How to Treat Kids Who Are Different: Part I

This blog post is in honor of Finn, on his 5th BIRTHDAY! I cannot believe it.

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You may be one of those people who want to be different. March to the beat of your own drum kind-of-person. Most of us, however, just want to fit in. I was the “new girl” every two years of my life, as my family moved around the country for my dad’s job. All I wanted was to blend in as quickly and seamlessly as possible, make friends, and become “popular.” Finding a cute boyfriend was a plus.

My son, Finn, however, cannot just “blend in.” Nor, do I believe, he wants to. He sits happily between two wheels, zooming through the lobby at church, holding back the urge to pop a wheelie in line at school, and eager to help me “treasure hunt” for groceries at Whole Foods.

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Finn’s 5th birthday party: bowling and pizza with 19 buddies from school and the cousins!

He is obviously different from the average five year old…and he seems okay with that.

When Finn was born, OU Children’s Hospital hooked us up with another family for emotional support. This child was several years older than Finn and also had Spina Bifida. I got up the courage one morning to call his mom, Debbie. I asked her what her son was currently struggling with. “Well, he’s really ornery and lately he’s been in trouble for annoying his big sister.” Her answer took me off guard! It was a relief, honestly. I expected something medical and tragic in nature, but her wisdom assured me that Finn will likely be like any other boy–mischievous and annoying, just on wheels. 🙂

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Spina Bifida will be a part of his life. It will not define his life.

Your differences will be a part of your life. But don’t let them define your life.

When you are unique or have a child who is unique in some outwardly obvious way, it is common to get stares, double-takes, sweet and curious questions, rude statements, unsolicited advice, and oftentimes unwanted attention.

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I hated this for the first two years of Finn’s life. I avoided birthday parties, crowded doctor’s offices, playgrounds…anywhere some child or parent might ask or say something I didn’t know how to answer. Now, though, I love to share Finn with the world; it just took some maturing, prayer, and preparation on my part.

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Cousin Ev, Tucker and Sully came all the way from Missouri to celebrate!

Today a sweet college friend messaged me and told me she took the initiative to tell her son all about Finn recently. She showed him videos of him wheeling up ramps and being silly. They laughed together and had a good conversation about being different. Her kindness and intentional parenting prompted me to finally write this post I’ve thought about for years. Her words: “My prayer is that God will continue working in his already sensitive heart…and that he will have eyes to see and a desire to befriend kids who are different than him.” Thank you, Claire.

I’ve had several friends ask great questions in confidence, “How do you like Finn to be treated?” “What should we say when our kids ask questions?” “Do you like to be approached or would you rather be left alone?”

These are all valid questions, and ones I will answer with the help of a few other moms of uniquely awesome children. That info will be in PART II of this blog post and I hope to post that late Wednesday night or Thursday.

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My mom and Finn share a birthday (today!). We celebrated my mom’s 60th in Dallas this weekend! She’s the cute one holding Paisley on the right. Check out Finn at the head of the table. 😉

I’ll leave you with this tonight. One of the best quotes I’ve heard on this topic is:

“If you want to know how to treat a child with special needs, watch their sibling. They will show you.” (simplyrealmoms)

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Hotel giggles and shenanigans…TOOK THREE STINKIN’ HOURS to fall asleep!

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SO GRATEFUL for their friendship. Thank you, Jesus.

Come back Wednesday night (or Thursday if I don’t get to it) for some more insight (and other opinions) on this topic!

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Santa Magic

I never believed in Santa as a kid.

I’m not really sure why, except that I tend to come by skepticism naturally. Also pretty certain my parents didn’t push it. One frigid Minnesota night when I was five, I stayed up and sat in the living room near the lit tree, hoping to hear reindeer hooves on our roof. Never happened. So I went back to bed, convinced it was a sham. No hard feelings.

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Fireside chats…

But the Santa we met today…he very well may have been the real thing; The Legend.

We have never taken Finn to sit on Santa’s lap before for several reasons:

  1. I am allergic to long lines. Hives. Hyperventilation.
  2. Shopping malls and/or crowded places used to terrify me with Finn wheeling around. So much staring and bumping into things and chasing. It’s exhausting, emotionally and physically.
  3. I don’t believe in Santa.

But all you people and your adorable Santa-sitting-photos made me wonder if I was depriving my kids of something. So this morning we waited an hour and 1/2 at Bass Pro Shop to meet and take a free photo with Jolly Ole’ St. Nick. It was surprisingly organized and the staff were friendly and warm. We received a Santa pass for an 11:30 photo reservation. We chased our kids, watched the striped bass in the tank and ate at Uncle Buck’s restaurant while we waited. Not too bad.

Here’s where the magic happened…

While in line, Finn was spinning around and stalling on his back wheels (our new fav trick), and Santa looked over between crying toddlers and waved at Finn. Finn smiled and waved back.

