The Mom You Thought You’d Be

by Kate

I was talking to a friend awhile back about the early days and weeks of Clark’s life; how we managed and what my emotions were like.  She had a baby about the same age and was sharing her side of things.  It struck me that both of us agreed that we perhaps were not the type of mom we envisioned ourselves being.  Isn’t it true that we all have this picture in our head of what motherhood looks like?  And what we ourselves will be like as a mom?  I’m curious if others have found that the mom they are is who they envisioned themselves being.

I have never been one to be overly comfortable around babies and kids.  I easily felt awkward and am certain the words “can I hold your baby?!” never came out of my mouth.  I always knew I wanted kids, but couldn’t quite picture myself in the role of mom or envision what that life stage would look like.  And yet here I am with two kids at home feeling at ease and settled in the role of mom.  But things certainly haven’t gone as I would have guessed, and I’m different than I thought I would have been.

Kate Isaac Clark 1

It’s certainly been a long road to get here, and it’s impossible to say what I would be like as a mom had I gotten to keep my first baby.  Miscarriage, infertility, infant loss, and heck, just 9 years of life in general changes a person.  And even without all that, the mom you become once you’re in the trenches is perhaps different than the one you plan on being before you jump in.

In my conversation with my friend I was sharing how I thought some of my emotions and feelings after having Isaac were specific to that circumstance.  My prior pregnancies had ended in miscarriage and later with Ava being born too early and only living a short time.  Then with Isaac my pregnancy wasn’t easy so I battled fear and dealt with bed rest and all sorts of other issues.  So when I finally had a healthy, full term baby in my arms I didn’t want to let him go.  The mother-bear instincts were ridiculously strong, I had to make myself share him with our friends and family, and I wanted a lot of space and time for Joel and I to figure out life with him.   Turns out all of that wasn’t due only to the circumstances, but that’s just how I am after I have a baby, as I felt the same way with Clark.  For some reason I didn’t expect to feel all of that so strongly, but I certainly did.

Kate Ava

Kate Isaac baby Kate Clark 1

There are plenty of examples, but one I am often reminded of is the all-consuming topic of baby sleep and schedules.  While pregnant I read my share of baby books and observed friend’s parenting strategies and things seemed pretty straight forward to me.  If you put your baby on a schedule and followed the book’s guidelines, you’d have a happy baby that slept through the night in no time.  I have friends that might stand by that statement as that is how it went for them, but I can’t even write it without chuckling because it’s so far off what has happened for me.

I tried hard to follow all the “rules” right from the beginning.  I read and reread parts of books anytime I struggled, which was right from the beginning.  With so many different things.  My baby wasn’t nursing long enough, and not at the “correct” times, he wasn’t sleeping when he was supposed to, or sleeping as long as he was supposed to, etc, etc.  I remember calling the lactation consultant about some nursing issues we were having and talked about my schedule struggles too – “the book says this, but I can only get this to work…”  Her response has stuck with me and I am reminded of it often as I figure out what is best for my kids.  She said “Is what you’re doing working for you and your baby?”  Well…yes.  Yes, it was working quite fine actually.  “Then that’s all that matters” she said.  And she was right.  There are a myriad of baby books out there – all with various strategies and enough differing opinions to make your head swirl.  Which proves that there isn’t one right way.  You just have to find the way that fits you, your family and your baby.  For me that most certainly wasn’t the way I thought it would be, but once I started doing what worked for us and stopped feeling like that way was the “wrong” way, then I was way less stressed about it.

In the end we’re all trying to do what’s best for our kids and family, and that’s going to look a million different ways.  This motherhood gig is hard.  And most likely isn’t turning out quite like we expected, at least it isn’t for me.  But it’s a worthy endeavor that I’m thankful for, and is certainly shaping me at every step of the way.

Kate and the boys

So on this Mother’s Day let’s celebrate the mom’s we are, the mom’s we’re becoming, and that we get to experience the blessing of raising kids!

