The Great Wolf Vacation

20140726-104914-38954735.jpgKnowing that we only had KC home a few weeks before starting work, and since it’s been a year since we have had a family vacation, I knew we needed some time to enjoy each other and to focus on the kiddos. Deciding on a vacation for this family isn’t easy. We are limited by so many things, but primarily by Benjamin’s needs. Disney is too hot in July, a cabin on the lake is rarely accessible, and flying is a challenge I am not ready for, so after googling “vacations for kids with disabilities” and finding The Great Wolf Lodge, I was intrigued.

My mom kept Rush for us so we could focus more on Benjamin and the girls, and so I could involve Benjamin more in the daily activities. I can’t imagine trying to juggle Rush and Benjamin in the water. I think Rush was just fine staying with Nana.

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We arrived Monday and I couldn’t have been more excited. Starting the day off with a bang, KC and Lennon went to ride slides. Isla wanted to stay In the little pool with us, so with her “assistance” I started to discretely change Benjamin into his trunks and swim diaper while he was stretched across my lap. (1st mistake) Benjamin had more in the diaper than expected so I asked Isla to grab the wipes. After 5 min, a woman next to us grabbed the bad and handed it to me so I could look. No luck, Isla had taken the wipes out in the car. (2nd mistake) With no choice, I strategically cleaned him with another diaper, working hard not to spread or drop anything, while keeping Benjamin completely covered. Starting off with a scene of a too long Benjamin spread across my lap, while fussing at Isla, and sweating, we definitely attracted some attention.

Knowing that The Great Wolf Lodge was listed in the Top 10 of vacations for people with disabilities, I guess I was expecting to see other families like ours. Instead, we had our normal adjustment period getting comfortable with the stares, as well as, children AND ADULTS splashing acting like they were completely oblivious that my son is hooked up to a machine. Believe me, they stared long enough to know. :) I covered the vent with a few towels and we never had a problem. The stares never bother me; however, this day, I was angry and upset. I don’t know if I was mad at the stares, angry with the splashing, or furious with a disorder that doesn’t allow Benjamin to run, splash around, and play with the other kids. Things like this rarely affect me, but here I sat in the pool holding Benjamin splashing with his arms, while my eyes filled with tears. I fought them back never letting Benjamin see me upset or anyone else.

A little while later, my guardian angel nudged a woman to speak to me. She didn’t really know what to say, just how happy she was to see us with Benjamin in the pool and she loved seeing how much fun he was having. With tears in her eyes, she mentioned how it reminds her how fragile life truly is, but that she was so impressed with what we were doing. Those few minutes reminded me of all the wonderful things this life offers us and completely made me forget about my previous pity party in the Zero Entry Pool. I wish I could of explained to her what she did for me that day, but sharing my feelings verbally is not one of my strong points.

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The rest of our trip was a blast. We ventured out to Fort Worth to watch the Longhorns mosey through town, took some pictures with Cowboys, and visited Lego Land. KC and I even took turns riding the slides that Lennon was too small to ride. Benjamin saw his first 3D short movie, fell in love with a monkey ballon animal, and participated in story time at the Lodge. (He even clapped on cue with the little dance).

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The Great Wolf Lodge was a great experience. The waterpark was awesome, the rooms were clean and large enough for the fam, the floor lamp worked perfectly as a feeding pole, and the staff was extremely nice. There were only a few negatives to The Great Wolf Lodge…
1. Very few handicap accessible parking spots. However, on the last day, we realized we could park at the conference center entrance for easier parking and it was closer to our room. (Realized on the LAST day)
2. Our last afternoon in the pool, a child had “an accident” ending our pool time a little early. Glad I missed seeing this.
3. It was a little crowded.

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I am so thankful for this vacation. Since Rush has been born and we have been fighting with Colic (so bad that a doctor gave me a pamphlet for a fussy baby support group), I feel like I haven’t given enough attention to Lennon, Isla, and Benjamin. KC and I were quickly reminded of Lennon’s creativity, Isla’s humor, and Benjamin’s love of life. Though I may have my moments, at the end of the day, it’s easy to see how truly blessed we are.

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If you happen to watch the Amazing Race (Asian version), keep an eye out for the family. We might have been caught in the background while they were filming in Fort Worth, Texas. :)

Initiation Staycation

Question: What do you do when your kids are unsure about moving to a new place?

Answer: You take them to every fun activity you can think of in the first week, until you are exhausted. My family has been here to help and tonight after my mom gave Isla a banana not knowing that I had already told her she couldn’t have one, she told my mom “she (me) may fire you.”

