Tuesday, October 30, 2018

In the trenches...featuring Kelly

Today I am featuring my good friend Kelly.  She has an incredible story to motherhood and is an incredible woman and mother.  She has several special needs kids and had a difficult childhood herself.  In spite of all her challenges she has risen above it and is so strong.  She is constantly gathering clothing for the homeless and others less fortunate, she and her kids go to the teen shelter and feed the kids there on a regular basis. She has taught me much about advocating for my kids and letting mama bear come out when needed.  I wish you could have been sitting in the same room when we were chatting, I only captured a portion of our conversation, I hope you get a glimpse of how amazing Kelly is.

Tell me about your journey to Motherhood:

I always wanted to be a mom, it was all I ever wanted to be.  It happened much sooner than planned however...lol.  I got pregnant at 16, and then again at 17.  I had two kids before I graduated high school and 3 kids by the age of 21.   It was definitely a challenge, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I found the love of my life when I had three children and told him, "My kids will always come before you."  He replied, "I wouldn't date you if you didn't put them first."  That's how I knew he was a keeper.  He has loved my three oldest as my own from the beginning.

I always knew I wanted to adopt special needs kids, I've always felt drawn to kids with special needs.  Then my 5th child Corey was born.  I could tell something was different about him from infancy.   He didn't talk, didn't make eye contact and didn't display typical behaviors.  He was diagnosed as classically autistic at 22 months.  We were told he would never talk or be able to function in normal society.  I am so proud of him, he will graduate from high school this spring and has a job at a movie theater and is functioning quite well thank you.

My 6th daughter was born at 32 weeks, she was 2 lb 6 oz and  was born blue and had to be resuscitated.  She is considered medically fragile and we have had many scares with her over the years.  She has epilepsy and hypertonia.

Our family didn't feel complete after Paige was born (yah we're crazy after 6 kids we felt like we needed more!).   Ten years ago I got a call from my grandma who lives in the south asking if I would be willing to be a temporary guardian for my cousin's three children.  Naively I said yes and brought three more children home.  Due to trauma during her infancy and early childhood one of those children had to be removed from our home because she was dangerous to all of us.  However the other two have been with us ever since that phone call and are such an important part of our family.  They also both have some trauma and effects from their childhood, my son Bradley has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and many other special needs.

What advice do you have for other moms?
Trust your instincts!  If you feel something is off, trust it!  Nobody knows your child better than you do no matter the letters behind their name or how much college they have had.  Be their advocates, speak up for them and learn how to access services for them if needed.
Being a mom is amazing and awesome, but they do grow up and leave home.  If you don't nurture your relationship with your spouse, you will be left with a dying relationship when the kids leave.  Nurture your marriage!

How do you take care of yourself with all of these challenges you have in motherhood?

I love the subject of self care, it's something I'm super passionate about.  You can't take care of anyone else if you don't care for yourself.  Don't be a martyr, that doesn't benefit anyone.  Be the heroine of your own life and make the choice not to be a victim.  Take time to yourself when you need it. The simple things really do add up to be so important.   Communicate with you spouse what you need.  Get up in the morning, get ready and wear real clothes!

What brings you joy?

Seeing my kids succeed and be happy.  Watching them be kind, good human beings and standing up for what is right.  Editors note:  Kelly does a phenomenal job teaching her kids to be kind, service oriented human....she does this through her actions and involving them in regular service.

Friday, October 19, 2018


It's fall break at our house and we always like to do fall activities during this time.  We had the opportunity to go to Cornbelly's yesterday.  I took my two youngest as my teenagers decided they had more important things to do like lay on the couch and watch football.  

I hadn't ever been to Cornbellys before and it is such a fun place!  So many fun family friend activities to do (my teens would have had fun too!).   We will definitely go back because we only had a couple of hours and you could spend all day there!  The food smelled and was delicious, we need to go back again just to try more of the food!   

My kids favorite activities were the big slide, mini golf, pumpkin bowling, these swings that are sort of like a zip line (there is an actual zip line, but we didn't do that, it does cost a bit extra), the homemade chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk!

If you need a great family activity, go check out Cornbellys at Thanksgiving Point!

