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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

3 Months and 8 Days Later- We Finally Read the Book to Our Daughter

A few nights ago Caroline was in bed. She called us into her room. My husband took a turn this time. I listened on the monitor to see how it was going. My tears were instant as Caroline asked Daddy some questions...

"Will we get another Chelsea?" (Chelsea is our dog that died when Caroline was about 1.5 years old. My husband explained that we may get another dog one day, but it will never be another Chelsea.

"Will we get another April?" (April is her little sister that died at birth a few months ago. 3 months and 8 days ago to be exact).

Then she asked for the "baby book".

I ran to her room with tears streaming down my face.

Caroline has said April's name only twice. I missed both of those moments. She usually refers to April as "the baby". My husband has had the honor of hearing her say April Rey, but I had not. When I heard her say April's name, my heart just filled with so much joy.

When I got to her room she was holding the "baby book", (Title: We Had an Angel Instead). We bought Caroline 2 books to help explain the situation with her. This book arrived prior to April being born. When I told her that the book was about what was happening with April, Caroline told me she didn't want to read it. I'd inquire every once in awhile, and she'd say that she was "too scared". We respected her wish and had not read it to her.

The second book that arrived (Title: Something Happened), I just decided to read to her without warning. I took a chance and luckily it paid off. She identified with the book, asked questions, and we've read it several times.

The first book, however... just sat there on the shelf. She'd hold it and look at it, but never did she want me to read it. We always respected her wish and just told her that it was ok, and when she was ready, we'd read it. Any time she was looking at it, I'd just ask if she was ready. I was always met with "No, not yet."

Tonight I looked at my daughter and asked one more time. "Caroline, do you want Mama to read the book to you?"


Caroline said yes. 3 months and 8 days after April's birth, our daughter was ready to read the book.

I read it through tears. My husband held his girls as we all cried and had our family moment that evening. Caroline comforted me as I cried. "Oh Mama, it's ok. Everything is ok. We will have another baby."

3 months and 8 days.

Caroline is such a strong girl. She turns 3 at the end of this month just for reference. She is aware of her feelings, and she expresses herself very well. She has taken care of us more than she'll ever know.

I am so impressed that she asks questions, talks to us, and knows when she's ready to take a step forward. Tonight she took that step. She's grieving in her own little toddler way, and I am so thankful that she includes us and allows us to help her in her journey.

These 3 months and 8 days have been slow and so hard. My family is stronger than we've ever been. You don't know the strength that you have until you just have to have it. Caroline already knows that strength.

While emotions have been high and more arguments and short tempers have been present, there has also been more love and more strength that I could have ever dreamed.

April showed us true, raw love and courage. She showed us strength in a form that we've never seen. April's energy keeps us going every day. Caroline may not have her little sister home with her, but she has certainly blossomed into a truly special and amazing big sister and daughter.

Every year, we go to a drive through Christmas lights event at one of the local parks. When I lived in Austin, TX long ago... we used to go to similar events, but they were walk through. I loved getting bundled up, having hot chocolate or coffee, and walking the lights. I've been searching for something similar here in Maryland. Yes, there's something to be said for being nice and toasty in your car, but I just love being outside for these events for some reason.

So, we've been checking out some new Christmas lights events in the area (Central Maryland)...

Last year, we went to The Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens. This place was great. In fact, now that I'm remembering about it, we will probably do it again this year. There are tons of lights, and there is a great train display set up inside. You can purchase hot chocolate, and the lights were so fun to see.

This year, we FINALLY got to go to the S'mores and Lights at Seneca Creek State Park. For the last couple of years I've missed the deadline for signing up. It is held on only one night, and registration is in the beginning of October.

By the time I got around to even thinking about Christmas lights, the 500 tickets were long gone and the event was sold out.

This year however, I was prepared. I marked the registration date on my calendar last winter. That's right! So, when the date rolled around this time, I woke up nice and early (5:30 am) and was ready for the 6 am registration opening!

My preparedness paid off, and we were able to purchase the first tickets. And yes, I was the only crazy person up at that hour ensuring our spot at this event. Not a single ticket was sold after the ones I'd purchased, until closer to the 8/9 am hour. I think I really should get a prize or something for being the first to purchase tickets! LOL!

Anyways, the event was amazing and we'll be going back next year!

This event happens to be at the same location as the drive through lights that we attend every year. The park isn't yet open to the public outside of a few special events, however. They do these events the week before and leading up to Thanksgiving.

S'mores and Lights was awesome!

