September 23, 2014

Spreading the #Choose Kind message

I spent years and years trying to figure out just exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I went to college, majored in Communications, got a job in Marketing after graduation and figured my "career" would be working in a job that I liked just fine but wasn't passionate about.

Then I became a mom and after many trials and tribulations, it all became clear. Through motherhood, I received the greatest gift of all: the answer to the "What do I want to be when I grow up" question.

A few Sundays ago, I stood before more than 100 people and shared my family's story for the first time in a crowd of that size. I put together a presentation that discussed Aiden's birth, the shock of learning he had Apert syndrome, everything he's been through including surgeries, challenges and teasing. Then I shared ways to address differences with our children -- based on situations I've encountered first-hand when out in public with Aiden.

At first, I was unsure that a group of my peers would find my story - and my advice - inspiring. But I trusted that what I had to say was valuable. That my family wasn't the only one who wanted to convey this very important message. That others might actually wish to tell people the same thing: talk to your kids about differences, encourage them to ask questions, set a good example for them...and just simply...to Choose Kind.


When all was said and done, I felt amazing. Person after person approached me afterwards letting me know how touched they were. They asked questions. They shared situations they've been in when they didn't know how to handle something their child had said about someone with a disability and thanked me, saying that now they knew what to do. I gave out my blog cards to some who wanted to share my contact info with this school or that group to have me come speak. To say that I left feeling extremely confident in my mission to educate others is an understatement. I can't wait to do more!

And do more I will...

In the next 2 months I have several different speaking engagements scheduled. Everything from addressing the topic of family centered care with a group of nursing students to talking with elementary-aged kids about the book Wonder and "Choosing Kind".

Perhaps the project I am most excited about is one that will be hitting the ground running starting today. This morning, I met with the principal and some staff members at my boys' school to discuss an idea I presented to develop a "Choose Kind" library. A dear friend of mine helped bring this project to life at her kids' school in Texas and I couldn't wait to share it with mine. As a member of the PTA, I shared the idea and in a few short weeks, not only has the school embraced it, but they have breathed life into it and jumped on board to make it a success on a level higher than I could have even imagined.

What is a "Choose Kind" library? Basically, it is a nook of the library that will house books with specific subject matter. Titles dealing with acceptance, differences, social challenges, etc. At my boys school, they've decided to hand this project over to a very special group of 5th graders. It will be their job to plan, organize fundraising for, and manage the creation of the "Choose Kind" library from start to finish. It has been designated as their annual "legacy gift" -- the item they leave behind for future students to enjoy. And what a legacy it will be!

I will be overseeing the project and helping them along the way and I cannot wait to see it come to life. It all starts to take shape in a few weeks when I present our story and talk about kindness at a school assembly with the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. Then the selected 5th grade students will kick off the project, sharing the library initiative with their peers for the first time. At the end of the year, we are planning a big celebration where we will invite students, their families and the community to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the completed "Choose Kind" library. It gives me chills just thinking about the potential impact this project can have at our school.

But it doesn't stop there! The school has decided to match every book donated to the library as part of this project and give them to an underprivileged school in our area in hopes that they too will start their own "Choose Kind" library. We have a huge opportunity here to touch the lives of students beyond just those at our own school. I mean, how amazing is that?!?!

I can't wait to share our progress along the way.

Stay tuned!

*If you are interested in hearing more about the Choose Kind initiative and would like to have me come present at your school or community group, I would love to hear from you! Please email me at tarynskees@gmail.com.






July 29, 2014

No More Accidental Sharpie Tattoos (thanks to Label Daddy)

I know it's still technically July, but somehow doesn't it already feel like school is going to start any day now? Not trying to rush summer - I'm truly going to miss the lazy mornings where there's no hustle and bustle to get out the door - BUT I'm a planner so my school prep is starting to gear up.

On my list of priorities is to get and STAY organized this school year. I made the cutest, most nutritious school lunches for the first couple weeks of school (well, the first couple weeks at their new school...before then I was pregnant and on bed-rest so I didn't do much). It kind of waned as the year progressed and our schedules got busier. I hope to avoid sliding into the routine of dumping money into their school lunch account for them to "just buy lunch today". Especially since I had to lecture Ethan several times on the number of "extras" (ie. ice cream) he would purchase in a single week.