Monday, October 1, 2018

In the trenches...featuring Emily

I am very excited for this weeks spotlight.  I am featuring my niece Emily Dunnigan.  Emily is just ten years younger than I and she is more like a younger sister than a niece.  She is extremely talented and creative.  She was a teacher before she had children and is very gifted with kids.  She has a beautiful family and someone I look up to very much, she is such an awesome mom!  She and her husband Jason have been married for 6 years.

Tell us about your journey to motherhood:

I didn't marry until I was almost 31 years old.  I was afraid that might keep me from having the large family I had always wanted.  Fortunately we were blessed to get pregnant quite easily and had our first baby boy 10 months after we were married.  We now have three children.  Nixon is 5, Olive is 3 and Will is 1.  We've had them quickly, but are so grateful for all of them!

What has surprised you about motherhood?

I was surprised at how hard and exhausting it is!  I thought after being a school teacher and being around kids all of my life I knew what it would be like.  But it's much more tiring than I expected.

I would also go to the zoo, the grocery store, a restaurant and look around and wonder why it was that all these moms had it all together, but I was dying at how hard it was!  I wish we talked more about the reality of how hard it is, we all like to put on the happy face.  I obviously love my kids so much and I'm so grateful for them, but this is the hardest thing I've ever done.

What advice would you give other moms?

I would encourage them to find one or two people they can be real with and talk about how hard it is. Someone who won't judge them for saying their kids are driving them crazy or for their messy house.

Also know that you are enough. You don't have to be perfect in any way to be enough of a mom for your kids.  I know my kids came to me because I'm the best mom for them, nobody else could love them like I do.  I believe that for every mom.

What brings you joy in motherhood?

Watching them learn things and knowing I taught them that.  The other day my son Nixon made a mistake and we were talking through it and he said, "Mom I just want to be like Jesus!"  It made me feel so happy that what we are teaching really is sinking in and he's getting it!

How do you take care of yourself so you have more to give your family?

I teach sewing lessons in my home, and help put on an annual musical at the elementary school I taught at before kids.   I love being creative and doing things that help me keep up my talents really fills me.

Also a few months ago my sister in law invited me to start going to the gym with her every morning. I haven't ever been a gym person before, but I decided to try it.  We go at 5:30 every morning and I have come to love that time to myself and talking with other adults.  It helps me get my day started right.

How do you nurture your marriage with so many little kids?

A few months ago my husband had to travel to NYC for work.  He encouraged me to come with him and even though I didn't know that I wanted to leave my kids, I went.  It was SO fun and so good for us to be just the two of us.  I knew my kids were in good hands and having so much fun and it allowed me to relax and just enjoy being the two of us.  I think we need to do that regularly.

We also try to go on dates, but it's hard to find babysitters etc.  Sometimes we buckle the kids in the car and go on a long drive so we can just talk.  Usually they fall asleep and we can have some good time just being the two of us.

Thank you Emily, you are awesome!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Teachers are amazing!

Tonight we went to Parent Teacher conferences for my middle schooler.   This boy of mine is talented, awesome and super smart.  School isn't necessarily his thing because it requires sitting still for long periods of time and he's a mover and a shaker.  He's also funny and loud and super social.  He can be a bit disruptive in class sometimes due to those things.

Those teachers are so gifted at seeing past the behaviors and seeing him for who he is.  Every single teacher said how much they enjoy him and think he's so great and funny.  One thing that made me happy is they said he's never disrespectful to them even when he's being corrected.  I'm so proud of him, he's such a good kid. They were totally willing to work with him and find ways to motivate him.

Sad to say that sometimes as a mom I need reminders of how awesome my kid is.  It's always nice to hear other adults say good things about my kids and give me that little reminder of what a great kid I have.

Teachers are undervalued and underpaid and deserve to be compensated for shaping our future society.  Thank you times a million for your patience, perspective and talents!

Monday, September 24, 2018

In the trenches featuring Kay

Today I am featuring my Instagram friend Kay West.  We started following each other in the past few months and I have really come to enjoy her content and what light she puts into the world.  Her Instagram account is threetoquesandtiara, go follow her!

