospital in the outpatient waiting room? Not all of them, but that one day? You rocked the 3 under 5 years old thing with the double stroller going solo that day. #focusonthegood
In light of all this, I’d like to revisit the bigger question of why it is that we are still actively blogging as a Cranio Family. First of all, my husband is thus far the only published Cranio Dad on social media. Go ahead and Google “#craniodad” and let me know if you find someone else. We would love to connect with him! I am among a few other moms who publically write about their experiences with Cranio, and a much smaller number who are still actively writing on their own pages after 2 years. No one else is writing as a married couple that I have found, especially in regards to family living. We write together because we want to provide a more holistic view of family life when it is affected by Cranio, for the short-term and longer-term.
After 5 years, I continue to write about Cranio primarily because Zoey continues to surprise me, to encourage me, and to shine in new ways. Her story is unique and deserves to be told on a scale as large as I can offer to as many people as will listen. Her life speaks hope in a way that very little else can. I also write because our world needs to recognize more Cranio babies thriving as toddlers and students, and even into adulthood. So many social media stories stop after the scary skull surgeries. Yet most often there is an amazing collection of lives that continue on in an affected family. These families are forever softened to the once foreign diagnosis of craniosynostosis, and often to every other child with a complicated medical history as well. There is more to tell about how Cranio affects us, and I want to offer our family’s continuing story. Lastly, I write because others need to hear the positive stories lived in the aftermath of Cranio. Too many families are terrified of the vague unknown. Too many parents allow fear to change their family decisions so that they change jobs or don’t have any more children, regardless of what they wanted before their Cranio child entered their lives. I recognize that fear. I lived in that same fear for about 8 months after Zoey was born. I feared that I would never have the large family that I had always dreamed of. I feared that I didn’t have it in me to function as a parent beyond the demanding needs of Cranio. How could I handle it physically, emotionally, mentally? What if my second child had Cranio as well? I had so many questions, and the unknown was paralyzing. One of the most reassuring responses I received at that time came from a sweet daughter who is one of five children in her family. I think it was the second child who was born with Cranio, and their mom continued to have three more children afterward. This daughter’s response was so confident in speaking to my desires and fears as she commented, “Don’t worry, you will have more. It will be amazing.” I can’t really explain it, but I refused to let my fear of inadequacy cripple my dream of having more children once I was able to read such an affirming comment from this perfect stranger. I want to offer that same hope to others. I want to remind Cranio families that there is life after the diagnosis. There is family after the procedures. Despite how much our perspectives may change, the world continues to turn after the Cranio hurricane hits. Don’t let it crush you, but allow it to shape you into the next phase of who you become as individuals, and as a family. Don’t worry, it will be amazing.
I am excited to report that we are in the midst of preparing for our home garden again this year! You may remember that last weekend we broke down the raised border from last year’s garden. This weekend we planted our seed starters and tilled the soil over the new garden space.
On Saturday morning, we sat down together as a family in our living room to plant our vegetable and flower seedlings for the home garden. Why were we inside? As I mentioned before, Michael and I were still recovering from what was most likely the flu. Even the thought of corralling the kids away from mud puddles and the road while trying to provide Preschool Seed Planting 101 was exhausting. Hence, we limited them to a rag rug on the floor and stayed in pretty much one place for the entire duration of preparing our seedlings.
We used some helpful little kits that included soil pellets, trays, loosely-fitting covers, and a few labeling guides for the trays. We also added our own Popsicle stick labels to help organize our seeds. We planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, peppers, green beans, and cucumbers in the vegetable trays.
That afternoon we ventured to the backyard for some much-needed fresh air. Michael continued with tilling and expanding the plot for this year’s vegetable home garden. If you haven’t yet, you can watch more of this stage in our video: How Does Your Garden Grow? – A DIY Adventure in Tilling.
After our thrilling and unexpected success last year with zucchini and cucumber, we are preparing to roughly double our garden size. The soil isn’t completely ready for planting at this point, but we are now a few steps closer. We estimate the seedlings will be ready for planting in early April, which gives Michael a few more weeks to build a new protective border around the tilled soil.
Today feels a lot more like spring than winter. We are enjoying some warm sunshine this afternoon. Littlest is asleep in a wrap and the older two are mellowed out with some calming outdoor fun. (Yes, this is their calm.) I want to get in every drop of sunshine I can before another cold wind blows through.