Monday, May 26, 2014

Our Weekend

Our weekend began on Friday.  A usual 9-hour trip to Georgia took us 11 hours.  There was a really bad accident on the interstate in Mobile, and the interstate was closed because of structural damage to the bridge.  So we had to take a rather long detour.  But once we got here, it didn't seem like it'd taken that long after all.  I spent most of the ride reading a book.  The children were content with their movies and electronics.  So it was a good trip.

On Saturday we had the honor of attending a beautiful wedding.  My cousin Brian married his bride, Lindsay.  Brian is the youngest of us eight grandchildren on the Connell side and the last one of us to get married.  Have I mentioned how beautiful the wedding was?!  It was girlie and elegant and gorgeous and FUN, too.  My cousin Ashley was a bridesmaid, and she walked down the aisle carrying her youngest, Wyatt, who is seven months old.  He was a ring bearer.  And her two little girls were the flower girls.  They were so precious.  Hannah Kate was awestruck by Lindsay's gown.  The music, the dresses, the flowers, the ceremony were all very southern and very traditional.  But Brian and Lindsay walked out to "Fishin' in the Dark!"  So very fun!

I was thinking the entire time during the ceremony how much Grandmother would've enjoyed it!  She's doing really well, but the alzheimer's has advanced to the stage where she doesn't know any of us anymore.  She gave me perhaps some of the best advice I've ever heard regarding dating and marriage, something I'll always remember and never forget.  I was a sophomore in college and had come home one weekend for a visit.  We were sitting in her den.  I wasn't dating anyone at the time.  We were talking about that a little bit, and she said, "Don't marry the person you think you can live with.  Marry the person you know you can't live without."  I'm forever thankful for the example she and my Pa were to us, as well as my own parents and my aunts and uncles in their marriages, too.  I wish that she could've been there to celebrate with Brian and Lindsay.  She would've loved every minute of it.  She would just be so proud!  She'd be proud of all of us, I'm sure.

After the wedding at Lindsay's church, we went to the Georgia Hall at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for the reception.  The food was absolutely phenomenal!  It's hard to choose a favorite, but I really loved the prosciutto wrapped asparagus.  We also got to spend a few quiet minutes talking to Brian and Lindsay before they were introduced to their guests.  When I told Lindsay how much Hannah Kate loved her gown, she so graciously offered to let Hannah Kate hold her bouquet for our picture.  I think Hannah Kate is beaming just as much as the bride and groom!
And y'all . . . best wedding favor.  EVER.  Right here.  Guests were treated to a little bag of Georgia peaches!  Mason really wanted to swipe a tomahawk, too, but I wasn't so sure that those were to give away so we didn't come home with one.  But I got some peaches!
On Sunday we went to church and had a chicken-q and "singin" afterwards.  If you're from the south, you know what I'm talking about.

And then we spent the rest of the afternoon on the water slide and had a cook-out with Rob and Kristi and the boys.

These two, Judd and Ellie, are six months apart.  Judd is six months older than Ellie.  They were cracking me up.  They had a good time playing together, and I'd give anything to know what in the world they were saying to one another because they were having some rather heated conversations in Judd-and-Ellie-ese.

And this was the best I could do to get them all in a picture together.  Of course, Ellie is not in the picture!
Because this is what happens when they see me bring the camera out.  But this is pretty much what went on the entire time.
Ellie and Judd had to work really hard to share and take turns.  Judd kept calling Ellie the "baby."  And he wanted the baby to get out of the car so he could ride it.  But the baby did not want to get out.

And then Ellie got on the tricycle.  Judd was just trying to help her along, but she wasn't too much interested in his help.
And then Pop took them for a ride on the golf cart.  Except Ellie.  She screamed.  
And today we enjoyed a fun afternoon and evening with our friends.  We went swimming and had another cook-out.  The kids really had a great time!  Their favorite was the slide.  I know exactly what conversation they're going to have with their PawPaw when we go back to Louisiana!

