cooper

A letter to My Firstborn

A few days before you were born.

The day before you were born.

When I went into labor with you I was completely at peace. Yes, you were technically preterm and yes, I’d never been through labor and knew considerably little about motherhood, but deep down in my budding momma heart I just knew that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t rush to the hospital or even wake your dad, but just spent a few quiet hours with you in the pre-dawn. The two of us peacefully laboring together before all the hubbub began. Today, even though I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to strengthen your perceived weaknesses in communication, I realize what a gift it is that the two of us can just sit and be. Words may never be your forte, but there is strength in quiet. As Susan Cain says, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Holding you for the first time.

Holding you for the first time.

You were so excited to come into this world, racing in weeks before your due date with a labor much quicker than most women’s first, but then at the last second it was like you panicked. All the Hippie books I’d read hinted at magical slip n’ slide birth moments, but with you it was two exhausting hours of sheer force exertion on my part before you finally made your appearance – your brand new head all scraped and bruised from our struggle. Five years later, you and I still have these moments where you freeze and I push you out into the world, but I’m learning to prod more gently and be more patient. It’s less agonizing for both of us.

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Your Grandma Cindy did a great job of photographing you, but if you look close you can see the scab and bruise on your head.

They didn’t let me hold you immediately because your premature nature posed risks to your health. I waited anxiously until the doctors determined what I already knew: that you were perfect. When they placed you tenderly into my arms your dad and I looked at each other, happy tears welling in our eyes, and felt more complete than we’d ever felt before.

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Your timing was terrible. Your dad missed a final to be my side as we welcomed you into the world and you and I succumbed to a state of delirious exhaustion instead of attending his graduation. But what we didn’t realize at first, was that your timing was also perfect. Retrospect shows how family visits, job interviews, and a big move all fit perfectly into place around your little puzzle piece. You taught us, and are continually teaching us, that things don’t always happen the way you hope, but they happen in ways that are better for you in the long run.

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I was so worried about having a boy and what sort of roughness that would introduce into my life, but you’ve always had the sweetest spirit about you. You were the first child, grandchild, and nephew and you softened all of us. Your aunts, who didn’t particularly care for children, and your angsty teenage uncles all held you in gentle awe. Even my dad, your grandpa, the man who schooled me in the art of sarcasm, melted into a puddle of coochy coos at the sight of you. Everyone that meets you remarks on this gentle quality you have. It’s possibly one of your biggest vulnerabilities, but I also think it’s one of your biggest strengths.

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Now you are almost five. A full-fledged kid headed to kindergarten in the fall. I worry about you more than you will probably ever know. I worry that I’m not doing enough for you or that I’ve turned you into a science project with therapists for friends. I worry about whether other kids will be nice to you and how you’ll do in school. When I spiral into these worry cycles I’m overlooking something very important: how strong you are in your gentle way. Instead, I should think back on the day you were born and remember what I knew from the beginning, that in your own way, you are perfect and everything is going to be okay. I promise to try and remember that more often.

audrey3

Love,
Mom

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Easter 2015

We’ve had some pretty exciting Easters, and while this one definitely wouldn’t fall into that category, it was nice to have a low-key Easter this year.

Easter Buckets

On Easter morning, the kids came out to find their Easter buckets (yes, buckets). They were excited to get warm weather pajamas, a special gift (a book for Cooper and Hello Kitty silverware for Ellen) as well as a somewhat spiritual movie (and personal favorite) The Prince of Egypt.

Bucket Buddies

Cooper giving Ellen one of her eggs.

After reading the Easter story in their picture scriptures and eating a wholesome breakfast, we let them go hunt for eggs in the backyard. We put two different kinds of stickers on the eggs with one assigned to each of them, so they’d find an equal number of eggs. They were really good about only taking the eggs that belonged to them.

Bad squirrels The squirrels, however, were not good at this. We’d hidden the eggs about an hour before the kids started looking for them and the squirrels got into four of them. Everyone thinks they’re cute, but trust me, they’re really evil. Fortunately, most of the candy was stuff we’d reused from our church’s egg hunt and most of my homemade peanut butter cups were safely in the fridge.

