“Parents as Teachers” (A Powerful Partnership)

I first heard about Parents as Teachers in the summer of 1997. I was taking a graduate course in family involvement at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and Parents as Teachers was mentioned in my textbook. I was thrilled to read how the program was founded in 1984 in Missouri and that my school district, Ferguson Florissant School District, piloted the program. (I had just completed my first year teaching kindergarten in the district) Little did I know the connection I would later have with the Francis Howell School District (the other Missouri School District to pilot Parents as Teachers) and the positive influence Parents as Teachers would have on me and my miracle baby twenty years later!

Parents as Teachers is an international nonprofit organization that promotes early development, learning and health of young children. Through home visits, the parent educators equip parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children (prenatal through kindergarten) with a stronger start in life, which leads to greater success in school and beyond.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian meet for the first time.

A few months before Lillian was born I called our local school district and enrolled in the Parents as Teachers program. Deanna Robbins, our knowledgeable home educator, made her first visit to our home when Lillian was one month old. She made her last visit a few days before Lillian’s third birthday. In most school districts, children age out of Parents as Teachers when they turn three years of age, reserving resources for the most crucial stage of child development (prenatal to age 3) and for older children identified with developmental delays or IEPs (individual educational plans.) Throughout the years, Ms. Deanna became more than a teacher; she became a friend and confidant. I looked forward to her visits where I eagerly reported Lillian’s latest milestones and I enjoyed updates about her growing family. Ms. Deanna asked me to serve on Francis Howell’s Parents as Teachers Advisory Board and I gladly accepted. We all shed a few tears in November when she presented Lillian with a program completion certificate, signaling our last visit.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian during our last PAT visit.

Ms. Deanna visited us six times a year, always bringing activities for Lillian to engage in and leaving behind handouts with valuable developmental information and inexpensive suggestions for learning opportunities in the home. Participants in the program were invited to parent meetings on a variety of topics from potty training to nutrition. Lillian and I both enjoyed many of the parent/child events including a messy play day and a storybook walk. Twice a year Ms. Deanna conducted a developmental screening. After, she discussed the results and assured me that Lillian was mastering her developmental targets while offering suggestions on things I could do to challenge Lillian and assist her in reaching her fullest potential.

I have a Masters degree in early childhood education so a lot of the information shared during our visits was familiar. But even with my extensive prior knowledge in child development, I learned some new strategies from Ms. Deanna and Lillian loved the extra attention and benefited from the learning experiences. The visits offered the opportunity for another professional to observe my daughter. It is easy for a parent to overlook a need in their own child even when they are an expert in identifying needs in other children. About a year ago, during one of the screenings, Ms. Deanna casually questioned if Lillian was articulating the ends of her words. As a novice speaker with a robust vocabulary (well beyond her years), I initially brushed off the idea that Lillian had any articulation errors. She was a newly turned two year old after all! If she had any speech issues they were surely developmental in nature. But Ms. Deanna’s observation stuck with me and I began to question, “Does Lillian have articulation errors?” I understand her just fine but I spend most of my days as a stay at home mommy so we are together non-stop. Lillian could grunt and use gestures and I would know exactly what she was communicating!

We continued the rest of the two year old visits and the articulation issue was never mentioned again. As the last visit approached, I had nearly convinced myself that Lillian needed speech therapy. I don’t know if Lillian really had a speech issue or if Ms. Deanna and I secretly hoped she did so our visits could continue! The day had come for our last home visit. Ms. Deanna gave Lillian her last developmental screening and Lillian was mastering every task. Then we got to the speech articulation part. Ms. Deanna asked Lillian to repeat a word and that’s when our hypothesis was confirmed. Lillian consistently left the ends off of almost every word she was asked to repeat. Still unsure if Lillian would qualify for speech therapy, Ms. Deanna recommended a full speech evaluation through the Francis Howell School District. Wanting what is best for my child, we did the additional screening and the results indicated Lillian was eligible for speech therapy. Lillian is inconsistent in her production of /m/, /p/ and /b/, which according to the norms should be present at three years of age. She also leaves off the endings of a lot of words, substitutes some medial sounds and consonant blends. Her language skills are off the charts but as her sentences become longer and her words more complex, I have observed her speech becoming increasingly unintelligible and have seen her become frustrated when others can’t understand what she is saying.

