I decided to share my ice breaker speech from Toastmasters below. If you've been a long time reader of More Skees Please (thank you!) then you already know most of the story. If you are just landing here, welcome! This is a good "in a nutshell" piece to get you up to speed. Either way, I hope you enjoy! Thanks for visiting!
“What do you DO all day?” some wonder as they envision the stereotypical images of lounging on the couch in fluffy slippers eating bonbons.
I was a gifted student, always applied myself, made good grades and went on to earn a college degree, but I never quite had a true sense of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Except I knew one thing for certain, I wanted to be a mom. Yes, and, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
My husband, Ricky, and I both attended Bellarmine, although we met on spring break in Daytona – but that’s an entirely different story for a difference crowd. After graduating, I felt compelled to do a little soul searching so I enrolled in an acting course in Burbank, CA and headed out west with stars in my eyes. I had dabbled in acting as a child – starring in dozens of commercials, print ads and even a feature film called Men Don’t Leave where I played Jessica Lange’s niece. However, I quickly learned that being a child actor where your mom drives you to all your auditions and rewards you for a job well done with dinner at McDonald’s is vastly different than attempting to make show business a career as an adult.
While I excelled at Film School, the pull of home, and my boyfriend of several months, was stronger than my desire to become famous. At the end of the 6 weeks I made the trek back to the good ol’ midwest.
Shortly after that experience I found happiness starring in my own fairy tale of sorts. I married said long-term boyfriend in 2005 and we welcomed our first baby boy, in March of 2007. I had gotten a job in marketing just before our wedding and had every intention on continuing to work full-time...until I had my son. I loved my job, and was well-respected there, but I loved my new role as a mom even more.
We couldn’t afford for me to stay home at that point, so I presented my employer with a well-written
flexible work proposal. Knowing it might have been a long-shot, I was surprised when they granted me the opportunity to work from home a few days a week, the first ever flex schedule the company had approved.
Fast forward 3 months. My husband returned from a weekend bachelor party to find me anxiously waiting for him to start making dinner. “Check the oven first to make sure there’s nothing in it” I told him from the living room. Groggy from the festivities he had partaken in, I waited, and then heard “hey babe, why is there a bun in the oven?” Waited some more. Heard him whisper “there’s a bun in the oven” confused. And finally, he flew into the living room...”Wait, there’s a bun in the oven?” We were pregnant again and due before my first son’s first birthday.
Before our second baby boy arrived, we were nervous about having 2 so close together. We knew it was going to be tough. We had no idea how tough. Aiden arrived 5.5 weeks early and shocked everyone, including the doctors, when he presented with some major anomalies. His fingers were fused together, bound up in tight little fists. His toes webbed, his face scrunched. The room had gone silent – not even the OB or nurses had seen this before. We learned later that our second boy had something called Apert syndrome. A very rare craniofacial condition that occurs only once in every 160,000 births.
After a 2 week stay in the NICU, we were attempting to make sense of our new life. Along with his condition came appointments, therapies, surgeries. Needless to say it became almost impossible for me to consider going back to work. And thus, my stay-at-home mom gig commenced. Not quite the way I had envisioned it.
We are living a very different life than we had imagined as fresh-faced newlyweds, but one that is more fulfilling than I ever could have hoped. I am a mom, just as I had wished to be. And a stay-at-home mom to now FOUR beautiful boys. But the thing that is most amazing about our journey is how motherhood has defined my life. And I don’t mean in a bad way.
I’ve always loved to write and in an effort to keep family members informed about Aiden’s medical journey, I began this blog in 2008. Since that time, it has morphed into a lifestyle, parenting and special needs blog with an audience much broader than just friends and family. It has led to outside writing opportunities and published pieces. More importantly, through my blog I have been contacted by families world-wide who have a child with Apert syndrome. Seeing our positive approach and how we advocate for Aiden has inspired countless people. In turn, it has inspired me to take it one step further and create my own nonprofit, called apertOWL, with a mission to be a beacon of hope for those affected by this condition.
In addition, this fall I’ll be making rounds speaking to elementary and middle school kids about
celebrating and accepting differences. I am also scheduled to speak to nursing students about patient
and family centered care, drawing from our experiences in medical facilities.
So think again before you jump to conclusions about stay-at-home-moms. What some might view as a traditional role that wastes a good, solid college degree in my case has been nothing of the sort. I have the best of both worlds. Becoming a mom and embarking on an unexpected journey with a child with complex medical needs has changed me. It has strengthened my heart, solidified my relationships and inspired me to find exactly what it is I was meant to do. Motherhood has given me a purpose and a passion for something I never would have known without it.
I intend on making an impact...and some days I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas.
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.
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.
*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 email@example.com.