Fall 2012

Fall 2012
[learning to live a perfectly imperfect life]

Catching Up on Birthday Celebrations

As 2012 wraps up, I realize that I didn't post anything about the kids' birthdays this year!  And while I know that the interest level others have for your kids' birthdays dwindles as time passes, I still wanted to capture some pictures here! (I finally went back and printed my blog from each year since I began -- go ahead and call it one of my "Nesting Projects of 2012" -- so now I really don't want to miss capturing a birthday on my blog!)

Okay, and upon discovery that I didn't post birthdays from 2012, I realized that last year, I gave you a little teaser for Rylee's 8th Birthday Party (in November 2011), but never posted pictures from the party!  So, we're going to flashback to Rylee's 8th Birthday Fresh Beat Band/music theme Party! (and I am going to resist the urge to re-print my 2011 blog book because it doesn't include this birthday and try to embrace the perfectly-imperfect life I lead!)

Every "waiting-to-blow-out-the-candles-and-listening-to-everyone-sing-Happy-Birthday-to-me" picture we have of Rylee includes this "I'm-sort-of-embarassed-but-still-think-it's-cool-everyone-is-singing-to-me" smile!

I can't think back to a birthday that hasn't included a baby doll, either!

Brother just as excited about the presents as Sister!

Rylee's friend (and brother! :) party included some hotel pool swimming and tasty little cupcake drums!

* * * * *

And now for 2012!  We combined Barbie and Butterflies to make this year's theme! (Thanks to the inspiration of a very talented, cake-makin' friend of mine, Sara Crane... find her on Facebook to see her awesome cakes!)

Rylee wanted a picture with baby sister!

Love seeing the little things she picks up from her friends at school! A hand heart!

Apparently I didn't capture "the look" as everyone was singing to her, but I can promise you it was there!

Posing with some of her fav gifts!

For her friend party, Rylee had some friends over in the new addition above our garage (LOVE having so much space!) for pizza, cupcakes, and absolutely hilarious 9-year-old movin' and groovin' to her new Just Dance! game on the XBox Kinect!  (Even Jeremy and Jordyn got in on the movin' and groovin'... and though I won't post it here, I will say that the video I took of them dancing together is priceless!)

Easy and not even remotely creative butterfly cupcakes for the friend party... (energy level very much starting to deteriorate at this point in pregnancy!)  The girls didn't care... give them 2 cupcakes each and they'll think you're the best birthday party host ever anyway!



Here is the thank you card I made for her friends.... typical young girls making faces and having fun!

* * * * *

Between these 2 parties for Rylee, Carter turned 5, and celebrated with Chuggington!  Once again, I blogged about how grown up he was, and even posted his invitation, but never got back to the fun of the day!

After looking at lots of Chuggington cakes online, Carter was completely sold on the idea of having REAL TOYS on his cake... toys that he could HAVE and PLAY WITH after the party!  (He didn't realize that because of that, it was actually one of the easiest cakes I've made!)

And a few moments from the day!  (I shouldn't have scheduled his haircut so close to party day... it makes him look so grown up!)

So, now we're caught up! Rylee is 9, Carter is 5, and we're sort of prepared to celebrate Jordyn's 18th Birthday and the arrival of Baby Girl in January!  2013 is going to be a big year for our family!  Happy New Year, everyone!

(And once again, Blogger is reminding me that I'm not always in control... after struggling with text positioning and spacing issues for 20 minutes, I'm hitting "Publish" and not looking back!... well, maybe I'll try to fix it later before I print my 2012 blog.)

Happy Holidays 2012!

Being Okay With That

This time of year, I think a lot about traditions. Traditions are right up my alley... Consistent. Predictable. Orderly.

I try to create traditions for our kids. And I love doing so, especially with photos.  A photo of Rylee in front of her classroom in Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade. A photo of Carter wrapping presents when he was 3 years old, 4 years old.... it's so neat to see how the kids have grown and changed.

But these "traditions"? It's awesome when I can keep them up, but I'll be honest... they are a bit pressure-filled at times.

Ever since Rylee's first 4th of July, we started taking a family picture. (Okay, I'll admit... the first few years they were actually taken ON the 4th of July.  Another kid later and my goal was simply to take the picture in the month of July.  One month we actually took them at the beginning of August, but I still filed the photos in with my July photos.  I'm just a rebel like that.)

