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Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Sometimes things happen in life and you just think, really?  Did we need that?

And then, if you're lucky and/or you work at it, you think,  wow, we can totally handle that.  We are so fortunate that this is what we are dealing with when there are so many other, much, much more difficult and terrifying things to deal with. 

At Maya's well child visit last fall, I asked our pediatrician if she could test Maya's hearing. I had some concerns that I had mostly dismissed as Maya just being Maya but figured it wouldn't hurt to check.  She didn't seem to hear me all the time.  Really, what parents would say they feel heard by their children?  How many parents all over the world at this very second are asking for the fifth time for their children to brush their teeth, put their clothes in the hamper or pick up their toys?  Maya would say, "What??" many times a day, especially in the car when we were back to and there was any sort of other noise. She always cranked the volume on everything and when we would lower it she would say, "But I can't hear it." 

Maya is also loud. Often very loud.  Sometimes it feels like she is shouting at us.  But she is also a rambunctious child with lots of energy.  We had both noted that when we are one on one with her she is a more quiet, introspective child but as soon as you add people (even just one person) and any amount of noise (conversation especially) she would ratchet up her volume to an intolerable level.  Taking her to a restaurant became unbearable.  We always just thought this was her.  Initially we wondered if she just wanted the focus on her or, later we began to wonder if she became overstimulated and made lots of noise as a way to destimulate herself.

They tested Maya's hearing at the office.  She didn't pass.  They referred us to see an audiologist.  The referral never went through.  Another month passed.  I called about it.  Finally we got an appointment for January.  Maya thought the idea of throwing balls into the left or the right basket depending on which ear she heard the noise was fun.  For about 5 minutes.  Then she wanted the ear phones off, the balls to go where she saw fit and to go home.  The audiologist said that she didn't pass the test, possibly indicating a hearing loss, but that her answers were inconsistent so she needed to come back.

Sandi and I both took her to her repeat test in February.  This time she got to press a button on an M&M dispenser when she heard a sound.  She heard 51 sounds and got 51 M&Ms (which she arranged by color and then wrapped up in a tissue to take to her sister and cousins who were visiting).  But 51 sounds were not enough sounds.

The quietest sound an adult needs to hear at is 20 decibels.  For kids the cut-off is 15. The lowest sound Maya can hear is 30 decibels.  The test showed that she has a mild hearing loss and needs hearing aids. 

We took the news as best we could, considering Maya was right there with us.  One of the tests pinpointed where that her loss is sensorineural, meaning it is based in her auditory nerve. We don't know if it is congenital or if there was damage to it somewhere in her young life.  This means the loss is permanent and not due to fluid and cannot be corrected surgically. 

She will need to wear hearing aids for the rest of her life. 

If you're wondering if this feels like a punch in the gut, it does.  But after I let the tears fall over the loss of the idea of my perfect child, I was overcome with gratitude that I wasn't leaving the office of a pediatric oncologist or some other specialist who diagnoses terrifying diseases.  We didn't find out that our child is autistic, mentally retarded, deaf, blind, has cystic fibrosis or needs a heart transplant.  We didn't even get the challenging but liveable diagnosis of a peanut allergy. 

Yes, I've had to grieve.  And each and every time I allow myself to, I also shift my perspective back to how very fortunate we are.

The uneasy part for us is that there is some history of hearing loss in Sandi's family.  We don't know if this means there is a hereditary component, a genetic vulnerability or if this is just a fluke.  Maya's hearing loss is mild, at present, but we worry it could potentially be progressive.

About 5 minutes after we told Sandi's mom about the hearing test, she was online doing some research of the retail variety.  She called us up to say that she would be happy to get Maya's American Girl doll hearing aids.

So Maya and I tucked her doll, Kaylee, snuggly into a carboard box to send to the American Girl doll hospital.  Maya was very concernced about Kaylee being naked as required so we made her a tissue paper hospital gown and taped her up.  Ten days later, and way ahead of schedule, Kaylee returned.

I will admit that at first I thought the whole American Girl thing was a total racket.  I mean we have a perpetually injured, wheelchair-bound doll that lives in our house and tells everyone what to do.  Now I am singing a song of gratitude.  Did you know they even sell dolls that are bald for kids who are going through chemo?