1. Trolley Ride: They have wagons set up and we all get to go for a trolley ride through the lights. They provide blankets and music as we drive through all bundled up! My only complaint here was that we were facing backwards so it was hard to see. Next year, we plan to grab one of the wagons that has everyone sitting sideways instead.

2. Santa: Caroline didn't care to do this, but you can take your kids inside to meet Santa.

3. Hot Chocolate: Free hot chocolate was provided, and they even planned well and had cooler hot chocolates for the little kids.

4. Live Music: Inside with Santa and the hot chocolate, you could stay warm and listen to Christmas Carols sung by a live band.

5. S'MORES: This was the highlight of the event. You get to grab a bag with your personal s'more kit. They have fire pits burning and everything all set up. We got to roast our own s'mores out at the campfires. So much fun!

6. Donations: They also had a donation collection area for new books, toys etc. We took the opportunity to donate some new books.

This event was so much fun! We got there right as the event opened. This paid off big time because there were no lines for the trolleys, or the fires. It worked out perfectly. Caroline loved the lights and, eventually, she was brave enough to roast a marshmallow on her own. She hated how sticky the marshmallow was, so she settled on just eating chunks of chocolate, while Daddy and I devoured the s'mores!

This is an event that we'll be doing again. We all loved it, and it definitely got us in the holiday spirit!

Our almost 3 year old has fine, straight hair. Somehow it still gets super knotted at times. Knots have become a source for her toddler fits, and can easily bring on quite the storm of emotions. No matter how careful and gentle I am, knots are knots- and at the end of the day, they hurt to get out.

Anything I can do to help ease the pain and discomfort for Caroline is a win. I want her to enjoy getting her hair done. And at a minimum, I want her to let me get it done tear free. Over the last 3 years I've learned some tips and tricks along the way...

1. Invest in a "wet brush"

These brushes are amazing. They are designed to use on wet hair, but can obviously be used on wet or dry hair. They work wonderfully to get knots out. I preferred using it on dry hair until I found the right products to go with it on wet hair (see detangler below). These brushes are nice and gentle, and really get the job done well.

2. Brush multiple times a day

I brush Caroline's hair every morning and every evening. It helps to keep up with the knots so we don't have one massive job every morning. If she lets me, I even brush her hair before or after her nap. Small knots throughout the day are easy to tackle.

3. Use a detangler spray

We love this kids detangler spray from Suave. It smells so nice, and it really has helped a lot to reduce knots and help make them easier to get out. I use this on both dry and wet hair, but I've found it works the best on wet hair. This combined with the wet brush, is a perfect combination. Knots are very easy to get out now!

4. Keep hair up in a ponytail or braid

When I keep Caroline's hair up in a ponytail or braid during the day, there are fewer knots. It keeps her hair from getting tangled. The same applies to nighttime. A braid, or a nice high ponytail on the top of her head (so she's not laying on it and uncomfortable) works great. She rarely wants me to put it up at night, but when she does, I take full advantage! 

5. Use conditioner

We haven't made this switch yet, but instead of using a shampoo/conditioner combo in the bath/shower, it is best to start using an actual conditioner. As soon as we run out of our current supply, we'll be switching to a separate shampoo and conditioner. The conditioner just works much better and has a chance to really do it's job. A nice trick I use with my own hair, is to put the conditioner in, and as I am rinsing my hair out, I use a comb to get any knots out. It makes my hair nice and slippery, so the knots also slip right out. 

Yes, we still have knots- there's no way to get rid of them completely. But these practices and products make a world of difference! We have had drastically reduced tears and fits over knots as a result. 

Halloween was an absolute blast this year! Caroline had her costume picked out a few months in advance, and she never waivered in her decision. It was super impressive to me that she held strong on her choice.

She decided to be a purple crayon.

She came to this decision pretty quickly. I'd asked her what she wanted to dress up as, and Caroline said "I don't know. What can I be?" So I gave her some ideas. I told her she could be anything. I started listing some ideas. I gave her character ideas, food ideas, objects of all sorts- to stress the ANYTHING part! Anything you can come up with we can create.

She heard me say crayon at one point, and she stuck firm to that idea. I asked her what color she wanted to be, and without hesitation she said purple. So a purple crayon it was!

I was thrilled, since this is a pretty easy costume to come up with. My original plan was to print the crayon logo on transfer paper and iron it onto a purple shirt. Turns out it was just as cost effective to purchase a purple crayon shirt- so I saved myself some time! I then found purple pants and decided to also get a long sleeve purple shirt in case it was a cool night. I then bought a purple party hat and called it done!

