A Mid-Year Virtual Kindergarten Update

As the final hours of winter break tick by I find myself thrilled that school is starting tomorrow. Since Pete and I were both off from work last week we were all able to enjoy lazy mornings and extra family time but our household definitely benefits from the structure that work and school provides. Even Hannah seemed to miss school, asking me a couple days ago, in her sweetest negotiating voice, to do sight words and math. As if I would ever say no to that.

The last four months were a humbling and empowering experience. I cried out of frustration over Hannah’s unbelievable stubbornness. I cried happy tears at the look on her face when she succeeded. And we learned more than ever about Hannah’s educational strengths, weaknesses, and ability to learn. 

We always knew Home Hannah was quite different from School Hannah, like she turned off parts of her personality when she wasn’t home. Every report card, progress report, parent-teacher conference, and PPT had the same feedback. Academically Hannah kept up with her preschool peers; she was a delightful student but reserved, chose solo activities, and only spoke up when she was fully comfortable. Aside from the occasional email about an exceptionally good or bad day, that was the extent of our knowledge on School Hannah. Since Hannah never communicated anything about her days and I couldn’t be a consistent volunteer in the classroom it was difficult for me to have such a massive gap in her life. 

With Hannah engaging in remote learning we have the opportunity to witness a whole different version of our child. Now we know she learns sight words quickly because she’s a visual learner and has a great memory. We know she struggles with some math lessons because they’re too abstract unless she’s using manipulatives, but since she dislikes math in general she’ll likely try to toss everything on the floor anyway. We learned that shorter sessions are far better for Hannah’s attention span and that, depending on the look in her eyes, her quietness during a session is because she’s confused, tired, or flat-out refusing to work. We know Hannah behaves differently when she’s at her grandparents’ house than when she’s home with me and which activities are best suited for each location. 

Listening to Hannah interact with her teachers and service providers, seeing the unique relationships she has with each of them, even seeing how she gives them just as much stubbornness as she gives me, turns me into a real life heart-eye-emoji every time. Grandma and I are beyond thankful for the opportunity to work closely with Hannah’s team, to understand the fundamentals of teaching reading and writing, and to learn from them how to challenge Hannah in a supportive way. Virtual kindergarten certainly isn’t fun every day but the team’s collaborative approach has made it a lot easier than I expected. 

Even though Hannah was a quiet kid in class she really loved school and always knew the names of all her classmates within the first few days. My heart does hurt a bit during the virtual class meetings when all the other kids chat with each other and my kiddo is silent because she’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know most of the kids. But I know she’s watching them all, enjoying their company, and she’ll certainly remember their faces when she makes her glorious return to the classroom.

Pandemic Life with Hannah Banana

Five years ago I suddenly went from mother-to-be to special needs mom. There was no warning, no training. Now I’m six weeks into another role I didn’t sign up for – preschool teacher. Well, not just that. Add in special education, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Managing Hannah’s school work and keeping her fed, safe, and semi-entertained is a full-time job, on top of my actual full-time job. As independent as Hannah is, she’s still not capable of doing everything herself. That means maintaining a certain level of supervision all day and being ready at any moment to help her. I can tell you a 5 year old’s bladder certainly doesn’t care what’s a convenient time for me.

Every day is a seesaw, admittedly built by my own expectations, bouncing from totally killin’ it to barely hanging on. There’s no work-life balance. There’s no work-life integration. I can’t lean in or out. If I focus on work I feel like I’m failing Hannah; if I focus on Hannah I feel I’m failing my employer. While Hannah’s understanding and patience for the situation as increased significantly since March there are still meltdowns when she begs to outside in the middle of the day and I say no. Some days we survive on Goldfish and coffee. We don’t have a schedule, let alone a cutesy color-coded one, and screen time is out of control. The goal now is to simply not undo the phenomenal work Hannah’s team did since September.

This new life is just as hard on Hannah. No more school or daycare. No more gymnastics. No more spontaneous trips to Target. A big outing these days is driving down the street to see if the cows and horses are outside. Hannah misses her teachers, therapists, and classmates dearly. She scrolls through ClassDojo every day to look at pictures of her friends and re-watches videos of their classroom birthday celebrations. There’s a reason special needs parents fight for inclusion – our kids love to be with their peers and it’s where they thrive.

Now, I don’t want my complaints to overshadow how incredibly lucky our family has been. I truly do try to maintain a healthy level of positivity and gratitude in between the occasional secret sob-fest in the pantry or in the car. We have a house with multiple rooms to make messes in. We have a backyard in a safe, quiet neighborhood. We’re maintaining our incomes and I have the opportunity to work from home at times. Hannah’s grandparents are available the weeks I’m in the office, and to be honest, their homeschooling during a pandemic skills are impressive.