I honestly would never have picked up on Lillian’s articulation errors without Ms. Deanna’s keen observations. I easily would have dismissed them as developmental and Lillian would have gone undiagnosed. I will forever be grateful to Ms. Deanna and the Parents as Teachers program for identifying Lillian’s needs and getting her the assistance to be successful. And as an extra bonus, Ms. Deanna will continue visiting us!

Parents as Teachers is an amazing partnership and I encourage everyone with young children to sign up for the program! Parents will always be their child’s first and most important teacher but in this busy, often stressful world of parenthood, this Mommy is happy to have Parents as Teachers and parent educators like Ms. Deanna to help me navigate the early years.

Ending 2017 “On a High Note”

Thank you for your overwhelming love and support in regards to my writing endeavors. I am pleased to announce that “Noteworthy Mommy” was named one of the Top 100 Upcoming Mummy Blogs for 2017! The Dutch website, mrkortingscode.nl, discovered me on the web, enjoyed my authentic stories on juggling a busy life as a wife, mummy, musician and part time educational consultant and they included my site on their list. I look forward to sharing my adventures as a first time mommy of a three year old with all of you in 2018!

Although I ultimately write my stories as a childhood memory for my little Lillian, nothing brings me greater joy then having my words resonate with others. So keep the comments coming, sign up to follow “Noteworthy Mommy” via email and on Facebook. And if you enjoy my stories, spread the word by telling others about “Noteworthy Mommy!”

Away in a Manger

My dad collects nativity scenes. He has around one hundred different sets in various sizes and they are crafted from a dozen different materials. Each holds a story and a special place in his heart.

A medium sized set made out of paper mache sits illuminated under the big tree in the living room. It was dad’s first nativity and was a special gift from my mother on their first Christmas as a married couple. The figures, so delicate and carefully painted in rich color, mesmerized me as a child. From the angel spreading her glorious wings and proclaiming the good news on top of the rustic stable to the shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders, no doubt exhausted from a long journey. To the three wise men adorned in gold to a kneeling Mary dressed in blue, gazing lovingly at the innocent baby lying in a manger. As a child I would carefully sneak on top of the piano bench (during my childhood this nativity was placed on the grand piano) and I became lost in the scene; trying to visualize that marvelous first Christmas when Baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born. This nativity set, now forty-nine years old, is a treasured part of his collection.

The newest nativity found its place in his collection a few days ago. It was a gift from church friends, Ron and Judy Schield. This nativity is crafted from olive wood, each figure carefully carved by hand. It was made in Jerusalem and was acquired by their son when he made a visit to the Holy Land. Their son passed on a few years ago and my dad was deeply moved when the Schields generously gifted him with the nativity, a beautiful possession from their talented son who was taken from this Earth far too soon.

Another special nativity is one my father gave to Lillian when she was one-year old. Unlike the others, which are delicate and meant to be admired from afar, this one is made of hard plastic and it is intended for play and exploration. We placed the Fischer Price nativity beneath our tree and Lillian is free to interact with the figures whenever she pleases. This nativity is musical and plays “Away in a Manger.” Lillian loves pressing the angel on top because it makes the star light up and then the music begins to play. The other day I noticed Baby Jesus was missing from the scene. When I asked Lillian where He was she replied, “He’s not there.” Lillian’s innocent words remind me that Jesus did not stay a baby forever. He grew up and died on the cross to save me and all that believe. But He didn’t stay in the tomb either, he rose again and one day I look forward to joining Him in heaven.

A few days ago a co-worker posted a picture of the same Fischer Price nativity. John assembled the set for his granddaughter to explore. In the picture, a penguin resides next to one of the wise men. When he inquired about the penguin his oldest granddaughter replied, “All are welcome.” Jesus, who was born in a manger, does not discriminate. All are welcome for those who believe.

Home for Christmas

Yesterday I hosted a Christmas party “play date” for the “library girls.” Seven three-year olds, along with their mothers and three baby siblings, joined in the fun.

Christmas Treats

Our Christmas party “play date” was after lunch but we had plenty of yummy things to snack on. Lillian shared the homemade sugar cookies she decorated with Nana. Halley’s trail mix was a big hit with the littles and Ashley’s champaign was a huge hit with the moms! (Don’t worry we deluded it with lots of orange juice). We also enjoyed veggies, chips, banana bread, fruit and watermelon cut into cute Christmas tree shapes!