We also carved a pumpkin this year. Last year we just let her paint a pumpkin, but this year I wanted to show her what a carved pumpkin looked like. I tried my hand at it for the first time in AGES. I think it came out pretty good. She also got to paint a pumpkin, and really enjoyed doing both.

Caroline wore her costume for the first time on Halloween day. I didn't want the thrill of her costume to be lost by her having worn it previously, so we saved it for the day of. She was beyond thrilled. We even made purple pancakes for breakfast. She got to wear it to school that day for their Halloween party, so she was all ready to go when it came to be trick or treating time.

Last year we did just a handful of houses. This year, Caroline did two subdivisions. It was probably a good 25 houses, many with pretty decent sized staircases leading up to the front door. She wasn't tired in the slightest, and wanted to keep going. She did amazing.

She requested that one of us come up to the door with her for every house, and she also refused to say trick or treat. She got it in her head that she was nervous about it, and there was no getting her to say it. Luckily, she was very polite in other ways, and said thank you or "thanks" to every person. As she walked away from each house she'd say "I got what I needed!" SO funny!

She came home with a bucket FULL of candy!

We've started a bit of a tradition on Halloween, where we sit outside and hand out candy after we are done taking Caroline around for her trick or treating experience. We head out early so we are back in time for the big kids to come to our house. We started this for two reasons:

1. Our dog is much less stressed when there aren't a million knocks and rings at the door. Not to mention he's hard to control, so we'd have to lock him upstairs or outside to prevent him bothering the trick or treaters.

2. We just don't get many trick or treaters. Sitting outside gets more kids coming to our house because they see us out there.

It has turned into a really great time. Caroline gets to unwind a bit, and it makes for good family time out on the front porch. This year, Caroline did such a great job handing out candy.

She went to bed pretty close to on time (after having a few pieces of candy). She did however, wake up a few hours later in a night terror. We thought she was awake, but she clearly was out of it once we were in the room. She was aware of what had happened afterwards, but in the midst of things she was afraid of us. She told me at one point that I wasn't Mama.

Once she snapped out if it, she was fine. She must have been scared by something she encountered last night, though. Poor thing. She was easily calmed down and went back to sleep. We haven't had any issues since, so it seems to have been a one night thing.

We had such a great Halloween. Caroline turns 3 this month. She is at that age where she's really enjoying holidays and events more than she ever has. It's so much fun to experience!

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At the beginning of November, I received a monthly newsletter from British Swim School. I opened it, and expected the usual updates regarding the program. To my surprise, however, I found something entirely different in this email. British Swim School had announced that they were teaming up with an organization called Comfort Cases. I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved.

I had not heard of Comfort Cases prior to this email from British Swim School and, as I read about the organization, I knew it was special and something that I needed to take part in. 

Comfort Cases is an organization that provides overnight bags to children entering the foster care system. These new bags (typically backpacks) are filled with useful and comforting items such as toiletries, blankets, pajamas, books, stuffed animals and more. 

"We pack and distribute overnight bags filled with essential and comfort items to meet the basic needs of these children and to bring some happiness into their lives.  Every child deserves the dignity of having something of their very own and knowing that their community cares about them.  Our charity provides a way for communities to come together and support the most vulnerable among them."

Their cause is incredible. Comfort Cases may be local to Rockville, MD, but they have shipped 27,000 cases to 27 states! They were founded in 2013. That's a ton of work that has happened in the last 4 years, and it really is amazing. 

Here locally, they are reaching so many. Police officers now carry bags in their vehicles to be ready at a moments notice. They are trying to make their way into the school system so that counselors have bags in their offices. They are making it possible for our community to help children in our area instantly.

Their story is touching. 

"Founder Rob Scheer remembers the day his oldest children arrived on his doorstep with everything they owned in the world packed in tattered trash bags.  It immediately brought back such painful memories for Scheer of carrying his own trash bag from place to place in the foster care system. How could it be that over 30 years later we still had not gotten it right?  How were we still asking children to pack up their life in a trash bag?  Where is the dignity in that for a child who is scared and vulnerable?"

And so, operation No More Trash Bags was started...

As soon as I got the email from British Swim School stating that they would be partnering with Comfort Cases this fall, I knew I had to take part in this. There are so many ways to take part, so I am hoping you will find a way as well.