Too Many Yes’s!

by Jen

Last week I spoke at our Mom’s group at church. I thought the talk might make a good blog post as well, so here we are…

The other day I asked husband, Josh, to help me come up with a funny story to begin. He asked what it was about, so I told him I was going to talk about a time in my past where I said yes to way too much, the downside of that and how I have grown from it, etc. He smiled at me and said, “Well, I guess you could tell them how you still have a tendency to do that.” I replied kinda hurt, “What do you mean?” “Well, you know that marathon you ran on Sunday? You remember that you signed up for that before you were actually really running again? Then you ran a half marathon in the process and Hood to Coast? I’m just saying…” A little while later, he came down from putting Sadie to bed with a twinkle in his eye. He said, “Guess what Sadie just said?” (which is not uncommon) “She was looking at the medals in your closet and said, ‘Mom sure does have a lot of these medals. I think after this marathon it is time for her to take a bit of a rest’.” So, I’m taking a whole week off.

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My Friend Karen and I After Our First Marathon!

I have been reading a great book called, The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. As I read the first two chapters again I was reminded of a season in my life where I said yes to way too much. We moved to Portland over 9 years ago for my husband to attend law school. Madeline was 5 at the time about to enter kindergarten and we had just adopted Timothy 2 months prior, so he was 1. As soon as we were settled I started studying for my real estate license and within a few months was working every spare minute. In order to be good at sales you had to know people so I started saying yes to any and every opportunity I could to make friends. I also really needed and like to have friends- so, it was not quite as sleazy as it sounds.Tibby Eating Fingers

So, we said yes to hosting a small group at our church, yes to leading my daughters girl scout troop, yes to being the kindergarten party mom, yes to mom’s group, I said yes anytime someone asked me to cover an open house or show clients a listing, yes to any training event I could find and yes to having people over for dinner at least once a week. Then my daughter started having trouble in school and was asked to not come back to a private kindergarten program, so I started saying yes to IEP meetings and behavior specialists. My son was still not coming close to hitting any milestones, so I said yes to Early Intervention and Developmental Pediatricians. Soon, I was saying yes to hearing tests, speech evaluations, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, engagement therapy, I started saying yes to pediatric geneticists, EEG’s, MRI’s the list could go on for days. For a number of years I was the main breadwinner, but also at every single appointment or meeting concerning our children. We went all over the city seeing specialists and therapists for anything you can imagine. Aqua therapy? Yes! Neuropsychological testing? Sure! Cranial sacral therapy? Definitely. Social Skills group therapy? Absolutely! Then, after 7 years of trying and multiple miscarriages, I got pregnant. I was running a successful real estate business which included a separate investment business and managing my two children who we now knew both had pretty intense special needs all while hosting home community every week and staying involved in other aspects of church. Taking my daughter to ballet and gymnastics as well as all of my OB appointments (because of course, this was not your typical pregnancy) was icing on the cake!

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9 months pregnant with Sadie

Then I had Sadie and my husband finished law school. When Sadie was about 18 months old I finally decided to stop real estate and focus on helping my husband run his firm. That was my first real life no. It was excruciating. I had an amazing business partner who I loved and felt like I was letting down immensely. I also felt like a complete failure for not being able to “do it all.” I never thought of myself as a quitter, but something had to give.

My life at this point was completely overwhelming and I had no idea who I was or what I even wanted my life to be like. My whole identity had turned into a mom with special needs kids. Our finances were wrecked, my spirit was crushed and my soul was lost. All of my yes’s came from a good place of wanting help for my children, providing for them and serving others, but the cost was so incredibly high.

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Timothy never stopped moving/destroying!

As a result, I had to start saying no. Some of those no’s were made for us. My son’s therapists one by one told us there was nothing more they could do for him and they were very sorry. My oldest daughter, Madeline, was in such a tough place that we cleared her schedule completely except for school. And then I just started clearing out everything else that wasn’t essential. It was the first time in my life that I completely shut out any and everything I didn’t have to do. I stopped putting myself in situations where I was around new people and I allowed myself a chance to really take stock and start healing. I had a lot of grieving to do and a ton of bitterness and cynicism to work through. I was incredibly fortunate to have a supportive husband and a few really good friends who walked through this rough time with me.