Another way to get things organized is to ditch the permanent marker when it comes to labeling my kids' stuff. I've written "Skees" on many a backpack, sweatshirt and jacket. It looks awful and the marker bleeds through the fabric (once Aiden had his name semi-tattooed on his neck after I labeled his sweatshirt and he immediately put it on...oops).

That's why labels from Label Daddy will come in handy. These labels are super durable peel-and-stick washable labels -- they're washer/dryer safe, microwave safe, dishwasher safe and UV resistant! Label Daddy labels are also fun and attractive. You design your own labels and can pick from tons of colors, sizes and logos, including Disney and Marvel characters, MLB, NBA, and NHL team logos, other sport and fun logos, and more. The exclusive laminated coating gives labels an extra layer of protection and is a must for camp! These labels are made in the USA and shipped directly to you worldwide. 


Want some of your own? You're in luck! Check out this offer for More Skees Please readers:
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Save 20% on your entire Label Daddy order - this is the best discount available anywhere. Use code USFAMILY20 at checkout. http://www.usfamily20.labeldaddy.com

If you aren't sold just yet, give me a few weeks - when I get mine in I will share my thoughts in a review post.

*Disclosure: As a blogger offer through USFamilyGuide.com, Label Daddy will be providing me labels for the purpose of this review. As always, my opinions will be 100% honest. Stay tuned for the review!






July 27, 2014

I Better Brush Up on My Speaking Skills...

This fall I have been invited to speak to several different groups about Apert syndrome, Aiden's story and the importance of Choosing Kind. If you haven't seen already, my friend - and apertOWL partner - Kerry Lynch has been spreading the awareness throughout Chicago-area elementary schools by speaking to kids about her daughter Mary Cate who also has Apert syndrome like Aiden. Her story made the front page of the Sunday Chicago Tribune {see: Chicago family asks Chicago students to "Choose Kind"} and she was interviewed by the Australian Today Show!

Not only will I be addressing elementary students in grades K-8, I will also be sharing our story with students in the nursing and education programs at my alma mater, Bellarmine University, and with over 150 families in an adult formation group at my local parish. I am extremely excited about these opportunities.

For starters, being able to present to nursing students allows me to give them information about a rare craniofacial condition that many of them may never encounter throughout their entire nursing career (it only occurs approximately 1 out of 160,000 births). But if they should ever care for an individual with Apert syndrome, perhaps they will remember my presentation and recognize it right off the bat. With that being said, Apert syndrome is not the only rare condition they might come across, so hearing my perspective might be beneficial for them across the board.

Secondly, presenting to education students might spark ideas for them when they are one day in their own classrooms. With bullying so prevalent today, it will be a good reminder on the importance of "Choosing Kind" and how to foster an environment of acceptance among their students.

Next, I am really looking forward to engaging with the adult formation program at my church. Children have an innocent curiosity that can sometimes make for awkward situations. I've been asked by various adults how to go about handling these situations in an appropriate manner. They want to know what I would like to happen. I hope to provide insight into the kinds of things we have dealt with - both good and bad - so they can be more prepared if they or their child should want to know about another's disability in public.

Finally, I cannot wait to bring Aiden to schools and show them first hand that although he is "different", he is more like them than they think. He's just a normal kid with normal feelings. People with differences want to be accepted for who they are and NOT what they look like. Using the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio as a platform, I hope to convey the message: "When given the choice between being right or being kind, CHOOSE KIND!"

If you know a teacher/professor, church leader, group director, etc.
interested in having me come share our story, I'd love to chat with you!
I truly believe that education is key!

Email me at moreskeesplease [at] gmail [dot] com.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a Toastmasters class or two (my dad has been telling me to do this for YEARS) and hope that my passion for sharing about Aiden brings my nerves down a notch when I'm standing there, knees knocking, getting ready to present.






July 09, 2014

10 Things that Happened (or Didn't) When We Had the House to Ourselves

We were preparing to have out of town guests and from the looks of my house - occupied by my husband, myself and our 4 boys - it was a task even a cleaning service would turn down. Sensing the exasperation (and desperation) in my voice, my mom offered to take my kids for a few days. All four of them - ranging in age from 5 months (and not sleeping through the night) to 7 years. Now, I promise I love my children, but I am a woman who knows her limits. Let's just say I had them packed and loaded in the car before she could change her mind.

In order to ensure I got what I needed to get done accomplished (and didn't just sleep for 2.5 days straight), I made out a lengthy to-do list to keep me on track. On it were things like "clean the bathrooms" and "go to the grocery". You know, things that are pointless (bathroom cleaning) and anxiety inducing (grocery shopping) when you have 4 kids at home.

