Dear Parents

As I sipped my coffee early this morning, I casually scrolled through my Facebook page. Buried amongst the copious amounts of baby pictures and political posts was an article from a local Idaho paper. The article was regarding a father’s Facebook post detailing the senseless and cruel bullying his son endures because he has Treacher Collins Syndrome. Dan, Jackson’s father, details what his son has lived through- the intensely cruel name calling, the brutal physical abuse, and he painfully describes that this abuse has driven his eight year old son to consider ending his life.
 
My heart is broken. I sat quietly this morning for the better part of an hour, tears rolling down my face. The emotional reaction wasn’t only because I worry this will happen to my child, it’s also because if a child with TCS feels pain – we all feel pain because one of our tribe has been brutally hurt.  I don’t know Jackson’s parents and I’ve only now written to his father.  But, when I study Jackson’s sweet smile, his perfectly shaped face, I see Landon.
 
Syndromes like TCS have incredibly similar facial features so that we may realize that we are one tribe. Each child belongs to us to help support, love and make sure that if they endure pain at the hands of others that they hear from us that they are loved.
 
Last weekend, while visiting family, we went to an art fair. Booths lined the roads with trinkets, clothing, paintings and games. Our girls immediately saw baskets of prizes and rushed to get in line to spin a prize wheel hosted by a local company. As we approached, a boy seated next to the prize table locked onto Landon’s face and  grimaced. His arm stretched out before him and his finger pointed directly at her. “What’s wrong with her eyes? Do you see them?!” he yelled toward his father. His father immediately grabbed his arm and twisted the child toward him, leaning in for the lesson, reprimand, nothing that we could hear. I stood behind our girls and ushered them up to the table. I helped navigate the choice of fidget spinner, glasses or lollipop while Eric went over and introduced himself to the father. While Eric worked to create empathy and share kindness with the seemingly embarrassed dad, the boy was wailing from whatever his dad had said. We left quickly afterward, but I turned around, trying to catch the boys’ eyes to smile- an attempt to show him we were just another family. They had moved and we didn’t see them again. As I read Jackson’s story and recall the finger pointing at Landon, it’s easy to fear the world in which these children live. What I choose instead is to try to teach, to ask more of the parents I know and who read my stories here.
 
Parents, I implore you alongside Jackson’s family to sit this weekend and talk to your children. Many of you have emailed me the beautiful stories of conversations you have had with your children. You have generously shared comments your kids have made about wanting to be Landon’s friend, about how they plan to help change their classroom or school. But here I am asking again, because these conversations are required of us regularly as parents. Not once and done, but as a part of our running dialogue.
 
Tell your children Jackson’s story, show them photos of Landon and talk about how she loves Trolls and Moana and hilariously does the chicken dance when music plays. Tell them how these completely normal children with kind and open hearts are sometimes treated like they don’t belong. They are treated as outsiders simply because their cheeks rest lower than theirs. Their eyes are smaller and they may need help hearing with hearing aids.  But these same children love and want to be loved just like your children do- just like we all do.
 
Ask your children if they know any children in their school that sit by themselves. Ask if there are children that have any differences that they’ve noticed. Hearing aids or different sized ears, and listen to the stories they may tell you. Teach them ways to show kindness. Describe what actions they can take to live a life of inclusiveness. If you and your family haven’t read Wonder, buy it here. Encourage your children to read it and talk to you about how it makes them feel, what have they learned, and let their natural kindness lead the conversations.
 
Children are not born to see differences. No one in Landon’s three years of school has yet to even notice something different about her except that they want a headband just like hers. One dazzling child has exclaimed that she wants bahas too. They learn to notice differences and judge them because we aren’t engaging as parents on how to understand them, nor are we giving them the tools on how to respond with kindness and love. We avoid these conversations because we think it will be too hard to navigate or assume they teach this stuff at school. I am asking you now to change that today.
 