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Photo taken during a girls weekend with friends

This process took a few years and I am still working on it, but the reason why I bring this all up is so I can tell you a few things I wish I could have done differently or even just sooner. Lysa mentions in the book the danger of letting life get so crazy that you forget God in it all. She talks about the passage in Isaiah that says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” The first time I read that I was so touched I just stopped. What a revelation! God asks us again and again in Scripture to rest. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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In all the craziness of my life rest was not something I got much of and I am sure many of you feel the same way now. Yet, God was faithful once I finally stopped and started resting in Him. For me, resting in God meant a lot of journaling, reading the Bible, saying no to things I didn’t feel ready for and actual physical rest. While I was not able to ever really take a day off, I gave myself permission to grab moments of time. An hour here or an afternoon there. I look back and realize how beneficial it would have been to have someone walk alongside me and tell me much earlier that it would be okay to say no to a few things. The trouble is, I was going so fast and little by little isolated my feelings really well. I don’t know that even myself much less the people around me knew just how far gone I was. I tried not to ask for help and not complain. I felt like those were signs of weakness and unfaithfulness in God. He had given me these kiddos, so He had a plan. I didn’t know it was okay to gripe about that plan. I would let a little out every once in a while- usually followed up by a joke, but it wasn’t until I was quite literally busting at the seems with grief and having physical manifestations of that grief that I got the best advice I have ever received. First of all, she actually told me what I was going through was grief- it had never really occurred to me- and then she told me I had to let it out. I had become so adept at holding it in and keeping it together that this was a struggle. Thankfully, I had a friend who needed to do the same thing, so we had a few “sessions.” It was the start of getting in touch with my feelings.

Getting those feelings out and resting in God helped me stop the rush of life. I finally had the chance to start really looking at my life and assessing the reality of our situation. We made a lot of tough decisions. Good decisions, but really hard ones. In it all I am learning to slow down and think more about what is best for my family, and me. We have a long road ahead. In all reality we will be taking care of at least two of our children in some capacity for the rest of our lives. This cannot be done in my own strength, it just can’t.

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Karen and I on a hike

 

My prayer for all of you is that you don’t lose yourself to motherhood and all the demands it comes with, but rather that you find a new and even better you that includes being a mom. Like it or not, we are all in this club for the rest of our lives. All the good and bad, the yes’s and no’s. From diapers to dating and beyond- we are in it and the best thing we can do is support one another, pray for one another and enjoy loving and serving one another through it all. Find a core group of friends. It may take years or you may already have them. Be intentional about building those relationships because you just never know when you will really need them. Finally, figure out what needs to happen in your life to really and truly rest in God. There is not a simple formula and it may change from season to season, but whatever it is- be sure to carve out time for it.

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Friends Karen and Liz on a Girls Weekend

You Never Forget

by Kate

Awhile ago I sat in the rocking chair to nurse Clark.  I often feel like I am always multi-tasking, even when nursing, but this time I wasn’t.  I just sat there to feed him and enjoy that moment.  It didn’t take long for me to think of Ava, and long for the chance to hold her again.  I was quickly choked up, wishing I got to have her here with us, wanting to cry out “Why?! Why couldn’t I keep her?!” and I was struck by how strong those emotions were and how quickly they came on.

After her death people who had been through similar circumstances told me that the hard, grief-filled times will always come.  You never know when they will be, or what will trigger them, but they will never stop coming.   They will get farther and farther apart, but they’ll still happen.  And that moment in the rocking chair was proof that they still do.

In some ways it is comforting when those emotions come.  I worried a lot after her death that I would forget her, that she wouldn’t feel like part of our life, that her life wouldn’t seem significant since it was so short.  Even though I knew none of that was true, I still struggled with it.  So there is a sense of comfort when grief overwhelms me again, as it affirms that I haven’t forgotten her, that she is significant and still a part of our life.  She always will be.

I want to share this for those who are, like I was, in the early days after a loss and worried that they will forget.  I assure you that you won’t forget.  And I assure you that your child’s life was worthy and significant.  No matter how long or short it was.

Quite the Journey

by Jen

A friend of mine recently began her journey of being the mother of a child with special needs. We are new friends, but just being around her and hearing little bits brings me back to the beginning of my mom-of-a-special-needs-child(ren) journey.