Then as we were nearing the North Pole entrance, Santa signaled “wait” to his helper elf and waved on a little girl from the side. She was beautiful in a sparkly white gown and appeared to have Down Syndrome. Santa held both her hands at once and spoke directly in her eyes. She probably told him what she wanted for Christmas and he listened intently, nodding. He was not in a hurry. They hugged and hugged.

Once it was our turn, Finn wheeled excitedly toward the throne and Santa said, “I’ve been waiting for you to come visit me ever since I first saw you!” He took Finn’s little face in his gloved hands and whispered, “You’re so handsome.” I was struck in my gut by His warmth and kindness.

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This is when he was talking to Finn…I wish Joey had gotten Finn in the shot too. Paisley was shy, but didn’t cry.

He called Paisley an angel and we snapped this adorable photo.

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As I was taking Finn off Santa’s lap, he said to me, “Before you go, I need to speak with Finn.” He asked Finn, “Now what would you like for Christmas?” (A miracle. Advancements in Neurological Science. No more shunt revisions. Strong, sturdy legs. Peace on Earth…) Nope. Finn stretched both arms into the air and with glee, he shouted, “Candy!” Spoken like the sugar-deprived son of a personal trainer. 😉 Santa laughed, gave them each a candy cane, and told Finn how special he was and that he was so glad he and Sister came to visit him.

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I know this sounds cheesy, but today I imagined Santa was a little like our Savior. Waiting for us to come to Him, noticing us and yearning for our closeness all morning. And then He cups our face in His hands and asks us what we want, what we need. And it doesn’t really matter if he gives it to us or not. What matters is that He listens. He smiles warmly and loves us as we are and looks us in the eyes. He is not in a hurry.

December 19, 2015 was the day I first believed in Santa. 11:33am. Bass Pro Shop. Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Thirty-two and a half years of age.

 

A Conversation At Lowe’s

We are insane and have begun the arduous process of painting our kitchen cabinets white. My MIL and I did it before in our Norman home. 3 coats of Behr Pillar White. Now we have twice as many cabinets with beautiful crown molding trim, less time and two kids. “It’s gonna be awesome,” we keep telling ourselves.

Top cabinets off; sanded and ready for primer...

Top cabinets off; sanded and ready for primer…

Any trip to the store these days begins with negotiations between Finn and I. He wants to use his wheelchair; I would rather him be contained in the cart. We both want control. So we agreed, per usual, that he could use his wheelchair if he stayed close and obeyed “quickly and happily.”

While we waited for two gallons of Valspar Dove White, a kind older couple noticed Finn. They asked if he could walk. (“Yes, he can. We just play ‘wheelchair’ sometimes for fun.” –sarcastic inner monologue.) “No, he was born with Spina Bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down, so he uses a wheelchair to get around.” They told me about some family member they have who also has a disability and then reassured me that with technology these days, surely he’ll be walking soon. I smiled and mumbled something awkward like, “Yep, we’ve sure come a long way. Alright kids, let’s keep shopping.”

So we went outside to get mulch. As I was heaving a couple bags into the cart, I heard Finn say, “spine bifda…” He repeated it, trying the words out on his tongue. He’s heard us say, “Spina Bifida,” hundreds of times, but this was the first time I’ve heard him say it. I asked him if he knew what that was. “No.” I told him he was born with it and that’s the reason he has trouble walking and why he’s in a wheelchair and why we do physical therapy with Miss Brittany and…blah blah blah.

This was a conversation I’d played out dozens of times in my head, wide awake some nights worrying about how he’d respond. I was just about to tell him about how special he was and that God spent extra time creating him even though he’s different in some ways…

But he asked for another animal cracker and spun around in his chair.

I know he heard me; he’s super smart. But my rant didn’t really interest him. I laughed and took this picture.

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Not the reaction I was expecting.

Finn has been surprising us since I was 6 weeks pregnant with him: bleeding profusely on a family vacation; the ER doctor told me I was having a miscarriage. Nope; the ultrasound showed a strong blinking light (Finn’s heartbeat), as if he was in there saying, “I’m still here mom and dad! I’m fighting! Don’t give up on me!”

Through Finn God has taught me to expect the unexpected.(Good and bad.)

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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory…” Ephesians 3:20, 21

Spilled Milk

The idea of gratitude has literally changed my life. I think it may be the single-most important attitude of a believer. In being grateful we assume our rightful posture of child receiving undeservedly from Father, Provider.

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I distinctly remember one holiday break home from college. I was dejected from a recent break up, sleep-deprived, fighting a sinus infection, and grumpy. I went for a long run in my parents’ neighborhood surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Texas hill country. I heard this idea once that when you’re sad, you should start saying aloud the things you’re thankful for. I voiced those things as I ran…and I just couldn’t stop. My two mile run turned into four and I returned home to our cul-de-sac physically tired but spiritually awake. I was overflowing with gratitude.

