The Day Sensitive Santa Came to Town

A few weeks ago I saw on Facebook that a local hospital was having a Sensitive Santa event.  Children who have sensory issues and/or autism could schedule a special time to visit Santa.  No waiting in line at a crowded mall.  This is amazing.  I decided I was going to call the next morning and make an appointment for Mikayla and Hope to meet Santa Claus.

A very nice lady named Mary answered the phone.  She began to ask questions about the girls.  Is there anything they needed to be aware of that might bother the girls?  Do they have any food allergies?  Is there a special snack they would enjoy?  She said there would be a photographer and we would receive a flash drive with pictures free of charge.  Santa would be giving each of our girls a gift.  Mikayla and Hope would meet Santa on December 17th at 1:00.

The girls were super excited when they woke up on the 17th.  Hope kept saying “Santa’s gonna give me a present!”  I asked her what kind of present she thought he would give her.  She said “A candy cane!”  I knew Santa was going to give them something much better than a candy cane.  But it was nice knowing Hope would be happy with just a candy cane.

We were met at the front door and a nice man led us to Santa’s private suite.  I told Mikayla and Hope to go first and we would follow them.  The girls were acting a bit shy but they were brave and went through the door first.  Santa gave a jolly greeting.  “Well…….Hello Mikayla and Hope!”  Santa had a jolly laugh that made all of us giggle.

Mikayla marched right up to Santa and sat on his lap.

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He told her that he had a present for her.  Mikayla’s eyes lit up with excitement.  Santa helped her open the package.  It was a set of Melissa and Doug stainless steel pots and pans for her play kitchen.  dsc02094

Hope got really excited as she watched Mikayla open her present because she knew that Santa was going to have a present for her too.  What did Santa get for her?  It was finally her turn.  She quickly ran up to Santa and jumped in his lap.

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And sure enough Santa had a present with Hope’s name on it.  She grinned from ear to ear as Santa helped her unwrap the package.  It was a Melissa and Doug Mixer set.

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The girls stood and gazed at their new presents.  They talked excitedly about their new toys and what they were going to cook in their play kitchen. Santa asked them to make him some cookies.  He said chocolate chip cookies are his favorite.  The girls thought that he was funny.  The ladies  who were helping Santa kept saying “They are so cute!”  Yes they were.  Our girls were absolutely adorable.

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They hugged Santa and thanked him for the presents.  Then we went to the snack room.  The girls ate goldfish crackers and drank milk and juice. All four of our girls were given a gift card to McDonald’s.  A lady printed out some pictures of the girls with Santa for us to take with us.  I was so thankful for such a wonderful day with Santa.

This day wasn’t just about our girls meeting Santa Claus.  It was so much more than that.  Kids who have sensory issues are often overwhelmed by the world they live in.  They spend every day of their life trying to adapt to a world that is too loud and overwhelming.  Standing in a long line to see Santa in a loud, crowded mall can end with tears, a meltdown. and a lot of disappointment.  But on this day the world adapted to our girls.  We didn’t wait in a long line.  We were escorted to see Santa as soon as we entered the building.  Santa booked a quiet, private suite.  He set aside 20 minutes of his time just to be with our girls.  There was chocolate milk for Mikayla and white milk for Hope.  Our older girls were recognized and given a gift because someone who planned this day understands that having 2 sisters with special needs isn’t easy.  Taylor deserves a couple of frappes from McDonald’s and Brynna deserves some french fries, an apple pie, and a large Sprite.

This day brought hope back into my life.  The hope that there will be more days like this in our future.  That our future won’t always be spent adapting to an overwhelming world.  But that maybe, just maybe, the world will find moments to adapt to our girls and help them to not be so overwhelmed by their world.  I’m so thankful for this day.  This day when we didn’t have to stand in a line.  This day with no tears.  This day with no meltdowns.  This day when our girls found total acceptance.  The day that Sensitive Santa came to town.

When Your Child Asks for the Toy of the Year

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A few weeks ago I asked Hope what she would like for Christmas.  She didn’t hesitate to give me an answer.

I want a Hatchimal for Christmas!

A Hatchimal?  What in the world is a Hatchimal?

