The Better to Hear You With


Enjoying a little pool time on the porch and now hearing all kinds of new things.

A 5th grade girls sleepover, relocating 65 baby chicks out of a stock tank and into the roomy shed, a bonfire, swimming at the pool, a surgery for ear tubes, strep throat…just four days into summer vacation, I feel like we’ve squeezed in about a month’s worth of activity.

One of the highlights of my day today: when I clicked my fingernails together behind my baby boy’s head, he turned his head to that sound. That seems like nothing, but that is a big deal because I’ve never seen him do that before. He was hearing it for the first time. That simple action is the result of numerous hearing checkups, appointments, and finally, this morning’s surgery to get tubes put into his ears.

With Down sydrome, he goes in regularly for hearing checks. Since last September, each time he’s gone in for a check, he’s had fluid in his ears. While it’s normal to have fluid in ears temporarily from a cold, his ears never drained themselves. After monitoring it over months, his doctors decided getting tubes to drain the fluid was the best course of action since the fluid impairs his hearing.

Realizing that he’s lived most of his first year with very muffled hearing (equivalent to wearing ear plugs), I’ve been so anxious for him to have better hearing. And at the same time, I’ve been dreading him having surgery, even that minor one.

This morning Jarred and I and a sleepy baby were on the road heading to Rochester well before 6 AM. Babies get the earliest surgery time slots to minimize the amount of time they have to go without eating or drinking. I’m so thankful for that. As I walked out in the early morning sunshine, I was also thankful for summertime daylight. It would have been so much harder to scoop a baby out of a warm bed and head out into the cold and dark at 5:30 on a winter morning.

By 7:00 AM we’d finished all of the check-in procedures, and it felt like such a long half of an hour to wait until his surgery time when all he really wanted to do was nurse, but couldn’t. We rattled off his name and date of birth half a dozen times for surgery protocol checklists, met with the doctors, and off he went. By 8:00, his surgery was done and he was back in my arms. All went well.

I have to say, though, that the morning was one long blur. Between being anxious and not sleeping well and getting up extra early, I was definitely in a fog. It’s the kind of morning that called for some coffee. On the way in though, I elected not to share a drink from the big mug Jarred brought. He’s had a sore throat for days, and his throat looked really bad with white spots, so we were pretty sure he had strep. Coffee? Strep? I chose no coffee and hopefully no strep.

After our baby had some time to recover from anesthesia and nurse until his belly was full, we were free to go. We left the hospital and I got my own coffee, and ironically, we went from the hospital to the FastCare clinic where we took Jarred to get a throat culture. Positive for strep. In the midst of waiting for the prescription, Jarred walked next door to Menards to grab some paint. While I waitied on his medicine, I paid for the things I had at Shopko, and can you guess what I forgot to pick up on the way out of the store?

Just as we started to get back on the highway, Jarred asked if he could have his prescription. All I could offer was an “Ooooh no…” We turned back around and got the medicine. Meanwhile, our little guy snoozed peacefully through most of it. And now, I am so very glad the surgery is finally done.

After our little guy woke up from a good nap this afternoon, I sat on the bed with our baby. We’ve only had a few hours with his new and improved hearing, but my impression right now is that he is delighted. I sat talking to him on the bed, and he intently stared at my mouth moving, listening, and smiling. Usually he looks me in the eyes when I talk to him, but it was obvious he was trying to figure out the new sounds he heard. He looked ever so pleased to hear all the words coming out of his mommy’s mouth.

I can’t wait to see what develops over time. I’m going to flood that little boy with words to help make up for the months of not being able to hear as much.

With his surgery out of the way, it feels like we are ready to kick off a great summer. Over and over I feel the huge energy difference in myself between this summer and last year. I happened to look at the calendar from last year at this time (it’s easy with the 2016 calendar still hanging underneath this year’s), and I saw that last year at this time, we had a two-week old baby, I had a migraine for two days, I got mastitis that week, and he had an appointment for an ECG to check for heart conditions. Wow.

It’s a whole different world with a one-year-old. I have the energy and strength back to lug around 50 lb bags of chick feed, shovel out the shed to clean it out for the chicks, and till up a garden. That’s right, I have a new garden this year!! After five years here, I realized the place where I really want my garden is in the back yard, right under my kitchen window where I can look out and enjoy it countless times a day.

Two Saturdays ago, I borrowed a walk-behind tiller (thanks, David!) and made it happen. It was the first time I’d run a tiller, so I was pretty proud of it all. I deliberately made the garden small and manageable, about 8 x11. With the help of four big kids (and two little ones that helpfully napped) we went from grass to a fully planted garden in two and a half hours. Awesome. Ten days later, almost all of my seeds are up. I’m so excited for cucumbers, peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, zucchini, flowers…all of it. I just love to see new life happening right before my eyes.

