Friday, January 28, 2011

Hit Me, Baby, One More Time...

Tomorrow Bella celebrates her 9th birthday. Today I am reposting a blog entry I wrote for her birthday last year.  It still rings true with every day that passes. Happy Birthday Bella!

Seasons of Love

On January 29, Bella celebrated her 8th birthday. Every year I am amazed about how much she has been through and achieved in her short time on earth. As any of you with special needs children know there are many emotions you experience over the years with them.

It starts with the initial pang of uncertainty and doubt when faced with the initial diagnosis. Will I be able to handle this? Am I strong enough to make the right decisions for them? How will this affect the rest of our family? This time reminds me of Winter. The world feels cold around you and all you see for miles is the snowy path that seems slippery and unsure. Hearing that Bella had moderate brain damage after her illness and that she might never walk or talk, left me on the floor gasping for breath. Soon after, we learned the illness had also left her with profound deafness. It was as if a wintry blizzard had overtaken my mind. All I could see was a complete whiteout. I have learned to cope with this season by continuing to put one foot in front of the other even when the ground feels so unsteady that you are sure it will crumble. Making forward progress is important in order to move on to the waiting seasons.

Just as in nature, when you are sure that the rest of your days will be filled with icicles and freezing temperatures, it is then that you hear the faint sweet song of a robin. At first, you question if you really heard anything at all or if it was just wishful thinking. I can remember hearing Bella say "kitty" for the first time and thinking I was imagining it. We worked for months when she was a tiny infant to have her roll over on her right side. It was so difficult for her coordinating her muscles on her right side due to the brain damage from the meningitis. Then one day she did it! Spring is all about hope and renewed faith. It is truly wonderful to see hardwork from therapy pay off in a miraculous moment you feared you might never see.

After the first buds of promise come in Spring, Summer comes close behind. Full flowers emerge and the world is green. It is easier to think about possibilities and also how to attack challenges when the sun is shining warmly on your face. Progress is being made and while there are always some challenges that arise, they are not overwhelming at this point. I think back to when Bella began walking with unsteady steps around 16 months. She was extremely unbalanced, partly due to the large cochlear implant body worn processors that swung on either side of her body with each step she took. The progress she was making with receptive and expressive language and the simple fact that she was WALKING, made it easier to swallow the difficulties she had; falling every few feet. Then you wake up one morning and notice a slight chill in the air. Change is coming once more...

Of all of the seasons, I think Autumn, is the most beautiful. It is a time of reflection on what has worked best and what didn't work over the last few months. Is more therapy needed to reach another level? What other challenges have appeared now that the child is growing older? Schedules are rearranged to fit the needs. Reviewing past memories produce some that are a beautiful like the gold and orange leaves in the trees, while others remain green and dull. In Bella's case, her implants are checked in the Fall to ensure they are working properly and also reprogram them to achieve the highest level of sound quality. There is also another kind of reflection that sometimes happens as you review the previous months. Seeing another child the same age as my child with no disability has at times put a cold shiver up my spine, if only for a moment. It is difficult to see how easy the monkey bars can be for another little girl or how she doesn't struggle to hear her Mom call her in the loud, noisy playground filled with lots of noise. Like the day warms up after a cool morning in Autumn, I push this chill away from my soul. Focusing on what my child can't do will not produce the confident child I desire. Yes, she has challenges, but it is my job to teach her how to work around them to the best of her ability not dwell on them.

Then before you know it the winds have changed once more and the chill that was only lasting in the early morning has crept in to last the whole day. Another major obstacle has been placed in your way. One that you were not expecting and you are not sure you will be able to handle. One cool February when Bella was two, we were told one of her implants had become infected and would need to be removed. It meant surgery to remove it and surgery a few months later to put it back in after the infection had been treated. Again, it is time to take a deep breath, walk forward, no matter how slow. It is the forward progress that is important. Winter is back now, but Spring will be here soon...

Happy 8th Birthday Bella! You are amazing!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What If...

So last night a topic of discussion was raised by Bella that had never been brought up before. As usual I was moving way to fast, trying to do too many things at once, running the risk of errors and mistakes with every step. Bella and I were at swimming. As we got ready to leave the locker room, she noticed that I had forgotten to put away her implants. She looked at me with concern and said it would be "very bad" if we lost her implants. She said, "I would have to learn sign language or lip read for the rest of my life." I guess I have told her how expensive they are so she didn't even consider getting replacements in her scenario.

Want to know what her biggest cause of alarm regarding losing her implants? "And Mom, I would never be able to do pinatas anymore. You know they put the blindfold on and stand behind you to give directions. I would never know what they are saying."

Interesting concern and one I had never considered...