Kay and her husband Brad have been married for 20 years. They have two children Isaac and Eden, ages 14 and 15.  Her perspective on life and motherhood is inspiring.  They live in Utah but are Canadian by birth. She has been through so much, yet has such faith and optimism.

Tell me about your journey to motherhood.

I went through years of infertility.  It was painful and so difficult.  However I  know that the children you are meant to have in your family are supposed to be there and they come to you in various ways. I have two children who we adopted from birth.  We also had another little foster daughter who we had from birth until age 1 and then the adoption failed.  It was very difficult to lose her, however I know she is with the family she is supposed to be with.

My daughter has many special needs, some came from her biological moms choices when she was pregnant and some are just because Eden is who she is.  She has Fetal Alcohol syndrome, brain damage, autism, scoliosis and serious allergies.   She was severely bullied by some boys  in 7th grade to the point I had to pull her out and home school her for a couple of years.  She really only has one friend.  We are now trying to integrate her into some mainstream and special needs programs through the schools.

My son is so compassionate and kind, I'm sure a lot of that has to do with his sister.  He looks out for those who don't have friends and is such a nice kid.

What advice would you give to have kids and adults interact with those with special needs?

Sometimes adults make it worse.  Kids are naturally curious and kind, but adults tell them not to stare or walk away.  Let the kids be curious and ask questions in kind ways.  Don't label the kids, just let them become friends without telling them, "That child has autism or down syndrome etc". Just let them love them and be kind.

What advice would you give other moms?

Motherhood was never meant to be picture perfect.  It never goes as planned and that's okay.  It's okay not to have it all together.  Don't worry about perfection.  As long as your kids know they are loved at the end of the day, that's what matters.

How do you keep yourself healthy emotionally through these challenges?

I turn to Heavenly Father even when I don't want to.  My husband is so kind and patient with me and helped me see during a particularly difficult time that I was turning away from God, and if I turned to him it would help me so much.  He was right!

I put my phone away at 9:30 at night and I don't pick it up again until the morning after I've read scriptures and prayed.  I also put my phone away Saturday night and don't do any social media on Sundays.  It's a good time for me to focus on my family and worshipping God without distraction.

What brings your joy as a mom?

Watching them become independent and making good choices.  Watching them learn they are children of God and knowing who they are.

Our family has started a little business/campaign.  It's called Quietly being kind campaign.  My daughter is an artist and draws little creatures/animals.  We have made them into postcards and sell them and a portion of the proceeds goes towards a charity of our choice that benefits special needs kids.  We have an Instagram account and website called quietlybeingkind.com.

How have you kept your marriage strong in the midst of challenges?

Much of it is my husband.  He is kind and sweet and patient. We have learned to work together and trust and support one another.  We don't ever speak ill of each other in front of anyone.  God is our partner in everything we do.

How has motherhood changed you?

I'm more patient for sure.  I understand how to apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in my life.  He always makes up the difference of my shortcomings!

Thank you Kay, you are truly inspiring!  

Monday, September 17, 2018

In the trenches featuring Marjorie

Today I am featuring a dear friend of mine.  I have learned so much about raising fantastic, responsible, hard working kids from my friend Marjorie.  She has 6 children ages 8-22, 3 boys, 3 girls.   She is a runner and biker and one of the most determined people I've ever met. She also happens to be a Grandma (a VERY young one) to one little cutie.  She and her husband Jason have been married for 23 years.  I have spent so much time with this family that my kids call their kids their "Vegas cousins."   I know them well and you won't find better people anywhere!

What surprised you the most about motherhood?

The sheer exhaustion.  I wasn't expecting that.  I knew it would be hard and I would be tired, but I wasn't expecting it to be so exhausting.

I also was surprised by the fierce love I had for this child.  I felt so strongly about this tiny helpless creature.

What is the best advice you've gotten?  

My mom and dad are amazing powerhouse parents and I have learned much from them.  My dad has been in education for many years and is so good with kids.  He especially loves the "knucklehead" kids .  He taught me that the hardest kids to love need it the most.  As an adult you have to keep your cool.  Also keep your word to your kids, if you promise to do something do it.  To go along with that, choose your words and battles carefully.  If you threaten a consequence you'd better follow through.