This summer, we didn't take one. Even as I type that, I have to fight the feeling of disappointment.  I want to cut myself some slack by reminding me that I felt miserable all summer with this pregnancy.  And though I think now it really wouldn't have been that big a deal to take 30 minutes one Sunday to take some pictures, at the time I remember it being an overwhelming task... one that was overshadowed by the daily must-dos.  (And believe me, I was feeling so rotten that the "must-dos" were all that made the "to-do" list!)

Though I believe the kids will value some of our traditions one day, the reality is that I am probably the only one who will notice if we don't always do things like we did before. (And even then, as I get older and my brain is challenged to recall whether I brushed my teeth or not, even I may not notice in 2012 we didn't take a 4th of July picture.)

I know the disappointment is soley mine. 

And honestly, I know that it isn't even all about the actual photos.  It's about the loss of control. The inability to have things consistent, predictable, and orderly.  All the time.

But, I am reminded time and time again that life isn't consistent, predictable, or orderly.

And I'm working, very hard, on being okay with that.

 * * * * *

Another family photo tradition is Thanksgiving... four years ago, just shortly before Thanksgiving, we got our dog Zoe, so we began a "tradition" of taking our pictures with her on the couch.  Nothing creative... no beautiful, natural light -- just simply the camera on auto with an unflattering harsh flash to capture those who would sit and smile... or just sit.

Thanksgiving 2008

Jordyn (13) Rylee (5) Carter (1) Zoe (a few months)


Thanksgiving 2010

Jordyn (15) Rylee (7) Carter (3) Zoe (2)

Thanksgiving 2011
Jordyn (16) Rylee (8) Carter (4) Zoe (3)

Thanksgiving 2012
Jordyn (17) Rylee (9) Carter (5) Zoe (4)


I'm not going to point out that, aside from the fact that we have no 4th of July family photo for 2012, we also do not have family+Zoe Thanksgiving photos from 2009.  (And I have no pregnancy-induced nausea to blame for that one.)
Life isn't consistentOr orderly.  Or predictable.
And I'm working, very hard, on being okay with that.

* After I posted this, I noticed one of the photos doesn't line up with the rest (though it shows that it does in my draft.)  It's also showing a much smaller font size than it's supposed to.  After 20 minutes of trying to fix things, the font is still too small, the photo is still not lining up.   Thanks Blogger.  I needed just one more reminder that life isn't orderly.

Happy Halloween!

Letter to 3rd Grade Classmates' Parents

When Rylee was in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, I wrote a "Letter from Rylee" to send home with her classmates, written to their parents (you can read that letter here.)

Last year, Rylee began 2nd Grade, and I knew it had to be different. I am often approached by other parents as to how they can appropriately and positively talk to their children about disabilities. We all want to raise children who are very accepting and appreciative of differences in others, but it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what to say or how to say it.

So, last year's letter wasn't written from Rylee's perspective, but instead Jeremy's and mine. It went home with all of her 2nd grade classmates (for their parents) the first week of school, and we got really kind feedback!
Before deciding what to do this year, wanted to stand back and re-evaluate. I know there are differing opinions among parents of children with various abilities... some believe that sending a letter is not a good idea, because it points out to parents/kids that there are differences and it's counterproductive to the whole idea of "everyone has differences and we should just accept each other."  There are others who feel that the kids will inevitably notice differences and it's important for us as parents of the child to promote understanding and acceptance by bringing it up.  Honestly, I think there is some validity to both thoughts!  

So, this summer, I reached out to some parents of Rylee's classmates -- parents who have become friends of mine and whose opinions I value.  I wanted to get their thoughts on the letter in general, as well as specific thoughts they may have about what the letter could include to be most helpful.  Finding out what questions their children have asked them about Rylee would help give me a perspective I don't have.  The responses were heart-warming... all of them supported and appreciated the letter, and some shared their thoughts. (These parents have given me permission to share their thoughts!)

"As a parent, it gave me better insight into what to expect and gave me the verbiage to help explain this to (my child.)  It's always good review.  It also made me very comfortable with (my son) having a child with a disABILITY in his class because I knew the parents were very involved.  Your letter has helped us build a community for their class."