Christmas Activities

I planned lots of activities to keep these curious three year olds busy!

I made homemade play dough and the littles used cookie cutters and imagination to create their own Christmas treats.

We decorated paper trees with colorful Fruit Loop ornaments. Although I think more of the Fruit Loops ended up in their tummies then on the trees!

To commemorate Lillian’s Minnie Mouse birthday party, our trip to Disneyland and our magical Alaskan cruise on the Disney Wonder, we made personalized Minnie Mouse ornaments. The adults placed vinyl Minnie Mouse cutouts along with glittery bows on pink and red glass ornaments and took them home to hang on their trees.

Since we live in a musical home I passed out jingle bells and led the group in a lively rendition of “Up on the Housetop.”

No party would be complete without a Christmas story. This year I chose to read “Little Robin’s Christmas” by British author, Jan Fearnley. Ms. Shirley, a family friend, gifted Lillian with the book last Christmas and we immediately fell in love with little robin and his giving spirit. The book also lets readers discover how robin got his red breast. The fable has become a new family favorite.

Chelsea, one of the “library moms,” brought festive “crackers or poppers” and shared how they are a Christmas tradition for her daughter’s grandmother who has British relatives. The “cracker or popper” is pulled apart by two people and out pops a small toy, a joke and a paper crown. The littles really enjoyed the treats and I took their picture wearing their Christmas crowns.

Christmas Presents

I created Minnie Mouse themed gift bags for the littles to take home and others brought candy canes filled with m&m’s (a memory from childhood), Christmas candy and stuffed animals. Our children are certainly blessed!

Now it is 6:45 am, the morning after the party. My husband just left for work and my daughter is upstairs in a deep slumber, possibly dreaming about the excitement of all things Christmas. The hardwood floors, once shiny and clean, are now embossed with homemade play dough, cookie crumbs and Fruit Loops. There are toys scattered in every room and I question, “Was the frantic preparation and impeding clean up really worth it? Maybe we should meet at a restaurant next year?” Then I was quickly reminded of the laughter (and a few tears) from the littles, the hugs and stories shared and the cherished memories that were created upon these floors. For a few hours our house was filled with noise and great activity and it’s days like yesterday that make our house a home.

Minnie Mouse Birthday Memories

Lillian turned three on November 5, 2017. We invited family and friends to a Minnie Mouse themed birthday party the day before to celebrate our little princess. Lillian loves Minnie Mouse and had the opportunity to meet her favorite character in February when we visited Disneyland and again in July when we went on a Disney Cruise to Alaska. We chose pink, white, black and gold as the party colors.

Invitation

I incorporated a fun photo from our Disney cruise to Alaska when creating the invitation. You will find a thrilled little Lillian holding Alaskan Minnie’s hand. I turned to Etsy for help and had My Celebration Shoppe design the invitation. After receiving a digital image I went to Fed Ex to print them out.Lillian 3rd Birthday

Birthday Outfit

I found the perfect shop on Etsy (Kim’s Boutique) to make custom Minnie and Mickey Mouse embroidered t-shirts for the party. Mommy, Daddy and Lillian wore the special shirts that incorporated the birthday colors and theme. Lillian wore a gold tutu and sparkling gold shoes from Gymboree.

Lillian’s birthday picture was taken by the talented photographer, Lisa Parsons.

Decorations

I always enjoy using a Cricut Machine to cut out themed banners. This year my friend Phil let me borrow his spare machine and I went crazy! I created Minnie Mouse banners that incorporated the design on the t-shirts and placed them in every room.

A sample of the Minnie Mouse banners that hung throughout the house.

I borrowed some Minnie Mouse decorations from a neighbor friend. These included the “I am 3” banner, Minnie Mouse center pieces and photo booth props.

Photos of Lillian and Minnie Mouse that were taken in Disneyland and on the Disney cruise were placed in gold frames and positioned on the mantel and throughout the house. I also used some of the character photos on a wreath that hung on the inside front door.

Guests were greeted with balloons and a “Lillian is 3” banner made out of paper Minnie Mouse heads cut from the Cricut Machine.