I went on Walmart’s website and here’s what I found out:

Hatchimals are magical creatures that live inside of eggs. Who’s inside? It’s a surprise! Each egg contains one of two interactive Hatchimals. Love and care for yours inside the egg and its eyes will light up as it makes cute sounds, telling you how it’s feeling! Once you’ve played with it enough, you’ll see rainbow eyes—that means its time to hatch! Hatchimals can’t hatch on their own. Your touch encourages them to peck their way out of the egg! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Now you get to raise your furry Hatchimal through 3 stages, from baby to toddler, to kid. Your Hatchimal sings “Hatchy Birthday” each time it enters a new stage! Teach yours to walk, dance, play games and more! It will even repeat what you say in its own voice!

That sounds like the perfect present for Hopey.  A couple of clicks and we’ll have a Hatchimal on our doorstep in a few days.  Online ordering.  It’s the most magical thing about Christmas.

Uh-oh.  Walmart’s out of stock.  I’ll check Toys R Us.  Oops.  Out of stock there too.  So I checked Amazon.  They’re in stock.  Wait a minute!  You’ve got to be kidding me.  $200-$300 for a bird that hatches out of its egg?  They were $50 at Walmart.  I’ll keep looking.  I checked Ebay.  $150-$300?  And suddenly I realized that something was happening to me that has never happened in my 19 years of being a mom.  My little sweetheart had picked the toy of the year.

Every time Hope was asked what she wanted for Christmas the answer remained the same.  And she would say Hatchimal with so much enthusiasm that it would send me racing back to my computer.  I’m going to snatch my sweet girl a Hatchimal if it’s the last thing I do.   Let me rephrase that.  I’m going to snatch my sweet girl a $50 Hatchimal if it’s the last thing I do.  I’m not paying $150-$300 for one.  I signed up for in-stock alerts.  I checked multiple websites several times a day.

And then I saw the announcement on the manufacturer’s website:  The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations. Some of our first shipments have already sold out. While additional product will hit retail shelves in November, we anticipate this inventory will also sell out quickly. We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in early 2017.

Great.  Looks like Hopey isn’t going to get a Hatchimal for Christmas.  What am I going to do?  What if she cries on Christmas morning because there’s not one under the tree? I don’t think my heart can take that.  Should I talk to her and explain to her that Hatchimals are hard  to find?  Will she understand what I’m telling her?  Or will she keep insisting that she’s getting one for Christmas?

I decided to sit her down and be honest with her.

Mommy is having trouble finding a Hatchimal for you for Christmas.  A lot of kids are wanting one and the stores are sold out.

Hopey:  They’re sold out?

Yes.   They’re sold out.  It’s really hard to find one.  I think it’ll be easier to find one after Christmas.  Maybe we could get you one for your birthday.

Hopey:  Get one for my birthday?

Yes.  We’ll try to get you one for your birthday.  Will that be ok?

Hopey:  Stores are sold out.  I want a Hatchimal for my birthday.

And just like that I witnessed our Christmas miracle of 2016.  The miracle wasn’t that Mommy was able to snatch the toy of the year.  The miracle was in that moment that I looked at my little girl and I saw her process a situation that she once wouldn’t have been able to process.  Hope understood what I was telling her.   She didn’t cry.  She didn’t stomp her foot and insist that she is getting a Hatchimal.   She decided to patiently wait for her Hatchimal to arrive on March 29.  We won’t have any memories or pictures of Hopey smiling this Christmas as she opens her Hatchimal.  But we have a greater memory than I ever expected.  We have a little girl who has processed a very disappointing situation and she handled it with grace.  And I couldn’t be more proud of her.

He’ll Make the Crooked Places Straight

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Hope was a teeny tiny 7-year-old when she and her crooked little smile walked into the orthodontist’s office for the first time.   We were told it was important for her to get braces before she turned 10.  I couldn’t picture our little spitfire sitting still long enough for them to put braces on.  They took her into a room to get a panoramic x-ray. It sounded simple.  Put your mouth around this piece of metal and stand still for 20 seconds.  Wait a minute.  Stand still for 20 seconds?  I’ve never seen her stand still for 20 seconds.  But maybe I’m about to witness a miracle.