And there's nothing like a friendly little water gun fight, too.
Ellie actually got in the pool today.  She hasn't at all been interested in Seth's parents' pool.  But this one today was much warmer so I think that's why she was willing to get in a little bit.

I wanted to get a picture of all the children together, but that wasn't happening.  So I did manage to get this picture of Harrison with Hannah Kate.  His little brother, Owen, is only two weeks older than Ellie.  They played so well together today.
And more fun in the pool!
I really don't think I truly comprehend the depth of sacrifice that so many men and women made and continue to make for our country.  But I was thinking today that so many of the things I enjoyed this holiday weekend are because of them and what they gave up so I can enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in this great county we call America . . . the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fly, Mason, FLY!

We've had LOTS of reasons to celebrate this week . . . the last day of school, an early birthday, an outstanding end-of-the-year report card, standardized test scores, a graduation.

Monday was Mason's last day of school.  I decided to surprise him and his class on Monday afternoon with cake and ice cream for his birthday.  Since he has a July birthday, he never gets to have a birthday party at school.  Well, he did this year.  He was so surprised when I walked into his class with his favorite cookie cake.  I think he was actually a bit overwhelmed.  His face turned red, and his little eyes filled with tears.  I really thought he was going to lose it when his class sang Happy Birthday to him, but he held it together.
We loaded up to go to therapy, and I realized that I now have a 1st grader, a 4th grader and an almost 2-year-old.
On Tuesday morning the kids had dentist appointments.  Mason and Hannah Kate both love going to the dentist and always look forward to it.  When we were there six months ago, Dr. H told me that braces were definitely in Mason's future, which I already knew.  She said there was no hurry at that time and that we should wait until he loses a few more of his baby teeth and the permanent teeth come in.  Well, this visit landed us a referral with an orthodontist.  Mason's teeth are very crowded right now, and three of his permanent teeth can't come in.  He has two baby teeth that need to be pulled so the permanent teeth can make their way through.  Dr. H sent us home with a copy of the x-rays and suggested we take care of it this summer since we don't have to worry with school.  She didn't want to pull the teeth yet until getting confirmation from the orthodontist.  So.  Fun times ahead.  Mason is very uncertain about all of this, and we did not even tell him about having the teeth pulled yet.  So let's just keep that between us.  But I did tell him that I had a mouth full of metal when I was in 3rd grade and that he would be just fine.

And speaking of teeth, Hannah Kate bit down on a taco tonight and ended up with a slightly loose bottom tooth.  DRAMA.  I mean, I just want her to let me go ahead and pull it out of there because DRAMA until it does finally come out!

Last night I went to see the Mom's Night Out movie with a friend.  I won't say it's the best ever, but I did enjoy it.  And I can so relate!

This morning began with a visit to the tire place to have my tires aligned.  I left with not only an alignment but four new tires, too.  That was not in the plan.  While I was waiting on my truck, final grades and state test scores were posted.

I was very concerned at the midterm because Mason was really struggling in reading, and his grade had dropped over 20 points.  So we spent the last three weeks of school studying and studying a lot.  He made an A and two B's on the last three reading tests of the school year.  He also made a 100 on the final book report project he turned in.  He brought his grade back up over 20 points to a B on his report card for this grading period. His final grades of the year are three A's and three B's.  To say I am proud is just inadequate.  Because there are no words.

And if that isn't enough, he also did an outstanding job on the iLEAP (Louisiana's standardized test).  I had no idea what to expect.  I was honestly not expecting him to do very well on the ELA portion of the iLEAP.  But I kept telling myself that it wouldn't matter because this test "doesn't count."  It will "count" next year, and we could use these test results to help us prepare for the real deal next year.  Mason did very well on the math, science and social studies portions of the test.  He even scored "basic" on the ELA portion, which is defined as "demonstrating the functional knowledge and skills needed for the next level of schooling."  There are two other categories above basic, but the goal is for the student to score at last basic, and Mason DID IT!  His teacher even called me to be sure I knew about the scores and to tell me how proud she was of Mason.