I know there are a million things on our plates as parents. I know that the world is also a very scary place in so many ways right now. But this, this is also important. These are all of our children.  Look at us, hear our stories, imagine yourselves as the parents of sweet Jackson. And ask yourself, how can you help us in our mission to change the world? How will you teach kindness to your family
 
Below is Dan’s Facebook post:
 
“My heart is in pieces right now…my soul feels like it’s ripping from my chest…this beautiful young man my son Jackson has to endure a constant barrage of derogatory comments and ignorance like I’ve never witnessed. He is called ugly and freak and monster on a daily basis by his peers at school. He talks about suicide…he’s not quite 8! He says he has no friends and everyone hates him. Kids throw rocks at him and push him shouting these horrific words…please please take a minute and imagine if this were your child. Take a minute to educate your children about special needs. Talk to them about compassion and love for our fellow man. His condition is called Treacher Collins. Maybe even look it up. He’s endured horrific surgery and has several more in the coming years. Anyway…I could go on…but please educate your children. Please…share this. This shouldn’t be happening…to anyone.”
 
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And to Dan, as I wrote you earlier this morning- I see you, I hear you and I am sending you more love and continued strength. Jackson- you are one handsome devil. I would love nothing more than to meet you one day and cannot wait to write a letter with my children and send it to you. You are all loved very much.
 
xoxo,
Eloise

 

Working It…

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The art of being a working mother is probably the hardest thing I’ll most certainly never master. I can very honestly and frankly admit to y’all that if I am excelling in one area, then there is a 90% chance that the other areas of my life are “suffering”. Suffering is probably not the right word. Landon is not suffering because I work full-time & out of the home now BUT my perception of myself as a mother is suffering. My heart hurts off and on throughout my work week because I am not seeing her as often. This is made more complex when I think about the speech therapy sessions I miss, what her face looks like when she runs away from me into the class each morning, or better yet at the end of the school day running toward me.

For me, it’s not about achieving a level of perfection in either area, but to find a balance that I’m most comfortable with. Women are constantly juggling an identity crisis after having a child. We are constantly explaining ourselves if we work OR stay home. Neither seems to fulfill us completely or feel 100% satisfying on both fronts. Perfection should never be the goal. There isn’t a scenario that would ever qualify. What we need to do is just let ourselves off the hook. Feel complete as an individual and as the complete package we offer our families, our work product, and any combination of the two we have.

I write a lot about what we women struggle with or how we should cut ourselves slack more often. I know that men have similar struggles as well and do not mean to leave y’all out.

This journey has given me the gift of connecting with y’all as well. Of hopefully lifting up any of you that are frustrated, sad, tired of the work/life balancing act, who have just felt loss of their own. As I tend to remind you… you’re not alone. There is love and strength out there amongst this tribe of mothers and women.

Happy weekend warriors.

Love,

Eloise

Wife. Mother. Self?

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Wow. It’s been a month. Sorry about that. As it goes with many of us, lately there aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s an impending move, furnishing this beautiful yet would-be empty new house, moving bug’s therapy to Charleston, suiting up for the battle of moving her therapy, working my tail off, that whole thing called sleep, occasional meals and oh… being a wife and mother. 

Lately much discussion has swirled around these two identities: wife and mother. Like many, I read the article “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” by Danielle and Astro Teller, where the authors describe parenting as a religion..One bordering on cult-like where the participants lose themselves and their connection to one another once “converting.”

There are doubtless benefits that come from elevating parenthood to the status of a religion, but there are obvious pitfalls as well. Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home. Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.

It’s been posted on Facebook, debated on Huffington Post, in living rooms and blogs alike. Women defending their all encompassing baby gated choices. It made women equal parts uncomfortable and empowered. It made my friends and I consider our parenting styles, think of how our mothers did it before us and our friends alongside us. Some of us probably vowed for more date nights…. since that’s the common “cure all” when things feel off kilter.

But… the issue I have with this article, these descriptions of these two battling identities is different. The fault I find with their article is the omission of the individual identity of the woman, our authentic self isn’t mentioned once. It’s parenthood, or mother, versus wife. What about Eloise the person? What about who I am outside these two titles that inform my identity? I agree with the Tellers on many counts. I think parenthood in this country is absolutely a cult religion which has it’s own language. I think it does have the ability to compromise our marriages. But more importantly, it makes us lose our sense of selves. If we lose ourselves, that which makes us unique women in our own right, then how can we actually be good partners to our spouses? Good mothers to our children?

