We have a lot to tote from the van to the beach or on one of our many road trips that you all are gradually learning are part of our existence. Whether we are carrying them or finding room to fit them in the van, it seems that we are always having to choose which things we can do without for the moment.
Two things that we absolutely cannot do without are drinks and a way to keep these drinks cold. Now, we have been at this for a while and have tried all of the methods that we have found. We have frozen our water bottles, bought the Koolaid Jammers and ice packs, and carried jugs of HiC and grabbed cups of ice along the way. All of these end up watered down or too heavy to tote with the sand toys or other items.
Finally, on our Friday trip to the beach this week, we tried something new. Honestly, this was not a genius moment that was planned but rather out of necessity. You see, we were going to be out for the day and did not have any Koolaid jugs and only two Jammers in the fridge. We were leaving early and did not want to face Walmart (which is still crazy post- Irma). We have one of those little rolly cooler bags that don’t quite hold enough anyway, but we had forgotten to put the ice packs back in the freezer from our last adventure.
So, here we were facing Walmart and watered down drinks at the beach.
Until….. (enter dramatic drumroll), I opened the freezer to find these little numbers…
We all seem to have them. They are cheap, quick, and somewhat reasonable treats. But, on this day, they were drinks and ice! Now, I know…sugar sugar sugar. But, the kids were going to be in the sun all day and running on the beach so I believe we offset the additional calories (not that we actually put too much thought into this), and, with a pair of scissors tucked into the bag, we were set every time one of them yelled that they were thirsty.
At the end of the day, the snacks were still cold and the popsicles in the middle still had ice! We were able to put the “leftovers” back into the freezer without worry for the next scheduled road trip which will take place tomorrow night!
Okay, so it has been a while since I have shared one of my deep conversations with the little princess, Clarabelle, but this one was too good not to share today. After we took her brother, Elliott, to get his first haircut, we decided that we would head to Olive Garden for a bite to eat. We pulled into the parking lot and Clarabelle immediately begins to shout because this place has both stickers and salad! I mean, this is damn near as good as it gets!
Anyway, we get to our seat, the rounded booth in the corner, and Clarabelle slides in the middle to begin to strategically place her stickers while we order our drinks and begin to look at the menus. As soon as the menus open, as most toddlers, there was an immediate need for a potty run. Of course, the restrooms are on the opposite side of the restaurant so I prepare for a mad dash.
However, Clarabelle is not in a hurry at all. She looks and smiles at each table that we pass. She takes just a second to observe each guest with their plates. Finally, after she has collected enough data, she looks up at me and says, “everyone is eating. They are mad.”
I kinda chuckled and said, “people do like food, don’t they?”
Clarabelle, not shaken by my jovial response continued to elaborate. “I get mad when I am hungry. I get a little grumpy while we are waiting for our food.”
Now, I am sure that she has heard one of us say this at some point, but it kinda took me by surprise that she was able to recognize the difference between the expressions of those who were eating and those who were still waiting. I realized that we often forget our own expressions and may appear to be grumpy or mad when really we are just focused on being hungry.
Then, I considered the difference between being hungry and wanting food. After all, we were not standing in line waiting on rations. We were not hoping that we would get fed. It had not even been that long since the last snack time of the day. We were not hungry, but we were ready to eat.
How often do we get angry because our wants are not met as quickly as we would like? How often do we confuse our wants with needs? Obviously, we must eat, but are we so incapable of waiting, are our wants really that urgent, that we cannot manage a smile while we wait? Can we really not tell the difference?
My first job was as a server at a Pizza Inn in Pigeon Forge, TN when I was 14 years old. My parents had divorced and I spent the summers with my mother. I remember the rapid pace of the buffet-style restaurant and thinking that all of these vacationers did not seem to be very relaxed. Most of my job experience until I finished my degree consisted of restaurant work from serving to managing. People always seemed happier at the end of the meal than when they arrived and I always believed that I had something to do with their improved mood. However, when looking at it now, the fulfillment of a want is only a temporary improvement and, as long as we are unable to differentiate between wants and needs, we will never have anything more permanent.