They brought her up to the machine and there was a problem. She was too short to wrap her mouth around the metal piece.  The nice lady asked her to stand on a stool. Balance on a stool?  She has trouble balancing while standing on the floor.   I was getting a bad feeling about this.  But maybe she’ll surprise me. Hope tried her hardest but she couldn’t balance on the stool.   The x-ray was blurry.  We had to try again.  Hope was tired of trying and she started acting goofy.  She put her mouth around the metal piece and started fidgeting.  The nice lady told her that she could break her teeth if she didn’t stand still.  Hope didn’t stop.  Ok.  We’re done.  I would like to leave here with her crooked little teeth still inside of her sweet mouth.  They scheduled an appointment to put the braces on.  If she couldn’t sit still for a 20 second x-ray how’s she gonna sit still long enough for them to put braces on?  I went ahead and made the appointment because I believe in miracles.

I was nervous as we walked into the office the morning of her appointment.  Hope was 7 years old and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder.  Will she sit still and let them put the braces on?  Or will it be too much for her?  The first thing they did was put a contraption in her mouth to pull her gums away from her teeth.  She started gagging.  We’re 2 minutes into this and it’s not going well.  Once she gagged she was done.  They made a note on her chart to not use the gagging contraption in the future.  The orthodontist said that her sensory issues were going to make it harder for her to withstand having braces put on.  They decided we should wait 6 months and try again.

Life got out of control during the 6 month wait and I had to cancel Hope’s appointment for her braces.  We finally took her back in when she was 9 years old.  We told her if she would sit still and let them put her braces on then we would take her to Toys R US and buy her a prize.  Hope sat very still while they put her braces on.  Is this really happening? or is this just a dream?  Is she really letting them put braces on her teeth?  If I didn’t already believe in miracles I would’ve started believing in them at that moment.   Hope walked out of the orthodontist’s office that day with braces on her teeth.  I was dancing as we made our way through the parking lot to get in the van.  Well, not really.  I was dancing on the inside anyway.  We danced our way into Toys R Us and Hope picked out her prize.  I don’t remember now what it was but I’m guessing it was a dinosaur.

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September 2014

The estimated treatment time for Hope’s braces was 9-12 months.  She had appointments every 5 weeks to have her braces checked.   She never once complained that her braces hurt.  She had to give up popcorn, caramel, peanuts, gum, and so many other things that she enjoyed eating.   But she never complained.  12 months passed and it wasn’t time for her braces to come off.  The doctor was waiting on some of her permanent teeth to come in.  He decided to do another panoramic x-ray.  Hope marched up to the x-ray machine.  Well, would you look at that.  She’s tall enough to reach the metal piece without standing on a stool.  And she stood still for the whole 20 seconds.  A lot can change in 3 years.

Hope’s 9-12 month treatment time turned into 2 years.  September 26th was her big day.  The day for her braces to come off finally arrived.  And she was excited.  The night before her appointment she was naming off all the foods that she was going to be able to eat.  I can eat peanuts.  I can eat caramel.  I can eat popcorn. At bedtime she wouldn’t stop talking about peanuts, popcorn, and caramel.  The excitement was getting to be too much for her.  She was over the moon as we sat in the waiting room listening for them to call her name.

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Her excitement escalated as we waited on the doctor.  She’s usually really quiet when the doctor is in the room.  But she talked his ear off this time.  He thought it was pretty funny.  It didn’t take long for the braces to come off.  Ok Hopey show us your smile.

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Very funny, Hopey.   Now show us the smile that we paid for.

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She had to have an impression made for her retainer.  She gagged the first time.  The second time she wouldn’t open her mouth because she was afraid she would gag. The stuff for the impression got hard before they were able to get it in her mouth.  The third time she cooperated and they got the impression.  The doctor handed her a bag full of all the stuff that she hadn’t been able to eat for 2 years.  Cracker jacks, snickers, tootsie rolls, and laffy taffy.  The smile on her face as she gazed at that bag of goodies was priceless.  The cracker jacks were almost gone before we even got out the door.

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We ended her big day with a trip to Toys R Us.  Because any girl who wears braces for 2 years deserves a prize from her Mommy and Daddy.

