Friday, December 25, 2015


Three months ago I sat in the grass at a gravesite we had purchased for our four year old.  I cradled her in my arms, knowing she would die within days.  At the time I thought nothing could be worse.  
But I was so wrong.  I would give anything to hold my sweet Aria again.  I would feel all those feels again to touch her again for just one second.

Today is Christmas.  I cried most of the morning and then slept most of the afternoon.  I was so absent.  I wasn't the Christmas mom I used to be.  I stopped being me when Aria died.

I waited until after dark and made my way to the cemetery like I do most days.  I  laid the blanket down that I keep in the back of my SUV for these visits and I tried to get my body as close to hers as possible.  I sobbed.  I told her about our day.  I told her that I needed her there with me.  That I miss her.  I could lay there with her forever just to feel close to her again.

I guess I didn't realize that what I was going through in the pictures above was a blessing.  I was holding my perfect child during her last days on earth.  I was holding my child.

It was horrible.  And I would give anything for the opportunity to do it all over again.

Monday, October 5, 2015

As it turns out...

the whirring of the pump.  The sound of the alarms.  The fussing.  The gagging.

Those aren't the things that kept me awake at night.

Those are exactly what I needed to get some rest.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Aria's Obituary

I know the very sad news of Aria's passing has been shared on a couple of other blogs so I thought I would address it here as well.  I will write more about the specifics in the coming weeks when I am emotionally prepared. 

We've only had time to grieve as a family since Tuesday (4 days ago) as we had visitors in town to help us plan an amazing celebration of Aria's life during her nine days on hospice and in the nine days following her passing.  So, for us, it seems we've only been adjusting to our new life for four very emotional days.  I can't even begin to put into words what I am experiencing.

But I can share this obituary.

Thank you for loving Aria. 

Aria was born into this world on January 12, 2011. There was considerable doubt whether she would survive, with anomalies in virtually every organ system. 

With the ferocious love of her parents, Kevin and Rachael and her older sister, Daisy, and the help of a team of heroes including several outstanding doctors and her intervener Paulette, she thrived, and outperformed every expectation anyone ever had for her. She was an inspiration to many and brought joy to everyone she met.

Although living with multiple severe disabilities including deafblindness, Aria experienced the world vibrantly. She rode horses. She loved the school bus and Miss Nikki's class at the Elementary School. She zipped around the house in her gait trainer (not minding crashing into the walls). She was enthralled by bright lights, and especially by fireworks. Like most little girls, she was fascinated with the princesses at Disney World. She was enraptured by the sound of her mother's beautiful singing voice, and loved bouncing along to her daddy's 80's hair band rock and roll music. Her smile was like none other in the world, and she showed it often and enthusiastically.

Tragically, Fanconi Anemia has no cure. Aria was always living on borrowed time. On September 6, Aria was admitted to the Children's Hospital in severe bone marrow failure, with an internal bleed that no amount of transfusions could stem. She was discharged into hospice care on September 11, and spent the rest of her life pain-free and comfortably at peace, surrounded by her family's love. On September 20, 2015, she passed away while holding her daddy's hand.

We are thankful to have been entrusted with the care of a little girl who showed us the very best in so many people. The amount of support shown by friends and family during this difficult time has been tremendous. This experience has reminded us of the most important truth there is: To love another person is to see the face of God.

Visitation is from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Septmeber 26, 2015 at Elm Ridge Funeral Home at 4600 W. Kilgore Ave in Muncie with a joyous music-filled service to follow at 5:00 p.m. 

Please wear bright colors, Aria loved color. Be the Match will be available after 4:00 p.m. to register bone marrow donors in Aria's memory (it's a simple cheek swab). An awesome outdoor dinner and party will take place at the Gatzlaff house immediately following the service. All those who have been touched by Aria's life are welcome!

In lieu of flowers, the family requests support for a fund that has been established to support causes that have affected Aria and her family in her four short years. Please visit for details. Direct donations can be accepted at the visitation or at the ceremony. Thank you to all who loved Aria. We are forever grateful.

Thank you to Amanda Kishel of Kishel Photography for coming and taking these amazing images on Aria's first day of hospice.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


It's difficult to help people to understand where we are with the progression of Aria's Fanconi Anemia because it's difficult for us to actually wrap our heads around. 