And if that's not enough, I had a meeting this afternoon with our social worker and all three of Mason's therapists.  They just recently re-evaluated Mason to determine his progress during the past year and where we need to go from here.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect from that either.  I felt like we just can't continue such a rigorous private therapy schedule because we are all so worn down.  At the same time, it's a bit scary thinking about stepping away from the private therapy because he has responded so well and made such huge strides, and I do not want to do anything to jeopardize where he's come to or do anything that would cause him to regress.  So it's a really big decision.

I knew going in that we will continue with Speech Therapy no matter what.  There are still some areas that we need to address, some things that he needs continued support and direction with, particularly in expressive language and vocabulary.  There has been a little bit of improvement over the last year, and his Speech Therapist is very pleased with his progress, his attitude and his work ethic.  And she confirmed what I already knew.  We will continue with Speech Therapy for I don't know how long.  

The therapy that is the most time consuming and costly is Educational Therapy (basically reading remediation).  There have been many days lately when I was ready to call it quits just so we could get a break.  But I didn't know what to do, didn't know what the best decision would be.  And I really had no idea what his Educational Therapist was going to say.  I was, again, so surprised and so proud when she presented and explained the results of his recent assessment as compared to the one 18 months ago.  She said she considered dismissing him from therapy (again, not at all what I expected her to say at this point), but it's her recommendation that he continue with ET fall semester because 4th grade is probably going to be the most challenging yet (his teacher had already given me a heads up about this on Monday), and it would be a good idea to give him the initial support to help with the transition; however, she feels that it's a strong possibility that he will no longer need ET after Christmas.  So that was probably the best news out of all of this.

And Occupational Therapy . . . well, he graduated today.  Yep.  He's done with OT.  Done.  Finished.  Forever.  Just this past November, I sat in the lobby during therapy one afternoon and had a "moment" because I just didn't know how all of this was going to turn out.  Kristin was in the lobby with me and made a comment about helping Mason "spread his wings."  I'll never forget that conversation.  And apparently, neither will Kristin.  She had a special gift for Mason today.  She presented him with a pair of wings that she pinned to his shirt this afternoon during his final OT session.
She also wrote him a super sweet poem.  Mason has been quite emotional this past week (as in he did the ugly cry when he initially found out that he wasn't going to see Miss Kristin anymore).  I asked him if he wanted to read it, but he said he wanted me to read it.  It wasn't that he didn't have the ability to read it.  I think he was afraid he wouldn't make it through without getting upset.  And as if I could!

So I read it and made it all the way to "good-bye."  And then Mason had to finish it because I could not.
What an HONOR to be this kid's Momma!  HE DID IT!  HE DID IT!  My Silver Scholar winning, iLEAP passing, OT graduating boy DID IT!  

I can hardly believe it.  

But yes I can.  



So.  Hello summertime.  How are you?  It's been awhile, and I sure am glad you're here.  We're going to have lots of fun, and I can hardly wait!

And this last picture . . . well, I just couldn't help myself.  Abbie gave Hannah Kate a tutu for her recital gift.  And Ellie loves it! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hannah Kate's Dance Recital (and a VIDEO!)

As if Mother's Day, Hannah Kate's Kindergarten graduation and Mason's awards ceremony weren't enough in the same weekend, we also had Hannah Kate's dance recital this past weekend, too!

This year's recital theme was Dancing with Cinema.  So each dance was a tribute to a movie.  Hannah Kate's class danced their ballet to You Are So Beautiful to Me (The Little Rascals) and tap to Twist and Shout (Ferris Bueller's Day Off).  She really enjoyed her class this year.  She also loved both of her costumes, and I did, too.  She's had some cute ones in previous years, but I think this year's are definitely my favorites.

I took all of these pictures with my phone while we were waiting in the dressing room. 