Ways to Volunteer and Donate:

Donate Items through British Swim School: British Swim School is collecting donations through the month of November. You can simply bring your items to swim class and hand them over to the deck ambassador! If you are local, but don't attend BSS and want to participate, please feel free to drop any donations at their office at 841-F Quince Orchard Blvd., Gaithersburg. Donations will be accepted Monday - Friday from 9am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am - 1pm! For any donations, please check the Comfort Cases supplies page here. 

Donate Items through Comfort Cases Directly: Comfort Cases have very specific and deliberate items that are placed in them. For any donations, please check their supplies page here. At the moment they have a very specific need for baby and toddler toiletries, as well as pajamas (size tween, teen and adult).

Monetary Donation: If you aren't local, or just maybe don't have the time to shop and drop off items, you can always make a monetary donation. Please see this page for all monetary donations.

Volunteer Your Time: If you can spare some time, this is an amazing experience! At this page, you can find their volunteer calendar. You guys, they are SUPER organized. You can find a time slot to fit your needs, and volunteering in person is such a great experience.

Yesterday, I joined British Swim School employees while they were volunteering their time at Comfort Cases. I was so honored to be able to join them for this opportunity, and I plan to go back.

We were shown how to pack bags, and then our task was to check bags that had been put together and donated to Comfort Cases. We made sure the bags were packed correctly, had everything they needed, and that the supplies were new and good quality. They take the time to make sure that things are age appropriate (based on the size of the pajamas included), and gender appropriate.

The best part, was that Caroline could help! Volunteer opportunities for children are SO hard to find- especially when it's a toddler you are trying to bring. This place is SUPER kid friendly. Caroline was helping to pack bags and check everything. We spent 2 hours there, and it was such a rewarding and wonderful experience.

As we packed bags, my mind was focused on the children that would be receiving them. Caroline had a lot of questions, and I tried my best to answer why it was that some children might need a new home and a bag full of essential items. I held back tears as we packed bags for babies and toddlers. I found myself wishing we had a larger home that could accommodate more children, because our door would be open.

I am so thankful to have partnered with such a great company like British Swim School. My involvement with British Swim School provided a valuable connection and introduced me to Comfort Cases- I plan on helping and volunteering with Comfort Cases a lot in our future. I am beyond thrilled to be able to expose my daughter to volunteer opportunities like this. The fact that she can come and volunteer with me is a priceless experience that will be so beneficial to her and the children we help.  

Other Posts of Interest:

This post was originally published at Let's Be Brave, on September 14, 2017.

As a bereaved parent that's gone through losing a child to a terminal condition at birth, I feel that I now have a duty and responsibility to help others going through a situation like this. If you are a friend or family member of someone currently going through this, it is difficult to know what to say or do in order to be helpful. Most people haven't been through anything like this, so it is normal to feel a bit lost when it comes down to helping your loved one. I've put together a list of things that I found very helpful through this process, in the hopes that it can help others be better prepared to navigate these difficult times with a loved one.

First of all, let me express my condolences. This is the most heartbreaking thing I've ever been through, and it pains me to think of anyone else having to experience such a loss. A loss like this is devastating for everyone involved, and it is so important to provide a support system for anyone in your life that is experiencing such heartache. The fact that you are reading this already makes you an amazing friend. So, know that you are already doing more than most, and your friend is so lucky to have you in their life!

Helpful things to say and do during the pregnancy:

Caroline loves learning and she has a strong desire to learn how to read. She turns 3 later this month, and I was looking for another educational tool/game to add to her collection. I immediately thought of the leapfrog systems, but I will admit- I was hesitant to purchase at first.

I was hesitant because, while 10 years ago, these systems would have been amazingly useful, I was wondering their purpose now. I was wondering if they truly would add value to my child's learning, when we have so much technology at our hands now.

When the leapfrog systems came out, toddlers didn't have tablets to play on like they do today. And let's face it, there's nothing we can't find in an app at the istore, right? Think it up, wish it and someone else has too. There's an app for everything.

We have several great learning to read apps. Our favorite is called Endless Reader. It teaches letter sounds, and introduces word and sentence structure in such a fun way. We love it, and all of the other apps that we have... but I was still looking for more.

That's where leapfrog comes in...

It's Babywise Friendly Blog Network week! We are all writing on the topic of "fears". See below for the full schedule of topics and links from all of these wonderful ladies!

Today, Emily over at The Journey of Parenthood is talking about preventing childhood fears. She has 7 amazing ideas, including- no night lights! Yes you read that right. No night lights to prevent a fear of the dark...