June 7, 2017

A Happy Announcement

Some of you may have been wondering and some of you even guessed and now this is the announcement some of you even asked about.

We are incredibly happy and give thanks for this gift.

And now if you have some prayer intentions please send them my way because I have some discomfort I can offer up for you.

May 5, 2017

The Surprise Open Heart Surgery

I'm going to start this with the ending and you can read the middle if you want: on Thursday the 11th our first born will be having open heart bypass surgery. This is not an emergency but has all come about very quickly and we are scared. Your prayers are very much appreciated. 

Last summer our eight year old daughter, L - our eldest, would be playing in the back yard. She'd race her siblings, climb the maple tree, roller skate, ride her bike, jump on the trampoline, crash through the sprinkler and then she would come up to us and say, "My heart is pounding and I'm out of breath!" Like the low-key, good parents that we are, we would say, "That's because you're playing hard. Sit down, drink some water, and rest for a bit." She would and in a bit she'd feel better and get back up to play some more.

Over the winter, though, she would cross a room and tell us that her heart was pounding; we even noticed that we could actually see it pound through her clothes. So in early March I took her to our family doctor. I mentioned that years ago his former colleague and our former doctor had heard a murmur, which no one ever heard again. He listened to her explain everything, checked her over, listened to her heart, and said he thought it was probably nothing but would send her for some tests just to rule everything out.

So the last Wednesday in March Travis took her to the hospital for a couple of tests. We thought it would be nothing. We didn't even really tell very many people because we didn't want to make a big deal out of it. We weren't worried - why should anyone else?

And that Wednesday night I missed a call from the doctor, who then left a voicemail saying, "Your daughter has a heart defect and her heart is enlarged. Call me tomorrow." And then we did the stupidest thing possible: we googled "heart defect, enlarged heart." And everything told us that our daughter would die. Travis took our second class relic of Fulton Sheen, laid it on our sleeping girl's chest, and prayed for a miracle. When we went to bed that night, holding on to one another and crying, we pleaded with God to not let her die but wondered how long we would have until she did.

The next day I spoke with our doctor and his nurse who gave us better news. L had a hole in her heart and the right side of her heart was enlarged because it had been working so hard. She would be going to a pediatric cardiologist but he did not believe that this was life threatening. Stupid Google and stupid us for stupidly putting ourselves through that. But that night Travis again took the relic and laid it on our daughter's heart and asked Fulton Sheen to pray for her healing.

That first week of April we went to the Children's Hospital of Illinois to meet with the cardiologist. Immediately the doctors could hear the murmur and just by sight and feel they could tell that the right side of her rib cage was bigger because of her enlarged heart. They ordered another echocardiogram and this one showed that not only did L have a hole in her heart (ASD), it was tucked up in a hard-to-reach spot and some of the veins from her right lung had not connected to her heart in the correct place (PAPVR). Surgery would be needed but first a CT scan needed to be done.

My little sweetie pie went with her dad for the CT scan before school on a Friday. In preparation she practiced laying very, very still. It paid off because she was perfect and no anesthesia was needed.

That next Monday the cardiologist called us. He was surprised at how large the hole was - 16mm! - and then explained that 2/3 of the oxygenated blood from her right lung was going to the wrong place in her heart. Then because of the hole's placement a good portion of the blood from both lungs that was doing what it ought was actually spilling back into her heart to be cycled through again instead of leaving for her body. The good news, though, is that because we found the problem when we did her lungs have not suffered any damage yet and all of this can be fixed by the surgery. After the surgery she will be able to live a normal life - playing all the sports and having all the babies she wants to. And Travis kept putting the relic on her heart and praying.

My understanding is that because of the size of the hole and how much of her blood was not being circulated correctly the issue went from "we can do the surgery in the next year" to "we will do the surgery before the end of the summer."

And on Sunday morning I sat in church listening to Fr. Nathan from my favorite podcast deliver his homily. He focused on the line from the Gospel, "We hoped He would be the one to redeem Israel" and he talked about how those disciples had seen Jesus do miracles, they had believed in Him, they had been invested, but here we see how their hearts are broken. They feel abandoned, scared, and let down. And I knew *exactly* how they felt.

"If this is how You treat Your friends, O Lord, no wonder You have so few!" said Teresa of Avila and echoed in my heart 500 years later.