More importantly, we’re lucky to have this time together. Without extracurricular activities and meetings our evenings are more relaxed. The weekends no longer fly by from squeezing grocery shopping, errands, and chores into two days. We’re no longer rushing. Hannah can take her time working on skills like getting dressed, going potty, and brushing her teeth by herself. We hang out in our jammies reading dozens of books and then reading them again. We dance along to GoNoodle or the Trolls soundtrack, usually with Hannah directing me like a seasoned fitness instructor. There’s time for her to help me fix meals, empty the dishwasher, and load the washing machine. She asks a lot of questions, which means learning new words and new ASL signs. While I hope this is a once in a lifetime pandemic that means this time with Hannah is even more precious.

One day we’ll look back and, despite the tears shed and sleep lost, we’ll realize it wasn’t so bad. I look back at those first months with Hannah when I was scared to be a special needs mom, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fight for her or give her the life she deserved, terrified of her heart defect and impending surgery. In the moment it always seems impossible. But every day we wake up and do our best because that’s what parents do.

Yoga with Hannah Banana

At the end of 2017 I was searching for a mommy and me style yoga class but everything in our area was for pre-walkers or ages 4+. A few days later a post popped up on my Facebook feed for a two day children’s yoga & mindfulness yoga teacher training. What started as curiosity turned into six weekends of trainings, all thanks to Facebook stalking my Google searches. I learned more than I ever expected, met some amazing people, and was pushed outside of my comfort zone but the best part has been including Hannah in this journey.

Hannah’s first yoga festival in August 2018

I didn’t have a plan when I walked in to that first training in March, besides a vague idea of yoga playdates with Hannah’s preschool/daycare friends or within our Down syndrome community. I knew Hannah had been introduced to some sort of yoga or “movement” at school because she randomly popped into three-legged dog during a shopping trip; worst case I could learn some new activities to do with her at home. I never would have guessed that day one of training would spark an interest that would turn into an all-out wildfire in my soul by the end of day two.

The beauty of yoga is that it’s a ‘come as you are’ party – even more so when kids are involved. As a parent or caregiver, how often do you apologize that your children are cranky because you turned off the TV, they didn’t get the cup they wanted, or because they had to wear a shirt? It’s okay if your child shows up in a bad mood. It’s okay if your child is utterly overwhelmed by the new people and place. It’s okay if your child runs around in circles and laughs the whole time or chooses not to participate and watches for the entire class. It’s okay if your child performs every pose wonderfully or struggles with balance or coordination. It’s okay…as long as you show up. That’s really the only requirement for yoga.

My goal is to make it easy for parents and their children, of all ages and abilities, to show up. I strive to create an opportunity for children to participate in a physical activity, connect with their peers, stretch their imaginations, and build confidence. That’s far easier to do when there’s no pressure from coaches or teammates, no clock counting down, and no points awarded to those who have the most skill. There’s no competition, no judgement, no stress. And while I work on that creation I’m able to test it out with Hannah.

There are days when Hannah is pumped to see her yoga friends, showing off all the poses she knows before we leave the house, but is worn out and uninterested once we get to class. She’ll stare at me like a bored teenager and not participate until relaxation time, reminding me to be quiet. Then she sings our ‘welcome song’ the whole ride home, naming the other kids from class because she was present enough to know who else showed up.

Some days she’s so eager that she unpacks my bag as soon as we walk in, knowing what I will need for class and what the kiddos can play with before we start. She hands me the chime and bluetooth speaker before toddling off with a bag of scarves or felt squares. When other kids arrive Hannah shares the toys and props and laughs with them as they play.

Playing with scarves before class

But most days she lights up the room with a smile that shouts “Look – I can do it!” During a recent class I played a movement-based song that we’ve listened to at home and I thought Hannah’s eye were going to pop out of her head when she heard the first few notes. She led the class for those 3 minutes and I have never seen her more confident.

The teacher trainings have also helped me be a more patient and understanding mother, learning to respond instead of react. No matter what Hannah’s mood is, my job is to acknowledge how she’s feeling and support her. Using the tools I’ve learned I can practice my own self-regulation and teach Hannah in the process. When I catch her doing “deep breafs” I know we’re on the right track.

Showing off her tree pose. Look at that face!