We have numbers.  Lots of numbers.  I recently printed Aria's CBCs from the last year and laid them all out next to each other. A word to the wise: if your kid is living with progressive bone marrow failure, you don't want to do that. 

Bone Marrow Failure is described in severity as mild, moderate, or severe.  At this point Aria has anemia, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia in addition to a number of other hematological things going on (poorly oxygenated blood/high MCH, low hematocrit, low WBCs and RBCs, low hemoglobin, etc).  Without talking about Aria's specific numbers, at this point we can say that she is in severe failure in the top two categories shown below and moderate to severe in the last.

 So, what does this tell us?  Not much really.  We can look at past rates of decline and draw conclusions or timelines from that but that is both depressing and inaccurate. The fact that we had a child in mild failure nine months ago and have fewer points to go to zero than we've lost in that time-frame tells us nothing.  These declines aren't always linear. 

We can talk about our options and how we will handle things when the time comes but we don't really have any idea what those answers will be until we are there, actually forced to make the hard decisions.  Will we do androgen therapy?  No. Will we move to transfusion dependency?  We don't know.  We do know that the complications of long-term transfusion dependency aren't always pretty and its likely that at some point an allergic reaction to transfusion will occur and we will be left with no options. I don't know what iron overload looks like.  I don't know what a reaction to transfusion looks like.  I don't know what choosing not to transfuse looks like.  We don't even know what the quality-of-life we may or may not try to prolong with transfusion will look like at that point.  I don't know what will be the best option for our child at that point and I'm not interested in investigating what the experience of prolonging life with transfusions vs not would be for our child. 

Not today.  It's not time for that today.

Some might wonder why we aren't desperately searching for a bone marrow match for Aria.  That's another discussion for another day but just know a few things about Fanconi Anemia and bone marrow transplantation. 
  1. Not every child with Fanconi Anemia is a bone marrow transplant candidate.  
  2. Bone marrow transplant requires other organs to be healthy.  
  3. Bone marrow transplant is not a life-saving treatment for Fanconi Anemia. It is life prolonging.  There is no treatment for Fanconi Anemia. 
  4. A risky bone marrow transplant would help with hematological issues but will not fix the problems present in nearly every other system of Aria's body.  Nothing that Aria has been through in her four years on this earth is directly related to her hematological issues, including the 20 surgeries she has had and years spent inpatient. These issues would continue on and would continue to get worse post-transplant.  
  5. Bone marrow transplantation is a grueling process through which communication with the recipient is extraordinarily important.  
  6. People who survive transplantation are still at extremely high risk for multiple forms of cancers, particularly in Aria's complementation group. These cancers require treatment, during which communication with the affected individual is extremely important. 
  7. Bone marrow transplantation is an excellent choice for many children living with Fanconi Anemia.  For our child, it simply is not. 
Speaking of hospitalizations and such (see number 4) - Between the cochlear activation and now Aria spent some time in the hospital with a gut infection.  We've been out for nine days but she still isn't up to full feeds.  This isn't typical but we are just rolling with it and doing as much as we can from home.  She has been receiving full strength formula continuously over the last two nights and I think we are finally at a place where we will slowly be able to increase her to full feedings.  That girl's gut just doesn't always work the way we'd like it to.  I sure do miss Daisy and Kevin when Aria and I are away in the hospital but I cherish all the hospital bed snuggling I get to do with my sweet Aria during those times as well.

Now that I've vaguely laid out all the information we have about Aria's current hematological status I'm sure you're all wondering what our families next move is. How will we deal with the uncertainty with which we are living?

That answer is simple. We've bought season passes to Disney World for all four of us and we are going to go as often as we can.  We are going to love our girls and create memories.

We really like Disney World!
We hope you do the same with your kids too. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Let's All Play Catch-Up!

Hello there, Interenet! 

I'm pretty sure I've lost all of my readers in the last seven months.  Some of you have found ways to get in contact with me to make sure everything was okay.  Thanks for checking in. 

I didn't stop blogging.  I just got overwhelmed with all the information I had coming in and didn't really know how to put it into words.

So, let skim over the things that don't really matter.  There were some hospitalizations.  We've actually only spent a little over a month in the hospital since July which is a huge change for us.  I think all of our time spent recently was due to infections.  One of them was really internal bleeding scary.  The others just required hospitalization because the only IV antibiotics they could use to treat the particular strains of bacteria infecting Aria were nephrotoxic so they needed to closely monitor her kidneys.

