turning 6 is awesome: ethan's lego themed 6th birthday party

Ethan had his sixth birthday party this past weekend. He asked for a Lego theme and (because I'm his mom, duh) was very hands-on in the planning this year. This was his first year in school, and so he had so many friends to add to the guestlist. Having a summer birthday is hard because you never know if your school friends will be in touch or if they'll be traveling, but he was so excited that so many of his friends from school showed up to party. Our venue was My Gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, as it is year after year -- it's our home away from home and you can't beat a My Gym party (we love you, Mr. Lee!). Instead of the Lego-printed plates and decorations, I tried to recreate my own primary color scheme and go from there.

My best friend's dad and my sister collaborated on these awesome wood cutouts. Ethan was so excited to have them at his party!

The favors were primary color play-doh tubs with custom Lego mini-figure shaped cookie cutters, which I ordered from Etsy seller Cookie Cutter Supply. I packaged everything up in bags that I morphed into Lego bricks with the help of a craft hole punch.

I had the banner printed on Vistaprint. The cupcake tower and the cake stand were both inexpensive Amazon purchases that I painted and decorated with Lego Duplo blocks. My sister drew the Lego faces on the two glass jars (the held hummus and ranch) that I had also painted yellow. Ethan built the napkin and silverware Duplo structures and I love that he added his own little touch to everything! For food, we had pizzas delivered but I set out an array of snacks in different primary colored bins and containers.

My sister donned a Lego Ninjago costume for the first half hour or so of the party as a special gift to Ethan. All in all, it was an awesome (see what I did there?) party!

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"Don't worry about the worst case scenarios."

I was told this four times within the first three hours we had been in the emergency room with Carmen. Machines beeped and buzzed around us, kids cried in stereo and I was holding the body of a toddler unrecognizable as my own. Carmen never stops -- "she has no chill," her big brother will say -- but in the ER, she was laying still in my arms, drifting in and out of sleep. The doctor came in to either deliver results or calm me down. She dabbled in a little of both. I quickly identified myself as the mother of a child who lost one baby already to a fatal heart defect and immediately, everyone understood that I knew that worst case scenarios can and do happen. What no one else could understand was the pit in my stomach at the prospect of it happening again.

Around me were mothers who listened to the doctors orders about their child's febrile seizures or stomach viruses with clarity and understanding. In my daily life, I refer to these parents as naive. Not in a bad way, either. I was naive once and I miss it all of the time, especially during those times when my child is laying across my lap hooked up to machines and tubes and catheters. I miss the ability to not panic, to stay calm, to wait to see what the doctor says in order to find a treatment plan. Instead, where my second baby should be sits my ability to replace calmness with the sight of the room in a funeral home reserved for children-sized urns and coffins. The crowded room with the gray carpet and cheery fluffy teddy bears stuck upon the shelves next to ceramic baby blocks and angel wings, a short perimeter to walk while deciding which box should house your child's remains forever. "She's going to stay in the PICU," explains the doctor but not without sitting by my feet and staring me in the eyes in hopes to zap up a little bit of the devastation I'm screaming into the room. I feel numb and cold and then the cheerful endocrinologist walks in and everyone is giving me a speech about Nick Jonas being a diabetic, too, and look at him. Look at Nick Jonas? This is the best we can do for parents who are just told their child has a 90% chance of being diabetic but the official diagnosis will come in the morning, but don't panic, because Nick Jonas.

We are admitted to the PICU and this is when Carmen comes back to life, and by two a.m. they have to close her into the PICU crib like a cage. A kind nurse with a gentle spirit rocks Carmen for me so I can pee and splash my face with water and shovel a fistful of contraband -- Pringles -- into my mouth, thanks to a friend who made sure I was equipped to adequately eat my feelings in the hospital. The morning comes and diabetes is taken off the table. Thoughts of Nick Jonas in all of his glory have been replaced by a suggestion it may be epilepsy, and I am flung into a whole new world that has no celebrity spokesperson. "They even have dogs! Kids love dogs," offers a nurse trainee and I resist the urge to throw Carmen's entire breakfast tray at her face.

Moments later, they are strapping electrodes on my child's head to test for epilepsy. The doctor is cold and quick and won't answer my questions. I promise myself I will eat Doritos from the vending machine later if I don't google epilepsy. "She might not die from it, you know, there are safety precautions in place," says the doctor on his way out the door. She might not die from it, I think, is the new Nick Jonas.