"(My son) hasn't really said much. He enjoys having Rylee in his class.  When in Kindergarten, I explained about genes and how some kids are born with an extra set.  This just means you need to be patient, stand up for her if kids are not being nice, help her in school when possible, etc... which is exactly what I would hope you would do for anyone in your school.  Since that conversation in Kindergarten, (my son) has accepted it at face value."

"I love that your daughter is part of the canvas of the class of 2023... it makes every difference, normal."

"I love your letters. I have always found them informative and useful. Especially the first one in Kindergarten, I was SO thankful for that letter. Now that (my daughter) and Rylee are such good friends, she doesn't have any questions. I understand the dilemma about the letters... but in my opinion I think it would be great if every child sent home a letter outlining some of their differences. . . don't you feel like as humans we are more accepting and understanding of others differences if we understand where they come from? Rylee is a wonderful child and I'm glad she is (my daughter's) friend."

"I think that a letter is a great idea.  I feel that kids are very eager to learn and will take whatever information you give them.  I think it is better for them to be informed about what they can expect rather than have something come up that they don't know how to deal with."

"I strongly believe that information is key, and kids will react much better to anything that comes their way if they have the proper information."

* * * * *
If you are a parent of a child with different abilities trying to decide if a letter (or something similar) is right for your situation, hopefully these comments will give you some insight into the benefits of a letter!

This year when Rylee began 3rd grade, I just tweaked last year's letter... Rylee is very lucky to have wonderful friends with amazingly supportive parents! Rylee continues to grow up with a tremendous support system around her at school! 

Dear Parents,

Can you believe we have kids in 3rd grade?! Many of your children have been here at our Elementary School since Kindergarten, so we already know you! But there are others who may be new to the school. We thought it might be helpful to write to you. As our kids grow and change, they notice more, inquire more, and understand more.

Our daughter, Rylee, is a fun little girl with a dynamic personality. She has an infectious giggle, and loves playing with her baby dolls and reading books. Besides being very “typical”, she also has Down syndrome. Your child might come home with questions for you, wanting to know more about Rylee. As parents of a child with Down syndrome, we are often asked how to address some of these questions. Below are some common questions and answers that we hope are helpful.

Research has shown that children with Down syndrome benefit from being placed in a regular education class, receiving their education alongside typically developing children of their own age. Typically developing peers give children with Down syndrome the role models they need to acquire new skills, encourage age-appropriate behavior, develop independence and friendships.

It’s also important to your child! Studies have shown that inclusion is beneficial to the other children in the class. Inclusion facilitates greater understanding, patience and compassion as well as learning to be supportive of one another. Children also learn to value diversity and to appreciate that everyone has something beneficial to bring to the life of the school and the community.

We are grateful for the support that Rylee has had here at our Elementary School! We appreciate being in a school that teaches understanding and embraces and values differences!

We look forward to a great year in (Mrs. Smith’s) classroom and can’t wait to share this school year with you all! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Sincerely , Carin &  Jeremy Griffith
(phone number and email address)

* * * * *

Thoughts on Talking to Your Children About Down Syndrome:

What Is Down Syndrome?

“Our bodies are made up of cells, which are so tiny that we would need a special microscope to see them! Inside these cells are even tinier things called chromosomes. These carry the directions that tell our bodies how to grow. People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome. This means that the growing plan works differently than other people. If someone has Down syndrome, they have that extra chromosome before they are even born. It’s not a disease or sickness, so you can’t “catch” Down syndrome from someone who has it. If someone is born with Down syndrome, they will always have it. Often people with Down syndrome look a little bit like each other, but they also look a lot like their parents and brothers and sisters.”

What Does Down Syndrome Mean to Someone Who Has It?

• “Kids with Down syndrome will be able to do nearly all the things that other kids do. They just may take a little longer to learn them. They may also have to work harder to learn them. Some kids may have to work harder to speak clearly; others may need to work harder to learn to skip or jump rope.”

• “Having Down syndrome also means that there may be muscles in the body that don’t work like other kids; for example, being able to control going to the bathroom may take a little longer.”
(At this point, it’s helpful to discuss with children the things that are easy for them to do, and things they needed to practice more to do them... such as, “Remember when you found it hard to _______? It helped you to have extra time, lots of practice, and some help when you needed it.”)