Speaking of kidneys, we kind of really need to do something about Aria's bladder and kidney issues.  We've been bucking a big open surgery to fix this problem for a few years.  The scales of weighing quality of life against medical intervention seem to have tipped in the favor of the surgery.  So, that's likely to happen soon.  I just need to pull the trigger.

Blood counts are not great but definitely could be worse.  Given Aria's current counts, Hem-Onc recently asked me what our plan would be when Aria gets to a point where she's transfusion-dependent.  We aren't far off from that and, if you had asked me what our course of action would be when it all seemed hypothetical, I would have had a definitive answer for you.  I just said we'd talk about what not intervening would look like when we got there.  He let me know that the decision he thinks we will make is a decision he thinks is the right one for Aria. 

There was another stroke.  We didn't even notice it.  It was probably a day where she was just screaming and screaming and seizing and seizing. An imaging study looking for something else picked it up after the fact.  My application for "Medically Fragile Parent of The Year" is in the mail.

The nerve in Aria's left eye degenerated.  So transplant on that eye, the eye that used to function the best based on ERG and VEP results, is off the table.

Daisy is kicking ass and taking names with all of her therapies.
So, lets talk about the things that I didn't say before July when I stopped writing.  This will be fun.

Aria's cornea transplant is covered by scar tissue.  She has about a 2mm hole left to see out of with one eye.  That hole is covered by some blood vessels and the treatment, an off label use of a chemo drug injected directly into the eyeball, can't be used because of her FA.  She still has a tiny bit of vision it that eye which is infinitely more than the amount of vision she had before the transplant.  I've been just kind of not talking about that for a year.  If she ever loses that entire transplant I'm going to be super pissed about the twelve pounds I gained during transplant follow-up that I can't seem to lose. Priorities.

Aria stopped hearing with her BAHA.  I mean, we were never sure if she heard with it or if she was just feeling the vibration since her hearing impairment was right at the limits of the BAHA's capabilities. When she first got her BAHA she was responding to sounds in the normal range in the sound booth but she could have been responding to the sensation.  We were happy with awareness of sound even if it was through vibrotactual input because we were trying to avoid putting her through a Cochlear implant surgery (that's the route ENT wanted us to go from the beginning).  Also, measuring behavioral responses in a sound booth with Aria is kind of a joke.  I made her wear it for like six months after she stopped responding to all sound just so I didn't have to talk about it with people while we explored our options.  She hasn't responded to sound in well over a year and I'm not so sure that she ever got anything more than vibrotactual stimulation from that hearing aid.  It was fun to bedazzle the headbands while it lasted though.

We eventually went for a cochlear evaluation, another ABR, and MRI and found that her hearing had declined way past the limits of the BAHA.  They got no brain stem response on the left and responses on the right in the profound range.

Of course, Aria's health is not the same as it was when a cochlear was initially suggested as the best option so I found myself fighting to improve her quality of life once again.  All of the surgeon's concerns were valid but the risks he was considering did not outweigh the possible quality of life benefits to Aria given the fact that her cornea transplant isn't doing great and transplanting the left eye is no longer an option.

He initially proposed implanting on the left side, away from her VP shunt that tends to have a lot of problems, hoping that it would work even though there had been no brain stem response from the ABR.  We simply were not going to do that.  We would have done bilateral but we were not going to put her through a surgery that looked like it probably wouldn't work.  It took coordinating conversations between multiple specialists across multiple hospital systems but, in the end, her physicians agreed that the possible benefits for Aria outweighed the risks.  She was cleared for a Cochlear implant.

So, in the end of January, Aria had a Cochlear implant.  Aria normally spends most of the winter inpatient because fighting off seasonal viruses is just not something she excels at.  I was so committed to getting this implant done that Aria didn't leave the house for over a month unless she was going to her Intervener's pre-sanitized house.  All therapies were cancelled and she did not attend school.  I did not want to risk her getting a virus and getting the surgery, a procedure that schedules many months in the future, cancelled. 