I thought for a long time about when I was single and my friends and I struggled through dating and the failed relationships of our twenties. The insecurities we women were born with made us second guess our worth if a guy didn’t call us after a date. My mother imparted a piece of wisdom that helped me: “If you do not completely love yourself, then how can he really love you? You must form a partnership when you are truly at your best, not your weakest.” And in parenting, the main ingredient for most mothers is guilt. We are not entering into this relationship with our children always loving ourselves. We feel the need to defend choices, compare ourselves to other women. And then we take that guilt-ridden version of ourselves into our marriage and half-try. Partially show up. And then we wonder when it all feels too hard and off balance.

As we look at how the American style of parenting absorbs our lives, how the religion of parenting takes control, we need to first focus on how it consumes us as unique, authentic women. The marriage cannot get back on track if we women don’t have a grip on our own unique place in this world. Many will argue that women become a “we” when married. I argue that if you do not maintain your authentic self, feeding yourself whatever spiritual food you require, you’ll suffer both as a mother and as a wife.

I’ve told you before what life looked like after Landon’s birth. How I disappeared into a babbling, sleep deprived, speech therapy obsessed, Similac-coated existence and Bo became my roommate. Cracks in our armor were magnified, pain over what was going on with my newborn became twisted over time and thrown back at him. That year and change was messy between us. So yes, the two battling identities existed. But… they were only put firmly back on track when I focused sincere attention on myself. When I chose to give up mornings with Landon and instead rise early and run, go to yoga, go sit on the beach for an hour. When I moved our family out of New York because that city had become toxic to me. I chose me. I chose to feed myself the spiritual food of a quieter existence, near water, with a million wonderful things to offer Landon. In choosing myself, I was also naturally choosing to provide more for Landon and for our marriage.

Now the question that most of you are shouting at your computer… When? With what time do I focus on myself? Listen, I above most, understand that question. Like many of you, I am the bread winner here while Bo starts his company. I have the unique pressure of the layer of therapy added on top. And I, like many, have to work very hard at my marriage. Time is rare. But I choose myself now, so I make the time. I get up early. I choose myself instead of the morning “shift.” I choose nights with my girlfriends. I choose sometimes to go to Target alone. Wander those colorful aisles in a daze. Whatever I need, I have learned how to communicate it to my partner.  I have not chosen to have a second child yet in part because I am still getting back to myself. I had to in order to even conceive of giving myself to a second child.

This formula of choosing one’s self is different for each of us. It might only be once a week. It might feel like sacrifice because you could be doing a million other things for other people. All I am saying though, is you have to choose you. You, the one reading this, who knows that what I’m saying is true. One afternoon with girlfriends. One hour talking to your mother. A night out once a month with other women. Choosing you has never been more important in our society. With the guilt and the pressure of motherhood and providing for our families, put yourself back on the list of identities.

Wife, Mother and Self.

xoxo,

Eloise

When in Doubt… Shout it outloud

Every now and then I read a post on some site like Huffington Post or a friend of a friend’s blog about how overexposed kids are these days with the internet. One girl posted how upset our kiddos will be when they’re older and see what ridiculous pictures of them were posted online when they were little. “Naked bath pictures! Ugh! Struggles with relationships?! Don’t you know your kids will read this some day?”

It always makes me stop in my tracks.

Well… hell… I am the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to super-imposing bug’s picture on the internet,  Instagram, Facebook. You name a site and I’ll find a way to show off my kid. Those that proclaim “they would never” or look down their nose at those of us that over-share… I want to tell you that I choose to do this very deliberately. I choose to share Landon and our story because I want everyone to know how proud I am to be her mother. I share our story because I want other struggling mothers to see her, read our story, and say “hey, we’re going to be great.” I share everything to show very earnestly and honestly the evolution of a family.  The good and the bad. With or without special needs, raising a family is HARD. Being a wife is HARD. I felt sincerely that not enough of us were being honest about those two facts. We women like to pretend it’s all rosy in our gardens. As if admitting otherwise would make others judge us instead of embrace us.