The next step for us is a medical clearacne appointment with an ENT in 2 weeks and ear molds for Maya.   I think we will be up and running in about a month.  Maya has already picked out the color she wants (purple) of the pediatric hearing aid we will get.  She is excited that they come with stickers so you can decorate them and a storage case. Maya is all about storage options.

We've been reading books about kids with hearing aids and teaching her about how this is just like kids who need glasses so they can see better.  Being Maya, she is taking it all in stride and likes the idea of "little computers" for her ears.

Kaylee can hear better and soon so will Maya.  We are all looking forward to (perhaps) a little bit less volume in our house and hopefully less frustration for everyone. 

We are fairly sure that Maya will tell us all to quiet down once she has her hearing aids.  Also, when we have to repeat ourselves it won't be because Maya isn't wearing her hearing aids but that she has turned them off.

Monday, March 25, 2013

if we are dying eggs it must be spring, right?

A few days shy of the spring equinox Maya threw a tantrum about not being permitted to wear her flip flops outside.  She just couldn't wrap her head around what March in Maine means and why the interminable winter has not yet given up its grasp over this northern corner of the world. 

I said, "It is just too cold, honey.  We still have to have a fire in the stove everyday, mittens on our hands and winter coats."  She came back with a wailing. "But WHEN will winter be over?  It has been SO LONG and it should be spring!"

How can you argue with that?

All I know is that at 4:45 am on the "first day of spring" I was digging our cars out from 10 inches of snow so that Sandi could get to the hospital.  I don't usually begrudge thing that are so clearly out of my control and have cultivated a more accepting, get-on-board-with-what-is mentality, but that morning I was shaking my fist at the sky. 

Our patio had just become bare for Pete's sake.  I was planning a party in my head.

But spring doesn't really come to Maine until at least April, and if we are unlucky even May.  However, Easter with all its sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes, often comes in March.   Poor planning there.  Again with the conversation and ensuing tantrums over footwear when you have daughters. 

It may not be spring yet, but it was time for the annual dying of Easter eggs with the Smith's.  (The whole time I was thinking about the older kids, please still like this next year...please don't let this be our last year.)

Beckett (who someone just performed a magic trick and turned two) is in the stage of the scrunched up nose. I love it.
Let's just say a smock is a very good thing for Maya.

Between dying and decorating, the girls ended up in leotards.  You just never know at our house. 


Beckett wanted to know what would happen when he put his finger in the spinning fan.  Hopefully he doesn't try to replicate this experiment at home.

As usual, an impromptu kid parade rounded out the afternoon (although this time it was absent of the random German music CD the kids usually find to play) and the adults enjoyed hanging out and eating supper.  This was the first time Beckett went in the living room and played with the older kids instead of velcroing himself to Matt or Ange.  It was almost like the four of us were out on our own having normal conversation.  Well except for the 100 decibel screeches of delight coming from the crowd in the living room.

Okay, I know it is only March but I am pining to ride my bike and I just want to sit outside and read a book.  I want to sleep with my window open and smell lilacs on the night air.  Honestly, if it could just stop snowing I would be good with that right now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

anna's birthday present

Last year for Brady's seventh birthday, we took him on a "date"- a fun day for just him with our family.  We went all over town, out to lunch and had a grand time.  We also took lots of video and photos and Sandi put it into a cute little movie for him. 

Anna, his little sister, has been wanting a day of her very own ever since.  And, because her birthday was 10 months away, she had to wait for a while.

We gave her a certificate for her special day at her December birthday party and we finally (as Ella said, because she was very disheartened by the delay) took Anna out last weekend.  (Ella doesn't acknowledge an insignificant thing like anesthesia school and its hinderance of our social calendar.)

When I asked Anna what she wanted to do she said, "I want to go to the Maine Jump and to the park but not to Dr. Suess because I'm going to see that at school."


I wasn't really sure what she was talking about since I had made no overtures toward planning the day until I spoke to her.  Then Ange translated:  "Last year you took Brady to see the Lorax and Anna is going to be watching that at school and so she doesn't want you to take her to see it."