Confession time:  The afternoon before her procedure we busted out of the house to go to Disney on Ice and brought Aria with us.  I figured, if she caught a virus that day, she wouldn't be showing symptoms by the time of the procedure.  This is where I need you to stop judging me because she didn't even get sick from going to hang out in that cesspool of kids.  Besides, look at these pictures:
Mommy and her girls
Daddy and his sweet Aria
The day of the procedure went well.  Aria has a habit of completely freaking out in hospitals so the anesthesiologist gave her some pre-op versed at my request which allowed me to snuggle my girl for awhile before the procedure and for her to fall asleep without screaming and fighting. Plus I got some good Aria on versed photos:
This is so much better than screaming and crying
Nice relaxing snuggles before surgery
Aria's surgery went very well but wasn't typical because of her very small oddly shaped skull and the presence of a VP shunt where they would typically implant the device.  I was told that most Cochlear implants take about 2.5 hours.  Hers took 7.  The cochlear system she received has 16 electrodes that get implanted.  At the time of the surgery 13 of the 16 electrodes yielded a brain response.  They only need 6-8 functioning electrodes for the device to work.

Aria has been working hard on healing since the procedure.  Often the device is activated about two weeks after the procedure.  We are waiting about three times as long. 
Aria stayed in the hospital for one night after the procedure.
The procedure was a little rougher on her than anticipated.  I also did not expect her to experience as much post-op pain as she did.  I spent a couple of nights in her bedroom crying as I failed to manage her pain, just hoping this procedure would be sucessful and that she wasn't going through this for nothing.  She actually became so bruised and swollen that a small procedure under general in PA to inject some steroids into her eyeball to stop the growth of scar tissue was called off.  
You should see the other kid.
She did end up getting her eye procedure done fairly recently.
Snuggling Aria-on-versed all the way to the OR in the sassy and flattering little outfit.
I guess you might be wondering why I haven't discussed the Cochlear implant much.

Before the procedure whenever I would share with people that Aria was getting a Cochlear implant, the overwhelming response was "I love watching those videos of kids hearing with Cochlear implants for the first time!"  or "Did you see that video of that kid hearing his Mom's voice for the first time?"

Basically I was afraid that people would start flooding me with these videos or stories of people they know who communicate very well as a result of their cochlear implant.

You guys.  That's not going to happen.

Not only is that not going to happen but that has never even been our goal.  For anything.  Our goal is to give Aria more access to information about the world around her.  We know that her brain stem has responded to auditory input but that says nothing for how Aria will process that sound, whether she will find meaning in those sounds, and if those sounds will translate into speach for her.  We aren't pulling any of those possibilities off the table but they are not our expectation.  Not even close.

Every family has to go through this cochlear implant evaluation checklist.  It took me about nine months to complete everything.  Once Aria was officially a candidate based on imaging studies and ABR results we had to go through the last step of the pre-cochlear checklist.  It was a psychological evaluation for the family.  We had to go into a psych ward with our kids so that we could be evaluated to make sure we had appropriate expectations and that we had a thorough understanding of and willingness to followthrough with the shockingly small number of post-implant appointments.  The psychiatrist was nice enough but I wanted to throat punch her the entire time.  I had a feeling that a throat punch would automatically get my kid disqualified so I didn't dole any out.  The idea of sitting in front of someone who has never even met your child before while they try to explain your own child's limitations to you and then evaluate how well you take it, as if any of these limitations were news to you, is laughable.  It was a waste of time and money but a necessary evil, I guess. 

Frankly I was afraid that allowing the peanut gallery to weigh in on Aria's Cochlear implant with their unrealistically high expectations for results or - worse yet - warnings that activating a Cochlear for the first time often is not a good experience for children would make me want to throat punch you too.  And we are all friends here.  I don't want to throat punch my friends. 

My expectation is that Aria will become aware of sound once again like she was when she initially got her BAHA.  My hope is that she will startle less when people approach her.  My dream is that she will one day hear me tell her that I love her and that those doting sounds will provide her a better understanding that she is loved beyond words.

Our expectations are simple and I feared that allowing others into the process would make it more difficult than it already has been. 

Aria's device gets activated in two days.  Here's hoping our expectations are met.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014


It's kind of crazy to think how far we've come on our journey with Aria. When I think of all the things we were told she wouldn't ever do and then look at where she is today I'm in awe.