• “Kids with Down syndrome have some extra teachers who will help them, in addition to your classroom teacher. These teachers have different classrooms where the kids will go during the school day for a while, and they help the kids work on things that may be more difficult for them. Kids with Down syndrome may also have an aide who will help them if they need it.”

What Can You Do to Be a Friend to Someone with Down Syndrome?

• “The most important thing you can do is remember that kids with Down syndrome are KIDS FIRST! They feel, love, play, laugh, learn and have fun just like you! They would like to be treated as you would treat any of your friends. They may not do all the things that you do, but they are not babies and would be hurt if you treated them that way.”

• “It’s important that you not do things for them... it’s better if you can show them how to do something so they can learn to do it themselves. If they do not understand the rules, help them!”

• “You can be a good friend to them by being patient and kind. Even though kids with Down syndrome may not be as quick or as good at something than you, give them a turn! Give them a chance to show you something they are good at!

• “If they do something silly, don’t laugh at them... instead just show them a different way to do it.”

• “If you don’t understand what someone with Down syndrome said, politely ask them to say it again or ask an adult to help you understand.”

Different and Same

• “Look around your classroom... you will see that all of your classmates look different. Here are some things that you might notice: Kids have differently colored hair & eyes, and have different shapes to our faces and bodies. Some kids learn quickly, while some take longer to learn. Some kids like to run, while others would prefer to read a book. Some kids are very friendly, while some feel shy. Everyone is unique! You don’t have to be exactly the same to like being together, to be friends or just to be classmates.”

• “There are also ways that make all kids the same! Kids with Down syndrome actually are more ALIKE you than they are DIFFERENT. You laugh at funny things and cry when you are sad. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You get upset sometimes and make mistakes. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You like it when kids are kind to you and you cry if people make fun of you. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You like to have fun with your friends, learn new things, and feel good about yourself. Kids with Down syndrome do, too.”

We hope this is helpful to you! Thanks for spreading awareness about Down syndrome!

* * * * *

If you would like to read other "Letters from Rylee",
please click on "Letters from Rylee" at the top.
(You may then click on each letter to download a pdf file.)
Thanks for passing along and helping to raise awareness!
© 2012 Carin Griffith • Disability Awareness Alliance™

Back to School

The house sounded very different this morning.  Zoe stretched out beside my office chair, already sensing the change that's taken place.  (No more days filled with play forts and constant cuddles.)

I knew this morning would bring on a mixture of emotions, and I was right.  Today, I was by myself, though the sounds of my rumbling tummy that needs to eat every hour and the fact that I sat a few inches further away from my desk reminded me that being alone with not last very long.  Part of me wanted to dive right in to tackle my to-do list that's been growing for years, but there was part of me that wanted to lie on the couch and watch The View.

Another school year.  This is the first year Jordyn's been living with us on the first day, so we got to capture all three kiddos... everyone experiencing "firsts" and "lasts," depending on how you look at it.  

Senior.  3rd Grader.  Kindergartner.  (pre-hair comb for Rylee, so please ignore the fly-aways) 

* * * * *

Last year, Carter got to tag along to Back-to-School Open House.  No backpack.  No classroom to visit.  No school supplies to drop off.

This year, it was different.

When Rylee started Kindergarten, he was barely able to see above the bar across the window to the classroom.
He peeked in, though, wondering what Rylee would do in there.

Rylee's Kindergarten Open House 2009

This year, it was Rylee peeking in, remembering her year of Kindergarten in that very same classroom with the very same teacher, while Carter stood proudly, holding up his new Spiderman backpack and feeling every right to be there.  (And definitely tall enough to see above the bar across the window.)

With big sister there to help if she was needed, Carter found his mailbox...

 and took a little sneak-peek at all of the fun toys there would be to play with. 

I didn't capture too much of Rylee's visit to her classroom.... we spent most of the time in Rylee's classroom with Carter begging for pizza and Rylee wanting to put her school supplies where she wanted them and not where her teacher's "direction sheet" said they needed to go.  Jeremy somehow got caught up in the hallway talking to someone, and I was desperately trying to get tissue boxes with tissue boxes and hand sanitizer with hand sanitizer while reassuring Carter we'd eat when we got home.  We ended the Open House with me shoving all of Rylee's school supplies back in her backpack to take home to re-mark with a "G." after "Rylee."  Apparently another sweet little Rylee (spelled the same) made her way to Rylee's classroom this year.