It has been one week since we officially moved. In that one week, we have visited the splash park and pool,

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Experienced the Children’s Museum

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Toured the Zoo (Benjamin’s first boat ride)

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Hung out with family

Rode bikes in the street

Had sleepovers

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Ran through the sprinklers

Played at the neighbors (the girls have asked every neighbor if they could go to their house)

All followed by promises of the movies and fishing. (Chuckie Cheese was checked off the list a month ago.)

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(Isla’s first contact with a character)

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We have landed in a wonderful neighborhood and between Lennon, Isla, KC, and Barkley, we are well on our way to getting to know everyone. :). So far I think our Initiation Staycation is a huge success.

The Miracles To Milestones Playground

20140707-081223-29543617.jpgWe have officially moved, but not before we could play on the wonderful new playground. I made sure we were able to have a few minutes to play, or we were breaking in. ;).

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Driving there, pulling up, and unloading Benjamin was a little emotional for many reasons. 1. We did it. We finished this project just in time for our big move. 2. When I think about how supportive everyone has been, it makes my heart smile. 3. We are now moving from a community that has loved and embraced Benjamin and our family. Moving wasn’t the easiest decision.

Well, the playground was a hit with this family. Lennon’s feet barely touched the ground while she repeatedly scaled the entire playground. I spun Isla so many times that I can’t believe she didn’t get sick. Benjamin loved all the toys that were at his reach especially the musical toys and the steering wheels, and I couldn’t have been happier as I watched Benjamin play side by side with his sisters. We also put Benjamin on a slide for the first time. Benjamin is sensitive to the heat and since it was midday, the slide was warm and he was not happy.

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Mom on the other hand was teary eyed. It’s one of those activities that I do for me more than for Benjamin. :) I just want to make sure he has every chance to experience life as his sisters did. Next time, we will try under better weather conditions, and hope for better results.

I can’t thank this community enough. This community donated, spread the word, gave words of encouragement, and worked hard for three days to make this a reality. The Parish couldn’t have been more supportive providing the location, the foundation, and a fantastic group of hard working people.

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I know the kids and families will love it. I hope it is all that they expected and more. I hope and pray that Benjamin has had as much of an effect on the community as he has had in our family. We have been blessed and we are glad to share our blessings with the Miracles To Milestones Playground.

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Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed: to have a strong emotional effect on.

In the past month, we have bought a house, sold a house, moved, finished a playground, and graduated. I have been on the phone for hours changing addresses, changing companies, and arranging healthcare. I have been happy, sad, stressed, excited, anxious, and overwhelmed in a good way and in a not so good way. At least once a day I have to stop, breathe, and pray…pray for peace and calmness, but also pray in thanks for everything we have been given.

Last night, KC officially finished his residency, so we had a wonderful night out and my first night away from the kiddos in a long time. I am so proud of him, and it was so wonderful to be able to give my undivided attention to KC, since usually my attention is divided into 5. Before we headed home today, we were lucky enough to spend time with our friends over breakfast, then we were able to see a movie for our anniversary (a movie that was not a cartoon). :)

On our drive home, I reached over to KC and mentioned how lucky and blessed we are. I said we have a great life, great marriage, great kids, great jobs, and the list continues. Now, at no point do I think our life is perfect, but I think that since Benjamin has been born, I see things a little clearer. I thank Benjamin all the time for saving me, for bringing me closer to God, and for changing my life. I am definitely a work in progress, but with a much clearer goal. KC and our children are my life, and it’s crazy how much I miss them when I am away from them.

Though our life has definitely not turned out as we planned, I know it is His plan and therefore, I will try to keep my focus on being overwhelmed with the wonderful and joyous things in our life while trying to avoid being overwhelmed with earthly issues. All clouds have silver linings, and rainbows follow storms. It’s just crazy how sometimes we have to be negatively overwhelmed before we realize that we are also wonderfully overwhelmed.

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Me and the Boys

This week, my girls have been spending some quality time in the country with my family. They have been very busy with basketball camp, swimming, driving their Hummer around, and riding the four wheeler in the woods. At first, Isla was not sure about basketball camp, asking “Can I just watch Lennon at basketball camp because I don’t know anything about that?” She quickly learned a few things including how to shoot the ball. She is unable to get the ball to the goal, but Isla felt fully accomplished throwing the ball in the air and having one of the helpers put it in the goal for her. She clapped for herself every time. Lennon just couldn’t wait to call me to tell me that she could dribble AND run at the same time. I’m pretty proud since after all my years of basketball and three state championships, I still find that difficult. :)

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So this week, it has been me and the boys. They have spent more time together, but also more time one-on-one with me.