After meeting my mom for the drop off, I rolled up my sleeves and got right to work. Well...kind of ;) Here's how it went down:

  1. I thanked my mom for helping me out and just so she completely understood just how much I had to get done, I rambled off my list before leaving her with my munchkins. And then...I blared the radio and drove straight to TJMaxx. I mean one little shopping side-trip is bound to happen, might as well get it out of the way, right?
  2. When I walked in the door kidless, I may or may not have yelled "I'm FREE" at the top of my lungs. Because I could.
  3. I got to enjoy my morning french vanilla cafe in front of the television without having to first change a diaper, fix waffles and bacon or clean up a sippy cup that leaked on the floor (I mean do ANY of those darn things actually NOT leak like they promise on the package? LIES! All lies!) Never-mind that I watched an entire episode of Sheriff Callie's Wild West before realizing I could actually finish the 3 episodes of Real Housewives saved on my DVR.
  4. I could focus. Multi-tasking is SO much easier when the kids aren't around. Reading Facebook (without feeling guilty) AND cleaning the kitchen? Very possible when you aren't being pulled in 4 different directions by 4 tiny beings.
  5. The house got clean in half the time. This is because I didn't have a Hudson following behind me undoing any efforts I made at tidying up. Have you heard this saying before? ---> Cleaning the house when your kids are home is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. Yup. 
  6. The house stayed clean! I may or may not have taken pictures of every room, knowing that seeing it that clean again would be as likely as the next confirmed sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
  7. In my head, my 2 day mini-vacation included getting my work done quickly and then lounging around taking naps while eating the "good" snacks hidden for moments when my kids aren't around. But...that never happened. It turns out that even when you have 2.5 days without the kids, you still feel guilty taking time for yourself.
  8. We had grand plans to have TWO date nights in a row? What?!?! That's unheard of. What actually happened was that we had take-out both nights and were in our pajamas by 8pm. Staying in and enjoying our quiet house trumped going out for overpriced dinner and drinks.
  9. And if you think that an empty house meant retreating to the bedroom for some sexy time? Think again. The minute we got into bed the only thing we could think about was SLEEP. Sweet uninterrupted sleep...
  10. ...which I can assure you doesn't exist once you are a mom. Although my children were miles and miles away, a mom's ears are trained to perk up at the slightest sound. I must've woken up no less than 10 times thinking I heard one of their cries from the other room.  
When all was said and done I got the house as clean as it has ever been (and ever will be) - and even managed to squeeze in a few doctor's appointments. But as excited as I was to have the house to myself, even when given a reprieve, once you are a mom it just isn't the same.






June 24, 2014

Summer summer summertime

Hi all! I've got a chance to write an update as I have taken the initiative to hire a sitter for a few hours here and there throughout the summer. Cause let's face it...momma needs a break sometimes!

Everyone is doing well. The boys wrapped up the school year with so many new friends and lots of memories made. I'm extremely proud of them for transitioning so well considering all the changes they've had over the past year alone. Three houses (Texas, my parents in NKY and our new house), 2 schools, 3 different teachers (Ethan's teacher at his new school went on maternity leave just a couple weeks after he started there), a new baby...sheesh, that's enough to induce panic in the most stable adults, and yet my kids handled it all with ease.

Here's highlights from our summer so far:

END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR


  • The boys brought home a flyer for the school talent show in May and told me they wanted to perform. They threw out a couple of ideas based on their - you know - talents which included playing MineCraft (?), singing random MineCraft songs (?), and acting out MineCraft scenes (?)...I gently encouraged them to think outside the MineCraft box and they settled on singing "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story. I would say we spent hours and hours practicing but that would not be true. We rehearsed a few times on the way to and from soccer and baseball practice and y'all, it was AWFUL and then OMG the actual day of the talent show came and I was a nervous wreck. They were either going to bomb it and giggle their way through the lyrics or they would nail it in all it's cuteness. OH MY GOSH you guys, they nailed it. A couple people in the audience were even sniffling as they performed. Crying actual TEARS! Proud momma moment for sure. If you missed it...here you go!
  • I got the most wonderful letter from Aiden's teacher at the end of the year letting me know what a joy it was to have him in her class. She said he fit right in from day one and always brightened everyone's day with his generous heart and sweet smile. Kindergarten highlights...he is now reading independently which is always such an amazing thing to witness. He has made several really good friends even in just the short few months we've been here and since we are here for the long-haul I'm excited to watch these friendships grow through the years.
  • Ethan rocked 1st grade and is so ready for 2nd. The long-term sub that took over his class when the regular teacher went on maternity leave stopped me in the hall one afternoon when I was there eating lunch and she said Ethan is quite a kid. He was respectful, eager to learn, always had something to say when given the chance (and often when he wasn't given a chance as well!). He participated in the PTP program which is the Primary Talent Pool for the Gifted and Talented program. He is super smart and truly an overall good kid.
BASEBALL