We all get ‘hangry.’ We all want something immediately and, at times, we even have immediate needs. But, for the most part, we are just in such a hurry that we stay mad more often than happy. We complain more than we are satisfied. We want more than we need.
It was a week before court and the foster parents called my daughter to ask if they could take my grandson to get his first haircut. She immediately began to cry. Elliott was only 3 months old when he was ripped from his mother’s arms. She had one Valentine’s Day and one Easter with him but every other first, she had lost due to the CPS investigation. She missed his first time crawling, his first steps, his first tooth, his first Halloween, his first Christmas, and the list goes on and on. You know how many firsts happen in the first year of a child’s life! But this, this first could wait!
Apparently, the foster family had to gain permission from the worker and the mother before altering his appearance. My daughter would not give hers unless she was present. Instead, she offered to have one of her visits to be used for her to take him to get his first haircut. THIS WAS NOT ALLOWED!!!! She was not allowed to have his haircut!
So, she decided that it simply would not be done! Now, my little blonde haired baby boy has hair so light that he looked nearly bald regardless of the strands that laid over his ears so we figured that he would be just fine until he came home.
A few weeks later, he was back in his family’s arms and we kinda enjoyed seeing his little wisps blow as we walked with him along the beach. He still had a little while before it would be necessary to cut it so we waited and held on to the anticipation of his “first” in the same way that we would have naturally anticipated his first steps had the system not robbed us of that moment.
Today, was the day! Today, my grandson received his first haircut with his mommy standing by his side and his Gigi reassuring him while snapping every possible photo possible. This was OUR first and today will forever be embedded into the story of our lives!
When they take all they can, do not give them anymore!
Recently, we were on a great adventure (aka running from hurricane Irma with four toddlers) that landed us in my small hometown staying at the late grandmother of my childhood best friend’s home. What a crazy turn of events that led to this moment but these crazy moments are what life is made of! Oh, it was magnificent! Four generations hitting the open road and spending every minute laughing instead of worrying about what we could have possibly lost in the hurricane. After all, we have experienced loss. We have experienced the possibility of loss. And yet, we are together and no longer worry about such things.
I have four incredible yet different grandchildren with their own way of showing love and their own way of driving me absolutely batty! But that was always the plan. When Ashley and Chelsea were pregnant with my girls and due a day apart, I told them repeatedly to never compare milestones. This was before I knew that I would be blessed with a grandchild with DS. This was before I knew which girl would arrive first. This was before I witnessed both of their entrances into this world. I remembered raising my own children and knew that each child was different. However, I also knew that each child needed the same consistency.
At one point in my life, I was a long term substitute for the “special needs” class in my hometown. I met a young lady named Sylvia (and I pray that this reaches her and her mom who have inspired me for so many years without knowing). Sylvia entered the classroom one day and asked me to tie her shoes. Her mother, who had walked her into the classroom, quickly scolded her and told her that she knew how to do this and that it was wrong to make people work harder because she wanted attention. Oh, I cannot tell you how often I have used that line with all of my grandangels. But, to move to my point, she taught me that it is possible for all children to learn everything both academic and social so long as they have guides to help them along their way.
This is what I explained to my son the day they told him that they were testing Gloria for DS. This is what I knew in my heart to be true. This was the line that I would not cross with my first grandchild. She would be loved and guided but she would also be expected to be good and to learn everything that she could. She would be different because we all are, but she would not be treated “special” in her home.
With that said, we have all agreed, as a family, that this would be our approach to DS. We would understand that it may take her longer to do certain things but this would not be an excuse to NOT do them. And you would not believe how much this has helped her (and the other three). They all pace themselves together. They all push each other to the top. They fuss with each other. Share with each other. Tattle on each other. They do everything together. Gloria gets more time, but she does not get “special” treatment any more than they ALL do.