I love the way kids think.  And I loved that, given the year she had to think on it, she had a sense of what she wanted.  I loosely made a plan in my head.   Then we met Matt halfway to pick her up and he said, "I asked Anna what she wanted to do with you and she said, 'I don't know.  I may just see what I feel like.'" 

Then I started to panic.  Did she have the wrong idea about this day?

I reviewed the tentative itinerary for the Maine Jump, lunch and the park and she said yes.  Phew.

happy girls ready for some fun
The Maine Jump is a cool indoor "inflatable playplace."  The kids love it.  For about 90 minutes.  Your fee allows you to stay as long as you want, but like our family eating at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, we never get our money's worth. 

But it is the padded room of my dreams for Maya.

Look how happy Anna is!
There was a little air hockey action which was good practice for Maya on losing graciously.  Or at least to reduce her desire to punch her opponent in the face given a loss.

I happen to think Anna is a total stunner.

After lunch at the place of her choosing (Sea Dog), the kids wanted to run up.  We ran into our friends, Emily and Davy, and so we chatted while the kids ran.
Maya was having fun running while Davy threw his hat at her.  I managed to get this picture of the throw and run in action.

Then onto the park.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  But it was only 43 degrees and it did get rather chilly out there.  Still, it was pretty wonderful to be back on the playground.
Fortunately for Maya, Ella's feet got wet and she went to hang in the car.  That meant Maya had Anna's undivided attention.

They began to collect random bits of things on the playground and develop creations.  (Oh, Ange, I forgot to tell you to wash Anna's gloves....)  

Here we have an ice cream cone, an umbrella and a jacket.  

Love these girls. Now, if only they would stop with the birthdays and the growing older part. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

two wonderous lives and a cake to celebrate

It is hard to believe that year has gone by since our friends Mindy and Charissa went from a three to a five person family.

Would you look how tiny their twins were at birth?
Happy first birthday to Drew and Baxter!  What better way to celebrate this amazing, exhausting, roller coaster ride of a year than with a party?
And we all know every good party needs a good cake.   
Now, to be honest when I offered to make the cake, I was thinking of  a sweet little cake with maybe polka dots and soft colors.  Maybe something simple and easy.
But my friend Charissa has a designer's mind and she had ideas.  I love her for this, but it also had me sweating. She was working with a nature theme and sent me pictures of cute trees and owls.  She sent a lot of owls.  I got nervous and began to worry I was in over my head.  I can't draw an owl on paper (it would likely look like a horse which, frankly, looks the same as a dog and a chicken- I am a terrible artist.)
I sent Charissa a text message that said, "I think this may be beyond my skill level."
Enter in Ange who saved the day, as she often does, by remember there were owl cake pops in her new cake pop book. 
Cake on a stick?  What's not to love.
I highly recommend this book.  It has such cute and creative ideas which are *mostly* within the scope of the average baker.  There is a learning curve and I had a few hiccups but overall I was pleased with the end result.

Be forewarned: cake pops take a lot of time to make.  I don't recommend trying this on a Saturday with your kids are at home unless there is a marathon showing of "The Fresh Beat Band" on TV. 

This is how I broke it down to largely coincide with my kids' school schedule.

Day one: I baked a box cake and let it cool overnight.

Day two: I crumbled the cake, mixed it with the frosting, formed the mixture into balls and put them in the refrigerator.  The recipe called for 48 balls, but I ended up with 38.  Oh well.

Day three (could have been later in day two): Shaped the chilled balls into the triangles required to make owls.  Adhered chocolate chips as ears to each pop.  Allowed to dry.

Same day: dipped cake pop in melted candy melts.  Gave my kids a disc of unmelted candy melts and had them begging for more because they are, honestly, delicious.
Because of time I ended up doing the dipping at two different time.  Here was the issue I soon discovered in the general instructions about forming and dipping cake pops, it says to dip them when they are chilled.  Yet, in the owl instructions specifically, you attach the chocolate chips and allow them to dry in the styrofoam block.  It doesn't say anything about returning the pops to the fridge. Apparently I needed to.  The batch that was at room temperature came out with a dull finish and I lost a couple of pops in the candy melts (which for me was rather merciful since it was two less pops to manage).  I realized that I probably needed them to be chilled so I managed to get the second batch to fit in the fridge and then I dipped those after they chilled again.  These came out much prettier, shinier, were easier to dip, BUT at least half of them cracked. 