The biggest attraction for my kids? Seeds for giant pumpkins. The packet promises pumpkins weighing up to 100 pounds. Oh man! My oldest daughter just happens to weight exactly 100, so I had her curl up like a pumpkin on the ground to show how big those pumpkins just might grow. The other kids took turns trying to lift up the “pumpkin” and all of them were just giddy at the thought of growing pumpkins as big as their sister. We plan to just let all the vines spill over onto the lawn as much as they want. Oooh, I can’t wait for too see everything grow, either.

Surgery for ear tubes: check. Bring on the warm sunshine, kids playing outside, plants growing, and a baby that’s all ears for all of it. Happy summer to all of you!

Written June 6, 2017.


Giving my Kids Nothing this Summer, Again

Summer vacation officially kicks off in a few days, and I’m feeling the squeeze of my self-inflicted to-do list. In a moment of excitement or insanity, I agreed to host an end-of-the-year sleepover party, inviting the 15 girls in my daughter’s 5th grade class. In one week, our baby boy has a minor surgery to get tubes put into his ears to drain fluid.

My brain is full of camps, swimming lessons, 4-H projects and all sorts of things we “should” do this summer. And at the point where my head is swimming, I came across just what I needed to hear. As it turns out, it was my own words that I wrote four years ago at the beginning of summer. I’d forgotten that I wrote this, but it’s just what I need to remember all over again. I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear it, so I’m sharing this again with all of you.

Here’s to more of doing nothing this summer…

Kathy, May 2016


“Giving my Kids Nothing this Summer” (Originally printed May 2013.)

My original plan this week was to write about our summer list of things to do, you know, to feel like our family has a “successful” summer. Making plans and writing to-do lists does have value. It helps me get things done. But sometimes, a to-do list is a load of garbage.

I can’t speak for past generations of mothers, but in the circles I run in of moms with kids at home, we spend a lot of time trying to do it all right. We try to make meaningful memories, create precious moments, provide engaging learning opportunities, all that. But maybe, just maybe, we need to try less hard, too.

My oldest child is just finishing first grade. What do I remember about my summer after first grade? The only specific thing I remember was that I had short permed hair that my grandma said looked like Shirley Temple. In the summer time I would go days on end without combing it. Much of the time my hair looked more like a rumpled Afro than Shirley Temple’s ringlets.

Combing my hair? What a waste of time.

I had ant hills to smash on the edge of the driveway. I needed to make sure I was the one who raced down to the mailbox first when the mailman came around noon, a highlight of the day. I was busy riding my bike down the field lane and learning to ride down the gravel on the driveway without wiping out and scraping up my knee.

I don’t remember many other specifics, because the summers growing up all sort of blend together in a sort of sweaty, Kool Aid, dandelions, swimming in the freezing water at Whitewater kind of way.


Isn’t doing nothing just the best?

On a visit to Whitewater a couple summers ago, I spotted a mom lugging a huge plastic tote down to the beach while trying to wrangle her kids. The tote was neatly labelled “Beach Toys.” I imagined her pulling it from it’s special shelf in the garage and loading it up in the van. As she emptied it, out came every sort of wonderful beach implement imaginable.

Part of me admires that sort of amazing, logical organization. And part of me just wants to puke. That level of perfection is just too much. Many of the toys didn’t get touched.

Seeing that tote made me think of my own days as a kid playing at Whitewater. When we made the trip there as a kid, if I wanted a sand toy, it was my job to get it. If I brought something, it was probably an empty Cool Whip container from the cupboard. Fairly often, we just went there with nothing. Sometimes we dug a pop can out of the beach garbage can to use as a digging toy and water carrier.

No tote full of toys, and we were happy at Whitewater. Very likely, my next older brother suggested we were superior in some way because we were kids that could make our own toys. He was good at always making us feel like we were part of some sort of secret elite force of little survivors.

Sand, water, kids. What else do you need at the beach?

I tell this to remind myself that when it comes to kids, less is often just as good as more. A big tote full of toys is fun, but so are hands, sticks, and rocks.

Sometimes I’m like that mom lugging the tote. I love my kids and I try to do my best. The trouble is, it’s easy to think “best” and “more” are one and the same. They are not. It is a fine line to balance between wanting the best for your kids and crippling them because they get everything they want. Innovation and ingenuity often comes from those moments of creating something out of nothing.

I want to give my kids more “nothing.”

A few nights ago I spent 15 minutes hauling boxes up to the attic. While I was up there, three of our kids played out on the porch. I came down to find discover three kids completely enmeshed in their own imaginary world of playing house. I said hi and then ignored them in that sort of way that doesn’t make them self-conscious of a viewer, putting on a show for mom. They did their thing.