We were told she was deaf and nothing could be done about I took her to a few different places and now she hears (well...she heard.  That's a different post for a different day). We were told she was completely blind and nothing could be done about I proved she had at least light perception in one eye and, after being completely blown off by an entire team of doctors, took her somewhere else and now she sees some out of one eye.  We were told she likely didn't have enough brain matter to even breath independently once she entered the we gave her a chance and she breathed without extraordinary support. We were told she would spend her life in an infantile I ignored the haters and now she scoots across the floor, cruises aimlessly in a gait trainer, sits on occasion, and purposefully plays with toys. Most importantly, she smiles and laughs.  She's still severely disabled and it's hard to watch my friend's nine-month-olds fly right past her developmentally but Aria is making progress.

There was one thing we were always told Aria would be able to do but, after years, it was getting hard to believe.  We were told that, if she proved to have the capacity to use her arms, she would be able to have them operated on to make them more functional.  We were told that this surgery is generally done around 18 months of age.

Around the age of one year it became apparent that Aria did have the cognitive capacity to use her arms.  I made an appointment to see an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in radial club hand for when Aria would be 18 months old. It was at that appointment we discussed a plan for Aria's arms.  Part of that plan involves moving one of her four fingers on each hand over, rearranging some muscles and tendons and creating a thumb.  I was told, in order for the new thumb to remain alive, Aria needed to be THE SIZE of an 18 month old...otherwise her capillaries wouldn't be able to support the newly placed appendage.  We were sent home and told to come back when she was the size of an 18 month old.

Well, shit. Aria is good at many things.  Growing is not one of them.
Princess Aria holding a silver rattle during her One Year Old photo shoot.
When Aria finally got to be a little under 20 pounds at around two and a half years I hopefully took her back to the surgeon.  She weighed about as much as Daisy did at 18 months and was about 24 inches long.  She was starting to scoot around the house and I knew the only way she'd ever be able to get into a true crawling position would be for her to push up on her hands rather than her elbow or twisted ulna.  She was also doing some independent sitting but we struggled to help her find a way to transition from laying to sitting with such short arms.  Try to imagine a t-rex transitioning from laying to sitting. Just another thing, like making a bed or push-ups, t-rex can't do.  The surgeon informed me that Aria still was not quite big enough to undergo the life-enhancing surgery and said I should come back in about six months.

 I came back about five months later. In the interim, I had made it my mission to grow Aria into a child large enough to make her arms straighter and her hands capable or grasping an object.  Aria had gotten up to about 22 pounds and was about 26 inches long.  In my mind she was a short and stout 18 month-old-sized almost three year old. In the mind of the surgeon she was still too small.

He said he'd like to see her be around 30 pounds to do the surgery.

You guys. Daisy is almost five years old and doesn't weigh 30 pounds.  I don't know what 18 month olds he's been looking at but they certainly aren't the ones coming from mine and Kevin's gene pool.  At this point Aria was wearing 3T shirts and too-long-for-her 24mo pants.

So I really started pushing feeds.  I was aggressive in increasing continuous enteral feeds over night in order to get Aria to gain weight.  She's so sedated from all of her medications over night that we are able to increase feeds without much trouble.  We haven't been able to increase the size or frequency of daytime feeds since Aria left the NICU. She freaks during daytime feeds. She hates it and I hate it for her. 

In trying to grow my child to the size of an 18 month old as defined by the hand and arm surgeon I succeeded in growing a 26 inch tall three-and-a-half year old who weighed 27 pounds.  She was obese.  The same people who had labeled my child as "failure to thrive" earlier in her life were now trying to put her on a diet.  The know-it-all in me felt validated.  Before I went elsewhere and got Aria her Fanconi Anemia diagnosis I was constantly at odds with the physicians managing Aria's feeds.  The doctors told me the reason Aria wasn't growing was because I didn't feed her enough.  My assertion was that there was obviously an overlying cause for all of Aria's problems and perhaps the reason she wasn't growing and wasn't able to tolerate increased bolus feeds was because her unknown overlying condition makes her unable to grow and that shoving more food into her distended belly wouldn't make her bigger.

Case and point: I was able to max-out the calories on her renal formula and increase feeds while she's shnockered overnight but it just made her fat...She had gained 25 pounds since birth and 13 inches.  That's one messed up height to weight ratio. 