Madeline 2005

Madeline 2005

We adopted our first two children within two years of each other not knowing either of them had special needs. If we were more experienced parents at the time, we may have picked up on Madeline’s needs a little earlier, but we were blissfully unaware and decided to adopt again fairly quickly. With Timothy, we had about a year before we started to become really concerned. We knew he was behind from the beginning (we adopted him when he was 11 months old), but, also, assumed he would catch up (Madeline made huge leaps in her first two years). Thankfully our pediatrician seemed to know things were off and had us on the right track. For a few years, the roller coaster ride we were on was not fun (to put it incredibly mildly). We started off thinking maybe he was going deaf, then that he had autism only to FINALLY come to the conclusion, after 4 years and thousands upon thousands of dollars spent on testing and therapies, that he is profoundly mentally retarded and has autism. That combination is not super common and we had no information about his birth or biological family, so diagnosis was tricky, to say the least. I actually remember them telling me he could not have autism, because he was so behind globally. Having zero experience, I nodded and thought it didn’t really matter, as long as he got help (which he was). I knew he had lost the ability to engage and communicate and no one could tell me differently.

Timothy & Sadie 2009

Timothy & Sadie 2009

Life is hard and I am still grieving the loss of MY expectations for both Madeline and Timothy, but when I see someone in the beginning of the ‘finding out’ stage my heart just aches. I would not go back to that time for anything. I remember my hopes being constantly shattered. Every week it seemed like I found out about a new therapy or test we could do for one of them that would make a huge difference only to try it and come back empty-handed. We wrecked our finances trying to help both kiddos, only to come to the conclusion that they are both on a lifelong journey and there is not a “magic cure.”

Timothy- Halloween 2008

Timothy- Halloween 2008

I would not change what we did and know it is only money, but the pain of finding out again and again that nothing was working was tough. We had therapist after therapist say there was nothing else they could do for both kids. I am generally an upbeat kind of person, always trying to find the silver lining, so the constant defeat was and is tough. I felt like one of those inflatable punching bags kids have where you hit it and it goes down then comes right back up. I would fall down, but jump up for more.

Timothy, Josh & Madeline- 2008

Timothy, Josh & Madeline- 2008

For now, we are in the coasting stage. Each child still receives services and we are not hopeless, but we have come to terms with life looking much different than we ever imagined. Both kids will need our help for as long as we live. Not in the same way, but they will most likely always need more assistance than our other two. Isn’t that the Gospel though? We never stop needing God. Each person’s need may look different, but when it comes down to it we were all adopted and we never get to a point where we are fully “on our own.” Some of us may think we are, but that is not God’s desire. Many days I am tired of being needed, I get angry when my name keeps getting called again and again. I am so glad the Lord does not feel that way. Otherwise I would definitely be in trouble. I pray daily for God to grow me into the kind of mother my children need and I know they need one who responds the way He responds to my needs; with a listening ear and a generous spirit.

Madeline- 2009

Madeline- 2009

Wherever you are on your journey, whether you have a child or children with special needs or know someone who does, keep seeking God; keep looking for Him to show up and expecting His grace to surround you. Some days you may not see it, hell, some years you may not see it, but keep looking- it is there. Any time I get a chance to reflect (which is not often), I can’t help but see how far I have come and know it is only through God’s grace that I am not cynical, defeated, or spiritually dead, but instead full of hope and excitement about the future.

Josh and Timothy- 2014

Josh and Timothy- 2014

Madeline- 2015

Madeline- 2015

Winter Break Blues

by Jen

Do you have a child that is hard to love? One that drains the life out of you? Or, has motherhood not lived up to your expectations? What do you do? How do you make it?

My oldest daughter is a tough one. She is not an easy person to love (who is really?) and honestly just not easy to be around. When winter break was coming to an end, I was doing the same thing. My patience with her was waning and I was flat out grumpy and rude.

