The juggle

Every single person who has more than one child tells you they love each of their children equally. They tell you for as much as you love your first child, your heart just gets bigger and makes room for more love when your second arrives and then your third, fourth, etc. But, if pressed, many of these same people will tell you that they secretly have a ‘favorite’. It may be the easiest or happiest child. It may be the child most like yourself or more likely, the child the most polar opposite of yourself. So, understandably, it’s confusing.

When I was pregnant with David, I had these same fears. Could I love two equally? I was so over the top obsessed with Ella and thought everything she did was amazing (and of course had never been done before) that I couldn’t imagine her brother would come close. Ella is an overachiever, a go-getter, pretty much as close to perfect as I could’ve hoped for. Through David’s pre-natal diagnosis and my pre-natal ideas of Down syndrome, there was no contest; Ella was the victor for my affections.

And then, he was born. This sweet, precious, innocent baby came into the world. Early and ‘imperfect’ and not at all the way I planned. And he was so wholly reliant on Jason & I to make the very best decisions for him. And the best way we knew how to do that was to love him. Every single decision was based 10% on medical advice and 90% on insane, overwhelming love. He was David long before we met him. While we struggled and grieved and mourned and plugged along he was David. He was just waiting for us to meet him.

What an awesome God we serve that sees the big picture and knows us better than we could ever hope to know ourselves. He knew our love for D would overwhelm us, shake us to the core & change us forever. How blessed we are to be gifted with such life-altering love!

I don’t have a favorite child. My children each have my heart in their own unique way. But I will forever be grateful for the day my son rocked my world, turned me around and changed me for good.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;”
Jeremiah 1:5

The motherhood

At this same time four years ago, in this same house, in this same tub, after laboring at home for long enough that they’d let me follow my birth plan at the hospital, Ella Grace entered our lives.

 
I didn’t necessarily “dream” of being a mother. I didn’t really play with baby dolls or play house when I was growing up. I was a nanny in college but was always perfectly happy for the parents to come home so I could go back to doing my own thing. I always assumed I’d have children, but it wasn’t something I necessarily dreamed, planned or imagined. I know I had a couple of names picked out, but I never went on dates and asked men about how many children they’d like to have. And by the time I met Jason, I had realized that having children was a never ending, life long financial and emotional commitment & wasn’t sure it was for me. But then something happened. I became a mother.

 
On July 15, 2010, my sweet, spunky, firecracker was born. She made us wait 11 days past her “due date” but hit the ground running immediately. She is kind, polite, empathetic, energetic, stubborn, dramatic, emotional and happy. I couldn’t ask for a brighter light in our family.

 

Happy Birthday sweet Ella. “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” – Shakespeare

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The fail

Last week David failed his sixth swallow study. I think six times can be classified as a pattern. Five previous fails almost certainly guaranteed another fail. But still, I cried. And on a week when I had just thought to myself, “Wow, I haven’t cried about David’s condition in months.” But I cried that day. So of course I started to analyze myself & try and figure out why I was crying. I didn’t have high hopes that his feeding tube would be removed, but I did have my fingers crossed that they might let us start some purée. Typical babies start “food” at 5-6 months. David 1st birthday is in less than two weeks & he hasn’t even had a bottle orally in over four months. And that’s when I realized, I was hoping for one ‘typical’ milestone. Yes, it might have been almost 6 months late, but I was hoping for the go ahead to start giving him some food. So what is it about ‘typical’? From the day we got our prenatal diagnosis & all the steps in between then & now, I knew that our lives wouldn’t be typical. I consistently say I’ve made my peace with “different” and yet I have a break down when it’s confirmed that he’s on his own path & not following a predetermined set of rules. It’s not fair of me to applaud & celebrate Down syndrome in one breath and then cry & mourn it in the next. Or is it? Is this part of the journey? Will my acceptance come in waves & stages? Probably. And that’s ok.
Right now David is sitting on my lap “talking” away. And today that’s all the typical I need.