I’ve been grumpy for the past two weeks. Ask Joey. Finances. Friends. Loneliness. Family. Work. Finn. Sleep. Marriage. Dust. Spilled milk. Jersey. The broken headlight on our van. If you’re looking for something to complain about, you’ll find it. And I have.

Great Grandma Mary reading to my kids.

Great Grandma Mary reading to my kids.

Pastor Craig’s sermons are simple but powerful. Practical but prayerfully prepared. Full of wisdom. Tonight I heard his word from the Lord about gratitude. Tears filled my eyes and I felt like a little girl sitting in time out. I was humbled because I’ve been disobedient. I’ve been discontent despite the richness of blessings in my life. And it’s been everyone else’s fault but my own.

“Gratitude turns whatever we have into enough.” -Pastor Craig Groeschel

Jesus, forgive me for pouting and missing opportunities to praise you. Thank you for all the good things in my life. I acknowledge they’ve come from above. And thank you also for the difficult things. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective anyway.

Rock Town OKC with Joey one lovely Friday in September.

Rock Town OKC with Joey one lovely Friday in September.

“He fills my life with good things; my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:5 AMEN.

I choose gratitude.

Daughters

John Mayer serenaded me through college. One of my favorite songs of his is Daughters.

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too

As each year passes, I have some new revelation as a personal trainer. Diet soda drinkers are oftentimes the most unhealthy people. Clients lie about what they eat. Foam rolling does a body good. 20 minutes of hard work is better than 60 minutes of mediocre work. Do cardio at the end of the workout to save all your energy for strength training. Focus on behavior changes instead of outcomes.

This year, on separate occasions, I’ve encountered four beautiful women who have needed a little guidance along their fitness journey. These women are determined  and driven to make healthy choices. The biggest obstacle in their path? Their moms. Christian, well-meaning moms. Their mothers belittle the time and money they spend at the gym. They feel pressure from their moms to cheat on their nutrition plan, split a bottle of wine, or order dessert. Misery loves company. Or on the contrary, they scrutinize everything their daughters eat, drink and wear; picking them apart until they feel like the 5 year old version of themselves.

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Mothers have power to speak truth and purpose into our lives, but they can also be the voice of insecurity we struggle to forget. I’m so grateful that my mom has always been my biggest fan. She did not allow her insecurity to seep into my life, poisoning my expectations and self-image.

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Oftentimes my first reaction is to be critical (especially of those I love) because people I love are connected to me, and I’m most critical of myself. I pray instead that I would be a source of encouragement, acceptance and approval for Paisley. I love every little thing about her and she needs to know that…when she’s a toddler and when she’s a mother herself someday.

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If you’re a mom, give your daughter some grace. Cheer her on! She needs you, and you probably need her.

Invincible Summers

Summer is coming.

The colicky newborn days and nights have turned to giggling and peek-a-boo.

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My fears for Finn at school–though still very present–have subsided, and I love to watch his classmates hug (and kiss) him at pick up. Yesterday a new family was touring the school. We walked out together and two little boys watched as Finn raced down the ramp to our van. They were obviously staring at him, so their sharp mom kindly ushered them over to us to introduce themselves. [Side note: introduce yourself and your kids to people who are different. It’s a teaching moment for your kids and a display of respect for the person.] “I’m Ethan and this is my little brother, Will.” “I’m Finn Joseph Armstrong.” Finn spun a few donuts for them and finished it off with a wheelie. Will exclaimed, “I want one of those!” While strapping Finn into his car seat, he asked, “They love me, Momma?” Yes baby, you’re so cool.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

I first came across Camus’ writings in one of my college Literature classes. This particular quote spoke to those cavernous places in my soul and has influenced my life ever since. At the time, I was drowning in an unhealthy relationship. I quite literally lost myself. I had forgotten the confidence and bravado of my childhood, I temporarily neglected my parents’ nurturing and biblical upbringing, I denied the redemption I had found in Christ as a child and then again as a young adult.

Freshman TWIRP date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. ;)

Freshman TWIRP group date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. I actually can’t remember who was.

It was winter in my heart. My dreams were icicles, hanging above me, threatening to fall. I was bitter and angry, struggling with the sting of rejection and emotional abuse. If you want to destroy me, speak ill of me or deny me verbal affirmation. I will crumble. I pretended to be strong but I was brittle inside. Despite the changing seasons, this winter of mine lasted about two and 1/2 years. I finally went through Beth Moore’s Breaking Free bible study and spent a lot of time memorizing and praying Scripture. I went to counseling and learned how to distinguish truth from a lie. Most pleasant afternoons, you’d find me lying on my back in a field behind the dorms, singing or crying out to my Redeemer. He thawed me. He reminded me of my worth, showed me others who were hurting much more than I was, and re-established who He created me to be. A daughter of the King.