Madeline is not a typical kid. From the first day we met, things were never easy. She has fetal alcohol syndrome and some attachment problems, so everyday is a struggle. At first, we had no idea she would have such a hard time. We were new parents of a 3-year-old who knew it would take some time to adjust, but had no clue what we had in store. I remember thinking I was just a terrible mom who had no idea what I was doing. I had a picture of what motherhood was “supposed” to be like and this was not it. Our plane ride home from Russia where she did not sleep for 26 hours should have been a big indicator of what the next period of our life would entail.

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Fenton, Madeline and Sadie ready for Christmas 

Before becoming a mom, I actually thought I was a pretty decent person. I thought I was patient, kind, loving and unselfish. I knew I had plenty of flaws to work on, but thought of them more as tweaks. As it turns out, I needed (and still need) some major renovations. God gave me a daughter who is my polar opposite (and not in a good ‘we even each other out’ kind of way). She needs constant supervision and instruction; I am not a micro-manager (AT ALL). She is a ball of energy and emotion, I tend to hold things in and have never been accused of being energetic. She is a total negative Nelly (think Eeyore times 10) while I like to pretend life is nothing but rainbows and butterflies. She has a hard time letting things go and has to talk about the same problem again and again- not me. I actually have a hard time not letting things go (probably because my memory is so poor).  So, when we have long periods of time together I can get a bit testy. She simply drives me nuts!

Josh, Sadie and Fenton on Christmas morning

Josh, Sadie and Fenton on Christmas morning

During this Christmas break we just moved and are dealing with some yucky stuff with our oldest son, who also has special needs, so I was emotionally unprepared to have her home for so long. Like I said, I have a horrible memory, so I guess I just forgot how hard the summer was and did not prepare myself. This was not smart! Thankfully we made it through, but now I am trying to recover and rebuild. You see, I made a horrible mistake; I did not seek God and ask for help. I tried to do it on my own and I sucked at it. From about day 2 of parenting Madeline I have been praying that God would make me the kind of mom she needs. It took me all of 15 minutes to realize I was definitely not it. I have prayed that God would give me unconditional love for her that defies my understanding. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, mixed with other life circumstances, I fell off the prayer wagon and I can tell a difference. So, where do I go from here? How do I recover? I think the first thing I have to do is forgive myself. The longer I hold on to all the negativity, the longer my attitude suffers. I need to give myself a break and move on. Next, I have to get back to chatting with God. Prayer is not super easy for me. I have a lot to work out with God, so my prayers can be messy (I don’t like messes). Finally, I have to step back and take a look at the big picture. I forget how far Madeline has come in the last 10+ years. I also tend to forget how hard it must be to be her. In order to effectively parent Madeline I have to mix in some sympathy with discipline and love. She gets on my nerves so much at times that I forget the struggles she faces everyday.

Timothy and Lila (my mother-in-law) on Christmas

Timothy and Lila (my mother-in-law) on Christmas

Let me tell you, it is hard to have a child that drains the life out of you and turns you into someone you are not. It is hard living with someone you can’t trust and who pushes every single button you have on a daily basis. There is no easy step-by-step guide on how to parent someone who defies you at every turn. It’s messy. It’s tough and lonely. God is good though. His mercies are new every morning and He has always been faithful to listen to my grumbling and give me peace in its place. His love never fails and that is what I lean on. Do you have a child that is hard to love? One that drains the life out of you? Or, has motherhood not lived up to your expectations? What do you do? How do you make it?

Celebrating 28 weeks

by Kate

I am now 28 weeks along in my pregnancy and celebrating for a few reasons:

  1. I am still pregnant.
  2. I am still standing (aka not on bed rest).
  3. I can still eat sugar (aka I do not have gestational diabetes).

These things perhaps don’t warrant celebration for most who are pregnant, but for me and my history these are giant things to be thankful for.  The fact that I’m having a pregnancy that remotely resembles what one would consider “normal” continues to surprise (and delight) me.

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It still at times seems miraculous that I am pregnant at all.  There was certainly a season for us where we thought pregnancy might not get to be something we experienced, and we worked through those realities and emotions.  So when I found out I was pregnant with Ava after a long, long road of loss and surgeries and uncertainty, it was beyond amazing.  I know not everyone gets to experience pregnancy, and I don’t take it for granted that I get to.