The confession

Forgive me, blog readers, for I have strayed. It has been 37 days since my last submission.
Apparently, blogging is much easier when your life is in upheaval. Sick babies, an active toddler, trying to build a business, inclement weather & keeping my family in clean clothes is exactly the kind of drama my writing thrives on. June was calm. June was uneventful. There were more pool dates & girls nights than doctors visits & ER trips. There were way more giggles than tears & many more snuggles than needle pricks. Life is beginning to balance out. Thank you Lord!
We are fast approaching big D’s 1st birthday! But before we tackle that milestone, please accept these ridiculously adorable photos as my penance & my promise to blog and blog and blog like I’ve never blogged before.

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The speech

Happy Graduation Day!! That kind of enthusiasm might be a little much considering I don’t have a graduating senior yet or even know a graduating senior. But, I’m excited for a different reason. My amazingly talented husband has been asked to write & give the commencement speech at his high school this year. He’s allowed me to share it with you all. Have a wonderful weekend!

2014 PVHS Graduation: Keynote Speech
As the school’s AP Language & Composition teacher I dissect speeches with my students all year long. Together, we become archeologists of the written word – examining the strategies speakers use to engage with, to appeal to, and to subtly manipulate their audiences. We sift through the rubble of pages, paragraphs, and sentences, in search of patterns, purposes, and techniques.
I am telling you this as a disclaimer.
You see, I enjoy analyzing others’ work. I find pleasure in dissecting the words of famous orators in order to understand how they build their arguments. However, analysis is much different than creation and deconstruction is the opposite of invention.
Speech writing is an excruciating task for me. I agonize about sharing my thoughts with any group of people, but this is by far the largest audience I will ever face. As a result, this is the most physically ill I have been in my 11 year teaching career. It is also, without a doubt, the highest honor I have received as an educator. I possess an immense amount of gratitude in my heart for this group of students and I am truly honored to be here, with you, today. Thank you, class of 2014, for giving me this gut-wrenching gift.
Let me begin by telling you how disappointed I was, 6 years ago. I was a finalist for the keynote speaker at the first graduation ceremony, however I was not chosen to give the speech. Back then, I desperately wanted to earn the opportunity to speak at graduation, despite not knowing what it was I wanted to say. Looking back, I’m sure that my speech would have been filled with fluffy anecdotes and cheery metaphors that loosely related to the concept of graduation. I would not have given that group of graduates the presence at the podium that they deserved. In the past 6 years I have gained the gift of perspective. I know now, what I want to say. I own my words and I am confident in my message. I am the perfect speaker for this class, for this year, and speaking from this point in my life.
I have had two Davids make a substantial impact on my life. They have lived decades apart from one and other, but they have collectively shaped me more than any one person ever has. I met David Oulman, my father, when I was born (on May 1, 1980). I met David Oulman, my son, at his birth (on July 23, 2013). Between these two events is a 33 year span of my life. It has been a good life, overall. I have been blessed with quality friends. I have been lucky in love. I have been supported, at every turn, by my family. I have laughed far more often than I have cried.
My father was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters, restored vintage pickups, and played board games with his kids every weekend. He also loved my mother unconditionally and unabashedly. He had a smile on his face every day of his life. He taught me how to swing a golf club, how to make others laugh, how to kick a soccer ball, how to build a campfire, how to aim a rifle, and how to remain positive in the toughest of situations. My father was my hero. He had the strength and speed of Superman, the honor and integrity of Batman, and the wild and unruly sideburns of Wolverine. He was too big, too strong to die. But, one spring morning my superhero father had a heart attack. He died at the age of 47. I was 11 then and the script that my life had been following was instantly altered.