These girls were my laughter.

These girls were my laughter.

We’ve all endured (or are enduring) those seemingly endless winters; the ones that leave a little frostbite on our hearts. Finn’s diagnosis and disability is oftentimes heart-breaking. One of my friends has lost both her mother and mother-in-law to tragedy. A client lost her brother, her niece and now her daddy–all too soon. I ran into a sweet momma at Target today, and though we had never met before, she reads my blog and recognized Finn. She said she was directed here by a friend-of-a-friend because she gave birth to a stillborn little boy at 40 weeks. Then several months later became pregnant with a precious daughter who has Down syndrome. One of my best and most faithful friends endured divorce when she was counting on forever. Many of you have suffered multiple miscarriages. You’ve felt the sting of abuse or neglect.

These pains can freeze us up; cause us to lock ourselves away from the world, curl up with a blanket over our heads and let the blizzard rage. And that’s okay for a while, but at some point, summer will come. It’s relentless. In your life, allow buds to grow, flowers to bloom, and eventually pluck those petals to share them with others who are still in the shadows.

...my blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Summer.

My blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Baby monitor.

If you’re shivering in winter, there’s hope. Summer is coming. I hear it right outside my window.

Tips for 2015: Fitness and Social Media

Ethical crisis here.

I have a tendency to over-analyze things, and I’m certain this issue is no exception…However, for months, I’ve felt that it’s time to take my fitness career to the next level, expanding my training services to the online community and my former/long-distance clients. Friends and acquaintances ask me weekly for workouts and/or fitness advice. I love to help people on their fitness journeys and am grateful for their trust. I consider it my calling; my ministry. (I’ll be launching my online training site very soon, so stay tuned!) A sure-fire, convenient way to promote myself is through social media. Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, YouTube and Twitter offer free marketing and easy access to thousands of potential clients.

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Here’s my dilemma: I’m prideful.

In the fitness industry, my body is my advertisement. I wouldn’t train to become fit with someone who isn’t fit. Sorry; that’s common sense. The most obvious way to show your fitness progress via social media is through pictures. But these are snapshots of our outcomes, not our processes. An Instagram of the twist-iest, most beautifully silhouetted yoga pose, a Facebook before/after bikini pic, or a #fitmom ‘s blog post doesn’t give you the whole story. It’s a glimpse into the person’s proud moments, not their failures along the way. Not the hours, months or years it took to reach their goal. Cellulite is filtered out. The crow pose blunders are deleted. I show you my best angle.

Flexing and posing and flaunting are normal for my industry, and it’s what my flesh desires to do. I’ve craved attention and been a show off since the glory days of my neighborhood rollerblade girl band. I see this desire in Finn as he pops wheelies and zooms fast for strangers. Or says things so others will laugh, like, “Hi. I’m Finn Joseph Applesauce.”

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We like to do what we’re good at and we want others to notice. I took a picture of my flexed back in the gym locker room about a month ago. Embarrassed by my vanity, I deleted it the next day. No one cares about my back.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:30)

I want to be praised for my faith, not my flex.

Don’t get me wrong…visual exposure is not all bad. Maybe these pictures inspire someone–motivate them to get off the couch or eat a cleaner diet. It’s encouraging to follow others’ journeys and to know that a six-pack is possible after babies. Or that there are people out there rejecting processed foods and losing hundreds of pounds as a result. Many of my close friends follow (or post as) fitness fanatics via social media.

But for me, social media can be dangerous because it feeds my desire to self-promote. This is my own conviction. It shouldn’t necessarily be yours. I get addicted to your “likes,” enticed by your compliments and encouraged by your following. If I’m not careful, my workout becomes about you and not about my health. I run so I can take a picture of the impressive distance on my watch, not so I can keep my heart healthy, declutter my mind, or pray.

Last Tuesday, I fell victim myself. The weather was nice and several clients were on Spring Break so I got to go on a long road ride. All alone. It was heavenly. At the end of the ride, I took an exhausted picture of my helmeted self (actually I took three and looked like a 12 yr old boy in all of them), then checked Map My Ride so I could boast about my stats online, but the app was blank. I must not have “started the workout.” Distance: 0:00. Average MPH: 0. Bragging Rights: 0. I smirked. It would be just like God to teach me a lesson in this way.

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Is it possible to blend fitness and social media (particularly photos) in a manner that glorifies God and not me? Probably. I just haven’t figured it out yet. I guess a lot of it depends on my motives–and a purpose beyond my own love for affirmation.

1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

I’m passionate about my physical health–and yours. But as a Christian, I’m acutely aware that my spiritual health (and yours) is so much more important. More valuable. And I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of spiritual training two-a-days.