The next day they take epilepsy off the table and the cold doctor is again replaced by the cheerful endocrinologist who believes it is ketocic hypoglycemia. It ends up being a correct diagnosis. We are moved from the PICU to the regular peds floor, which means Carmen can walk the halls and play in the playroom and I can have visitors. I never want the visitors to leave. "Get some sleep," my mom would say before she left and I would resist the urge to throw myself in front of the door and beg her to not leave me. "It's my son's birthday soon," I would tell the nurses as they came in, "we have to get home." Some nights her sugars were low, but not as low as they were the morning she couldn't wake up at home, and I'm told I'm going to be shown how to test her sugars at home. I can't even put my own earrings in because I'm too squeamish, so I prematurely just cry.

But then the time comes when she is able to be unhooked from her IV fluids for 24 hours without it affecting her sugars. We are given a feeding schedule from a dietitian, and the endocrinologist calls us in a glucometer. I practice the finger pricks on my husband and we are sent out into the world with a list of times to test her sugars at, all night long. All. Night. Long.

My husband and I haven't slept in two weeks and I think my body has just adapted to the sleeplessness. My phone alarm sounds at 2 a.m. and we roll out of bed, a routine in place, washing hands and waking up a baby that just wants to sleep. If her sugar is too low, we have the daunting task of feeding her until it rises -- yes, feeding the toddler who just wants to go back to sleep. Some nights this is easier than others. Some nights we are awake from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. because she is just so confused as to if it's morning or not or why she's being forced to eat yogurt or drink a smoothie or juice. Once you let yourself fall back to sleep, it feels like seconds before the alarm sounds again. And repeat (and repeat and repeat).

She is doing well, and (not to jinx it) hasn't had an issue with low sugars for the past two days. We recheck with the endocrinologist on Monday. Life has morphed into normal, or a new version of it, one with scheduled snack breaks and blood sugar tests. I'm still trying to adapt and figure it all out, day by day, with lots and lots of coffee in hand. It's summertime, and we're soaking up the sunshine as best we can.

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mother's day

Mother's Day rolled in with it's (thankfully broken) promise of all-day thunderstorms and accompanying chaos. We made it to the beach before nine o'clock in the morning, thinking we would have to beat a rainstorm that never actually ended up being more than looming black clouds on the horizon. We ventured to a beach just minutes away from where Carmen was born, and it was hard to not think of the woman who will always bear the c-section scar from the surgery that pulled my daughter from her body. I certainly couldn't answer any of the cutesy Facebook questionnaires about peeing when I sneeze or epidurals or if "daddy" was in the room during my delivery (also, no thank you on that heaping helping of heteronormativity), but none of that is what it means to be a mother. In my own heart, birth is the least of what makes someone a mother and that much is apparent in the day-to-day moments that come with mothering Carmen. Yet a little over one year ago only minutes from where Carmen splashed in the Intracoastal yesterday, another woman had only her birth to claim her motherhood.

Life and all of it's intricacies, all of the constant remolding we go through to be humans -- some days it's all more apparent than others. Perspective shifts and feelings that tap at your heart but for which you have no adequate words to explain to others.

Sometimes I pee when I sneeze, but the cause of that is not my son born via c-section as much as it wasn't my daughter born to another woman's body. It was thanks to the delivery of the child who died and was born nearly three years ago on a date that is creeping up quicker than I'm ready for. My wedding anniversary and also the day that we said goodbye to the baby who never got to come home with us. Motherhood -- it simply cannot be defined in saccharine Pinterest quotes or graphics about coffee consumption. Motherhood throbs deep inside my veins and defines who I am despite the journey that spun me around until I was too dizzy to really answer that for quite some time.

My babies. These babies. These beautiful, fierce world-changers with their laughter and stubbornness. I can't get enough of them.

They are joy. They are peace. They are love. They are my motherhood journey, the roots that hold me in place.  photo signature_zps5tftxxmn.png


grabease: baby's first self-feeding cutlery set

I was first introduced to Grabease when I saw these adorable self-feeding utensils for toddlers tagged in a photo on Instagram. Carmen never liked being fed and has always preferred to feed herself, but usually with her hands (or by shoveling fistfuls of food in her mouth, let's be real). Typical silverware is too large for tiny toddler hands, so I assumed I would just deal with her heaping handfuls of self-feeding and the mess that accompanies it all -- until I discovered Grabease. Grabease utensils are recommended by occupational therapists and designed to promote self-feeding in toddlers. Each set comes with both a fork and spoon, each with an ergonomically designed handle for a natural vertical grasp. As a total neurotic mom (or shameless helicopter mom, you decide), I also want to point out that I love the choke protection barriers that make it impossible for little ones to swallow or choke themselves with their Grabease utensils.