  • After kind of a bummer spring soccer season where Ethan's team showed little enthusiasm for playing and rarely showed up to practices and games, we decided to jump right into summer baseball through the YMCA. The season is already coming to a close and even with some game-day scorchers the boys seemed to truly enjoy playing. It was their first season of coach and machine pitch (rather than t-ball). I don't think either are going to be the next Babe Ruth but I will say they improved quite a bit from start to finish. Their last game is this Saturday...and if I'm being honest? I'm kind of glad!
CHICAGO/MICHIGAN



  • On the last day of school, we picked the boys up and headed straight to Chicago for my cousin Joy's wedding. It was a beautiful day filled with lots of personal touches (she wore her mom's wedding dress!) and fun with family. I got to meet some of my cousin's kids that I hadn't met yet and the boys had a blast running around playing with everyone. Congrats to the beautiful bride and her new hubby!
  • The day after the wedding we hit the road again to spend time at our family's house in Michigan. I grew up going here and the house was always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles, lots of food and lots of Off! All these years later, not much has changed! There's multiple beds in every bedroom and it's a grab what you can kind of sleeping arrangement. Luckily, nobody wants to get stuck in a room with 4 kids including a baby who only *sometimes* sleeps through the night...so Ricky and I usually get the very back room that is away from everyone else. And when the big boys get up for the morning, they go play...and we can't hear anyone!
  • We celebrated my niece Lilly's 9th birthday at Dutch Village in Holland, MI. I am told we went as kids, but I don't remember it at all. They had animals to play with and hold, a ferris wheel, old school duck races, a zip-line, and all sorts of demonstrations about Dutch culture (think wooden shoe making and wooden shoe dancing). I still can't quite believe she is NINE. It seems like yesterday Lauren was rocking her big ol' belly as my maid of honor in my wedding.

MEETING NEW FAMILIES



  • A few months back I connected with a family who had adopted a little boy with Apert syndrome. I noticed they were from Michigan and was surprised to find out they lived less than 30 minutes from where we would be. We made plans to get together for lunch at a beloved spot - Crane's Pie Pantry. Aiden was a little shy about meeting them at first, but soon warmed up and was his normal chatty self. This family was such a breath of fresh air. They had three biological children but were called to adopt and opened their hearts to Peter, who was left at the hospital in California after his Chinese parents were surprised by his diagnosis. We chatted about our amazing kids over apple cider and the daily special and when we were leaving, something Peter's mom said stuck with me. I told her how lucky he was to have a family like theirs take him in, love him and provide for him. She said, "We feel the exact opposite. WE feel so lucky that he has come into OUR lives." Gives me chills.
  • When our week in Michigan came to end, we made plans to meet another family as we drove back to Kentucky. They live about 40 minutes from our driving route back south so we arranged to meet at a Chik-Fil-A off the highway. I've been chatting with Jeannie Ewing for months now and up until that point had only exchanged messages via Facebook and email. It was so nice to finally get to meet her and her daughters in person. Sarah, who as Apert syndrome, recently turned 1 a few months ago and is the little sister of 4 year old Felicity. Ironically, my sister and her family had stopped at the same Chik-Fil-A ahead of us (not knowing that we were planning our meeting there) and when they ran into Jeannie, Lauren approached them and said "I have a nephew with Apert syndrome". They started talking and only THEN realized that the nephew she was talking about was Aiden and that she was actualy there waiting to me us! Too funny.

As you can clearly see, we have been busy busy busy this summer and we are just a few weeks in! The boys are in Vacation Bible School this week (which is really like a vacation for me!) so I'm utilizing my gym membership and the 2 hours of free child care that comes with it (although I may not always be working out...don't judge!)

If you don't already, you might want to follow me on Instagram and Facebook. I'm always sharing photos and updates there when I don't have time for a blog post.

Happy summer everyone!






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