Now, to move forward, I have to give you a little insight on my girl. Gloria Ann is the sweetest child. Her favorite activity is going to one side of the room and running, with open arms, towards the adults and making us guess which one is going to get her hugs. She cracks up when the ones not chosen pretend to cry and then runs back to do it again. This can go on for hours! She helps to pick up toys in the evening and also helps to dump out the numerous toy boxes in the morning. She eats well and carries her plate to the counter when she is finished. She is beginning to verbalize better but still uses some sign language for clarity. Most often we see “more” and “please.” When her signs do not get her whatever she was asking for, then her bottom lip trembles and she drops to the floor in a tantrum which can also last for a long time. She waits for her attention. Unlike the other children who will tug and pull at whoever is on my lap, Gloria will wait for my lap to be empty and then climb on up. She does not fuss at bedtime. She goes straight to her “big girl bed” and covers upon command. In general, she is a typical and well behaved child.
She does, as they all do, have her moments and habits that we have to address. For instance, Gloria likes to chew on things. This was never really a problem before she started school other than the poor Barbie dolls who lost the shape of their hands. However, now that she is out in the world, I have been worried that she may put something in her mouth that could hurt her so I have been working consistently on this. We are starting to make progress which makes me one happy Gigi.
This consistency has led me to this post. You see, we were staying with friends during Hurricane Irma and, like most people, they were not sure what to expect from Gloria. Four toddlers in a house that they don’t know is no joke! We said “no” “stop” “don’t put that in your mouth” “don’t lick that” “give that back to him/her” and “sit” more often because as soon as one was finished the next one would start. I do not consider this to be bad, just magnified from what most people face due to the number of children. Anyway, my best friend Heather, whose parents were hosting our evacuation, spoke to my daughter, Ashley on the phone. She said, “I was so upset yesterday when my father announced that I would not believe how they treat Gloria.” My daughter bucked and said “WHAT?” Heather laughed and said “Exactly! That’s how I felt but then he said ‘they treat her exactly the same and so do the other kids and it is beautiful!'”
To me, that was the best compliment that I could have received. I realize that few people will understand this but there is a method behind our madness!
All children are different and all children are special but, I have found, that all children just want to be allowed to be children. Let them learn. Tell them they can. Expect them to and they will surprise you!
To all my babies, be the best “you” that you can be!
I mean, yes, she is physically the epitome of beauty (perhaps a little biased here) but, if you have read any of our “Toddler Talks” then you know she is beautiful from somewhere within. She has the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child as well as the eyes of someone who could easily have been shattered by the adult world but chose to not let this smudge on her life define her. She is the inspiration that I hope everyone takes from the CPS stories that we tell because, yes, they stole her, tried to remove her concept of family, and tried to teach her that the world is an ugly place, but she refuses to hold on to those lessons. She turned three on 9/13/2017 but, today, since we had been evacuated for Hurricane Irma, we celebrated her birthday at home with family. Today, we celebrated the ability to do so!
You see, last year, we celebrated at the local bowling alley under the watchful eye of her foster parents. Granted, we were there. We brought the cake and the food. Her mom, Ashley, had carefully ironed on the patch of the number 2 onto her birthday outfit. We brought gifts. We brought love. We brought a birthday to remember (but we try to forget). Her face looked a bit sadder than usual. Her demeanor, by this point, was slowly slipping away. Her awareness of what was going on in her world was taking over her innocence.
Of course, she is home now. She is no longer monitored for her actions. We are no longer monitored in our ability to love her. She can now smile! AND SHE DOES!!!!!
Clarice Isabelle (AKA her “Princess Name”) was born on 9/13/2014 with eyes wide open and ready to take on the world. In her three short years, she has endured more than most people will in a lifetime. And yet, she lights up the room with a love for life that we could all stand to learn from. Just as royalty, she may be a little spoiled (oops) but she sees the world for what it is….a place that needs more love and laughter. And, just like a true princess, she does her part to make this a reality. So, yes, Clarabelle, you will always be a princess. You will always have the wisdom that comes from hardships and the heart to make a difference. You will always be Clarabelle!