A lot of moms get pins of their ballerina to wear on dance recital day.  I'd never done that before, but I remember last year wishing I had a pin.  So I got one this year, and I'm so glad I did.  I mean, look at this beautiful picture!  Sometimes I just sit and stare . . . and I have to pinch myself because that's MY girl! 
Hannah Kate and her friend Addison could hardly wait to take the stage.  They'd been waiting so patiently all day. 
When she changed into her tap costume, I told her I wanted to take a picture, and this is what I got.  I really don't know where she gets this from.  Oh, and this is also when I totally forgot to put her hairpiece in her hair and didn't realize it until she was already dancing on the stage.  She was the only one without it. 
This year Hannah Kate and Abbie were in the same dance recital.  We were in two different dressing rooms, and we didn't really get to see Abbie at the recital because their dances were really close together so they were either on the stage or in the dressing room.  I didn't have a chance to get a picture of them together at the recital, but I took this picture the night before at the rehearsal.  This is Abbie in her ballet costume. 
We are no allowed to video the actual recital, but I did capture Hannah Kate's dances at the rehearsal.  So . . . here you go!  She is the fourth ballerina from the right once all the girls are lined up.  They watched their teachers in the wings pretty much the whole time during the rehearsal.  But at the recital, they actually danced the first part of both of their dances without looking at their teachers at all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Silver Scholar

At the beginning of the school year, I was scared to death.  Mason was on academic probation at school (Yes.  I understand that this is 3rd grade.).  We were getting ready to embark on a weekly schedule that included two days of private therapy after school, and I had no idea how in the world I was going to physically and mentally survive the logistics of all of that.  I'd heard horror stories about the reading and writing requirements in 3rd grade.  I'd been told by school administration that perhaps the rigorous academic environment at his school just wasn't for him and that we should consider sending him somewhere else.  That same administrator also refused to acknowledge that Mason has dyslexia and would not even honor my request for an evaluation even after we'd provided the results of several different private evaluations from doctors and therapists.  I had no idea what to expect from 3rd grade.  And I'll be honest.  I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be good.  I wasn't.  As a matter of fact, I didn't really expect to be where we are today.  I envisioned a completely different outcome.  It wasn't necessarily a bad one.  Just a lot different.

So here we are nine months later.  Mason is no longer on academic probation and hasn't been since December.  We made it to every single therapy appointment except for one day when the traffic was so bad that I couldn't make it over the bridge in time and the day after Ellie broke her arm.  Mason just this afternoon completed his fourth and final book report project.  And this one he did all by himself with hardly any help at all from me.  He benchmarked on DIBELS during the mid-year.  We have seen tremendous improvement in his reading fluency, comprehension, phoneme awareness and re-tell.  He can even read a chapter book by himself now.  And next week he will graduate out of Occupational Therapy and no longer needs skilled OT services!

Yesterday afternoon I watched with pride as my boy's name was called out as a Silver Scholar for this school year, and he walked across that stage to receive his award.  He maintained a 3.00-3.54 GPA all year long.  Who would've thought?!  Not that school administrator apparently.  It just makes me want to say, "I TOLD YOU SO."  And a few other things.  

Because let me tell you.  I might've spent all those hours in the evenings doing homework and projects and book reports.  I might've spent all those hours driving him to and from private therapy.  I might've drove his teacher nuts with all of my emails and random visits to class.  And I might've won the fight to have him evaluated and given 504 accommodations at school.  

But this award?  He did this!  This is all him!  He did not give up.  He kept on and on and on.  Even when he was tired.  Even in the face of discouragement and sometimes defeat.  But he did not give up.  He studied and worked and kept on day after day after day.  There's no other kid who deserves this award more than Mason does.  And I'll tell you this, too.  Mason isn't awarded for the amount of effort it takes for him to do what he does.  Because if he was, there wouldn't be an award big enough!

I am proud.  That's an understatement.  I don't even have the words.  This kid is going places.  And I can't wait to see where he goes.  Because it's going to be good.  All good.  I wish I could give him the world.  I wish I could make him see just how special he is and just how awesome his accomplishments are.  He told his teacher yesterday that he wanted to do better than the Silver Scholar.  I didn't have tears in my eyes until the moment she told me that.  But just you wait.  Because I know we haven't seen nothing yet!  It's only going to get even better!