On Wednesday of this week (yes, the same day as the IEP because God is funny) I got a phone call from the hospital offering us May 11th for the surgery. We took it and immediately began making plans for Lydia to finish her school year on the 10th, for Travis to stay with her in the hospital and miss work for at five days, and for my mom and others to help with the other kids so I can be with L as much as possible.

People ask how we are doing and we are okay. I mean, we are scared, worried, anxious, tired, overwhelmed, and Travis and I hate seeing the fear in L. She is being so brave, praying her rosary and so sincerely praying when we attend adoration and Mass but she is very scared.

People are taking care of us in incredible ways. Her school has been wonderfully supportive and caring. Our pastors care very much and will be hearing her confession and anointing her the morning of her surgery. A very good friend of ours arranged with the school and parish for adoration to happen while L is in surgery. Friends and family are signing up to support, help, and pray.

It's definitely not anything I ever thought I would have to deal with but we are grateful for what it is and the love we are being shown. And if I have seemingly blown you off or ignored you in any way recently, well, now you know why.

May 2, 2017

Sharing My Heart About IEPs, Special Ed, and My Child

I grew up in the eighties and nineties and attended really good public schools. They had similar hierarchies to what your schools probably did and there were various socio-economic backgrounds and family structures, but for the most part it was good kids from good families who all sat pretty comfortably somewhere in the middle class. (This was long enough ago that there was still a distinction between upper, middle, and lower middle class.)

I got a really good education. Without trying too hard I was able to get B's and some A's and I took some honors classes, too. I was choir president, in the plays and musicals, attended a weekly before-school Bible study all four years, and was friends with good girls who were kind and fun. Socially speaking we were also pretty middle class and pretty happy about that. It's nice to be liked enough that no one ever will pick on you but not popular enough to have deal with the pressures of being, well, popular. 

I liked school Kindergarten through 12th grade and I always had a good experience. I want that for my kids and I have hoped and prayed that they would all have similar experiences: decent grades, good friends, never bullied, never having to deal with too much pressure regarding sex or drugs or drinking, enjoying classes and teachers and learning. 

So having a kid with special needs has been hard on me. It has thrown all kinds of worries into my prayers and tossed away my hopes. I know that this is not about me, and wow I sound like an ass right back there, but I hope you understand that all of this is because I want what is best for my child and yet I am afraid that they will suffer greatly and I won't know how to help them. 

I don't know if you have a kid with special needs or if you've ever been to an IEP meeting. In case you haven't let me explain it a bit. An IEP meeting is where the principal, special ed teachers, therapists / specialists, general education classroom teacher, parents, and possibly others (nurse, school psychologist, advocates, etc) come together to look at what your child can(not) do and what the standards / goals are for their grade. Together personal goals are set and accommodations are incorporated (aids, extra time for testing, speech therapy, etc). Everyone there cares about your kid and wants to see him or her thrive and excel. But mostly what they do is tell you all the things that are wrong with your child, all the ways they are delayed, unprepared, falling behind, failing, struggling, unable, incapable, not smart enough. Because they are kind, good people they will sandwich all these negative things with positives like, "Your child is so cheerful! I love having your child in class! Your child is a hard worker and always smiling!" but it doesn't really matter how fancy and good the bread is, if you're putting it around a giant turd you've still got a shit sandwich. 

As I'm sure you can imagine or maybe know from your own experience, eating that shit sandwich is hard. It reminds me of when we were in the NICU and doctors kept telling us all the things that were going to be wrong with James. Here our little boy had come back to us and in our ignorance we hoped and believed everything would be okay. So as they told us, "He'll likely be blind." "He will probably never be able to eat." "He will probably have cerebral palsy and it will be severe - he'll be strapped in a wheelchair." "He will likely have the brain development of an infant."what they were really doing was just taking him away from us again but now one bit at a time. We had to grieve the child we thought we had and the future we assumed he would have. 

It's sort of the same at the IEP meetings, with each statement about what our kid cannot do they take away a bit of who we thought our child was and hoped for in their future. This is maybe even worse because of some kind of NICU wound, but also because back in the eighties and nineties when I was in school at my nice, good public schools filled with nice, good kids, special ed kids were Others. They weren't treated poorly necessarily but they didn't have friends. They were isolated in their own classrooms and we never really had anything to do with them. Or if they were in some regular classes they were seen as stupid and some of those kids were bullied. So yeah, they actually were treated poorly. 

I don't want that for my kid. I want my child to enjoy school, to not be bullied or pitied or ignored. I don't want them to ever feel stupid. I don't want them isolated. I don't want them to struggle. I don't want them to suffer. I don't want them to feel worthless or not-good-enough. And teachers keep telling me that it's not as bad any more and I hope it's true. We'll see what junior high and high school are like. 