Happy Birthday, my sweet girl.
May you always be strong but never again have to prove it!
I have spent a great deal of time with older members of my hometown this week. Keep in mind, that this is a generation of retired miners, farmers, and generally Appalachian good ole’ boys who love their momma’s, Jesus, and trucks and I mean that in the most positive manner. These people who helped to shape who I am are honest, hardworking men and women who have never harmed another person. They are good people. They bring casseroles when someone dies and help to shovel each other’s driveways simply because they finished their own a bit faster. They sit with the sick and care for the young. I am super blessed to have been raised in a hometown that emphasized so many strong values in my upbringing. However, I am not here to be raised at this point. In fact, I am here having raised my own children and now helping to raise my grandchildren. I am now part of the older generation yet I see something that they cannot.
Having left home and traveled, I realize that not all communities are as frozen in time as is my hometown. They raise children to become mirror images of themselves which, regarding the basic concept of taking care of one another, is not the worst thing that one could say about Appalachian living. The issue is that these small communities are afraid of change. They sit around the table and try to find ways to prevent change but the fact is that we cannot. Change happens.
While discussing the differences between how I view the world and how I am “supposed” to view the world based on my childhood teachings, I quickly realized just how much I had learned after childhood. You see, people believe that they are to raise their children based strictly on the values that they had when they were children. Now, I am not speaking of religious values or ideologies but rather on the way that they assigned values to other people or objects in their environment. The problem with this philosophy is that our children, our grandchildren, will not grow up in the same society.
I always said that I was not raising children but rather that I was raising adults who would function in the world outside of their childhood. In order to do this, I had to anticipate what that world would look like. Slang words or stereotypes that may have been acceptable in my grandparents’ young adulthood were certainly not acceptable during mine and the same would be true for my children and grandchildren. We are not raising children who need to survive in OUR society but rather who must survive in THEIRS.
I realize that we are parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I realize that this means that we are likely not psychics! We cannot know exactly what their society will look like but we can be certain that it will be different from our own and that this is okay. This is expected. This will be their time! So, instead of teaching children what your grandparents thought of same-sex marriages, teach your children tolerance and acceptance. Instead of telling your grandchildren about the racial division in your high school days, talk to them about the importance of unity. Instead of highlighting all of the negative characteristics that you were taught about a certain gender, ethnicity, or even socioeconomic status, teach about lifting up one another and the importance of all members of society succeeding.
We do not have to teach these things with a specific characteristic in mind. In fact, it is better than we do not. We do not have to remove history but rather focus on the future. We do not have to teach through words but rather we should speak through actions because, if we are lucky, we will still be around to watch our children and grandchildren flourish in their society and know that we gave them the foundation to do so.
We do not design the world for our children. We prepare our children for their world.
As many of you know, we recently evacuated from the state of Florida due to Hurricane Irma with four toddlers in tote. YES!! Four toddlers and three adults were loaded up at 11pm with a tank of gas, a pack of diapers, and whatever laundry had been folded on the table but not yet put away. Sippy cups, blankies, and Lamby were placed in each of their car seats while my mother, Ashley, and myself found places to squeeze in a few belongings around the children’s necessities. We had no idea how long we would be gone or what, if anything, we would come home to, but we knew that there was too much risk involved to not head north until Irma had passed.
Gloria and Braxton’s parents (my son and his ex-fiance, Chelsea), were both needed at work and made plans for their own safety should the storm hit our town with a vengeance. They both agreed that the children would be safer with us and signed medical release paperwork should there be an emergency while we were away. This was a hard decision for them not knowing the extent of the evacuation but, as parents, we are often forced to make such decisions in the best interest of our children.