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Yesterday we were able to lay around in our pj’s all day. A rainy day was perfect for brotherly bonding.

What started off sweet…

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Quickly turned to this…

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And this…

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But ended with this…

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I love how Benjamin was reaching for Rush when he fell asleep. (Or maybe for his pacifier)

This morning we woke up and started to get ready for church. A small part of me wanted to give up and stay home, but I knew we could make it. With KC in residency, I have to do a lot of things on my own. This is something I was aware of going in and when making the decisions to have these four precious kiddos. Most of the time I feel like things are under control, but I always miss him knowing things would be easier if I wasn’t alone. Today, I was reminded I am never alone. Not only were we offered assistance from the moment we pulled up to the moment we left, I sat in church and was reminded that God is always with me. How else would I be able to do this?! He keeps me calm, sane, and patient through my most difficult times, and today, he stopped the rain before I had to load up the kids after church. I think he also gives KC comfort when he does have to be away from us, knowing that we are taken care of.

After mass, a close friend offered to help us get to the car. (Her hands are also full with a two year old and 5 month old) When I refused, she then offered to fluff my cape. :) I’m honored, but any parent that brings their kiddos to church is a superhero, we just stand out a little more.

Thank you God for reminding me today that I am never alone and for holding my hand on this journey. :)

Ground Breaking Breakthroughs

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Last November, when we started to get the fundraising going, it seemed like the groundbreaking for the new playground was so far off. Sometimes I can’t believe it, but now if I need a reminder, all I have to do is drive to the East Bank Bridge Park. Last weekend, the old equipment was removed, and dirt was brought in. Equipment should be delivered next week, and the community build begins June 2nd. I’m so proud of this community for supporting us and supporting this project.

Not only has there been a ground breaking at the playground site, there has also been a breakthrough at home. Today, like every other, we placed Rush next to Benjamin for some brotherly bonding. All previous attempts haven’t been too successful, and I can’t say I blame Benjamin. Rush has been quite a fussy little guy. He was fussy enough for me to have him checked out by the doctor, and at home we frequently hear Lennon say “oh my gosh!” and Isla say “Momma, feed him.” With no answer other than an extremity sensitive stomach, it looks like things might finally be looking up. (I sadly had to give up caffeine)

Lowering Rush close to Benjamin, I touched Rush’s lips to Benjamin’s head as if he was kissing him. This is nothing new, but not once has Benjamin had a positive reaction. He has even cried over this gesture before. After doing this a few times, I held Rush next to Benjamin, and Benjamin started to click his tongue. (This is how he shows kisses since he can’t smack his lips consistently.) After “kissing” at Rush a few times, he dropped his glasses (the glasses actually belong to his nurse, but he LOVES them) and reached for the ones on her face. He then took them off and went to hand them to Rush. He not only did this once, but twice. :) This is a huge deal, much bigger than just a pair of glasses. Benjamin takes everyone’s glasses, if he drops them and you don’t return them, he cries, and he definitely doesn’t share them. He usually has at least two in his hands, which means his nurse has to bring at least three pairs a day so she can see to work. I was shocked and excited. I guess Benjamin has realized Rush isn’t going anywhere, so they might as well get along. Benjamin is going to be such a great big brother, and Rush will be his “little Buddy.” :)

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Preparing for the Final Chapter…

So much is happening for our family that I can’t figure out if I am scared, excited, nervous, or anxious and I guess most of the time I am all of the above. We are preparing to finish the final chapter of our lives here in South Louisiana and excited to start the first chapter of the Sirmon sequel in North Louisiana.

First of all, we are so excited about the playground. The check for the equipment was written last week, and the scheduled day to start building is June 2. We are doing a community build and looking for groups of volunteers. June 2-4, the playground will be assembled, followed by the concrete the next week, and the pour-in-play the next. I can’t believe we were able to raise the money for the playground in 5 months. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything less from this community.

Unfortunately, soon after the playground is built, we will be leaving Luling. I am so glad we were able to have a hand in creating such a wonderful place, but sad we won’t be able to enjoy it as often as we would have liked. It is amazing how God’s timing couldn’t be more perfect though. We are so happy that we will be able to see the playground completed before we leave.

