I have been struggling to write this post because this Christmas has meant so much to us. I'm afraid I won't be able to fully articulate how significant this year was. Last year was so full of hope and promise and dreams. Not only was I pregnant, but there was an anticipation of what was to come, and an open door of possibilities. Right after Maddie was born, I was afraid I had lost that, but I have so fully gained all of that back plus a newfound feeling of gratitude and appreciation. I knew Maddie would change our lives forever before she was born, just as her brother had done, but I had no idea how far she would stretch and push my heart to grow and love.
Which brings me to the title of this post and the title of our Christmas Card. Shine Bright. So much has happened this year, and this is what I'm taking from the whole crazy ride. Shine bright, embrace our differences, celebrate them, cherish them, and don't be afraid to be who you were born to be. I never thought that one tiny, dependent person would be the one to show me this in such a short amount of time, but she has. I want my babies to learn to shine bright throughout their lives, to never be afraid to be themselves and to know that they are fully accepted just the way they are.
On a side note, you should head on over to Kelle Hampton's blog, HERE, to see how she is helping others with Down syndrome to Shine Bright, as well. Donate if you can, or are moved to, she's not asking for much, whatever you can give, all the money raised goes to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). She started with a goal of $15,000 and $5 donations from every state in the U.S. and beyond have put her above her goal 3 times already, and she's reaching for the stars! Her next goal is $63,000 (for the 3 sets of the 21st chromosome), but my guess is she's going to have to raise the bar again! And on a personal note, it has been amazing for me to feel this sense of community with everyone who has donated. I check the site multiple times a day to see how fast the donations are pouring in. It shows me how much good there is in this world, and that I don't have to be so afraid of the people who will not accept my daughter, because there are many, many more people who do understand and accept her than don't. I am thankful and grateful to Kelle for opening my eyes to this.
So, on with the rest of the post...
This year, for Christmas, we went to Florida with my Dad and Step-Mom, Barb, my brother, Austin, Grandpa Mac, and his girlfriend, Joanne. When we started talking about going, I quickly realized that it had been over 10 years since I spent an actual Christmas Day with this side of my family, and knew it had been too long.
Both kids did an amazing job on the plane ride. Aiden was happy to have some videos to watch, sit in the seat like a big boy and look out the window. Maddie fell asleep during take-off and woke up 15 minutes before we landed. I don't think it could have gone more perfectly! Unfortunately for me, Maddie being asleep the whole time severely limited my mobility and I spent most of the 2 1/2 hour flight just holding her, and trying not to wake her up. However, both kids were happy, no one cried even a whimper, so I really have nothing to complain about.
Aiden was so excited to go to Florida. We talked for weeks about what Florida would be like and even watched some YouTube videos about manatees, dolphins, alligators and of course sharks (because the kid is OBSESSED with sharks) to prepare. So when Granddad picked us up from the airport, Aiden's natural first question, was about when and where we were going to see sharks. When he found out that we probably wouldn't be seeing any sharks he turned his attention to things we could do... like swimming.
Maddie was happy to stay inside and play with blocks... the water and weather were too cold for her.
For years my husband has not really cared about sports. It's one of the things I liked about him while we were dating. I didn't have to devote an entire day to watching football, we could go do other things together and enjoy our day. However, there is something about the Steelers that has drawn him in (ok, I have to admit, they've kinda drawn me in, too). You know that saying that people can't ever change? Yeah, well my husband is proving them wrong. He is so obsessed, in fact, that he had to find the game on the internet and watch it while we were gone.
When Tom and I were little and going to Florida with my Dad every other year for Christmas, it was tradition that the weather would turn bad and inevitably be "one of the coldest" periods that Florida had had in years. It never failed. It was as if the second our plane landed the weather would turn cold and as we were taking off to go home, the weather would warm up. Well, this year was really no different, but Aiden didn't let the cold stop him from pretending to swim.
And Maddie enjoyed reading books indoors with her Granddad.