Cake and Cookies

We love the cakes that J. Noto Bakery have made for us in the past. The bakery met our expectations once again by incorporating my design ideas into this stunning Minnie Mouse birthday cake! The cake was iced with buttercream and the top tier was decorated with a pink fondant bow with polka dots, mouse ears, large polka dots on the side and a #3 piped on a large polka dot. The bottom tier was decorated with Minnie Mouse silhouettes with pink bows and an oval name plaque with the birthday girl’s name piped on it. The cake looked amazing but tasted even better! The top layer was chocolate cake with chocolate Bavarian creme filling and the bottom layer was white cake with raspberry filling.

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The beautiful Minnie Mouse birthday cake created by J Noto Bakery.

For the littles I made vanilla cupcakes iced with homemade buttercream icing and pink sprinkles and adorned with a black and pink Minnie Mouse head which I made with the Cricut Machine.

My mom baked homemade sugar cookies in the shape of Minnie Mouse. She decorated them with homemade pink buttercream icing and pink sprinkles and added a black number 3 to some.

My dad decorated a scoop of ice cream to look like Minnie Mouse. He used Oreo Cookies for the ears and made a bow out of gumdrops. The ice cream treats were a big hit with the birthday guests!

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Minnie Mouse ice cream.

Games and Activities 

I cut giant mouse heads and bows with the Cricut Machine and we played the game “Pin the Bow on Minnie.”

I ordered a personalized Mickey Mouse Clubhouse book called “Whose Birthday Is It?” from the company Put Me In The Story. The reader follows Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters on a birthday treasure hunt filled with clues that uncover a special birthday party for “Lillian.” I read the story at the party and then had all of the guests sign the book.

When I was a little girl I had a Mickey Mouse birthday party and my dad made special birthday hats with mouse ears. It is a joyful memory that I will always remember. I asked my dad to replicate this idea for the Minnie Mouse party. The little guests looked so cute wearing the hats!

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Minnie Mouse party hats. A memory from my childhood.

Goodie Bags

Months before the birthday party I began collecting items for the goodie bags. I found the fun miniature Mickey and Minnie stamp pad set and the Disney card games on clearance at Target. I purchased the Minnie Mouse bubbles, stickers and activity books at a discount online at Walmart. The hot pink necklace was leftover from our gender reveal party and the Minnie Mouse head filled with candy was purchased on clearance at Walgreens.

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A sample of the party decorations along with the Minnie Mouse goodie bag.


Birthday Blessings

Flying home from Erie, PA on that chilly autumn evening I sat in the back of the plane and I wept. As tears stained my face I thought of the children I left behind. And I thought about all of those people making choices for their lives before they can make choices for themselves. Then I thought of Lillian and her little friends who are all celebrating third birthdays. Beautiful girls and boys leading joy filled lives with people diligently striving to make quality choices for them. They are sweet and innocent and too young to possibly comprehend all of the blessings they have been given. I thought about my daughter’s weekend birthday party. The pictures I took of laughing faces, the sweet taste of sugar from her Minnie Mouse cake. How we transformed our home with pink and white polka dotted balloons, sparkling Minnie Mouse banners and packages adorned with iridescent bows. 

Beyond the themed birthday parties, fancy cakes and the toy filled room. Beyond the stack of books, the recent autumn adventures to the pumpkin patch, zoo and neighborhood trick or treating.

Beyond the enriching classes at the library, Kindermusik, Little Gym, and the swimming pool. Beyond the overflowing closet full of clean clothes, shoes, oversized hair bows and accessories. Beyond the quality dental and healthcare. Beyond the healthy food, clean water and opportunity to safely play outside.

Lillian, the best gift you received that day was the room filled with family and friends who took the time out of their busy, stressful lives on that November afternoon to celebrate you. People who love and care for you and relish in your accomplishments. People from far away sending you cards through the mail and virtual greetings via social media. Individuals cheering you on while you reach for a new milestone, reassuring you when you feel uneasy and setting high expectations for your future. Through their guidance and encouragement you will grow to be the best “you” a little girl could possibly be. This my dear one is a birthday gift that will last a lifetime.

The family and friends who love and support my daughter.
Perhaps you are wise beyond your freshly turned three years. For after you opened your last gift on that monumental day your Godmother, Aunt Kay Kay, heard you whisper in a soft sweet voice, “Lucky Baby.” Lillian, you are my smart and stunning little “lucky baby” but I am the lucky one because you chose me am to be your “noteworthy mommy.”