The drive to our house in West Virginia, on a normal day, takes just under ten hours. Of course, there was nothing normal about this day. Not only did we have four toddlers, but the traffic was very busy due to other evacuees. Granted, we were wise enough to go ahead and leave out on Thursday before the mandatory evacuations completely flooded the interstates because we did not want to find ourselves sitting in traffic for hours on end hearing “I need to potty” or “I need another cuppie.” So, once the kids were asleep and I finished up my work for the night, we took the printed directions for side roads that my son had worked out just in case GPS failed with the storm, and we began our journey that would inevitably take just over fifteen hours.
I took the first leg of the drive. The back roads were nice and easy to drive but there were few stops along the route. We had plenty of gas and the children were quiet so I managed a nearly five-hour run before our first stop. On a side note, this was NOT by choice. At three and a half hours into the drive, I was the one looking for a “potty stop!” but, as I stated, there were NO STOPS! No gas stations were open. No restaurants were found. No twenty-four hour McDonald’s could be noticed.
Finally, at about four and a half hours into the drive, I saw the blue lights of Walmart and thought “this next sneeze will not get me! YES!” I pulled into the parking lot that seemed a little empty for a Walmart but I assumed this was because of the small size of the town. My mother and I stepped out and started walking to the door. Here, an employee who was reporting to work informed us that they opened at SIX!!! I did not even know that there were still Walmarts that were not twenty-four hours!
Defeated, I climbed back into the driver’s seat and focused on the next twenty-seven miles until we were to hit the interstate. I MADE IT (BTW)! We found a Waffle House just off of the first exit and I have never been so happy! Okay, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure you get the point.
So, here we were at 4am in a Waffle House with four toddlers who have been cooped up in the van all night. They ate, stirred our coffee with their waffles, popped a couple of creamers onto the table, and played music with the utensils. Finally, once they had eaten, Ashley put a dollar in the jukebox and the nearly empty restaurant became the stage for one of their infamous dance parties! The servers were great and even the few other guests applauded their moves!
Moving forward a few hours, we found ourselves at a rest area with dozens of other Florida vehicles. I was amazed at how everyone was wishing each other well and speaking as if they were a family. I guess that is the one positive thing about disasters; they bring people together. No one minded what year model of car someone exited, no one cared what clothing they had made their escape in, and no one seemed to mind the messy hair that everyone was sporting. Instead, everyone was legitimately thankful that one another had made it out of Irma’s path.
We arrived in West Virginia just after 3pm the following day. My youngest son, who had been up the night before with his band and/or working (do we really know what 18-year-olds do?), had not seen our messages that we were arriving. However, he quickly opened the door and helped to bring in his nieces and nephews, made us some coffee, and gave his mama a hug! We got to see our doggies that he has been watching until we clear our property in Florida, and we had some time to catch up.
However, if you have read any of our CPS posts, then you know that we are terrified to be in West Virginia. Although there is plenty of room for everyone in the house and my son was super excited to have us all visit, we also all knew that being in the state is dangerous. My grandson’s abuser has not yet been convicted and his family court case is still ongoing. Our dismissal from the case keeps us from knowing any details so we thought it best to not take any chances and went to my father’s home across the state line into Virginia.
At this point, the children were not happy about getting back into the van and, keep in mind, my mother was with us on this trip. Do not get me wrong, my mother, father, and stepmother carry themselves very well and have NEVER allowed any of their past differences to interfere with the wellbeing and safety of their children or grandchildren. But, we also do not put anyone in our family in a situation that may be uncomfortable even in the slightest if it is at all possible.
We all grew up in this small town in Virginia. I have often spoken of my friend Heather from my childhood and how her mother was my own mother’s best friend in high school. Just before Heather’s recent medical scare in August, her grandmother, Peanut, passed away leaving Sharon (her mother) and Heather at a loss. My mother and Sharon, due to the way life happens, had not spent any time to speak of together for many years. Yet, when mom called her to tell her where we were and what was happening, Sharon opened up her late mother’s house and had my mother to stay with her there. Sharon had to leave the next day to stay the week at the hospital with Heather (who is recovering nicely), and yet she insisted that my mother use the house as her own. Simply amazing!