I grew up. I got married, and when my wife and I decided to have children, the name at the top of our list for boys was etched in stone: David. To me, this was more than a name. It was my chance to honor my father by giving a boy I hoped to mold into a man the same name as the man who shaped me into who I was.
My son’s name is David. However, the decision to name him that was more difficult than I had ever imagined it would be. You see, before David’s birth we were informed that he had a condition termed Trisomy Twenty-One, also known as Down Syndrome. In the midst of processing this news, I realized someplace inside of myself I had begun to question whether or not he should be named David. I am ashamed to share this honest truth, but I had created impossibly high-hopes for the boy who inherited that name. I had a specific vision of what our life together would look like and all of the things I would teach him, just as my father had taught me. I didn’t know if this new reality of my son could be everything I had long hoped for. Simply put, he no longer fit into the script I had written for my life.
I had mistaken the sound of the name for the meaning of the name. It is a name that represents the love, spirit, and vitality that my father lived with. Thankfully, my son perfectly embodies those qualities and in doing so he has altered my perspective on life. David has encountered numerous health issues throughout his short lifespan. While living a significant portion of his days in the hospital, David has undergone countless procedures, surgeries, and exams. But his smile is as bold and beautiful as it was when he was born. He has yet to learn how to crawl, but he has taught me that any amount of disheartening statistics is no match for a sweet heart and loving attitude. I had always thought that I would mold and shape my son, but my 9 month old son is molding and shaping me into a better man.
Graduates, the point is this: there is a beauty within the alterations and adjustments that must be made to the script each life follows. Today is your day to celebrate the beginning of a new dimension to your script. But remember, you are all a work in progress. You are all going to have successes and failures scattered throughout your life. The path you have imagined for your life will be jostled and jagged at times. It is inevitable. You are all going to evolve into something substantially different than the people you are today. Our hope, as an institution and collection of professional educators, is that we have properly prepared you to deal with the relentless rigors and the ever-evolving script of life. The real world is an extremely tough test and there is no answer key or opportunity for extra credit.
I have collected a few simple Dos and Don’ts to help you navigate the rough waters of life:
• Do recognize that momentary hardships can create everlasting character.
• Don’t be afraid of adversity.
• Do allow yourself to accept help from others and be willing to offer to help others as often as you can.
• Don’t constantly nitpick and negotiate.
• Do think for yourself.
• Don’t forget to analyze the life you have been given to live.
• Do learn from your mistakes.
• Don’t get distracted by your defeats.
• Do meet, accept, and defeat challenges.
• Don’t become discouraged or disheartened by difficulties.
• Do take pride in the effort you give the things you have control of in life.
• Don’t be afraid to celebrate the flaws in your life.
• Do enjoy the ride.
• Don’t live your life by a predetermined script.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “good and bad are but names, very readily transferable to that or this.” What I believe he meant with this statement is that we all have control over labeling what you consider to be the “good” and the “bad” in your life. Try your best to concern yourselves with what you believe to be “good” and your life will be something that you can be proud of. Don’t worry about the opinions or critiques of those who do not know what you value in your heart.
The only opinion that matters is your own.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish each and every one of you luck on your journeys. Again, it is my distinct honor to share this stage with you today and I will forever remember this day, with you, the Prairie View High School graduating class of 2014!

