Paradise, a Poem

Apr 8, 2016 by

This has been a rough few weeks. On March 14, my brother-in-law Ben Chase shot himself. Our family has been in pretty deep mourning ever since. Ben left behind a lot of people who loved him dearly, including his fiancee, his children, his parents, his brother, other family members and pretty much everyone he ever met.

I still really don’t have the words to write about what Ben meant to me, and how much his absence affects us all. But I wanted to share with you a poem that my husband wrote for the funeral.



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Happy Anniversary

Jul 9, 2015 by

Ten years ago, I walked down the aisle and promised to love and cherish Matt forever.

Matt kissing Yavonda on the temple on their wedding day.

Has it really been 10 years since we tied the knot?

It is the still the best decision I’ve ever made.

My dearest, we may have a few more lines on our faces and a few more pounds on our frames, but you still make my heart flutter. Every day, I am amazed by how wonderful a father you are to our daughter. She is so blessed to have you. And every day, I am so fortunate to have you to share the highs and the lows, the laughter and the tears.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Matt — and here’s to many, many more.


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Love You Forever

Jul 2, 2015 by

This morning as Alaina was waking me up for hugs and kisses before camp, she suddenly sang me a little song.

I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, my Mommy you'll be -- Robert Munsch 

*Sniff, sniff*

Apparently, Matt had read Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw, to Alaina this morning, which must have inspired her. Her song was a beautiful gift on a morning I definitely needed it.

While it isn’t unusual for Alaina to sing me a song if I ask her to, it is quite unusual for her to sing one unsolicited. That made it all the more special.

So what sort of special gifts have your kiddos given you that really touched you?

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Kindergarten redux

Jun 13, 2015 by

Note: This is the post I’ve NEEDED, and been unable, to write for the past few months. Please bear with me as I attempt to put months of worrying into words.

Alaina will be repeating kindergarten next school year.

There I’ve said it, or more accurately, I’ve written it.

This may be old news to many of you. As Matt and I struggled to decide what was best for Alaina, I’ve reached out to a number of you. You’ve given me good advice, you’ve comforted me when I agonized over this decision, and for that, I thank you.

This decision has been the elephant in the room at our home this year. Yes, this entire year. And it is the reason I haven’t been blogging much. When it came to my child, THIS was what on my mind and my heart. THIS was what kept me awake at night. THIS was what made me sick to my stomach.

But I couldn’t write about it. Part of me felt I needed to protect Alaina from others knowing that she was struggling. Part of me felt it didn’t do much good to talk publicly about it until we knew what we were going to do. After all, if she suddenly had a major breakthrough in the last few weeks of kindergarten, why put her struggles out there?

And part of me just hurt and was angry — why was my child struggling? Hasn’t she struggled enough? When does she just get to enjoy childhood?

If you are new to this blog — aka you can’t remember when it was called Baby and the Beasts — you may be completely confused now. So let’s go back to the very beginning.

Alaina was born July 26, 2009. She was a full-term baby — actually she was four days overdue, which I mention because it was JULY in ARKANSAS! It was hot and I was really fat and ready to get the whole pregnancy business over with! I went into labor on a Saturday night, was given pitocin on Sunday morning to up the contractions and then proceeded over the next 5 1/2 hours to dilate to approximately the width of a pinkie finger. Alaina entered this world through a C-section.

Life was good.

She was healthy, and she and Matt slept in my room that first night. Matt woke me up every two hours to feed her, just like the nurses told us too. I was exhausted, but so very happy.

The next morning I sent Matt home to take a shower and pick up a few thing we had forgotten to pack. The lactation consultant came in to help me with nursing, and my world came crashing down.

While the consultant was changing Alaina’s diaper to get her to wake up to nurse, she realized Alaina was pooping vaginally. A flurry of activity then ensued. Someone from the nursery came to take Alaina. That nurse called the pediatrician who had examined Alaina that morning and found her to be perfectly healthy back to the hospital. I called Matt in tears and told him what was happening. He rushed back to the hospital.

In short order, we were told that Alaina had an imperforate anus (she had no anal opening) with a vaginal fistula. Because Alaina could poop (and was doing so a lot), the doctor and nurses had missed the malformation. But Alaina needed immediate surgery, so she was whisked to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She would spend the next 12 days recovering from a surgery to create stomas so she could poop into an ostomy bag.

She had a bag for just shy of six months. At the third month, she had a surgery to create an anal opening. Once that healed, her stomas were closed off to allow her to poop normally. Or almost normally. She doesn’t have all of the nerves that most of us have, so she doesn’t get as much warning that she needs to go. And her muscles aren’t nearly as effective at buying her time to get the bathroom. Accidents happen — and this year, they happened a lot.

But she isn’t repeating kindergarten because of poop.

After the surgeries, Alaina had a physical developmental delay. She was slow to crawl and slow to walk. When she was about 18 months old, Alaina started physical therapy, which she has been in ever since. Her core muscles are weak, which leads to weakness in her extremities. It just never occurred to us that those muscles would get in the way of her education — but they did.

We were a little nervous about sending Alaina to kindergarten this school year. She turned 5 a mere six days before the Aug. 1 cut-off. But the teachers at Alaina’s preschool thought she was ready, so off she went.

She had a wonderful kindergarten teacher, who at the first parent-teacher conference brought in two therapists and the school’s counselor to set up a 504 plan for Alaina. We decided she needed 30 minutes, twice a week, of physical therapy and occupational therapy. She also continued her hour of physical therapy a week at a private clinic. For the first time since Alaina aged out of the Early Child Intervention program at 3 years old, she was getting all of the physical therapy that her doctor wanted her to have. (Our insurance capped at 30 the number of sessions a year they would pay for and unfortunately, I didn’t know we could petition for more sessions until much later.)