The “lucky baby” with her “noteworthy mommy.”

A Few Things I Said I Would Never Do When I Had a Baby

Formula Feed    I know “breast is best” and I had every intention of breast feeding my daughter. I took a breastfeeding class prior to her birth, bought a state of the art breast pump, a pretty pink breast feeding cover and a Boppy pillow with several trendy patterned covers. A day or two after my daughter’s birth we discovered that my milk wasn’t coming in and the nurses had me supplementing my daughter’s diet with formula. I religiously pumped using the hospital grade pump and rejoiced when I pumped enough milk to cover the bottom of the bottle! Unfortunately, I never produced enough to adequately nourish my baby. After being released from the hospital I persevered by renting a hospital grade pump, taking supplements, increasing my water in-take and drinking Mother’s Milk Tea. But an appointment with a lactation consultant showed that my efforts weren’t improving my milk production and all I could produce at any given time was less than an ounce. I will never forget sitting in the pediatrician’s office when my daughter was only a few weeks old. We were making an extra visit because my daughter wasn’t gaining weight. I wept when the doctor gently told me I should give up on my breastfeeding journey. I felt like a failure and feared that my daughter wouldn’t develop properly and be scarred for life! I know people probably judged me when they saw me feeding my daughter formula, completely oblivious of my tremendous struggle and feelings of inadequacy. Leading up to motherhood I would have been one of those people judging. I was void of the knowledge that not producing milk was even a possibility. When I heard of a mother feeding formula to her baby I felt she had “given up” not wantingto be  inconvenienced  with the demands often accompanied by breastfeeding. There are many women who choose to formula feed but for me it wasn’t a choice. Although my body didn’t cooperate, my daughter and I are extremely close. She had a healthy first year of life, met all of her milestones and continues to thrive; scoring off the charts on a recent developmental screening administered by our Parent Educator. 


Give My Baby a Pacifier     On the day my daughter was born I told the nurses to put a “no pacifier” placard in her bassinet to ensure that she never be given a pacifier. What I hadn’t anticipated is the fact that my daughter was born with a lot to say and she wanted to ensure that everyone (even the family in the room down the hall) heard her! When her pediatrician visited us in the hospital she commented on my daughter’s thunderous cries. The doctor was finding it difficult to hear her heartbeat and questioned whether she had a pacifier. The nurses at the hospital must have felt the same way because after spending an hour in the nursery my daughter came back to the room with a green pacifier in her mouth! The pacifier stayed and my daughter used and adored her “paci”until she was close to two and half years old. It soothed her during car rides, helped her fall asleep and comforted her on airline flights. The pacifier didn’t delay her language development or harm her teeth. Although getting my daughter to relinquish her pacifier was a bit painful for the entire family, as I look back on my days prior to motherhood I can’t help but feel a bit quilty at the mother I scoffed at who had given her older toddler a pacifier on the airplane. I thought the child was too old for a pacifier but the woman was traveling alone and as a mommy I view that nothing short of a true victory! I published a story on this blog  in March titled “The Pacifier,” which details the adventures my daughter had with her beloved “paci.”

Where Are My Sunglasses?

Before I was a mother I wondered why my sister-in-law always wore her sunglasses on top of her head? When I look at the pictures I have taken of her over the years, in ninety percent of the photos she has her iconic sunglasses perched on top of her head. One of the few photographs I have of her (sans the sunglasses) is a family portrait taken on the day I married her baby brother. 

My sister-in-law Patricia wearing her sunglasses on top of her head.

Maybe the sunglasses serve as some sort of headband or she is prone to losing her glasses and by placing them on top of her head they are never far away? Perhaps she is trying to begin a new fashion trend? Although, I doubt that is true because she doesn’t wear designer glasses and once bought a replacement pair at an aging gas station. Whatever the reason it became a quandary that I never figured out… until I became a mommy!

In preparing for motherhood I read a lot about parenting but I never found the topic of sunglasses in any of the books. The sunglass topic came up once when I was pregnant with Lillian. I remember my co-worker Sara telling me, “Enjoy your designer sunglasses now. When you have your baby girl she will rip your sunglasses off of your face and they will never be the same again! I have one word for you, Target.” 