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The fear

This week I’ve been trying to decide if being scared is a warning sign or if it breeds anticipation and ultimately success. I’m willing to guess anyone who took a huge risk felt nervous, but hopefully the payoff was worth it. It’s always anyone’s guess if something is going to be successful, and isn’t success 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? I think I have the idea. I know I have the passion. So now where do I go? What takes an idea from inception to success? It’s not for lack of creativity, or even lack of passion, both of which I have. But now everyone else needs to see it too. Other people need to help me be successful. So really, it always takes a village. I have a plan and ultimately a goal. So, here goes nothing.

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The guest

Lessons from My Granddaughter
Hi, David and The Giant readers. Let me introduce myself; as a guest writer today, I’m Steve, affectionately known as “Pops,” father of the David and The Giant blog author, and grandfather to the subjects of so much loving attention: Ella and David. I think I’ll title this intro editorial, “Lessons from My Granddaughter.”
About a year ago I decided to make a move to Colorado following nearly 30 years in Arizona: family raised; old chapters of life closing and new chapters being written, I thought it was the time in life to move a little closer to the next family generation. So, I located about 70 miles south of the kids in Denver, CO to reside in Colorado Springs. Home is where you hang your hat! You know, I didn’t want the young family thinking I would be in their driveway every afternoon, yet close enough to be available at that drop of the hat! I’ve got to say the hat drops often . . . and I love it!
In today’s personal communiqué I receive a text message, email or voicemail inquiring, “Hey Pops, would you be available to watch the kids [grandkids] this ???? day or night?”
Of course, as I always eagerly adjust my schedule to make the quick hour trip by the memorized highway mile markers, I realize I’ve become that traditional figure of the patriarch presence. Along the way there’s always been a my time: my time to be in college, my time to be a young father, my time to develop a career, my time to encourage the family – college, leaving home, dating and marriage and families of their own; and now, my time to be a grandfather! Life is such a joy!
This is also my time to memorialize this chapter in my/their life. I love it! So, even as David and The Giant have become a family focus, the deepening experiences with Ella have also become giant milestones. I really wanted to title this post, “This Doesn’t Belong To You,” as I learned lessons from Ella last month: catching and savoring the appreciation of its interpretation.
With baby David back in the Children’s Hospital frequently this winter and the young parent’s schedules demanding, I was invited again pick up Ella from Day Care, be the overseer of the household early in the evening, stay the night to help with schedules in the morning and visit David at Children’s Hospital the following day.
So, with some after school suggestions from mom [and Ella] I took my part as grandpa . . . doing a little cleaning around the kitchen, playing in the back yard, playing with [pushing] the back yard swing to “go higher Pops,” and planning the gourmet Mac N’ Cheese dinner – actually snooping to see what mom had planned cooking in the slow cooker – I decided to look in the freezer before dinner to see if there remained any of the small ice cream Dixie Cups [which I purchased for Ella on a previous trip] and make a treat suggestion following the Mac N’ Cheese main course. When I found a couple of them left in the freezer, I was faced with a bold and quick, “Those Don’t Belong To You Pops!” Laughing silently almost uncontrollably, I was reminded of those traditional possessive or [territorial] traits inherent in a 3 year old. I’m sure you can relate. Those things important would be listed as her room, her clothes, her friends, her toys, her mom and dad . . . and yes, her ice cream Dixie Cups! But, more personal to me – before the visit and trip was over the next day – “her Pops!”
Both mom and dad had early morning obligations, practically before the day broke, leaving Pops and Ella to follow some written instructions before making the trek back the Day Care in the morning. BUT, we decided to break from tradition [and instructions] and partake with a little spontaneity: an impulsive and memorable experience of dining out, or I should say dining in, for breakfast at McDonald’s! What a way to start the day: pancakes and syrup, sticky fingers and bare feet in the play area. WOW!
It must have been that several young families had the same idea that morning! The counter lobby at McDonalds was crowded . . . I mean “standing room only” with parents and kids about 7:30- 8:00AM. And, as we stood waiting patiently to order our breakfasts, pressed among strangers and personalities, Ella fidgeted at my feet – in sort of a determined sort of way – in that hugging my leg tightly, or firmly grabbing the denim seam in leg of my blue jeans, to pressing tightly against me in the sight of those crowded strangers! Was she wanting/needing protection and security or was she protecting me, I thought, as the exercise became fairly intense . . . but then of course Ella is generally intense – LOL! Soon I got my answer . . .
Looking up and staring me right in the face, there was a determined and affectionate, “Could You Hold Me Pops!” So, I picked her up and held her in my arms; we would be the next in line to order. It wasn’t the expected gesture of putting her little head on my shoulder and neck to hide from the quick study of the nervous lobby reality. NO! She chose rather to position herself with a half turn to the crowd, almost a power position, staring into the eyes of her would be saboteurs! NO! She had actually elevated her position . . . and I knew her defense: “He doesn’t belong to you! He’s my Pops!”
To “dine in,” . . . she chose McDonald’s pancakes and syrup, chocolate milk, parfait and miniature cinnamon sticky buns . . . Pops, got just an Egg McMuffin and a small cup of coffee!
As we sat at a quiet little table in the play area, I could see her side of the table covered with her assorted and abundant breakfast as she gazed, fixing her eyes, on at my lonely cup of coffee and Egg McMuffin. “Those don’t belong to you,” I said. LOL! Turnabout Is Fair Play! Her quick smile, smirking little grin and purposed little laugh let me know she knew she’d been caught in the cross fire . . . LOL!
In a few minutes and it was time to go. “Can I get some cookies for my friends at Day Care, Pops,” she asked? “Of course Ella,” I said, “cookies for friends belong to them.” What a fun trip! And just think, Pops is only 70 miles away!!
Today, I’d like to thank Ella for the lesson! When I put my arms around Ella and David, I’d like to say to all of the other unrelated grandparents out there, “They don’t belong to you!” Nope! They’re mine!
I know it’s just where I belong . . .