Monday, January 24, 2011

There She Goes...

Ah Saturday. A perfect day to sleep in, relax, take it easy, with no real place to have to be. Not in the Rowe household this week. Harry started it off with guitar lessons, followed by a whole load of activities that Bella was participating in. First she had clay camp, followed by a girl scout cookie rally, and rounding out the day with a practice swim meet.

Bella has been doing clay camp for the last few weeks now. She really enjoys it, even though she has figured out that working with clay is not the easiest feat. Still, she is determined to work hard and improve. Above you can see her clay projects. The teacher has been great about being positive and helping the kids learn new techniques every week. This was her last week for the session, but I think we will do it again in the Spring. Bella really enjoys arts and crafts and she doesn't get a lot at school.

On to the Girl Scout cookie rally. This year cookie sales are being handled a bit differently. Instead of taking orders, the cookies will be ordered before hand and then sold door to door. I'm not sure how this will go. Yes, it was a pain to take the orders first and then go around later and deliver them, but at least no one was stuck with extra cookies. For out of state relatives and friends, they can donate money for cookies that will be given to the local food shelf at the end of March. For anyone interested in doing so, please send me a message and I will be in touch. The rally was fun for the troop and all the girls got to play games about the cookies and then have a sample of each one.

We ended the day with a practice swim meet for Bella. Up until this point, we have just been concentrating on her sessions during the week, but with her recent improvements, she decided she was ready to try a practice meet. For being a practice meet, it seemed pretty official to me. Parents weren't allowed on the pool deck, the times went up on the timer board, the kids started on the blocks, and they even had the touch-pads in the water. All of these things were new to Bella and pretty exciting. Before the meet we had discussed what events she wanted to do. She had decided the freestyle and the backstroke. In this practice meet it was only one lap of each stroke (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and fly). The kids were divided into groups of 6 by their ages. The cool thing about the meet was that everyone got a ribbon (1st-6th). As you might expect, Bella (motivated greatly by receiving ribbons) decided to try all the events. I neglected to write down her times, but she came in 4th place in the backstroke, (video below-she is in 3rd lane from the left) 5th place in the breaststroke, and 6th in the other events. It was a little complicated for her since she had never started on the blocks before. Also, she was a little delayed starting each time because she had to look to the side for the hand signal rather than hear the whistle. I know at some meets they have a light across the lane to look at as a starter, but since this was just practice, they didn't have that as an option. The coaches even added an extra event at the end, the 50 free. Did Bella do it? What do you think? You can count her ribbons below and find out the answer. Today, Erick and Bella are headed to Office Max to get a bulletin board for her room so she has a place to keep her ribbons on display.

Well Saturday may not have been relaxing, but it sure was rewarding...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two is Better than One...

Okay so look closely at today's blog entry and you might notice a difference. I will keep you guessing until the end, but don't expect too much, it's not THAT exciting.

As a family, we are back to our post holiday routines. Swimming, snowboarding, Boy Scouts, piano and the ever present school. Every night seems like a new adventure in trying to beat the timer to get where we need to go. In addition to the "regular" activities, Becca has also added in nightly practices for a play that she is in at school. It is "Our Town", the famous play by Thornton Wilder. She was one of only two freshmen to make the cast. The entire cast is very small, only about 32, so that makes her getting in even more exciting.

Bella continues to make progress in her swimming. She is now between two levels and is doing the harder level once a week to see how she does and get more one on one attention (since the next level has fewer kids than the level she is in). She really likes going to the harder level, even though it is very challenging.  If you know Bella, or if your have been reading about Bella for awhile on this blog, then you know she doesn't back down from a challenge!

In addition to their daily extra curricular activities, the older two kids are discovering the "joys" of finals. I have to be honest. I thought finals were tough as a student, but it just might be harder to go through finals as a parent. First reason: Instead of just 5 or 6 tests, you are worried about 12-18 depending on how many kids you might have. Second reason: The stress level around the house is unbelievable. As a student, all I had to do was worry about myself, but now, I have to get through 2 stressed out kids. Putting out constant fires and explosions is not my favorite pastime. Becca will be done with her finals tomorrow and Harry will be done next Thursday. I am counting the days.

This picture was taken of my dash this morning. Yes, for all you non-Minnesotans, that truly does read -22 degrees. That was air temp, folks, not windchill. The picture below is where I will be 68 days from now. Erick and I are planning a trip to Mexico for my 40th birthday at the end of March. It will not come soon enough.

So the big change in the blog? Well it all stemmed from this article brought to my attention by my sister in law Why you should never, ever, use two spaces after a period. Who knew? Well, I tell you after those high school typing classes, it is a very hard habit to break. In fact you may find some mistakes in this entry if you look closely, since I had to keep going back and changing to one space. Well, change is what life is all about, I guess. Being less than two weeks from the big "40", I feel change is just what I need.