From the first moment I presented her with the Grabease, Carmen seemed to know just what to do. Lately, Carmen is at that stage where she mimics what she sees us do and that includes use utensils to eat. At first she was a little frustrated that she could not get the food onto the Grabease fork, but after a few tries, Miss Independent was totally getting it. It was really cool for me as a parent to watch her successfully feed herself dinner with her own utensils!

We've always had some issues with Carmen and her weight. Having been born a few weeks premature, we had a hard time getting her to cross the threshold from underweight to normal weight. Throw in the fact she is just too busy to take time to sit and eat, mealtimes were a little bit of a struggle (and a whole lot stressful). Grabease -- and the thrill of letting her independence blossom -- have totally made meal and snack times fun for Carmen. She loves learning to use her Grabease to feed herself and will polish off an entire plate of strawberry slices if I include her Grabease fork along with them. "It's exercise for her brain," as my five year old says.

We are loving Grabease around here -- and are really, really excited to get the opportunity to offer a super-exciting giveaway, too. 15 winners will get the chance to win their very own set of Grabease for their toddlers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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adoption isn't a punch line

"That's it, I'm putting you up for adoption," joked the mom at the playground splash pad with her on-purpose messy ponytail to her unaware toddler, sharing a round of uproarious laughter with her friends. Just a few feet away, my two children wandered into the splash pad: my son, running in excitedly but cautiously, and my daughter, still crawling but far more adventurous and less concerned with safety. I felt my stomach tighten to the point where my knees felt weak under me, and I felt the familiar feeling of heat flush into my cheeks. I tried to discreetly stare at them, to assess the faces that looked nice enough and yet could be so unintentionally cruel. It wasn't the first time I'd heard adoption as the butt of a joke, and it sure wouldn't be the last time. "My sister doesn't look anything like the rest of us," a mom at the library joked to her friend, "so when I'm mad at her, I just tell her she's adopted."

I have heard people make racist jokes, likely because I'm white and they have no idea that my daughter is black, and they wrongfully assume that such jokes are funny if no one in the audience is impacted firsthand. I wholly reject that ignorant theory with everything within me. Racism, rape, misogyny -- these things aren't funny, regardless of the experiences of the person listening to your joke. The same goes for adoption. The pain and life-altering turmoil and sacrifice that my daughter's birth parents had to make aren't a punchline to some silly joke that does nothing but perpetuate the stigma that one must be defective, somehow, someway, in order to be placed for adoption. Adoptees grow up bearing the brunt of a lot of that stigma, sometimes believing themselves that they were unwanted, unloved, not good enough. Older children sometimes believe that they did something wrong, something bad, something that warranted them placement -- and I can't blame them, because these are the jokes we hear on a regular basis. The notion that an adopted child is loved less than a biological child -- that learning of ones adoption is an insult -- has been perpetuated a thousand times over in the memes I've seen pop up on my timeline last month alone.

I'm not an adoptee, but I am an adoptive mother. I know that in my daughter's brief year of being a part of our family, I've gotten countless stares and inquiries over the fact she looks different from the rest us. I am sure that soon she will feel the stares herself, and internalize the comments from well-intentioned strangers who are eager to know in the inner-workings of our family dynamic. I am sure that in her quest to know herself, as all adolescents go through, she will find a more intricate path to trudge through than most. And if she had been a little older that day at the splash pad, I can only imagine the way that stranger's joke would have held onto her heart and not let go.

Adoptees aren't throw-away children. They aren't children who were unwanted, or unloved. I can empathize with the ache in my daughter's birth mother's heart that she will have to live with for the rest of her life, and sometimes this is what I think about when parents make jokes about placing their child for adoption over a tantrum over a cookie or broken toy. I think of the battle that my own family fought to get to the point of bringing our daughter home with us through adoption -- the pain, the tears, the moments of feeling like our lives would forever be incomplete. I think of the struggles my friend faced in multiple failed adoptions before bringing home her beautiful daughter, and the level of heartache there that most people will never be able to comprehend. I think of the infertility treatments, the needles jabbed just to the side of my belly button, and the physical pain that paled in comparison to waking up with a half-broken heart and empty arms each morning. And I think of my daughter and the other adoptees just like her -- innocent, loved beyond measure, just trying to exist in a world that turns the very essence of who they are into a joke.

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