Pre-K…that’s (almost) a wrap

Pete, Grandma, Grandpa, and I spent yesterday morning at Hannah’s school for the preschool end of year celebration. We finally got a glimpse of this secret life she’s been living since the end of February! 

The transition to preschool has been a challenge for me, and it has nothing to do with PPTs and IEPs. Daycare has been my safe place for Hannah. I know the teachers, the other children, and most of the parents. Birth to Three had appointments there and could reassure me that Hannah was happy and well-cared for.

Public school is a whole different ballgame. As a working mom I don’t have the opportunity to do drop-off and pickup. I’m not able to chit-chat with parents. I don’t get to see Hannah’s classmates say hello to her. Until yesterday I didn’t know a single child or parent and only knew the staff who attended the PPTs. I feel like an outsider to a big part of my child’s life.

Even though Hannah’s teacher and service providers have been great with communication, they can only speak to the moments they witness. The star of the show doesn’t provide much feedback. Every night at bedtime I ask Hannah about her day and the conversation is almost always the same:

Me: Did you have a good day today?

Hannah: YEAH!

Me: Who did you see at big girl school?

Hannah: [teacher’s name], [para’s name]

Me: Who else? What friends did you see?

Hannah: [preschool classmate], [unintelligible name], [daycare classmate]…A B C D E…

I’ve tried asking trick questions like “did you have art today or did you go to the moon?” The response is usually the same enthusiastic YEAH and occasionally blatant refusal to participate in my nosey-ness. It’s excruciating, as a parent, to have no idea if you’re child is enjoying school or not. To have no idea if she’s liked by her peers, if she’s excluded because she doesn’t talk to them, if she gets picked on. It’s excruciating to have little to no idea what your child, thought, or felt for half the day.

Everything is overwhelming

“Everything is overwhelming. Everything you’ve been through up to this point with Hannah has been overwhelming.”

My dad said that the other night as we discussed Hannah’s upcoming move to public preschool. I explained the transition meeting wasn’t bad. The team seemed impressed by Hannah, who was incredibly well-behaved. The Developmental Therapist from Birth 2 Three helped me and Pete communicate Hannah’s progress and needs. We agreed on a play-based evaluation in January. I was only slightly annoyed with two things said by the school’s team. Overall it was a good start; however, I left feeling emotionally drained.

Hannah started Birth 2 Three at six months old and we’ve been slowly working up to this handoff. Hannah seems too young and little to go to such a big school and take a bus to daycare in the afternoon. She’s never even been on a bus!

We have four more months to prepare her, and ourselves, to leave the safety and comfort of daycare. Four months to prepare for a 15 year relationship with the school district. It’s a little exciting and a lot of terrifying. My day dreams about Hannah’s future go from a beautiful, intelligent, prospering little girl to nightmares about fighting with the school for inclusion and services. The parent advocacy class I’m taking has me feeling prepared for the next era but also anticipating a fight.

I’ve always said my life as a special needs mom is not hard. It’s not sad. It can be lonely and frightening. And the very next day it can be empowering and magical. Overwhelming is the best word to describe it.


Hannah’s birth diagnosis was overwhelming.

The first three months of her life with a heart defect, the surgery, and recovery were overwhelming. 

The transition to daycare and building a relationship with the staff was overwhelming.  

The attempt to give your child a “normal” routine around doctors appointments and therapy sessions is overwhelming.

The transition to toddler life, verging on “threenager” life is overwhelming.

My Dad’s right. Life with Hannah Banana is overwhelming, and every time we come out stronger, smarter, and ready for the next challenge.



Second Christmas with Hannah

I often struggle to accurately express myself when it comes to Hannah. I find myself thinking/writing/saying “words can’t really express…” and I’m in the same predicament now.

Christmas with Hannah was nothing short of spectacular. On Christmas Eve I posted a picture  on Instagram with a comment that Christmas was going to be unbelievable. It truly was. I knew Hannah would have fun, and smile, and be her usual happy self. What I couldn’t have imagined was that she’d give each gift a moment of adoration, cherishing it with an enormous smile or a tight hug. I couldn’t have guessed that she’d party from 7 am until after 7 pm with only a 20 minute nap in between celebrations. And I totally underestimated how much fun it would be watching her experience Christmas.

As I settled in to bed Christmas night my mind was working furiously, cementing each moment of the day to memory…


Hannah vs. Santa

We’ve been fortunate to skip the mall Santa adventure for the second year. We will try it out at some point but for now I’m glad we can skip waiting in line for hours for overpriced pictures of Hannah crying on a stranger’s lap.