I talk about Jeremiah 29:11 a lot, and I'm always telling my children that God has a special plan for their lives and that they just need to trust and follow Him.  A few weeks ago, the conversation went something like this:

Mason: Mama, I know why you came to Louisiana.  You came because it was God's plan so you could meet Daddy.  Huh, Mama?
Me:  Yep.  That was all part of God's plan.
Mason (after a moment in thought):  And God has a plan for me, too, doesn't He, Mama?
Me:  Yep.  He sure does, Buddy.

Mason, the plan is good.  It's all good!  And your future is bright.  It's so bright!  I could never be more proud to call you my son than I am right now.  You are special.  You are a gift from God.  You just keep trusting Him and doing what He wants you to do.  Because something tells me He's going to take you on the ride of your life!  I love you!  ~Mama

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plan to give you hope and a future."  ~Jeremiah 29:11  

Monday, May 12, 2014

First Grade . . . Here I come!

I can't even begin to tell you how excited this girl was this morning when I woke her up.  She's been waiting for this day for a long time.  She is so ready for 1st grade.  After all, Kindergarten is so . . . YESTERDAY.
Over 100 graduating kindergartners filled the Performing Arts Center this morning.  Hannah Kate was fourth from the left on the back row in the right section.
If you look closely you can see her peeking in between the two boys on the front row.
And because I have no photography skills whatsoever and still haven't figured out how to take a picture from so far away, here she is receiving a hug from her teacher.  I'm not going to even bother posting the picture of her receiving her medal and diploma.
After the graduation ceremony, we went to Hannah Kate's classroom for cake and more goodies.
Mrs. Williams surprised all of her students today.  She's technically still on maternity leave, and she didn't tell them she would be at graduation.  We were so excited to see her (and pictures of her new baby).
And this sweet lady is Mrs. Amy.  She's one of the school's long-term substitutes, and she has been with Hannah Kate's class during Mrs. Williams' maternity leave.  Hannah Kate had so much fun with Mrs. Amy.
One of the many things I appreciate about Mrs. Williams is how she makes each student feel so special.  At the end of each school year, she presents each student with an award.  Hannah Kate received the DIBELS excellence award.  DIBELS is the standardized test (that I am not at all fond of) that is supposed to assess reading skills.  We've never had good experiences with DIBELS.  Until now.  Hannah Kate has maintained the highest score in her class all year.  And don't you just love how Hannah Kate illustrated herself?  Her favorite thing to draw is eyelashes!
After graduation I told Hannah Kate I would take her to lunch and let her pick where.  I should've given a little more direction.  She chose Chic-fil-A.  I have a love hate relationship with CFA.  It's the only "fast food" restaurant I let my kids eat at.  But I'm pretty tired of it!  It wasn't my day though.  It was hers.  So we ate a quick lunch before having to go back to school again for the 1st-3rd grad awards ceremony.  Thank goodness for selfies.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have any pictures of myself with my children!  And I don't even do them well!
One of the things I loved this year about kindergarten graduation is that they wore class shirts instead of caps and gowns.  I like caps and gowns for high school and college graduations.  But I love these little shirts for kindergarten graduation, especially with their signatures on them.
She's not at all excited about graduating from kindergarten.  Not at all.
And this sweet poem says it all . .

Get ready, get set because here I go.
I'm ready to show you all I know!
I've graduated kindergarten and now I'm done. 
I've laughed and learned and it's been fun!
First grade, first grade, ready, set, go.
I'm ready to show you all I know!
Get ready first grade because I'm on my way.
I've graduated kindergarten, hip, hip, hooray!
One of their last art projects at school was to draw what they want to be when they grow up.  Hannah Kate wants to be a doctor (as of right now anyway).  I guess that means Seth's dream of early retirement is just that.  A dream!
I am so proud of this girl!  It's incredibly surreal to me that she is, indeed, a 1st grader!  As much as I want to keep her little, I have to admit that I'm enjoying watching her grow and learn and discover the world around her.  I am in absolute awe of the person she is and the one she is growing into!  She is funny and bright and quite independent.  She is the best big sister.  She adores her big brother.  She dances and sings.  She loves to draw and play and pretend and imagine.  She is polite and kind and compassionate.  She's also full of spunk and isn't afraid to tell you how she feels.  She loves Jesus a whole lot.