This Wednesday we will have an IEP meeting for one of our kids and at it we will be modifying the education plan so there is more time in the special ed classroom and out of the gen ed class. There will be follow up conversations to previous conversations about all the things our child cannot do. I'm not happy about these things but I'm hoping that by tackling them head-on we can help our child lay the necessary foundation so later our kiddo won't struggle. I'm also grateful that understanding these things about our child has meant that we are parenting them differently and that will hopefully mean better things for this child. 

I know that in real life - and not the one in my head made up of hopes and dreams and ideal situations - my children will all suffer. Good parenting isn't protecting my kids so they never fail or hurt, it's teaching them how to thrive and find blessings despite or even in the midst of those failings and pain. I know that. And I hope you understand that this isn't about having a precious snowflake of a child. This is about passionately loving my kid, wanting to do right by my child, and feeling like a complete failure, like I've lost the game before it's even been played and there's nothing I can do about it.

So there's that. 

April 26, 2017

Appreciation of Music 101 for My Kids

I love music. I enjoy a pretty wide variety of music and there are seasons when the genres I listen to vary greatly from one to the next. Right now we listen to a mix of country, oldies, pop, and Christian music. CD's that frequently get played in the van belong to The Head and the Heart, Sarah Groves, JJ Heller, and some other contemporaries - Vance Joy, Matt Kearney, Matt Mahrer, The Lumineers, Eric Church - are much appreciated.

I have a desire to not only pass on a love of and appreciation for music to my kids but also a knowledge of music from the past and present and across genres. I want them to hear a song that samples another song and know what song is being sampled. I want them to watch a movie from that takes place in the past and be familiar with the soundtrack. I want them to be the life of the wedding reception, dancing and singing along to all kinds of music.

So far in this endevour I have introduced the kids to a few bands and singers from varying decades and genres and to mixed reviews. 

Johnny Cash 
The kids love him, except for our oldest. I have a four-disc box set (remember those?) that we listen to in the car. It helps that he sings about a lot of trains and my boys looooove trains. I love that they are experiencing American folk songs, country, gospel, and more through him.

The Beatles
I gave them a big talk about how The Beatles is Papa's favorite band and how much I loved them in middle and high school. I talked about how they made music for a decade and some of it was really fun, some really weird, and some really lovely. The first time they listened to One they were not impressed. The next time, they liked it a lot more. 

The Beach Boys
I played them Pet Sounds. They didn't like a single song on the album. I have no idea what's wrong with my kids and so we'll try again later. 

The blue album is one of my favorites and it's songs instantly take me back to the halls of my high school. (Is that weird? It's true.) Jofis thinks it's too loud so I have to move all the sound to the front of the van but I think they otherwise like it. Ben especially seems to really like it. It came out in 1994 (!!!) and I realized that me playing it for my kids was like my dad playing one of his Beatles albums for me when I was a girl. I'll let that sink in and you can guess how that makes me feel.
(PS - the cd is for sale on Amazon for $4!)
(PPS - the answer is OLD. It makes me feel OLD.)

Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Michael Jackson, and the Counting Crows will also be highlighted in the future. And then there's a running mixtape of songs that I want my kids to know. I've spent way too long writing this list already but I'm sure I could add so many more songs. So. many. more. songs.

So help me fill in the gaps. Comment and tell me who I'm missing and what songs I need on my list. I feel like my country section is lacking and songs from the 90's - early 2000's definitely needs some help.

Signed, Sealed, Deliverd - Stevie Wonder
Superstition - Stevie Wonder
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Shake Senora - Harry Belefonte
Friends in Low Places - Garth Brooks
Fast As You - Dwight Yokum
Always on My Mind - Willie Nelson
Hound Dog - Elvis
Crazy - Patsy Cline
I Fall to Pieces - Patsy Cline
R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Aretha Franklin
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
You Really Got a Hold on Me - Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Star Man - David Bowie
Small Town - John Cougar
Jack & Diane - John Cougar
Hooked on a Feeling - Blue Suede
American Pie - Don McClean
I Wanna Dance With Somebody - Whitney Houston
Take on Me - Aha
Living on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
Stairway to Heaven (for Travis) - Led Zepplin
Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp (for me) - Led Zepplin
Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers
I Tell Me Ma - Van Morrison & The Chieftains
Lonesome Town - Ricky Nelson
Hello Mary Lou - Ricky Nelson
At Last - Etta James
Blue Moon - The Marcels
Mr. Sandman - The Chordettes
In the Mood - Benny Goodman
It Don't Mean a Thing - Duke Ellington
Chattanooga Choo Choo - Glenn Miller
Sing, Sing, Sing - Benny Goodman
Doo Wop - Lauren Hill
Zion - Lauren Hill
Rapper's Delight - Sugarhill Gang
Let Me Clear My Throat - DJ Kool