Last year Hannah met Santa at daycare but wanted nothing to do with him…or she didn’t want to be photographed in that outfit. Look at those cheeks though!


This year we bumped into Saint Nick at Cabelas and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for free pictures and no line to wait in. Everything was fine until he “booped” Hannah’s nose.

A couple weeks later Santa visited the kids at daycare. Hannah dressed the part this year and the staff snapped this great picture.


And finally, we saw him at a “Slices with Santa” fundraiser. Hannah was not interested in Santa, or pretty much anything, that night.


Our little Banana woke up with a bit of a fever and a crazy runny nose so she spent the daycare at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Hopefully the extra TLC will fight off those germs by the weekend!

My Second Mother’s Day

Holidays, whether legitimate or of the Hallmark variety, always make me reflect on the last few years and Mother’s Day is one that has changed tremendously. Mother’s Day 2014 was the day we originally planned to tell the future grandparents that we were expecting. Instead I spent the day in an emotional fog, haunted by our recent loss. On Mother’s Day 2015, my Dad watched Hannah while Pete and I went to a movie. I must have checked my phone a dozen times to make sure there were no missed calls from him. At that point Hannah’s health was started to deteriorate and I found it difficult to celebrate motherhood in a state of uncertainty.

Mother’s Day this year, my goodness, it was great. I eagerly went to yoga in the morning, leaving Hannah with Pete and his family, and arrived home to an empty house which allowed for an extra long shower. Then Hannah took a three hour nap so I could do laundry and dishes without feeling guilty that I wasn’t giving her my full attention. Pete gave me flowers. We spoiled our dinners with late afternoon milkshakes from McDonalds. Most importantly, Hannah was healthy.

I found myself wanting to celebrate Hannah and Gamy more than myself. After all, they’re the ones who made my lifelong dream of motherhood come true. Because of them I can ask “what’s in your mouth” and “what’s that smell” at least once a day. Because of them I laugh like I never have before. Because of them I love like I never knew I could. Because of them I can feel every muscle fiber in my heart straining to find a little more room for the smiles, the cuddles, and the look in their eyes that tell me they feel it too.

Our Baby is Almost 1

I’ve been thinking a lot lately thanks to Hannah’s rapidly approaching first birthday and the thinking is stirring up those crazy emotions from last year. It’s all stuff that I don’t want to talk about because when I talk about it I cry and I don’t want to shed any more tears for 2015.

This time last year we had no idea what was coming. While we were busy folding tiny clothes and anticipating more snow, Hannah was resting up to make her debut and change our lives forever. Some days it feels like the year flew by. I grasp on to the details of those first weeks with Hannah, trying to hold on to them like a kite being sucked into a tornado. I try to remember the faces she’d make when nursing, the warmth of her tiny hand on my chest when she napped in my arms, and the adorable sigh she’d make after sneezing. Other days the details are remarkably clear. I can still hear Hannah’s cries when we drove her home from the hospital and the sound of her heavy breathing during tummy time. I can see the look in her eyes the first time she made real eye contact with me.

I’ve been thinking about the day, shortly after the miscarriage, that I sat in my car sobbing and praying. I begged God for a healthy baby and in exchange I would gladly suffer through a miserable pregnancy. I would have gone through Hell for another chance to be a mom. I’ve been thinking about when people asked me if we wanted a boy or girl I’d say “It doesn’t matter as long as he or she is healthy.” Now I cringe at the term “healthy baby,” I know that real Hell is watching your child suffer, and I know better than to barter with God.

I’ve been thinking about Hannah’s perfect, beautiful birth. How “trying to push” turned into real pushing and twenty minutes later I had our daughter on my chest. And twenty minutes after that our world was shaken. I wish I could go back to that day with the knowledge and peace that I have now. I wish I could go back and enjoy every second, give my whole self to Hannah, instead of being scared. I wish I could relive those moments of doubt without wondering if she was or wasn’t doing something because of Down syndrome.

A year ago I never thought we’d end up here. I never thought having a child would change our lives quite like this. Hannah’s extra chromosome has added more to our lives. More doctors and appointments. More uncertainty and unfamiliarity. More awareness and compassion. More amazement and beauty. Hannah introduced us to a whole new life, a new community, and taught our family more than we ever anticipated learning in a year.

Hannah made me a mother that I did not expect to be. She made me tougher, yet more empathetic. She showed me that we can do hard things. I wish she knew what a strong girl she is and how amazing her little body is. I wish she knew how proud we are of her. I wish Hannah knew how extraordinary she is.