After the kids each ate a few pieces of candy, it was time to watch General Conference.

2015-04-05 10.00.57The kids obviously didn’t have the attention span to watch all of the sessions in their entirety, but they did enjoy the music and they got excited when President Monson spoke.

2015-04-05 13.29.34In between sessions we had a picnic in the backyard and relaxed elbowed each other in the hammock.

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After all the sessions were over, we had a lovely ham dinner with shredded potato casserole, roasted carrots, and pound cake for dessert.

P4050062After dinner the kids tried to catch rabbits until we made them take baths and go to bed. (Much to the bunnies relief.) It was a rejuvenating weekend on all fronts.

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Nutella consumption linked with autism

autism_nutellaAfter an exhaustive meta analysis of many factors that could potentially be causing the spike in Autism rates in recent years, I have found the one factor that is alarmingly correlated: Nutella consumption. Well, specifically interest in Nutella as evidenced by Google searches, but I think it’s safe to say that increased Google searches of Nutella means increased consumption. My scientifically proven* hypothesis is that increased Nutella consumption during pregnancy causes an excess of sugar and hazelnut compounds in the bloodstream of the mother that pass on to the fetus and alter the chemistry of their developing brain. The full research study, co-authored with Dr. Mr. Andrew Wakefield, will be published soon** in the medical journal The Lancet.

 

*not using the actual scientific method

**not published at all

For actual interesting cutting edge research on autism, see this TED Talk.

 

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Light It Up Blue 2.0

Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue

It’s World Autism Awareness Day! Here’s an update of our experiences since my light it up blue post last year.

The last year by the numbers:

  • 2,000 miles driven for autism related therapies and appointments
  • 5 therapists worked with
  • 1 autism center quit
  • 2 IEP teams collaborated with
  • 1 therapy graduation (occupational therapy)
  • 1 gajillion forms filled out
  • 6 seasons of Parenthood watched

The past year has been a learning experience. We’ve learned that not all autism centers are created equal and that sometimes driving farther to see a better therapist is worth it. We’ve been touched by friends that volunteered their time to watch our kids so we could attend various meetings and classes. We’ve been grateful for good insurance and that we live in a state that has health insurance mandated autism treatment. We are slowly building our “village.”

National Autism Awareness

To many outsiders, we seem like a completely normal family since right now Cooper is often able to hide behind shyness and being young. When I tell people he as an ASD diagnosis half the people are surprised while the other half realize that was the thing they couldn’t quite put their finger on. We aren’t completely sure whether it will become more or less obvious that he’s on the spectrum as he gets older – only time will tell. Often, even we go long stretches where we forget he has a diagnosis, but it always has a way of sneaking up and slapping us in the face. Sometimes it happens when someone mistakes him for a younger child or when a friend posts about the hilarious thing their kid just did. And often it happens when I pick him up from preschool and other kids excitedly spout off paragraphs about what they did as I ask Cooper simple questions based off the cheat sheet his teachers give me every day. In those instances, it’s so easy to get discouraged and forget how much progress he’s made.

Probably one of the hardest moments of the year was when Cooper participated in his first Primary program. It’s one of the best Sundays of the year where the kids provide all the talks and music for our main church meeting. We knew this would be a challenge and were nervous about him being on display for everyone, but were optimistic. Cooper is familiar with many of the people in our church community and the Primary president, a family friend, would be helping him with his part so we really thought we might be able to pull it off. We practiced the part at home and Noel attended the two rehearsals. Additionally, we took him to the church when no one was there and let him practice talking into the microphone and saying his part to an empty room. When the big day came, we held our breath. Every kid (including the ones his age) said their part in the microphone and sang songs in the funny way kids do. Their parents beamed. When Cooper stepped up to the microphone he just stood there stiffly with a goofy grin on his face and scrunched up eyes. When they sang, he flapped his arms, picked his nose, and stared into space. Afterwards, people told me, “It was so cute the way he waved his arms up there!” “He’s shy, but with more practice he’ll get it!” They were all well meaning. I did my best to smile and not cry or yell, “You know he has autism, right?!?!” It could have been worse, it really could have, but still our heart ached that we couldn’t just blend in. And the hardest part?  He knows every word to those songs and probably had his part memorized.