Other physical accommodations were made for Alaina as well, such as a special chair to give her more support in the computer room, where the desks were much too large for her.

That meeting was the first sign for us that Alaina’s physical delays were going to be a problem in kindergarten. The teacher and therapists told us Alaina seemed to tired all of the time, especially in the afternoons. At first I thought she was just missing her nap — but really she had really already given up the nap, except in rare circumstances.

So Matt and I took Alaina to various doctors, who could find no answer for the tiredness. We and Alaina’s 504 team finally decided that she used up so much more energy than other children just sitting up in a chair all day. Without strong core muscles, it required real effort for her to sit still or to hold herself in the proper writing position so she could work on her letters and numbers.

But as the therapy continued, Alaina started to make real progress. Her climbing and running improved. She could do sit ups if someone held her feet. Before this year, Alaina couldn’t do a sit up — the muscles in her stomach simply weren’t strong enough.

Academically, Alaina excelled in some areas, while struggling in others. In one of those things that surprised absolutely no one, Alaina is doing well in reading. I guess that is to be expected when mom is a journalist and dad is a college-level English and composition instructor. If there is one thing we do a lot at our house, it is read.

Math was another matter. She just wasn’t making progress in that subject at school, although she could answer math questions at home. It wasn’t until the end of the school year when we finally realized what might be the problem — math was taught at the end of the day.

Alaina’s energy stores were depleted by then. And with only a 20-minute lunch time, she wasn’t having enough time to eat enough food to recharge. In February we had started sending a lunch from home so she could avoid the line, but it wasn’t enough — or maybe it was too little, too late. (In good news, we’ve written an in-class snack into her 504 plan for next year in hopes that it will help her be more productive in the afternoons.)

And then there was writing. Writing was where all of Alaina’s physical weaknesses just seemed to conspire against her. While she made progress, she was still well behind where she needed to be to move on to first grade.

So in late February at parent/teacher conferences, Alaina’s 504 team brought up retention with us. I can’t say that we were surprised — Matt and I had already discussed our concerns that she might not be ready. Elementary school has changed a lot since I was kid. Kindergarten is basically what first grade (and maybe a bit of second) was for us. I’m not sure, but I think they may introduce algebra in first grade now. *kidding, sorta*

But either way, it was a punch to the gut to hear the words. I was pretty stoic in the first half of the meeting, but eventually, I broke down. I just couldn’t help it — my heart hurt so much for my little girl. I wondered how we’d tell her that she wasn’t going to move up with her friends. I was afraid kids would make fun of her. I was afraid her self-esteem would be crushed.

After the shock passed, I told a few people. I also reached out to some teachers I’ve known for years and asked them if they would assess Alaina. Their assessments confirmed what we were hearing from educators at Alaina’s school. She wasn’t ready for first grade.

By late April, Matt and I had made our decision to retain Alaina. But we didn’t tell her until after we had signed the formal paperwork in mid-May.

She seemed completely unfazed by the news. I hope that remains the case. I can’t bear the thought of her sweet little spirit being dinged or damaged by this. I pray that other children are kind. I pray her new classmates never realize this is her second round of kindergarten. (The good news is she is pretty small, so she won’t stand out in that way.) I hope that her classmates from this past year don’t tease her. I know I can’t protect her from injuries and slights forever, but that doesn’t keep me from trying.

And now I’ve told you.

I’ve debated about this post. Is it right to discuss my daughter’s struggles in this forum? Is this even my story to tell? This blog, from its earliest incarnation to now, has always been Alaina-focused. I’ve talked about her health problems, her therapy, her successes, her struggles. But this post felt different — I wondered if this would be something she would resent me writing about when she was older.

I wrestled with these questions for months and in the end, I had to write this post. If I didn’t, I don’t think I would have been able to continue this blog. This has been on my heart all year — for six very long months. If I chose not to tell this story, I would have been lying — to you and to myself.

So I end this post with a request for prayers (from those of you who pray) or for good thoughts (from those of you who don’t.) Please pray that this next year is exactly what Alaina needs — and that she has a wonderful kindergarten redux.

And pray for me, specifically that I have peace. There are moments when I see my friends’ children doing so well at school and in sports, and I am jealous. I am happy for them, but I also want to scream, ‘WHY must my child struggle so much?’ ‘When does she get that childhood?’ I rage and I hurt. But then I see friends whose children are struggling much more than my child ever has. I see friends whose sons are battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a fatal condition that has seen numerous research breakthroughs in recent years, but still no cure. I see a high school friend whose beautiful baby was diagnosed with cancer just shy of her first birthday. That beautiful child smiles in all of her pictures on Facebook, even as she undergoes chemotherapy. In those moments, I am humbled. I weep. I remember I am blessed, and I finally feel peace.

And with peace, I remember that life and parenting are not always easy, but they are wonderful.

Parenting isn't always easy, but it's worth every second.

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Happy Birthday

Feb 21, 2015 by

Today is a MOMENTOUS birthday for my sister Sonda! I won’t reveal her age, but I will point out that this is a BIG birthday! A black balloon sort of birthday, even! 😉

And in one of those twists of fate that I have always loved, yesterday was her husband’s birthday! He is exactly one day older than Sonda. And they are both much, much older than me. *teehee*

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sonda and Kevin! Love you guys!

Birthday cats

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Wordless Wednesday: Statue of Liberty

Feb 11, 2015 by

Alaina’s kindergarten class studied about the Statue of Liberty the other day. She was so proud to show off her crown and torch. I think she makes a pretty good Lady Liberty.

Wordless Wednesday -- Statue of Liberty

Alaina shows off her Statue of Liberty crown and torch.

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