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Isaiah 45:2 says I will go before you and make the crooked places straight.  This verse has come more alive to me now that my little girl’s crooked teeth are now straight.  God is with us as we go through all the crooked places in our lives.  He’s with us as we go through things that we don’t understand.  He’s right in the middle of our chaotic mess.  It seems like most of the time our trials take longer to get through than we want them to.  We hope it will take a year but it will actually take two. We look around and we notice that some people are able to get their braces off after only a year.  But we still have to wear ours.  Everyone else gets to have the things we long for.  They’re eating caramel, peanuts, taffy, bubble gum, and popcorn.  But we can’t eat those things right now.  We want to feel sorry for ourselves and start complaining about how hard life is.  But then we stop and we look at a little girl.  A little girl who didn’t let sensory processing disorder keep her from getting a brand new smile.  A little girl who never complained even though her trial took twice as long as it was supposed.  She inspires us and she reminds us that we can overcome some hard stuff too.

As our journey comes to an end God reminds us of how far we’ve come.  We see that moment when it was impossible to stand still and balance on a stool.  Time went by and we grew up a little.  The day came when we marched into the room for the x-ray and this time we left Mommy out in the hallway.  The stool we once needed sits in the corner because we’re tall enough now.  And after what seems like forever we finally make it to the end of the race.  There’s a bag of gooey, crunchy goodies with our name on it.  The race was definitely long and hard.  But it was worth it because of the new smile we now have on our face.

Putting My Trash Out For Everyone To See

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I was cleaning the basement and I found a few boxes that needed to be thrown away.  I tossed them onto the ever-growing pile of boxes that’s been in our basement for longer than I care to admit.  As I tossed the last box on the pile I decided it was time to carry them upstairs and get rid of them.  If they are hiding in the basement I’ll never get rid of them.  It was too windy to burn them.  There was no way they would all fit in the trash can for the next trash pickup.  So I decided to put them on the front porch.  If I’m forced to look at them every time I drive up the driveway then I’ll actually get rid of them.  I’ll just add a few of them to the trash each week until they’re gone.

I like things to be neat and tidy so I cringed as I put the boxes out on the front porch.  I was putting my trash out for everyone to see.  And I’m feeling the same way right now as I type these words.  It makes me uncomfortable when I think about everyone knowing what I’m going through.  I’m putting my trash out for everyone to see. Sometimes we have to drag our problems out of the basement so that we’ll actually deal with them.  When we’re forced to look at them we have a greater chance of getting rid of them.  I risk being judged.  But I choose to tell my story anyway because my story matters.  My story may look a lot like your story.  I hope it helps you to know that you’re not alone.  Your story may look nothing like mine but I pray that the words I’m getting ready to share will touch your heart in some way.  I’m glad you’re here to join me in my story.

Anxiety.  I really hate that word.  I hate the way that it makes me feel.  It slowly started creeping into my life 2 years ago.   I tried to ignore it.  Then I prayed for God to take it away.  I looked up scriptures about anxiety and I told myself to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6-7).  I went forward at church and had people pray for me. And yet it continued to torment me every single day.   I was having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.   I was experiencing fatigue that was so severe that walking across the house was difficult.   My mind would frequently go blank.  I couldn’t concentrate and I was extremely irritable. Every day I had moments when I felt  like I couldn’t breathe.  I lived like this for a year.  I finally decided it was time to call the doctor.  Tomorrow.  I’ll call the doctor tomorrow.

That evening a picture came across my facebook newsfeed. The top half of the picture was a pill bottle and it said “What they say you need”.  The bottom half was a picture of a Bible and it said “What you really need”.  The picture sent a message that was loud and clear.  If you’re a Christian then all you have to do is read the Bible and your anxiety will go away.  As I sat on my bed and continued to look at that picture I was reminded of the voices from the past.  The voices that said if you’re depressed or have anxiety then you need to pray more and read more.  Christians aren’t supposed to have anxiety.  If you go to the doctor for medication then you aren’t trusting God to heal you.  I allowed that picture to condemn me.  As I fell asleep that night condemnation covered me like a blanket.   The next morning I didn’t call the doctor.  I chose to continue suffering.