At the start of Landon’s life, I was a struggling mess. Blogging helped keep me sane and the influx of love kept me going. It probably was selfish back then. After two years there has been a shift. I endeavor to reach those that need to hear that their rough starts to parenthood will work themselves out and that they can do very hard things.

I have thought long and hard about what it truly will be like if she reads this blog some day. Will she be upset? Will she be frustrated and hurt that I was SO open about our lives, her little life, our marriage, raising her and our triumphs and low points?  I deeply considered stopping blogging all together as my guilt ridden brain cannot fathom if these people are right.

Then…

I received emails from other mothers. Mothers of children with Treacher Collins, Down Syndrome, hearing loss, women with post partum, mothers of children born missing a limb or with malformed hands. I received emails from grown adults with TCS or kids in college. They say that my writing changed something for them. There was a healing element to the honesty they read. They reassured me that they themselves share my fears and it’s nice to have someone be so open. Some have been so bold as to tell me my writing will help Landon always remember the support and love that surrounds her.  God I hope so.

I have made this choice to share her and our lives with all of you, believing that our story has a purpose to help others. To connect us all as we fumble through parenthood and adulthood.  After reading the wonderful response to my last post, I’m now more confident this little place online has this purpose.

From here on out, when I doubt, I will shout it outloud. This imperfect mamma is here doing her best. Showing up in motherhood, as a wife and hopefully a guide to connect other mothers on their own unique journeys. Reminding y’all to choose happy.

love

Eloise

Journey into motherhood…

When I was in my twenties, there was a great deal of focus on finding love. My girlfriends and I spent so many hours focused on finding a man- going out to find a man, and if we did have a man… was he the right man? Maybe it was because of my southern heritage, but most women I knew then felt the same… finding a husband was some sort of ultimate goal. Careers were important as well, but getting a boyfriend and getting married were our other full-time jobs.  That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy and revel in our friendships, because we did, but finding someone to love felt like an ultimate prize.  

When you find someone to love… it’s exhilarating. You are synched in a way that you cannot properly explain. Your world tilts on its axis and even the grittiest streets of New York seem rose-colored.  While I was dating Bo and then newly married, I still always felt that I had to have some bigger purpose. Being Bo’s wife was wonderful. But I didn’t really feel any different from before…and I never felt defined by our relationship. I wanted a full and rich life and being a wife felt like just one component. Work was fulfilling in another way, but without a specific career goal at the time… it was not exactly everything to me either. You could say that I had it all from looking in from the outside, but I didn’t always feel that way. I knew that there was some larger purpose for me laying somewhere out there in the future.

When we decided to try to get pregnant, I was nervous. I had never been one of those women who had always exclaimed her intense desire to be a mother. I always thought I would be a mother some day, but there were other things that I wanted to do as well, and I wondered if that meant something.  With my butterflies in tact, we started to try.  If you know me at all,you know I don’t do things half-way. So, I decided that I would approach getting pregnant like most things that I wanted to achieve… with absolute determination bordering on obsession. Once successful, I focused my nervous energy on pregnancy fashion, cute little shoes and making lists of names.  But towards the end, my worries interrupted my sleep. I wondered to myself if I’d even be any good at this thing called motherhood, considering I loved my time alone as well as uninterrupted sleep.  Although I read the baby books, I felt so unprepared. 

I’ll spare you another story about having bug. I think y’all know that tale pretty well now.  So we’ll jump ahead.. talk about what it’s like for me now after 20 months of being her mother.  

I think of myself now as two people. Before and after Landon. My purpose in this life feels very specific. Giving of myself to her and giving of myself to others through her. She is the greatest gift in my life. We all say this about our children, but I really feel this overwhelming sense of honor when I look at her.  The profound statement that I’m her mother for a reason, rings true daily. It’s this very specific role of advocate & champion of her needs that fills my heart with purpose and love. She’s made me a better person. Reminded me of my faith and made me live my life out loud for all to see. In doing this, I’m reminded that there are greater things in life that what was once important.  

What I’ve learned over the last six months, with what seems like challenge after challenge, is that SHE is everything. WE are everything. THIS FAMILY is everything. I’m here simply to do everything I possibly can to provide, protect, and push her to be her best self.  If that means working again full-time; if that means calling coordinators or doctors 10 times a week or day; if that means running at 6:30 am so I have the best mindset to be her mother… than I will.  And her sweet face, precious laugh, and wild spirit is my light in all of this.  