We busily prepared for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we got down to Sanibel Island, wrapping presents, stopping by the grocery store, and making cookies. A note (that Aiden attempted to sign his name to), cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer were left by the (brand new) fire place, but I just realized that we didn't leave any milk out... oops. I hope the Big Guy didn't hold it against us.
|If you look closely, you can see his "A" and "i"|
Maddie was happy to just be held and look cute in her Christmas pj's. And, in case you can't tell, yes, her pj's have a little tutu on them... so stinking cute!!
Christmas morning love.
Aiden was done with the love and ready to open presents.
He was a good elf helper and passed out all the presents. I was happy that this was no longer my job.
Maddie and her new "Maddie the Mermaid" that Aiden gave to her as her Christmas gift. She loves her!
Grandpa Mac and Joanne, getting into the Christmas spirit!
Aiden enjoyed all of his gifts, which included a belt and wallet that he asked Santa for. However, apparently Aiden didn't specify what kind of wallet he wanted from Santa and instead of getting him a nice black leather wallet, like he envisioned, Santa got him one with a shark on it. Aiden's first reaction was, "No, not one like this! Like Daddy's wallet!" Santa... fail. However, since then Aiden has forgiven Santa, and now loves his wallet... whew!
While we were in Florida, Austin found himself with a nephew who didn't want to leave his side. Aiden followed Austin everywhere and wanted to do most of the things he was doing. Austin was such a great sport, and seemed to enjoy hanging out with Aiden as much as he did.
Here's just a sleeping baby who was too sweet not to take a picture of.
And then I regretted it, because it woke her up.
Mimi and Aiden taking a nap together. I don't think Aiden had to sleep by himself during a nap once while we were there! He was in heaven. Only now, he thinks every time he takes a nap, that someone has to sleep with him.
It also seemed that my husband found the right family for watching football with. One night we went to a bar that had a private section for only Colts fans! It was pretty amazing to be on this tiny island and have so many people come together as fans to watch the game.
One day we walked over to Periwinkle Park, which is a camp ground on the island that has a bird sanctuary in the middle of it. We were all excited to see the birds, but unfortunately, it was so cold they had to move the birds inside. Luckily, the woman who does the bird shows decided to show us some of the birds anyway. (Please note, we are all in our winter coats... it was pretty cold).
We also went to an outlet mall close to the Island and had a day to play while my Dad flew back to Indy for the day to work (crazy right?!?). Aiden followed Austin everywhere and just couldn't get enough of him!
We had never taken Aiden putt-putting before, but Dad and Barb knew of a place that we could go that had live alligators, and since this was one of the things we had talked to Aiden about before coming down, we knew we had to see them. And, the putt-putting was tons of fun!! Aiden had a blast!
|Putt-putt is a lot harder when you're carrying a sleeping baby on your chest.|
Granddad and Aiden playing one of Aiden's favorite games after getting out of the tub, "Wanna 'mell 'em?!?" Granddad played along, however I'm not sure he had just gotten out of the tub!
On our last day there, we were scrambling to fit things in. There were so many things left and we wanted to make sure we squeezed them all in before leaving. So in the morning Aiden and Granddad went fishing, then we rode bikes to the beach, because you can't go to Florida without going to the beach, rode home and spent the rest of the night packing up to go home. Unfortunately, Mimi wasn't feeling so well and she spent the rest of the night in bed trying not to infect us all with her cold.
Unfortunately, the day after we got home, New Years Eve, Aiden, Maddie, and I were all sick. We spent New Years Eve in the E.R. with both kids, since the doctor's office was closed for the next 2 days. Aiden ended up having a double ear infection and an Upper Respiratory Infection, Maddie an eye infection, and later developed into a pretty nasty Upper Respiratory Infection, and I got a little bit of everything. Grant worked New Years Eve and so our celebration of the New Year didn't happen until New Years Day. We didn't do much, but did have some yummy fondue!
This year has been so full of life and love. I have stretched myself further than I could have ever imagined, but what I am taking away from it, I will forever be grateful for. I can't wait to see all the things that these two little beings will show me, and how they will challenge me to Shine Bright in the next year. It was a great way to celebrate Christmas and the end of an amazing, challenging, fulfilling, year!