It just doesn't get much better than this girl right here!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day - because God's grace is enough!

So let me just tell you how my Mother's Day began this morning.  Ellie spilled fingernail polish on her super cute smocked bubble that I was so excited she was finally big enough to wear because it's one of my favorites that Hannah Kate used to wear.  Fingernail polish.  So, of course, I had to change her clothes and find something that didn't need to be ironed because I didn't have time for that.  I really hate ironing so I don't do it after I finish laundry.  I iron before the clothes are worn.  And let's not even ask how she got into nail polish.  I knew she had it, but I didn't immediately take it away from her.  I wasn't worried because I figured she couldn't get the top off.  Who am I kidding?!?  This is the same 21 month old who has also just recently figured out how to unbuckle her 5-point harness car seat that even adults have trouble with!

And yesterday . . . it was Hannah Kate's dance recital.  Her ballet dance was in the first act and then we had a long time to wait until her tap dance in the second act.  When I got her dressed for tap, I totally forgot to put her hair piece in.  And I didn't realize it until AFTER they were on the stage dancing.  Nice.

And Thursday . . . I was supposed to send $3 to school with Mason for a concert.  After I got them off to school, I saw the $3 sitting on my kitchen counter.  I'd forgotten to put it in his backpack.

When I became a mother nearly nine years ago, I read all of the parenting and discipline books I could get my hands on.  I was determined to be the "perfect" mother and have the "perfect" child, but I didn't know how in the world to do that.  And then I tried to implement what the books said to do.  But it never seemed to work.  None of it.  I definitely wasn't the perfect mom.  I finally realized one day (because it takes me awhile sometimes) that I didn't need all of those "self help" parenting books (they were even Christian parenting books).  I just needed the Bible.  Because it's all there!  Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong or bad about those books.  I still have most of them and even recommend them from time to time.  But everything I need to know about parenting and being a Godly mom (because there's just no such thing as the perfect mom so the best thing I can do is try to be a Godly mom) is in God's Word!

Most days I feel so inadequate for the hard work of mothering, especially on the days when there's nail polish spilled on smocked bubbles, missing hair pieces at the dance recital and money that was left behind on the counter.  One of my most favorite verses for these times, these every days of parenting is 2 Corinthians 12:9 . . .

And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It's enough.  God's grace is enough, is all I need.  It's enough for spilled nail polish and missing hair pieces and things left behind.  It's enough for piles of laundry and dirty dishes in the sink.  It's enough for floors that need to be swept and toilets that need to be cleaned.  It's enough during the moments I lose my patience and respond to my children in ways I shouldn't.  It's enough for all those times when I just feel so inadequate, so "not enough."

And here's what happens when you try to get a Mother's Day picture with three children, one of whom doesn't want to look at the camera.  

These children, all three of them, are the sunshine in my days.  There are so many things I love about each one of them, but my most favorite thing is that they love me.  They love me on my worst days, and they always forgive me for all the times I mess up.

I have so many sweet memories of my childhood and my own mother.  But you know what I don't remember?  My mother NEVER complained.  Never.  Because, let me tell you, there are many days that I want to complain and might even do!  She worked a full time job, and she came home everyday and had a home cooked supper on the table for us.  She took me to all of those piano lessons for ten long years.  She washed our clothes (and even ironed them before she hung them up in the closet!) and kept our floors swept.  She helped us with our homework.  She did all those things that mothers do, and she did it well!  She did it with grace.  She did it day in and day out.  I really wasn't very grateful back then because I just didn't get it.  But, boy, do I get it now!  I'm just so thankful and so blessed for her example to me of selfless mothering.

I don't get to see her a whole lot so this picture is almost 14 years old.  But she hasn't changed one bit!

Love you, Mama!