Happiest Mothers Day to all you wonderful mommas and mommas to be. 

XOXO,

Eloise

A lesson for the heart… on Valentine’s Day

Since my first post on this blog, it’s really just been my voice you’ve heard. My perspective.  When I shared her birth story – it was also one-sided. It’s been 17 months and I’ve never shared Bo’s story. Truth be told…and this will sound shocking to most… I didn’t know his story. It is almost absurd to admit- I had never asked what happened to him that day. And I didn’t know what made him so strong all the days after. 

Bo has supported me in so many ways since her birth. Allowing me to be the emotional one, while he remained the stoic, grounded one.  Sometimes, I would mistake his grounded and centered reactions for some inability to share his emotions. How could a parent not cry when their child went under anesthesia? I just didn’t understand it. It would be an undercurrent to our previous tension. Yet, I never paused long enough during my emotional freak-outs to ask him.  

My sweet husband surprised me with a wonderful night out for Valentine’s Day. We got dressed up and drove over to one of our favorite places in this little beach town. We laughed and drank and told old stories and spent time talking about our new house, Charleston, our parents, and New York memories. We then pivoted to our family. We had talked earlier in the day about the possibility of a second child. It was a hard conversation- one I’m struggling with daily. And as we revisited the topic, I finally asked Bo how he was able to be Landon’s dad and never, ever break down. To not find things as challenging as I do. And for the first time I asked and really listened… finally… to my husband as he told me his birth story. His version of Landon being born and what his day was like September 6th.  

I sat there stunned with tears in my eyes and so much (SO MUCH) love in my heart. He told me what it was like when I went in for emergency surgery. When I was wheeled away from him. What it was like to wait in full scrubs behind a curtain for what felt like an eternity. Nurses coming and going – doing their work with other c-section babies. He described, with a quiet voice, what it felt like for 10 doctors to enter the room and how it felt when the head NICU nurse told him… “She has Treacher Collins. You’ll notice her ears. She has some deformities. She will be moved to the NICU as there’s a lot we don’t know yet.” The word deformities stung. Is that really the word she used for our new baby girl? He said that everything became blurry.  Treacher? Teacher? Something… Collins. He called my sister and realized he didn’t have the language to describe what our little baby had, what she’d face in her young life. He described how he walked into the operating room and I was unconscious. I looked like I could be dead, he thought. Then in the corner of the room, he saw her in the tiny incubator. He saw her with her hat on, pink and kind of squished. Then he saw her ears. He saw her eyes. And his heart broke wide open. 

He told me how he walked to get food with his dad early in the morning after I’d called and demanded he come back. They walked a few blocks and there on an Upper East side street, he sat down and wept. For all to see and hear. He openly wept on his dad’s shoulder. He cried for himself, for me, and most importantly for Landon. He told me that he specifically cried for her and what she would face. He then said something that I am still processing. He told me since that breakdown on 70th Street, he decided he would never think of her differently again. Never feel sorry for her. Never shed a tear over what gifts she’s been given. He would worry, but not because she has Treacher Collins. Not because she has hearing loss. He decided this would be his way to make sure she never felt sorry for herself

I learned that night why we are such amazing partners in this journey. His perspective since her birthday will bring my feet back down to the ground.  His lightness during the heavy times will lift us up.  I learned the most valuable lesson of our marriage on Valentine’s Day. That asking and listening to my partner is just as important as listening to myself. My view during this wild ride of parenting isn’t the only one that matters. 

Since leaving the intense New York world in which we lived, we’ve had a rebirth in our marriage. Everyone has roller coasters and I’ve shared some of ours on here. And now our love for each other is just as present as our love for Landon. We focus on each other more than us as individuals. This love and connection has always existed… from our very first date… but our journey has been a hard one at times. But Valentine’s night sparked something so important… a conversation that should have been had over a year ago. This lesson has been one of the most important ones I’ve learned on this journey. To listen. To ask how he feels. And to remember his strength when I feel weak.  What a great night.

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Xoxo,

Eloise