When I was admitted to the hospital with Ava I was 22 weeks along.  The goal was to keep me pregnant in the hospital as long as possible.  The doctors went over a myriad of statistics for each week with us, and how much each week longer of staying pregnant increased my chances of having a baby that would survive and be healthy.  28 weeks was when the biggest leap happened that would give her a chance, and at the time it seemed so very far off and something I longed to be able to make it to.  I ended up having to have her early, at 23 weeks, and she only lived for a short time.  She was perfect, just not ready for life outside the womb.

With Isaac I went on bed rest at 20 weeks, and again 28 weeks was a big goal to make it to.  Fear and anxiety were such a battle for me every day, and so when I did make it to 28 weeks, I was determined for that day to be a day of celebration.  I will never forget getting a call that morning from the nurse telling me I had gestational diabetes.  It felt like a slap in the face.  I had been stuck on the couch for 8 weeks, had 6 more weeks to go, had gone through so many difficult doctor’s appointments and emotional battles, and the one day I was determined to make a happy one, is the day I got yet more bad news.  Granted gestational diabetes may not seem like that bad of news, but given my circumstances it was a challenging diagnosis to accept.  Instead of celebrating 28 weeks I just wanted to cry again.

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So with this pregnancy, I have made it to 28 weeks and I am choosing to celebrate.  I still have a long ways to go, still pray every day that I get to make it to full term, and still have plenty of anxiety battles, but I am cherishing these days of getting to be pregnant, getting to walk around and “enjoy a normal existence” as my doctor put it, and getting to hope that we’ll have a healthy baby that comes home from the hospital with us.  I’ll be toasting a glass of sparkling juice tonight.  Join me!

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Sunshine

by Jen

Since Fenton was born (almost two years ago now – crazy!) I have been at home with he and Sadie. I still have a few part-time jobs, but I do them from home and when kids are napping, in bed or while they are destroying my house. You get the idea. For me this has been a huge transition, one in which I am still trying to adjust. I have always had some type of job and some type of childcare, ranging from super part-time nanny all the way to full-day childcare. Though life was chaotic, the time off from kiddos always fueled me. Now that we have four of them though, it just didn’t make sense for me to keep trying to work outside the home. Especially since two of them require me to be at appointments and other meetings regularly.IMG_1576

So, I have been spending my days with Sadie and Fenton. We’ve had fun and it has been such a gift to spend this time with them (I have to tell myself this on days when I would like to take back this particular gift). I have also learned a lot about my sweet Sadie and myself. She is funny and smart and always ready for adventure, whether you are is inconsequential. Hence, one of our biggest struggles is that my love to be home is in direct conflict with Sadie’s extroverted-ness. I am happy to fill my days with getting things done around the house and the occasional get-together, whereas Sadie needs people. Or should I say, NEEDS people. Everyday she asks, “What are we doing today?” If I reply, nothing, I might as well punch her in the face. Nothing is not an option – we must have something. I can get by with just running a few errands maybe once a week, but my red-headed precocious little lady will not stand for that. We must have play dates and activities!IMG_2178

This has been good for me – really. I have been forced to make friends and discover new parks, to play games and include others in my day. We don’t have family around, so are making those around us our family. We are in an era where it is quite easy to be an introvert. People like me can stay at home and have everything we “need.” We don’t have to be around people – ever. Sadie has helped me get out of my shell a little. I enjoy people and am not an extreme introvert, but Sadie’s insistence of being with friends everyday can be hard for me.IMG_3088

I have spent so many years being a mom of special-needs kiddos and have dealt with unbelievable heartache and loss during that time. I was at a point where I honestly did not even want to make more friends. It was too hard to tell my story and too painful to answer questions, but more and more I am learning the importance of people and personal contact. Emails and facebook are fine, the phone is okay, but nothing beats being face to face with someone. It is much harder to hide your feelings behind a 🙂 when you are looking at each other.IMG_1486

I am not ready to live in a commune or anything, but Sadie has definitely helped this introvert enjoy people to a much greater extent. When she was a baby I always sang “You are My Sunshine” to her before bed and she really is my sunshine. My bright, hurt-your-eyes-somedays, sunshine.

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