As 2016 unfolded I believed that this year was going to be a better year.  But then a series of events took place that added a great deal of stress to our life.  Our insurance company quit paying for the girls therapies.   We had to begin the process of finding a way for the girls to receive their therapies.  We decided to stop homeschooling and enroll the girls in public school.  I attended several meetings to set up their IEP for this school year.  The girls behavior problems escalated and we decided to attend PCIT (Parent-child interaction therapy).   I spent 10 hours filling out paperwork for our family to start the PCIT.  I jumped through all of the hoops to get us on their schedule only to find out we would have to wait 8 months for our first appointment.  I secretly wondered if our family would survive the long wait. I was relieved when everything was in place for the PCIT and for the girls to start school in the fall. I finally felt like I could rest and that my life was going to get better. But it didn’t.

I started having panic attacks. They would come in the middle of the night, at a graduation ceremony, or even at church. I found myself fleeing from social situations because my heart was pounding and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would drop the girls off at their class at church, go sit in the sanctuary, and then flee from the room as soon as the worship music started. The sounds of the instruments and the crowd were just too much for me to handle. I didn’t go to church for 3 weeks. Then one morning I woke up, took a shower, and went back to bed because the fatigue was so severe. I did this 3 days in a row. On the third day Brett came into the bedroom and he sat down beside me.  He told me that he loved me and he couldn’t stand to see me like this. He asked me to go to the doctor.  I agreed to go because it was clear that the anxiety was no longer just affecting me. It was affecting my entire family.  The next morning I called the doctor and made an appointment.

As I told the nurse my symptoms she smiled and she told me that I’m not alone.   The physician’s assistant also told me that I’m not alone.   As I walked out of the doctor’s office I felt foolish.   I waited 2 years to see a doctor.   I’d let the anxiety get so bad that I couldn’t even get out of bed.  I’d allowed the fear of what people would think of me become more important than my health and my family.  And I regret it.

I’ve been taking anxiety medication for 4 months.   I’m finally able to sleep and fatigue no longer torments me.  I still have moments each day when I feel like I can’t breathe.  And I’m still irritable.  Ask my sweet husband.    So even though I’m on medication I still have some anxiety symptoms.  The boxes on our front porch didn’t disappear overnight and neither has my anxiety.  But each week a few boxes disappear and the pile gets smaller.  I trust that as time passes my anxiety symptoms will decrease and hopefully one day they will disappear.  But right now I recognize and celebrate each victory along the way.  Last Sunday was a victory.  Brett patted my thigh during the sermon.  He could tell I was having a hard time and he was telling me he was proud of me for coming to church and not fleeing from the sanctuary.  I’m learning that victory isn’t just at the end of the race.  But it’s in each step that you take from the beginning to the end.

God heals.  I know that with all of my heart.  But He doesn’t always choose to heal in the way that we want Him to.  I wanted my healing to come in an instant.  I pray and then God makes all of my problems go away.  Isn’t that what we all want?  But it’s not always what God thinks is best for us.  Sometimes God chooses to walk us through our problems instead of around them.  God is choosing to walk me through this one step at a time instead of instantly delivering me from it.   I will learn lessons through the journey that I wouldn’t have learned if I’d been delivered from it.

I don’t understand anxiety.  It knocked me down like a freight train during a time when I felt like things were finally falling into place for our family.  I wasn’t sitting around worrying.  I was hopeful for the future.  But anxiety knocked me down anyway.  11 years ago I became mom to 2 little sweethearts who have disabilities.  And I now understand something that I never understood before.  People who experience anxiety need to be shown grace instead of judgment.  We have no idea how many meltdowns a mom and dad have watched their child have that day.  Or what the test results said.  Or how many times a mom has heard her child say the same phrase over and over again.  Or what kind of battle took place when a child had to put his clothes on.  Or if the mom and dad we see at the store have been sitting beside their daughter’s hospital bed wondering if she’s going to live or die.  There are so many people in this world going through some really hard stuff.  So let’s pause and think before we hit the share button on facebook.  Let’s make sure that we’re showing people grace instead of judgment.

School Days: The Transition from Homeschool to Public School

Last week Mikayla and Hope’s school had open house.  The girls got to meet their teacher and put their school supplies in their desks.  They were all smiles and were excited about starting school.

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The next morning I woke them up for the first day of school.  The morning went very smoothly except for one major obstacle.   They wouldn’t eat their breakfast. They don’t like to eat when they first wake up.  I asked them repeatedly to eat some cereal but neither one of them would eat.  So I threw a breakfast bar in each of their backpacks for when their stomachs started growling.  Before we left I snapped a first day of 5th grade picture.