* * * * *

The night before school started, we did just what should be done...


 just like we did when Rylee started Kindergarten.

The Night Before Kindergarten for Rylee 2009

(And to Natasha Wing, who authors the cutest The Night Before... books -- I'd like to make a request. 
The Night Before Kindergarten and The Night Before First Grade are adorable, but neither Rylee nor Carter were thrilled that I was changing words to say The Night Before Third Grade for Rylee.  If you could continue up from First Grade, the kids and I would appreciate it!)

* * * * *

This morning, before school, we did our traditional "with Mom" and "with Dad" photos...

After pictures, we were off to school (and during the car ride, I tried to talk to the kids about what awesome days at school they would have, but honestly I was mentally planning how I was going to capture both kids playing on the playground, standing in line with their backpacks, walking into school, etc. at the same time. I was preparing myself for one kid to get a few less pictures of "first-day-of-school-on-the-playground.")

It didn't take but a few minutes on the playground, and Rylee had found her friends.  (Actually, her friends found her!)  A few more joined the group, and suddenly, arms were around each other and first-day-of-school smiles covered their faces.  Apparently, they know this Mom likes to take pictures.  I love her friends.

And this, my friend, is inclusion at it's best.

Rylee ran off with her friends to play, and when it was time for Dad to head to work, she willingly gave a quick hug and she was back at the monkey bars.  (She really wanted the hug from Dad, despite the fact that her face doesn't look quite as interested!)

(This is where my earlier preparation paid off... no pictures of Rylee lining up when the bell rang, or heading in with her class. I'm telling myself I'm okay with this, but I'm not promising that I won't take pictures of her lining up and going into school with her class tomorrow.)

And now for Carter... finding his Kindergarten line took a little time, but once located, Carter carefully placed his backpack so he could run off to play.

He played for a few minutes, even saying "hi" to some kids he knew from preschool and baseball, but chose to follow Dad and me over to Rylee for a few pictures.

When the bell rang, he couldn't run to his line fast enough. He was excited and confident, and it was then that I realized I'd forgotten something... tissues.  My sunglasses hid the tears forming in my eyes, but did nothing to hide my runny nose.  The sound of that bell made me feel a twinge of sadness... and though I tried to quickly turn my feelings of "he's leaving me" to "he's growing up and so ready for this," the tears didn't stop.

While standing in line, his Dad and I watched him... he glanced around at all the kids while shielding his eyes from the bright sun. Every now and then, he'd look over at us and smile... sometimes wave.  I saw what he was feeling.  Excitement. Anxiety.  Anticipation.  Uneasiness.  All of those feelings were there.

And I just wanted to run over to him and say, "I have those feelings, too, buddy."

But instead, I smiled a big smile (and turned away to wipe my nose on my sleeve, swearing next year I'd remember tissues.)

 Jeremy and I went over for one more hug...


And stood back to let him go.


* * * * *

Now, you'd think that the photos would end there.  But I was back at the school at lunchtime to help out... the school's lunch program changed and the Principal was short a few lunchroom helpers. We'll just pretend that I wanted to help out simply because I had the time to help and thought it was a generous thing to do.  The fact that I'd get to see Carter eat his first-ever school lunch, and see Rylee try out school lunch for one of the first times (she's always brought cold lunch) didn't influence me at all.  *wink*

Can't go wrong with pizza.

* * * * *

After helping at lunch, I ran a few errands, and before I knew it, I was back at the school, waiting outside for this big kid, who came running out with a big hug and a story about how the Gingerbread Man left clues all over the school, and that I needed to learn how to make Gingerbread Cookies.

We headed to the 3rd Grade door to wait for Rylee.

We waited and waited and finally decided to head inside to get her.

Rylee also had a big hug for me, and told us about her day of PE and pizza.  (I was just happy she wasn't requesting I learn to bake anything.)
Ahhh... two happy, tired big kiddos after their first day of school!


It was a day filled with emotions. I know I will get used to being by myself during the day... and I will balance my days with relaxation and errands, time for myself and to-do lists, knowing that in 5 months, my life will change again.

However, I did find myself offering to help with lunch again tomorrow... 

you know, just for one more day.