Once they started pushing to put Aria on a diet, I told the renal and complex care teams managing Aria's feeds that I was not willing to put her on a diet until the orthopaedic agreed she was big enough for this quality-of-life surgery.  Aria's neurodevelopmental pediatrician went to bat for Aria, calling the orthopaedic and explaining that developmentally now is a perfect time to give Aria more functional hands and arms and that, given her diagnosis, it's possible that she might never be the size of the 18 month old he is picturing...and VOILA! Aria is suddenly the perfect size to have the surgery.  It's amazing how easy it is to get awesome things accomplished for a child when a physician rather than a parent is doing the advocating.

Aria is scheduled to have her first surgery on her dominant right arm on August 11th.  Pins will be placed in her wrist so her hand faces outward rather than turning in toward her forearm (this will give her a further reach) and one of her four fingers will be moved into a different position to become a thumb, allowing her to grasp objects for the first time in her life. She will be in a cast for three to four months and then the other arm will be operated on.  All of this will happen if Aria's platelets stay about 40.  They are currently resting slightly about that number.

These are the types of procedures we find to be most important for our child.  These are the procedures that will make her life better for however long she is on this earth.
We bought Aria the PERFECT shirt to wear on surgery day!
But then - strangely enough - there is something so sad about finally being to the point where Aria's arms can be fixed.  I remember learning of her limb deformity in utero.  It was one of the last things we learned of just a week or two before giving birth. I knew of all the organ defects but was hit hardest by the limb deformity.  For me, knowing that my child was different would be glaringly obvious to everyone who glaced our way, meant there would be no more anonymity for me. There would be no going to the grocery store with my special needs child without anyone noticing that my child differed from the was going to be SO obvious that my child was different. My days of flying under the radar were through.  That was a hard thing with which to come to terms.

Aria's radial ray deformity on ultrasound.
And when she was born, Kevin and I were shocked to learn she only had four fingers on each hand. We had sat in a room with a high risk pregnancy doc counting all 10 fingers on ultrasound just weeks before.

The missing thumbs were just an extra shock...a bit hard to get used to.  It was the first thing I noticed the first time I was allowed to see my child.  I didn't see the tubes or the machines. I saw her twisted arms.  I saw simultaneous beauty and dysfunction in them.

Then to learn that she was deafblind on top of these limb deformities was nearly impossible to fathom. There are actual legitimate communication systems for individuals who are deafblind.  There is an entire language (TASL) used by the deafblind entire language that interpreters know and use to help give deafblind people access to the seeing and hearing world and the deafblind individual who I love was being excluded from using these tools because of her arm and hand deformities.  Every time I went to a conference or watched a video where I saw deafblind individuals communicating so well through the use of their normal hands it stung.  And, even now, knowing that Aria's hands and arms will be fixed I know that missing one finger is still going to pose a problem for communication in the mainstream deafblind community. Talk about a twisted fate.
In the early days of Aria's life, as we started working with her arms and she got her cute little braces that she would eventually outgrow requiring her to get bigger braces that were just a little less cute I began to fall in love with those twisted little arms.  They were just so uniquely Aria. 
Baby's first arm braces!
So, while her new arms won't look normal by any stretch of the imagination, they're going to look so different from what I've gotten used to.  They'll be more functional and Aria should be able to grasp and pick things up for the first time in her life.  I am hopeful that we will one day move past the use of object cues and into the world of TASL with the help of her fancy new hands.  This is going to be a life-changing couple of surgeries.
It's just that I never thought I might find myself mourning the loss of those beautifully twisted little arms I tried so hard to get rid of...

Sunday, June 29, 2014


I don't know what it is but I rarely see people with severely disabled kids out in public doing normal family stuff.  It's even rare that I see a child with autism out and about. The weird thing is that I know there are a lot of these kids in our small community. I know this because they and their families show up to all the special needs friendly events, therapies, and support groups.  I just never see them anywhere else.  It makes me wonder why...Do they just not leave the house?  Have I just never run into them?  I truly don't know why I never see these families out and about and I don't know if there is a tactful, non-judgmental way to ask. 