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On the way to school I gave them a first day of school pep talk.  Don’t fight with each other.  Do what the teacher says.  And I had one final instruction for Hopey. Please try really, really hard to not burp at school.  But if you do burp remember to say “excuse me”.   As we neared the school my heart started pounding and my mind started racing.   I hope they like school.  I hope they behave.  What if the change is too much for them?  What am I gonna do if this doesn’t work out?

I walked the girls up to the school and we met their aide.  The girls made me hug and kiss them more than once.  They seemed a little unsure about what was happening.  But they were smiling as they entered the building and they were still smiling when I picked them up 3 hours later.  I asked them how their day was. Hope proudly announced “I didn’t burp at school!”  I was one proud momma.  She remembered what I said.  She exhibited self-control.  And she was proud of her accomplishment.  I didn’t get any other information out of them about the first day of school.  But I was relieved when they asked if they could go back to school the next day.

They both received a “good job” and a smiley face on their first math paper.  They’ve learned that stars are good and X’s are bad.  If you get too many X’s you have to stay inside while your sister gets to play on the playground.  The little sweetheart learned from her mistake and didn’t get as many X’s the next day.  They’ve been in school for a week.  They’ve had some good days and a few not so good days.  I still can’t get them to eat breakfast.  But overall the transition from home school to public school has went better than I expected it to.  I believe that 5th grade is going to be a good year.

Preparing for the First Day of School

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I can’t believe summer vacation is almost over.  Mikayla and Hope start school next week.  The last few months have been filled with preparations.  I took the girls for their school physicals and their shots.  All of their school supplies are in their backpacks ready for the first day of school.  We’ve done everything that the school requires but a few extra preparations were necessary for our girls to start school.

The speech therapists asked if the girls could have a few therapy sessions over the summer.  This would help familiarize the girls with their therapists and their classroom.  It was a brilliant idea.  We started therapy a couple of weeks ago.  I met the therapists at the same door the girls will enter on each school day.  They had 45 minutes of therapy and then I pulled up to the door to pick them up.  Hope hopped in the van and Mikayla started to get in the van.  But she turned around and walked up to her therapist and timidly leaned in for a hug.  And then she said “I love you.”  Hope jumped out of the van and told her therapist “I love you”.

The second week of therapy the girls met their aide who will be helping them in their classroom.  She wanted to get to know the girls before the first day of school.  I pulled up to the door and their aide was standing and waiting for them.  This was like a dress rehearsal for what will happen on the first day of school.  The girls practiced jumping out of the van quickly so we won’t hold up the line of parents dropping their kids off.  After spending two days with their aide the girls told her they love her.

The girls will be going to school a half day.  We will add more time to their day when we feel they are ready.   Since they’ve never been to school we thought it was best to start slowly.  They will go to P.E. one day a week and they will also participate in music class.  Our local school has been outstanding.  They want to do everything that they can do to help our girls succeed.  I’m sad to see the summer end but yet I look forward to this school year with anticipation.  Because this year has the potential to bring many changes to our life.  At the end of this school year I’ll smile as I think about how they’ve grown.  I’ll celebrate their academic successes.  I’ll be thankful for new friends and new experiences.  And my heart will be at peace as I see how they’ve learned to function in the world without me by their side.

Mikayla and Hope Go To Camp

It’s been an exciting summer.  Mikayla and Hope went to church camp for the first time.  My friend Joni asked if she could take them to camp.  The girls spent 3 days at camp and I spent 3 glorious days resting at home.  Thanks to several friends I have pictures of my girls at camp.  I don’t have any idea what to write about camp since I wasn’t there.  So Mikayla and Hope had to help me out.  So here’s what happened at camp through the eyes of Mikayla and Hope.

Mikayla:

Played games

Ate snacks

I got wet

The zip line was fast

The water slide splashed me in the eye

Ate grapes, watermelon, and strawberries

Hopey pushed me

I painted

Hopey:

I went on the water slide and the zip line.

I got points

I ate candy, crackers, oranges, grapes, and carrots

I eat the sandwich

I made a craft

I slept at their house (a.k.a  Joni’s house)

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