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The kids have no idea what autism is or that Cooper has an ASD diagnosis. Right now, Cooper just thinks he has special adult friends with cool toys. Honestly, Ellen will probably figure it out before he does. One time when I took Cooper to speech, Ellen turned to him and said, “I’m going with [the therapist] and you’re going with mom, okay?” I told her that’s not how it works, that we come here for Cooper to see his speech therapist. She seemed fine with the answer, but it’s only a matter of time.

Even though there are hard and frustrating moments, sometimes autism can be funny. Ellen was being particularly saucy one day and I asked her, “Are you being a sassy pants?” She replied with, “I’m not being a sassy pants! Cooper’s a sassy pants!” Cooper, who was flying an airplane around the kitchen, paused, looked down at his pants and then looked at me with a puzzled expression. Clearly, his pants weren’t sassy. Through it all, he’s a genuinely sweet kid that’s actually quite intelligent. It’s just unlocking it that’s sometimes the challenge.

As a parent of a child with ASD, we often feel a huge responsibility. I know every parent worries about doing the right things to help their child succeed, but when you have a kid with a disability it’s so easy to feel that if you don’t try the right diet or therapy or eliminate the right chemicals from your lives, your child, and by extension you, will be a failure. It’s a challenge to figure out the balance of letting Cooper be himself (and being okay with it) and getting him the help he needs to thrive in this world. We have the luxury of his autism not being incredibly obvious, but with that comes the burden of figuring out how to share this fact with others. I personally struggle to know how and when to mention his autism, not because I’m embarrassed, but because on some level I feel like I’m betraying him, but at the same time I feel like I’m betraying him if I’m not open about it. I just don’t want the subject of autism to be his awkward life-long icebreaker; I want people to see him as Cooper first and foremost.

LIUB

Autism is a hot topic right now. While in some ways I’m glad it’s getting attention, sometimes the theories get tiring. As a parent of an ASD kid it can be frustrating to see your child turned into a statistic that gets thrown around whether it’s in scientific studies or stupid articles people share on Facebook. The next time you read an article about autism, just take a second to remember that people stand behind those numbers and that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. (Honestly, this is good practice for most statistics.) I don’t claim to be an autism expert, there’s a lot I’m still learning, but if you ever have a question I’d love for you to ask. Really.

They have a saying in the autism community that “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Our experience is ours only. Some experiences are harder, some are easier, but for most of us, it’s a crazy combination of hard and easy.

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Finding cairns helped motivate the kids. Other hikers thought it was adorable and cute, rightly so.

Desert Oasis

A part of my heart will always belong to red rock country. Technically, I grew up in Brigham City, UT – a town most people have only driven past and where the school year can’t start until after the county fair. While the town and community obviously helped mold me into who I am, my soul will always claim the muddy waters of the Green River, the sagebrush strewn trails of the Wasatch front, and the red hoodoos of Southern Utah. A desert girl at heart, whenever my feet are on red dirt, I’m home.

I have always been fascinated by things that are green since they are rare to my natural habitat, but I remain fiercely loyal to the land I was raised on, loving anything that is dusty red. To borrow Edward Abbey’s words, “If we had water here this country would not be what it is. It would be like Ohio, wet and humid and hydrological, all covered with cabbage farms and golf courses. Instead of this lovely barren desert we would have only another blooming garden state, like New Jersey. And where then would people go when they wanted to see something besides people?”