Sigh.  I ended up re dipping all of them so they would look uniform.  The book specifically suggests  avoiding this. Oh well.  It was fine except that it made extra work and it also rounded out the owl ears so they looked more like mouse ears.

Day four (or day three if you don't have kids): decorate.

To decorate the owls I went on a virtual treasure hunt for the various candies needed for each feature: candy necklaces, rainbow sprinkle chips, brown mini M&Ms (I couldn't find those so I used Raisinets) and flower sprinkles.  Maya demonstrated her stellar fine motor skills and helped me sort all the candy for only the colors we needed.  (There was a lot of candy I had to buy that we didn't end up using since we were looking for specific colors.)  I assembled half of them during school hours and the rest one afternoon which was a somewhat regrettable choice.  Maya really wanted to help.  This was kind of fun because it was like I was the surgeon and she was my scrub nurse.  I would say, "Nose" and hold my hand out and she would place a nose in my hand.  However, Ella kept using the table like a gymnastics bar and kept launching herself off of it. 

I worked hard to keep my cool. I think I halfway succeeded.

Including the adhering of the ears, each pop required NINE different small items to be attached to it.  Nine times 36 pops...You do the math. 

The way the cake pops were supposed to look:

The way mine looked:
All I can say is that I think I needed to make the triangles flatter and that she must have also had flatter candies in her candy necklace.  My owls were bug eyed and looked like they had some unresolved optical issues.  Plus the mouse ears.  Who wants a mouse cake pop?  Probably a kid, actually.
Then onto the cake. 

Honestly, prepping to decorate a cake takes almost as time as the decorating itself.  I made a huge batch of butter cream frosting, tinted it 5 different shades, added in the chocolate butter cream I had left over from filling the cakes and I was ready to go.
Except that I had a mini anxiety, self-doubt attack at this point. What had I gotten myself into?  Why did I think I could "draw" with frosting on a cake?  I had already frosted the base of the cake green and used a toothpick to make it look like grass and the butter cream was drying out and it came out kind of messy.  What if the whole thing was a bomb and I had to be bailed out by the Hannaford bakery?  This was our gift to the babies, the hard work was part of the love.  How could we go essentially empty handed with a store-bought cake?  Oh the pressure.  I pictured myself showing up at the party with my proverbial tail between my legs, ashamed of my over inflated sense of cake mastery and nursing a bruised ego.
I gave myself a pep talk to shut down the crazy talk and got to work.  I practiced making trees on a cutting board.  Sandi came home and told me it looked great. When I told her how nervous I was she reminded me that that has happened before every cake I've made.  I hate love it when she's right.
Maya was super supportive and kind to me.  She kept coming in the kitchen (which was daring since I had essentially told the kids to stay out) and saying, "WOW Momma! That looks A-MAZING!  I can't believe what a good job you're doing!  They are going to love it!!"  And then she would hug me and leave only to return like a boomerang to check my progress.
I was also really anxious about the lettering and spacing and used toothpicks to mark where I needed each letter. I also checked the spelling of "birthday" in my head 15 times because for some reason I was preoccupied with spelling it wrong and having my cake appear on "cake wrecks."

My favorite quote from the party was when Marianne said, "I wasn't sure if that grass was colored coconut, shredded paper or cut up Easter grass so I tried it to find out."  I could just imagine myself snipping up Easter grass and then placing this non-edible thing all around the base of a cake to make grass. That and the image of Marianne potentially eating shredded paper.  
The cake pops were a huge hit with the kiddos and there were at least 25 extra for people to take home.
But really it was these two I had hoped to impress!

How adorable are they?

I am so incredibly proud of this family.  What an honor to watch a family evolve, expand and find its new groove.  Hats off to you Merill-Maguires.    Thanks for letting us be a part of it.

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