I know I'm different from your typical special needs parent in many ways.  The most striking difference between "the others" and me is that I refuse to see my children as precious little gifts. I stand by my previous statements that special needs children are probably one of the shittiest gifts a person could be given.  I don't care how much I've grown as a result of having my children.  I could care less that I've surprised myself with an ability to love in ways I never thought possible or my capacity to feel compassion to the point it actually hurts. My personal growth is not worth the suffering of another human being. Period.
Sorry, Folks.  If you're looking for a mom to tell you this is all sunshine and rainbows you can find her on just about any other disability blog.
One of the more subtle differences between "the others" and me is my refusal to live a life different  than what I had imagined for myself and my family before Kevin and I created a genetic shit storm and had children.  We still go on vacations.  We go to the park.  The kids ALWAYS come to the grocery store with me (even though that sometimes means putting Aria in the front of the cart, Daisy in the main part of the cart, and pulling a cart full of groceries behind me). I take both of the girls to church with me every week and I don't put Aria in the nursery during the first half of the service when the non-infants are supposed to stay in the sanctuary.  She sits on my lap and moans and groans loudly while Daisy sits next to me acting pretty dang autistic.  We go out to eat. A lot.  We go to museums and try to find ways for Aria to get as involved as any other kid.  I've been known to remove her pants and shoes and burry her in the paleontology pit just for the sensory experience.  I'll even pull a staff member aside and ask that they do a private meet-and-greet with the animals for Aria so that she can take her time getting comfortable enough to touch the chinchilla or bird instead of having to rush through the (probably very scary) process of having an animal thrust in her space during the scheduled animal encounters with all the other kids at the museum.  I even bring our own little baby bath and water warmed to Aria's preferred temperature to the club and set her up in her own little pool so that she can splish splash away while the other kids play in the traditional pools. Just in case it isn't abundantly clear, doing all of these things with my kids is a logistical nightmare.  But it's so worth it in the end.

Basically we're a giant spectacle everywhere we ago.  And, while the stares and whispers are super annoying, I just simply don't care.  I am not going to forego living a "normal" life just because I have two special needs kids; one of whom has some physical features that make the general public a little uncomfortable.  I refuse to hide. I refuse to stay home.
So, anyway....

We are really into picking our own produce.  It's a fun way to help Daisy understand where her food comes from and even leads to her trying new food on occasion which is awesome since she is horrified by the vast majority of food.

Yesterday we went to the Waffle House (side note: We LOVE Waffle House! Kevin and I got engaged at the Waffle House. I am not joking).  After finishing off our All Star Specials and making the staff uncomfortable with our children we went raspberry and blackberry picking. It was a gloomy day and was drizzling intermittently which meant we were the only family at the u-pick farm.

The last time we went raspberry picking at this particular farm Daisy was less than a year old and I was 4 months pregnant with Aria.  I was also wearing the same shirt I wore berry picking yesterday...perhaps I should update my wardrobe! Seriously, though.  Check out how cute Daisy was right here .  Now that Daisy is a little older Kevin got to show her how to find the berries ripe for picking and Daisy filled two containers with berries: one for her to eat at home, and one to bring to share with the other children receiving services at the ABA Clinic.  There is something so precious about watching your child ramble on about picking her "redberries" as she proudly eats them.

Aria also had the opportunity to touch the bushes and, using hand under hand, pick a few berries, put them in a basket, and use her hands to explore the texture of the berries in the basket sitting on her lap.
I kind of love these little girls
All-in-all it was a successful trip. When we were done with our little adventure, I loaded the girls into Kevin's car and, using an object cue card, let Aria know that we were heading for home.
We attach cards with objects on them to Aria's car seat.  The objects represent the places we most often visit.  Providing Aria with these cards allows her to anticipate where we are going to next.
Once home we loaded the kids up and walked a little bucket of berries over to some neighbors who had just moved into the neighborhood so that we could introduce ourselves and our beautiful children.  I think it's important to do things like that not just so they feel welcomed into our neighborhood but also so they know they don't have to be afraid of or uncomfortable around our family.

Then Aria spent the rest of the evening doing one of her favorite things: proudly cruising around in her gait trainer. 
It's days like yesterday that validate my decision to live as public a life as possible with my spectacle of a family.  I just can't imagine all the joy we'd miss out on if I weren't willing to put in the extra effort to have these normal life experiences with my girls...even if it means we have to do things a little differently and with more difficulty than everyone else.