***

Generally, when we get homesick for sandstone we head to Red Rocks, but at some point the hole in our heart gets too big and we have to have the real thing. We didn’t make any plans for Spring Break this year. We were just going to hang out at home and I’d take the kids to do some cool local stuff, but when I talked to one of the other preschool moms and she mentioned their plans to go to Moab I became painfully aware that the emptiness inside of me had grown so big it was dangerously close to swallowing me up. Our souls were in dire need of the comforting warmth of desert heat. In what may have been our first spontaneous act as a couple, we obsessively began planning a last minute, extended weekend trip to South Eastern Utah. We were giddy with excitement.

When Noel woke up in the middle of the night shivering uncontrollably, only hours before our planned departure, both our hearts sank and one or both of us may have even cried. After sufficient moping, napping, and general consumption of bland foods we regrouped the following afternoon. Noel was feeling significantly better after some uninvited purging (food poisoning?) and the car was already packed, so we decided to resume the trip one day late. Little did we know that a huge Jeep Safari was going to kick-off that weekend and our first and second choices of campsites were already full. Luckily, I’d read about a lesser known campground on my friend Valerie’s travel blog and the folks at Pack Creek Campground were able to squeeze us into half a group site. It was not ideal as it felt like all the jeeps, trucks, and RVs were closing in on us, but we were glad to have something. Every morning the jeeps would file out in lines and we’d head off to wander the desert on our own two feet, even the little people, quenching a thirst only a desert can.

St. Patrick's Day-001

A Full Week

I recently read an article titled “Busy is a Sickness” that struck close to home. I’m a high-functioning, chronic sufferer of self-induced busynesss as well as the complaining symptom that often accompanies it. Since reading the article, I’ve been trying to change some of that about my life. This last week was a bit of a challenge to that goal. Between having my sister visit, putting on a church event, trying to be involved with a community issue, and getting a little ambitious with projects, things were a little hectic, but definitely full. I’ll spare you most of the tedious details, but here are the highlights.

I knew the week was going to be busy and wanted to knock out as much prep as I could on Saturday. I borrowed my friend’s steam cleaner and cleaned all of our carpets. It turns out the carpets were filthy and glittery.

Glittery Mess

Has my basement been doubling as a night club?

Because I was feeling a little overly confident (or maybe just delusional), I thought I could also squeeze in a tiny house project where I filled a bunch of cracks in our front door and stained it. This is something I’ve wanted to do for the last four years and for some inexplicable reason, bad-timing aside, I just couldn’t put it off any longer. The problem was, I forgot our formula for house projects and didn’t do the math so even though we started the project Saturday, it wasn’t officially finished until Tuesday evening.

Cracked Door

Can you see the light coming through this poor, old, parched door?

All in all, it worked out. Our facade is much improved if I do say so myself. Bonus: light now only comes through the window.

Before and After

Both Cooper and Noel suited up on Sunday and I had to capture my handsome fellas. It was good to have a day of rest – God really knew what he was doing with that one.

Suit Up

Monday, my sister, Hope, and her son, Porter, flew into town. Hope’s husband, Joe, was in Costa Rica for a class (right . . . ) so logically she came to the next best place to have fun. The kids were beyond thrilled. Ellen kept saying, “Porter’s my buddy.”

Cousin HugsTuesday we all wore green and spent most of the day prepping for a dinner for our church women’s organization. The kids did a great job of entertaining each other and even though my support staff was pretty much MIA, we pulled everything together for a lovely evening. Bonus: Since I always make sure we have a nursery for these events, Noel was able to attend a community meeting about an important school issue.

St. Patrick's Day-001

On Wednesday, we picked Cooper up from preschool and spent the afternoon at the zoo. Everyone was a little testy by the end, but it was nice to not be on the clock for wood stain time frames or event start times.

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Picnic lunch

Zoo!

A picture Cooper took of us.

Gorilla

He was very excited to see the gorilla. Maybe because he recently saw Tarzan for the first time?

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Cooper patting Porter’s head when he started to fuss.

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Ellen being a baby.

Thursday, my brother, Mitchell, received his mission call and we got to watch him open it via Skype. He’ll serve a two-year mission speaking Dutch in Belgium and the Netherlands. I’m so glad he’s made this decision and am excited for all the adventures and learning experiences he’ll have.