April 10, 2017

A New Spring Dress for Me + a $75 PinkBlush Gift Card for You

Once I became a mom the most curious thing began to happen to my shirts and dresses: one by one they all began to form small holes on my belly. I have heard several theories as to why this happens: it's where the jeans hit the counter, it's from doing dishes at the sink, it's a mystery that will only be revealed in Heaven. All I know is that eventually they all succumb to the hole and my wardrobe needs the occasional refreshing.

With Easter approaching I wanted to find something new to replace older dresses with holes. I also wanted something not black, which is generally my go-to color. My friend Jacqui mentioned a trendy online boutique called PinkBlush and because Jacqui's sense of style is on point I immediately googled that baby. 

I was totally impressed. Along with having super cute clothes that would look fabulous on 2006 Bonnie, they also have clothes to fit 2017 Bonnie and cute maternity clothes. Plus they include the measurements for the garments and the model's height, bust and hip measurements, and the size of the clothing she is wearing in the picture. I am often really hesitant to buy things I cannot try one but I had a lot of confidence because a) they had clothes in my size and b) they provided so much information that it would be hard to mess up. 

For example:

Since I'm on a bit of a budget I was happy to see that most of their prices are comparable to Target or Kohl's and I quickly went about finding a dress that would be perfect for Spring and Summer and would allow for easy nursing. #gottafeedthebaby

I ended up getting this light pink colorblock dress. It's so soft and so comfy. It's also lightweight and I know I'll be able to wear it to Mass or whenever I want to feel pretty throughout the summer and not be too hot.

Now here's the best part: PinkBlush wanted to make sure my readers got in on the goods and so they are giving away a $75 giftcard to one of my Instagram subscribers! If you've won a giveaway from them in the last six months you will not be eligible to win now but everyone else should head over to my account and to enter!

I call this "Blinded by the White" ness of my legs. 

March 28, 2017

Phoenix in Spring + Jesus + the Beloved Retreat

Things have been tough for me since November. I've been tired in every way a person can be tired. I spent most of December super sick. In January I sat at my grandfather's death bed for a week and then buried him the next. In February we buried Travis' grandfather. And this month, March, we had a really tough meeting about a variety of learning disabilities and developmental delays in one of our kids.

I feel defeated in a lot of ways, run down, like a failure, worried about the future, and sad about the past. There have been highlights, like Kathryn and The Head and the Heart, but folks, it was an incredibly special day when my husband forwarded me an email from a friend with travel information. I had been gifted the amazing opportunity to attend the Blessed Is She Beloved Retreat held March 18th in Phoenix, Arizona. And I cried, feeling both unworthy of such a gift and so grateful for the chance to retreat.

Besides the fact that it felt like Illinois in July it was perfect. There seems to be a rule that you have to be really beautiful and amazing to live in Arizona because every single woman I met was both of those. I had great conversations with complete strangers, caught up with several old friends, and was blown away by the awesomeness of the Catholic community in the Phoenix area. 

But the retreat... Folks, it was breathtaking. Beautiful touches were everywhere to make things super special, unique, and feminine. The vibe was hip but not pretentious, joyful but vulnerable, prayerful but fun. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all served and they were delicious. The swag bag was great: informative, practical, and with a few really special touches. 

But what made it really powerful for me were the talks, the praise and worship, and adoration. The day followed Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved, with each talk building on the previous ones, explaining how we are Chosen, Blessed, Broken, and Given. There were Truths spoken in those talks that really shook me. There were things said that spoke right to my wounds and doubts and fears. By the time we got to Beth Davis' talk on being Broken I was biting my lip so as not to do a sobbing ugly cry. 

 For all the pretty touches throughout the day and the amazing worship, led by Ike Ndolo, his band, and Emily Wilson (who also gave the Blessed talk), I spent the second half of the day stuck in the Broken. I knew that was Sr. Maria Kim, and Emily, and Beth were saying was all true but I couldn't let go and do what they said.