When my “mini me” was a baby I realized Sara had given me some wonderful advice and I’m glad I purchased several pair of inexpensive sunglasses. Lillian loved reaching for my glasses and found great satisfaction in playing peek-a-boo by pulling them away from my face. With popped out lenses and stretched out frames my little one has caused several pair of sunglasses to meet an early demise. And in her toddler years she hasn’t proved to be any gentler. She adores my sunglasses and enjoys trying to fit the oversized lenses on her petite face. Like my sister-in-law I frequently found myself putting my sunglasses on top of my head in an attempt to protect them. I quickly learned what all of the veteran mommas already know, babies love sunglasses

The other day I spent a few hours at Chicago’s Midway Airport during a layover on my way home from Cincinnati. One of my layover rituals is to initiate a FaceTime call with my mom so I can surprise my little girl. That’s when I was astounded to see the video image of myself. Staring back at me was a woman sporting a pair of sunglasses perched on top of her head! The sun had already set and after a plane ride and a layover it had been hours since I had been outside. I quickly swept the airport to see if I could spot anyone else wearing sunglasses on top of their head and after looking at dozens of passengers the only person I spotted with sunglasses was a pilot ready to naviagate a flight. To passerbys did I appear to be a pilot in training or a busy super mommy (like my sister-in-law) who juggles motherhood and a career and simply has too much on her mind?

A self portrait during the layover at Midway Airport in Chicago.

I am prone to losing my sunglasses and many have become buried in the bottom of my bag. Before Lillian was born several pair have been left behind in rental cars or abandoned in hotel rooms. I continue to question, “Where are my sunglasses?” but now that I am a mother I always know where to find them. I think about my sister-in-law, raise my arm and pat my head and that is where I find my sunglasses, sitting proudly on top of my head! 

Proudly wearing my sunglasses on top of my head!

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

My daughter is obsessed with everything Daniel Tiger! “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is an animated children’s television series targeted at preschool-aged children. The program is based on the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the long-running family-oriented television series created and hosted by Fred Rogers. Little Lillian loves watching the show and reading Daniel Tiger books. She has a red toy trolley complete with the “ding ding” sound effect and a miniature Daniel Tiger (dressed in Fred Roger’s iconic red sweater) that fits perfectly inside. The steps in our home have been transformed into a trolley and Lillian asks family and friends to take an imaginary ride to the library, grocery store or doctor’s office on a daily basis. Lillian enjoys acting out the show’s familiar opening scene by sitting in her little chair and singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” while carefully putting her shoes on. Our little girl is filled with great imagination!

While watching Daniel Tiger and his friends I am transported back to my childhood where I enjoyed watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and became enchanted with Daniel Striped Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, Mr. McFeely and others in “The Land of Make Believe.” Many of these characters (or their offspring) appear in “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” When I watch the show with my daughter its like seeing old friends from forty years ago! This new show carries on Fred Roger’s legacy by supporting whole child development and is based upon Fred Rogers’ six principles of learning readiness. I am reminded of the the importance of childhood play, discovery, creativity and imagination. ​​Another show highlight are the catchy strategy songs that introduce the preschool set to social/emotional themes: feelings, confidence, new experiences, self control, responsibility and kindness. We enjoy listening to the songs in the car and at home while we play.  Sometimes I find myself humming the songs throughout the day and I have spent several sleepless nights with the songs playing over and over in my head!

Meeting Daniel Tiger
Last week I felt like I was living in a real life musical. Not a bad place to be since I absolutely adore Broadway theater! It all began while I was preparing breakfast. My mini me peered up at me and sang, “When you wait, you can sing, play or imagine anything.” A song she learned from watching Daniel Tiger! I was impressed that she was singing the song at the appropriate time and she didn’t miss a single lyric. Since it was Saturday, Daddy was home and he joined his girls in building a huge castle out of blocks. That’s when we heard her sweet voice sing, “I like to be with my family. Family time is special.” When she tried to use the potty she belted out, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.” And when it was time to clean up before bed she sang, “Clean up, pick up, put away, clean up everyday!” Although she did a better job singing than picking up any of her toys, it was clear she was learning a lot from watching Daniel Tiger and his friends. 

Our neighborhood trolley!
In late August the Saint Charles County Library System sponsored a special story time and trolley ride with Daniel Tiger. Lillian was thrilled to meet Daniel Tiger and I was pleased to see my daughter enjoy something I adored as a child. It was an exciting day in our neighborhood and we made a special memory this neighbor will never forget!