What do you remember about your mom growing up and what did you learn from her?

My mom was so patient and kind.  She never complained about my crafting or kitchen messes.  She was so patient in teaching me how to sew and cook and clean and do laundry.  She was so willing to teach me no matter what I wanted to learn.  I never remember her getting impatient with me or frustrated.  She was great about slipping her testimony about spiritual things into everyday situations and she told great stories.

What advice would you give to other moms?

Forget about being perfect!  You're not ever going to be perfect, let it go!  It allows both of you to make mistakes and try again tomorrow.  Let the little things that don't really matter go.  The relationship with you kids is the most important, focus on that.

What is hard for you in motherhood?  

EVERYTHING!!  Watching my kids fight with each other, disrespectful behavior, letting them fail when I know that I could solve it, but I shouldn't

What brings you joy?

Watching my kids laugh and play together and build relationships, watching my kids learn and discover the world, my kids unconditional love for me, big hugs from my teenage boys, seeing therm excel and find things they love to do.

How do you have fun as a family?

We play a lot of card games.  We are very active, we love to play soccer at the park, throw the football, play frisbee golf.   We love the outdoors and love to camp and hike.  I love to be in the kitchen with my kids.  Right now my 16 year old son is learning how to cook and it's been fun hanging out in the kitchen with him.

In 30 years what do you want them to remember about their childhood?

I want them to remember that I loved them no matter what. I want them to know I loved them enough to correct them, that  I loved and served all of God's children no matter their circumstances or appearances.  I want them to remember I played with them, read to them, made time for them and listened to them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The soft place....

Four and a half years ago we moved 400 miles away from our home in Las Vegas where we had lived for 12 years.   My oldest son was 14 and was in the middle of his freshman year of high school.  My others were 12 (7th grade), 8, 6 and 3.   We moved back to the city where my husband and I grew up and where much of our family still lived.  We have a lot of friends here as well.  I naively believed that because of knowing so many people here and being familiar with this city that the move would be smooth and easy.   I'm not sure why I believed that because even going to the grocery store is complicated when you have 5 children!

The reality is, it has not been smooth or easy.  Moving teenagers or kids of any age, (but especially teens in middle and high school) from their dear friends of 12 years is not easy.    It was a challenging time in their lives and has continued to have it's challenges.   We moved to a very established neighborhood where kids have lived their whole life and had been in a friend group since elementary school.   It's tough to break into that social structure. This is not to criticize the people in the neighborhood we live in, they are very warm and friendly, its just the facts of moving when your kids are older.  

It was challenging to go to school and be the new kid, the fact is, it has taken a long while for them to find their people and honestly some still struggle.  It was hard to hear kids talk about social activities and not be invited.  It became very apparent that our home needed to become their "soft place to fall".    The atmosphere at our home needed to be one of positivity and acceptance where they knew they were loved no matter what.  That meant some things had to be put on the back burner because they were less important than my children feeling loved and knowing we were in their corner.  I remember a conversation with my sister.  I was telling her my boys were pushing back against scouting advancements and merit badges.  She wisely said, "Your kids have had a huge life change. What is more important, scouting or your relationship with your boys?"  Of course the relationship was of utmost importance, I just needed a reminder. 

The last four years we have really focused on our home being the place our kids could come and just relax and be themselves.  Since they haven't had tons of social activities outside of school, we have greatly enjoyed having them at home more.  We have listened to their music, watched their movies and laughed at their youtube videos.  We have really learned who they are.  As much as I want them to have friends, I have found as they have found friend groups and go to social things I find I miss having them around.  

Is your home a soft place to fall?  What does that mean to you?  To us it means to drop our agenda of what we think  their lives should look like.  They need to have the power to choose their course.  It means they know they are accepted as they are, no stipulations.  Their worth has nothing to do with their accomplishments or social activities.  Their worth is innate and we value them wherever they are on their path.  This doesn't mean they don't have accountability to help around the house or to let schoolwork go by the wayside, or to not have a job and learn to work...what it means is that we are loving and positive and kind.  We teach and encourage, never put down or discourage them.  

I am grateful for this move.  The lessons I have learned in the last 4.5 years have been life changing.  What can you do today to create a soft place for you children?