"The Lord is the God of Israel," Sr. Kim had said. "And He is yours, too. Ask Him to speak your name in prayer. The Lord is the God of Bonnie. It is personal and intimate."

"Whatever it is that you believe about yourself - you're not good enough, pretty enough, you're a failure, a loser, a bad mom, stupid, worthless - whatever it is, hold it up to God and ask Him, "Is this true?" Emily spoke these words but I couldn't do it.

"Invite Jesus into your brokenness and let Him heal it," Beth said but the thought scared me because my current state of brokenness seems such a mess. 

And then came adoration. They said Father would process with the monstrance but what he did was so much more than that. Every woman had an intimate, personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist as the priest brought Him to us all. And as He stood before me I couldn't hold it in any more. And with my tears, the priest brought Christ even closer. It was intense and powerful and healing. 

Honestly, I'm still unpacking it all. I'm still thinking and praying on it all and reviewing what all I saw and heard and felt. 

You can see more pictures and watch a clip of adoration on my Instagram feed but, wow, ladies, I hope you can do one better and go to a Beloved Retreat yourself one day. It was refreshing to my soul and good for my heart. 

PS - I heard that there is still a handful of tickets left for the Austin, Texas Beloved Retreat happening *this* Saturday, April 1st. If you can, please go. If you have half as good and beautiful of a time as I did you will not be sorry you went. Go with your mom, your sisters, your small group, and don't be afraid to go alone if you have to. You won't feel alone or left out, I promise. 

March 16, 2017

This season of life and what it's brought

Life lately has been so ordinary, so busy, so regular. It's just sort of whisked me away with its laundry, cooking, school pick-ups, and mom groups.

Lent, though, has been tough with its failings upon failings and its mirror making me take a good, long, ugly look at myself. It is a good thing there is confession and mercy. I think of Christ in The Passion saying to his Mother, "Look, I make all things new" like He is saying it to me.

  With my grandfather's passing we inherited some items. Grandma's colorful mixing bowls and her souvenir spoons. Grandpa's black kettle which used to make apple butter during his childhood on the farm but was converted into a planter for their patio. Their television and dressers, Grandma's desk, sewing kits, step stool, strawberry pitcher, and the leaf blower.

The influx in items has meant that our home is in a bit of remodeling chaos. Eight people in a three bedroom house... something had to change eventually, right? So Trav's office at the bottom of the basement stairs was moved (shoved) into his workshop and overflows into my laundry room space. Their bunk bed and new-to-them dressers and desk are sitting in the playroom, the new flooring we got for them (thanks, tax refund!) is in the dining room's corner for the third week, and, in short, everything's a mess. Their soon-to-be bedroom is being painted and jazzed up a bit and eventually the girls will move down there and I will never have to worry about evacuating them from the main floor during a midnight tornado ever again.

We have also been looking at what we will do for school next year. L will be a 4th grader, Ben a 2nd grader, JF a 1st grader, Resa a kindergartner, and Jofis will be in half-day Pre-K4. We had a pre-IEP meeting yesterday for one of our kids and I think our dual-enrollment days will be done, at least for now. It's hard, you guys, in an emotionally draining / super challenging / loads of worrying about the right choice kind of way. It's one of those things, too, that I never thought I'd have to struggle with so that's caught me off guard, too. I'm constantly trying to find my footing and even yesterday in the meeting I had to keep asking questions to understand their jargon. Turns out educators can be just as bad as doctors...

But things have been good, too, you guys. Tee toddles around the house being cute, often with Resa adoringly playing with and caring for him. Jofis sings Johnny Cash songs in the most adorable 3 year old voice. Ben and L have mastered roller skating and are working on chess. JF is continually impressing me with how much he can eat and how thoughtful he can be.

What's more, in late February we were given the opportunity to see one of my very favoritest bands, The Head and the Heart. Last week I had two speaking gigs in Austin, Texas and was hosted by the wonderful Kathryn Whitaker. Over the weekend Travis and I attended our parish's fundraiser gala and spent the evening having fun with friends. And tomorrow I leave for the Phoenix Blessed Is She Beloved Retreat.

So see? Good things, too. Busy and hard, but good and filled with lots of love. I think that's the season of life right now: busy and hard but good and filled with love. I'll take it.

PS - I should probably mention that while I am not the best of bloggers right now I do show up on Instagram regularly, including in the Stories section. If you're not already following me there I invite you to join me! I'm @BonnieEngstrom