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Today is the official first day of spring. I got up extra early to take Hope and Porter to the airport and then made a bunch of mini pies for a teacher appreciation lunch. The house felt a little lonely with Hope and Porter gone, but we’re glad they were able to visit. Life is definitely full.

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The flowers blooming in our front lawn.

A beautiful day

Ski Day

Eight years ago Audrey and I started this adventure of our life together. A lot of things have changed since then. We’ve gained some dependents, moved to another state, and are homeowners. This year we celebrated by taking a Tuesday off from work, dropping the kids with a friend, and declaring a snow day. I snagged us some tickets from Craigslist and we cruised up to Copper Mountain for our first day on the mountain since before Cooper was born and our first time skiing in Colorado. A great time was had by all. We got the opportunity to feel both young again (freedom!) and old (pretty sore the next day).

Minuses

  • Mediocre snow
  • Ski lifts (Can’t we find a less terrifying way to get to the top?)

Pluses

  • No children
  • Gorgeous spring-like day
  • No children
  • Super hot ski buddy
  • The cat snowsuit (see below)
  • Did I mention, no children?
Ellen patiently waited all day for us to sing "Happy birthday," but blew out the candles before we finished the song.

Miss E Turns Three

This was the first birthday that Ellen anticipated. For weeks she’s been telling us that “Ellen’s birthday is next.” When it comes to planning anything for my kids, I always turn to Pinterest and not in the way you would expect. Pinterest is a great way to visually display options which is perfect for kids who are young or struggle with verbal communication. This year, Ellen chose a Chocolate Covered Strawberry cake (check out the review on our food blog) and a trip to the zoo to see the animals. There’s a gallery below that details the fun we had.

While most of the time she looks like a little pig-pen, she actually really likes dressing up in "prince-ah" (princess) dresses.

Ellen at Three

I'm Three!

Back in September she kept telling everyone she was three (which can be problematic as many places have free stuff for kids under three) and would get really mad when we told her she was two. Now that she’s actually three she tells everyone she’s two.

For some reason, I’ve always dreamed of having a spunky, redheaded girl. (Or a mini me ;) ) At three, Ellen may not be delivering fully on the redhead bit (she’s seeming solidly strawberry blonde at the moment), but she definitely makes up for it in spunk.

Classic Ellen, gloveless in the snow. One day I spent a lot of time bundling her up and 10 seconds out the door her gloves were off. Exasperatedly I asked, "Why did you take your gloves off?" She replied, "I have to get a booger out of my nose."

Classic Ellen, gloveless in the snow. One day I spent a lot of time bundling her up and 10 seconds out the door her gloves were off. Exasperatedly I asked, “Why did you take your gloves off?” She replied, “I have to get a booger out of my nose.”

She runs head first at life with a certain amount of reckless abandon that is sometimes scary. She’ll be in the middle of something and then sporadically decide to change course, literally throwing whatever she was working on aside. One time, Cooper saved her from running in front of a car. Thank goodness she has a big brother.

Bunny Hunt

One day, Ellen announced that she was going to catch a bunny. She charged into the yard wielding a plastic golf club and yelling, “Bunny! Come here bunny!” Shockingly, she didn’t catch one.

She provides the best comical relief though. Whether that’s hunting bunnies, announcing she “has a mullet in [her] hair” or bringing me her pom-poms and telling me she needs to “Shake it off.”

Fashionista

One of her favorite outfits. We may never get rid of that binky. It would jus be too traumatic. For everyone.

She’s developed a lot of opinions about fashion, which makes dressing her quite interesting. If it’s comfortable and involves some sort of animal she’s generally pleased, but if an outfit doesn’t meet her satisfaction she’ll refuse to wear it. Sometimes when I find awesome deals on clothes for her, she’ll adamantly tell me to “put it back” when it’s something she doesn’t like.

While most of the time she looks like a little pig-pen, she actually really likes dressing up in "prince-ah" (princess) dresses.