A Wonderous Voyage 

When my family and I embarked on a seven day cruise to Alaska on the Disney Wonder I was prepared for a truly magical experience. But after a challenging flight where I had to physically restrain my two year old during take off ( in fear that we would get kicked off the plane) I was beginning to have my doubts about the trip. She didn’t improve as we made our way through the ship’s boarding procedure, refusing to have anyone but mommy console her and I ended up carrying her every step of the way. Sadly, our trip was quickly losing its magic.

Once on the ship we encountered crowded elevators and a mass of people making their way up to deck nine for the castaway party. Through all of the chaos a mother and her daughter caught my attention. They were positively glowing and I don’t know if I was attracted to them because of their fashionable nautical wardrobe or the fact that as mother and daughter they looked so happy to simply be together. I admired their special bound and hope my daughter and I have a relationship like theirs when she grows into a young adult.

We made our way up to deck nine with only minutes to spare before showtime. There were people everywhere and even more people looking down on us from deck ten! As we frantically looked for a place to stand, a Disney cast member took down the rope blocking a gazebo and ushered us inside, giving us the perfect spot to see the show! My daughter shimmered with excitement as Mickey Mouse and friends filled the stage with animated enthusiasm. We danced along to the spirited party music and Chip the Chipmunk captured her heart by blowing a kiss her way!

After the characters and dancers left the stage I turned around. To my surprise, there was the mother/daughter pair who had caught my eye outside the elevators on our frenzied dash to the show! I continued to feel drawn to them and wrangled between approaching them and keeping to myself. Although I questioned my decision, something inside of me pushed away any decisiveness and I made my way over to them. I quickly explained that I usually don’t approach random strangers but wanted to complement them on their stylish cruise attire. They in turn complemented my family and I on our matching cruise t-shirts, adding that they enjoyed watching my little princess dance. I told them we were on the cruise to celebrate my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary (visiting our 49th state for 49 years of marriage.) Through teary eyes they told me they were cruising together in memory of their beloved husband/father who passed on a year ago after a tremendous fight with cancer. I am not an overly emotional person but tears welled in my eyes as I immediately embraced them and said, “Your husband/father is here on the cruise with you. I don’t know how to explain it but I just feel his presence.” I assured them I wasn’t claiming to be a medium or a psychic or anything like that. It was just something I felt that I couldn’t completely articulate.

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Tracee and Brooklyn pose for a picture with me and my mini me!
We continued our conversation and I discovered twenty-year old Brooklyn, wise beyond her years, was an only child and a college student interested in pursing the health profession. Tracee (with two Es) was a proud Momma who beamed with pride when she described the dedicated care Brooklyn showed her father during his heart wrenching struggle.

After meeting Tracee and Brooklyn I completely changed my attitude about the trip. I no longer worried about everything going smoothly. Suddenly my daughter’s toddler meltdowns and the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do and see everything seemed insignificant. (our big dog sledding on a glacier experience was cancelled due to weather) Instead, my focus shifted to spending quality time together (with the added bonus of having the majestic views of Alaska as our backdrop). As Carly, our delightful cruise director stated, “Now is the time to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with your family.” So that is exactly what I did and I will never forget the memory of seeing my brave little girl grin from ear to ear as she danced with Minnie Mouse or the quality time my dad and I spent sipping hot cocoa on our private verandah after the rest of our family went to bed. As we passed seals riding on ice bergs, viewed amazing waterfalls flowing down mountainsides and stood in awe gazing at the Mendenhall Glacier, we were creating magical memories. Delightful memories that I will no longer take for granted. 1572-12152152-Tracy Arm-26947_GPR.jpg

Although I saw Tracee and Brooklyn several times throughout our Alaskan adventure we never exchanged email addresses and I left the ship knowing I would never see them again. However, I will never forget them and will treasure the moment we shared and the lessons they taught me on that wonderous day. They reminded me to focus on the little miracles in life. As I further reflect on my encounter with Tracee and Brooklyn I realize the Holy Spririt was at work in me that day. God used me to speak to Tracee and Brooklyn and I was open to listening to Him. I am reminded that God is always with us and He can speak to us at anytime, even on a crowded cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

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