Change in temperature and scenery that is...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Raise Your Glass...

So the ball has dropped on 2011, literally. Now I am left wondering what the new year will bring. I have to say, it was a little unsettling how the new year was rung in at the Rowe house this year. We were missing some key players. Becca was out with friends and Harry went snowboarding with my sister's husband and his daughter. So I took Bella to see the movie "Tangled" before we went home to enjoy surf and turf prepared by Erick.

I find it interesting that this whole holiday season I have been confronted by the same phrase from loads of different people, "Are you ready?"  After the first few times of just saying "yes", I began to reflect more.  Does it really matter if you are "ready" for the holidays or any other day?  I mean it comes whether you are ready or not.  Sure it is great to prepare, but it will come just the same.  I began to think that it is really hard to be truly ready for events as big as Christmas.  You can have bought the presents, wrapped them, decorated, but there is always more that could have been done, right?  More cleaning, more cooking, more donating to charities...That is why it is good that the day just comes at some point.  It allows us to stop "getting ready" and just enjoy the day.

Heading into the New Year is a bit the same.  You can prepare by making a resolution, thinking about things you'd like to do differently, but it comes whether you do that or not.  Last year I kept my resolution for the first time ever.  Losing 30 lbs over the course of the year was a great achievement.  This year I didn't really set a specific goal, but I am trying to change some of the ways I handle situations.  Less RE-action, more PRE-action, if that makes any sense.

So are you ready to start the new year?  Ready or not, here it comes...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

And So This is Christmas...

I love Christmas as much as the next person.  Well, I should be more specific, I enjoy parts of Christmas.  I love the food, the excitement, the feeling of "good cheer", the gifts, and the gathering of family.  Parts I don't like are decorating, UN-decorating, wrapping gifts, and being at Target with about 10,000 crazy people desperately searching for something to gift another person.

Christmas this year was pretty low key.  Christmas Eve was spent cooking and preparing Christmas desserts that I would bring to my parents on Christmas day,  with a mid day break at church to watch Bella sing.  Christmas Day started with a very upset Harry who thought the festivities (ie. opening gifts) would never begin because he was convinced his two sisters would never wake up.  I relented at 8:15am and let him wake them up.  Then off to Grandma's and Grandpa's house for more gifts and food.   The day went long and as usual, by the end of the day, I was ready to collapse and be done with Christmas for another year.  It was nice to see my littlest brother at Christmas this year.  He is headed off to Iraq for a year of contracting work.  We pray for his well being while there and his safe return.

The day after Christmas we had Erick's brother, Matthew over along with his wife, Justine.  They also brought Justine's sister and her baby since they had just picked her up from the airport.  Erick was the perfect husband and handled the lunch of sandwiches without my assistance.  After all the cooking I did on Christmas Eve, I was a little burnt out on the cooking.  Have I mentioned what a great guy I am married to?  In addition to the human visitors, we also had a surprise animal guest when Matt and Justine also brought over their dog, "Little Guy".  Needless to say, Ika was quite intrigued by Little Guy, and after a bit of a rough start, they seemed to enjoy each others company by the end (sort of).

As if the weekend hadn't been enough fun and excitement, we extended the holiday into Monday when we made a visit to the Mall of America.  My sister had purchased tickets for our family to go to "MagiQuest" as a gift for Harry's birthday.  I'm not sure what my reasoning was, (it seemed sound at the time), but I didn't want to go to the MOA before Christmas as I was sure it was going to be crazy busy.  For some reason I had convinced myself that the Monday after Christmas would be safe and that crowds would have died down after the holiday.  I could not have been more wrong!  It took 1 1/2 hours to get there, (usually would have been about 25 minutes).  Most of the delay in getting to the mall was in parking.  All of the entrances to the MOA were blocked off, (I'm assuming all of the parking spots were full, which is kind of hard to believe, but oh well) so we wound up parking in the overflow lot across the street.  The adventure at MagiQuest was fun, but mostly for Harry.  Basically, it was an interactive, role playing game where you walk around with a wand to solve mysteries and find objects.  My wand kept frustrating me because I would find all the things and then it didn't save it, so when I got to the end of the "quest" I was on, it said I didn't have everything I needed.  Bella just enjoyed pointing her pink sparkly wand at things.  Erick seemed to get into it quite a bit, but once Harry got serious about becoming  Master Magi (someone who finds all the objects), he dropped Erick because he said, "he was slowing me down."

Looking forward to some downtime before the new year kicks off...