While most of the time she looks like a little pig-pen or a homeless urchin, she actually really likes dressing up in “prince-ah” (princess) dresses.

However, if it’s something she does like she’ll gush “I love it. I love it mom!” Now if only her hair would grow so people would stop telling me I have such “handsome boys.” (And yes, they tell me this even when she’s decked out in pink.)

Ellen in the Hoberman sphere.

Ellen in the Hoberman sphere.

If I mindlessly turn off the car and begin unloading when there was a song on the radio that she likes, she’ll insist I pull it up on the computer when we get inside so she can listen to the whole thing.

Possessively loving some Christmas presents.

Possessively loving some Christmas presents.

If you haven’t picked up on it, she’s incredibly stubborn and fiercely independent. She never wants help putting clothes on, brushing her teeth, or really doing much of anything.

What Ellen looks like on a typical day: running around outside, hair unkempt, dirt on her face.

What Ellen looks like on a typical day: running around outside, hair unkempt, dirt on her face.

In the summer she was fairly interested in potty training, but I was too burnt out to earnestly try anything. When I decided I was interested in potty training, she threw tantrums anytime I even mentioned the potty and no amount of bribery (not even ice cream cones or the promise of a pet, yes we are desperate) enticed her in the least bit. Instead she asks for “space diapers” (disposables) and throws fits when I wrestle her into the less absorbent, bulkier cloth diapers. I’m a little perplexed as to what to try next, especially since she has taken to changing her own diapers which isn’t as helpful as it might sound. (Think: poop everywhere.)

Scripture Power

When church was cancelled because of heavy snow, both Cooper and Ellen made sure we acted like it was still Sunday and repeatedly brought us their picture scriptures.

Despite her fiery personality, she has an incredibly sweet side. She gives the best hugs and is quick to say “I love you.” When Cooper was too scared to sing a musical number with all the other kids in church and was clearly upset, Ellen gave him a hug and said “It’s okay, Cooper.” On more than one occasion she’s brought me different church books and will quietly listen for long periods of time (which is amazing behavior for her) while I tell her about Jesus, the temple, or other church topics. One day when I was telling her all the places we were going to go for errands, she paused and said, “How about the temple?” She has a pure spirit and I’m grateful for her reminders of what’s most important.

Meeting our friend's bunny. (She was asked to leave her golf club at home)

Meeting our friend’s bunny. (She was asked to leave her golf club at home.)

She still loves animals whether they’re wild, pets, or the stuffed animals she drags around the house. Because she’s so charming (and because of the pet-potty-training-desperation bribe) we’re afraid she’ll talk us into getting one some day. Puppies are still her favorite, but I’m trying to brainwash her into wanting a cat (less maintenance). In a way, she’s a lot like a puppy. She’s adorable and affectionate, but if left unattended for more than 10 minutes she can destroy an entire room. (If you’re lucky she might even pee on something.)

Fascinated by an aquarium at the Museum of Nature and Science.

Fascinated by an aquarium at the Museum of Nature and Science.

Despite being an absolute handful, we are glad to have her spicing up our life. We love you miss E!

Miss Pigpen

He's going the distance. He's going for speed.

Snow Days

The weather here in January and early February was nice, but it was also a little eerie. As much as I love 70 degree days and seeing my tulips poke their heads up, it makes me feel uneasy when those things happen in the dead of “winter.” So, even though I am not particularly a fan of cold and snow, when winter finally decided to hit in earnest I was honestly a little relieved. We had so much snow the last week of February (enough to break a 100-year-old record) that things were being cancelled right and left. Work, scouts, school, dentist appointments, and even church. It was like every little kid’s dream. (Except for all the snow shoveling, that part never makes it into anyone’s fantasies.) While I’ve done my best to embrace all of the snow (and frequently reminded myself that “hey, at least we aren’t in Boston”), I’m very excited to have a bit of a reprieve with sunny days in our forecast. Here’s to hoping the two feet of snow didn’t kill all of the emerging tulips.