For the first few days, my mother stayed at Peanut’s and Ashley and I kept the kids at my father’s house. We had a wonderful visit. The children ate apples straight from the trees. They fed cows through the fence and watched the deer come down from the hills. They slid through across the hardwood floors and fed every leftover crumb to their dog at every meal. They really got to spend time with a side of their family that they rarely got to see due to location and the year lost to CPS. It was great for everyone involved. For myself, I had time to really talk to my father. As I have said before, it was impossible for me to explain our case as it happened because of the embarrassment. It was difficult to debunk the myths even to the man who had known me my entire life. But we had this time now. We got to know each other through our understanding of what occurred and found strength and pride in the return of our family. I could not thank Irma enough for making these moments happen.
During our stay there, we would take the kids out to the park in my small town to play and stopped by to see mom at Peanut’s house. The kids had a blast with the five dogs there and my mother told me that she and spoken with Sharon and taken on the task of helping her to sort through some things while she was away. She had also taken on the task of helping Heather’s dad to remove some kitchen cabinets so that they could remodel the flooring. This meant packing up everything that Peanut had collected in the kitchen during her 94 years of life. We are nothing if not musketeers so, we went back to my father’s house that night. Thanked them for their hospitality. Spent one more night and left for Peanut’s the next day. We had work to do!
Boys at the Park
Girls at the Park
Box after box, photo after photo, memory after memory, I was so thankful that I was there and that another generation was getting to feel just how much this house felt like home. You know how when you are at someone else’s house there is always a worry that the kids might break something or get ahold of something to play with that has sentimental value? Here, in this home, I did not have that fear. You see, this is also my family. This is also my home. We dumped out boxes of old toys and the children took turns with cookie cutters and letter magnets each day until the dew would dry enough that they could climb hills and chase dogs. They “worked” around the boxes and enjoyed “helping” to fill them. They ate well, slept well, and played well. NO ONE could ask for more out of four toddlers in a “strange” place.
Boxes don’t stop lunch!
Because the dew was dry!
So Heather called me crying on the Tuesday. She and her mother were very grateful for our work at the house and did not realize just how grateful we were to be there. My response was simple, upstairs, on a mirror above the fireplace, there was a photo of my oldest son as he crossed the stage at his high school graduation. You do not get more family than that. I was not boxing up “her” grandmother’s stuff, I was boxing up “our” grandmother’s belongings. With that, she said that she could not bear the idea that Clarabelle was not going to have a party on her birthday because of the storm. I informed her that we had a party planned when we got home and her presents were already there. Heather, being the stubborn emotional woman that I love dearly, would not take no for an answer. Wednesday afternoon, on Clarabelle’s third birthday, Heather had her dad to bring a cake and ice cream. We ran out and grabbed a present, laid a blanket outside in the sun, and had a birthday party filled with love and puppies! Tomorrow, I will post pictures of her princess party in Florida, but I believe the makeshift party in Virginia will be the one that she remembers the most! (Thank you, my friend).
We finally got the call that the power and water were back on at our home in Florida but the roads were still flooded and the traffic was pretty backed up with trucks heading to Southern Florida so we decided to wait a few more days. We visited my son, Zach at the park just at the Virginia/ West Virginia line and did a little bit of necessary shopping. We continued to pack boxes, visit with friends and family, and spend time with the babies. It was a peaceful time during one of the more chaotic time periods in Florida. I cannot say enough how thankful I am to have been able to evacuate.
The trip home was long but not because of traffic. I believe that we were squeezing in every moment of time on the road that we could. We stopped frequently at restaurants with play areas and rest stops with lots of open grass. We laughed and just enjoyed the fact that we were safe and together.
So many people lost so much during the hurricane. I hope that everyone also took some time to consider who they have in their lives. It is so easy to get caught up in belongings and certainly, some things are necessary. But please, look around you, look to your past, look to your present, and consider just how far your presence on this earth has spread its value.