This past January, we made a big decision to move to Monroe, Louisiana. KC was presented with a great opportunity, and we decided that it would be a great move for our family. Moving a family is never easy, but moving our family is a little more difficult. This is where the anxiety began. After calls, emails, and research, with the help of a very supportive orthopedic group, we think we have worked out Benjamin’s new healthcare team. I know the transition will be tough, but we will be ready to handle it.

The girls are signed up and ready for their new school. Isla and Lennon visited every classroom during their tour, and Isla made sure to stop and play with all the toys. Both girls give it their stamp of approval.

Last weekend we drove to Monroe (all 6 of us) to look for a place to rent. After much discussion, we decided to rent until we had the time to look for houses. Just as we always know God’s plan doesn’t always match ours, we actually found a place to buy on our way out of town. The house couldn’t be more perfect. It’s less than two years old, in a caul de sac, enough rooms for everyone, and a garage space large enough to open Benjamin’s ramp. It’s just big enough for all of us, and small enough where I can easily keep tabs on all these kiddos. God definitely influenced this builder to create a home specific to our needs. :) If everything runs smoothly, we will close mid-June.

Last weekend during our visit, we found out more great news…a handicap accessible playground is being built in West Monroe. We are so excited to not only to have a place for Benjamin, Lennon, Isla, and Rush to play, but even more excited that the idea that playgrounds should include all children is spreading.

At home, things are crazy, busy, and wonderful. Benjamin is still not too sure of Rush, Lennon is busy making baby beds out of boxes (maybe she will make furniture), and occasionally Isla makes it to Rush’s bedside in the middle of the night before I do. :). We must be managing pretty well because Lennon decided last night that she needed many more brothers and sisters. :)

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The Passion and Our Personal Journey

Sometimes, no matter how strong we think we are, something so unexpected tugs at our heart and can bring tears to our eyes. Holy week, it was a group of eighth graders that had me with my head down, fighting back tears.

At no point do I consider this a comparison, it only reminded me of crosses we all bear in life. The crosses that we watch our children carry though, seem to be the hardest. I was hesitant to share my feelings on this, but after watching Benjamin struggle with a simple cold for a week (a cold that barely affects my girls), it just seemed appropriate.

Holy Thursday, I attended a Passion Play presented by a group of eighth graders and the most precious Kindergartners as angels. I was completely fine until Jesus’ journey began with the cross. Watching Mary follow Jesus along his path with the pain Jesus endured, I couldn’t help but relate it to the struggles we have to watch our own children go through. Though there is truly no comparison, it was hard not to relate on some level. Benjamin, overall, is a very happy child, but there are times when he is ill that it’s hard to watch without being sad or feeling helpless. I can’t imagine how Mary must have felt, but this day, I felt like maybe some of us get a small glimpse.

As the Passion Play progressed, I recovered again until the image of Mary holding Jesus after his death. I have watched so many families lose their children, and this is the image, the day, I fear more than anything else. Thankfully, I am an optimistic and faith filled person, so the death of a child doesn’t consume me, but deep down I know there will be a day and the imagery of this moment was painful.

Though this brought up some painful feelings for me, just like The Passion Play, it’s not the end. I have met many children who are now angels and who made this world better than when they found it. I know Benjamin has changed us all for the better and I hope he is able to do the same for others. He is here for a purpose and we are blessed with him for a purpose. I know it’s not how long we live on this Earth, but what we do with our time here. Benjamin and his buddies have been making excellent use of their time. :)

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Benjamin’s Little Buddy

Wednesday April 2nd, Rush Leon Sirmon came into this world kicking and screaming. (What a joyful noise!) After a few days at the hospital, we were released and anxious to get home to the kiddos. Lennon and Isla had met Rush at the hospital, so the only introduction left was for Benjamin.

After arriving home and walking in the door, we quickly brought Rush over to Benjamin. Since Rush was screaming, Benjamin immediately showed his dislike for his new Little Buddy. As days passed, we continued to introduce the two and encouraged contact between them. Finally, a week later, Benjamin quit pushing Rush away and placed his hand on Rush’s arm. Yay, a sweet notion. Well, that was short lived, because today, Benjamin gave Rush a little push in the back to help him roll away from him. I know that this bond will be strong, I just need to give it time. :) I know my vision from last summer of Benjamin and a new baby boy together playing will come to life soon and we will be able to watch this sweet brotherly relationship blossom. ‘Til then, we will carefully monitor Benjamin’s “loving” touch and wait for Rush to retaliate. :)

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