My seven-year-old “Mom” decided it was bedtime, and put her two-year-old baby to bed. She tucked in her sister on the wicker couch using her favorite blanket. Then, while I got the mail and seemingly ignored them, I listened to my big girl sing a lullaby to her little sister, who pretended to sleep.

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sweeter lullaby than that one I heard that evening. There’s nothing on my summer list of fun activities that’s any better than that.

I give up.

And I think I probably should. We made a list of fun things to do this summer, but most remarkable is that what the kids want is pretty darn unremarkable. They want to go swimming. They want to have bonfires. They want cousins to come over and play. Simple things.

And that’s probably how it should be.

They’re little kids. Hot, sticky, endless summer days with messy hair, scraped up knees, dirty feet, popsicle drips and grass stains…that about covers it. Anything else is just details.

So, it’s settled. We’re doing nothing this summer.

Happy Birthday, Little Buddy!


You know what’s even better than your baby’s first birthday? Your baby’s first birthday AND 65 new baby chicks arriving at your house on the same day!

Somehow a year flew by and our little boy turned one on Monday. A few days ago I looked back at his newborn pictures. Even though he’s still so little, at 24 pounds now he looks like such a big boy compared to the sweet little newborn he was last year at this time. In photos I see that soft newborn skin and fine fluff of hair, those tiny little fingers and I just get choked up about how sweet he was. I just love new babies, fresh from the oven. Looking back at those pictures, I also remember the worry, stress, and uncertainty that clouded that time, being taken by surprise when we learned he has Down syndrome. I didn’t know what to expect.

I wish I could go back and tell myself then to not worry. A year later, I feel much more of a peacefulness about his life. I don’t know the timeline of when he will check off each milestone, I don’t know all the answers, but I do know it will all be fine.

We have so much joy with him in our life. His big brother’s bedtime prayer on the night before his birthday was “thank you for blessing us with Lars.” We have a baby boy with an infectious smile and an easy-going personality. There’s so much excitement, joy, and love that surrounds him on a daily basis. On any given morning when I carry him downstairs, I ask if anyone would like to hold him while I start getting breakfast ready. Every time, three or four kids shout “I DO!” and then squabble over snuggling him. Lucky boy.

And what did we do to kick off this baby’s first birthday? Why, I hauled him to his big sister’s dentist appointment first thing in the morning, of course. And then we ran errands.That’s how you roll if you are child number six in the family. We got a few groceries (just a full cart, not a heaping cart) and had lunch.

After lunch, excitement mounted when we made a trip to Fleet Farm. I realize that may sound sarcastic, but I’m dead serious. Walking around in Fleet Farm always gives me a happy feeling, being surrounded by all the things you need for getting work done and living a good life. I love shopping in a store where the guy ahead of me in line bought a bag of walnuts and some teat dip. Today’s mission: get ready for our chicks.

Heading to the back corner of the store with the animal feed, I pushed a cart with my two-year-old girl, and my 11-year-old pushed a cart with my birthday boy. A bale of wood chips , a bag of chick feed, a red heat lamp bulb and we had two carts loaded and ready for our new chicks. By the time we walked out of the store, I had a heavy baby boy sleeping on my shoulder, so I used only one hand to push the cart loaded with chicken feed and a crabby toddler.

As cumbersome as that is, with the sun shining, a baby’s first birthday to celebrate, and chicks to pick up, life felt just about perfect. I desperately wanted to check out the greenhouse in the parking lot and pick up some flowers, too, but I restrained myself from adding another project to the day.

By the time we got to the Rushford feed store to pick up our chicks, we were well past the time that my two-year-old needed a nap. The drive from Winona to Rushford was pretty much one long toddler meltdown. All of that evaporated, though, with lifting the lid off of a box of baby chicks. It’s like having the magic and wonder of Christmas morning on an afternoon in May, with peeping tiny balls of yellow and brown fluff.

The rest of the afternoon and evening evaporated in a flurry of getting the chicks situated in their new home, making birthday supper and celebrating. It’s been four years since we’ve had a batch of chicks at our house, a lifetime in a kid’s world. Seeing the other kids get off of the school bus and discover a box full of peeping chicks was one of my favorite moments in a long time.
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With chilly evenings for the week I decided to keep the chicks cozy in an old stock tank in the side room of the barn. Lots of small eager hands helped line the stock tank with wood chips, help fill up the feeders, and help take each chick and individually dip their beak into water to give a first drink. Throughout the whole process, my mind was right back in the time four years ago when we got 110 chicks and my brother Mike and his family came out and helped us get the chicks settled. Mike’s been gone now for almost four years, but to me at that moment I had the comforting feeling like he was right here again as we repeated those same steps that we learned from him.

Just as we finished getting the last chick a drink and settled in, my mom and sister arrived for our little guy’s birthday supper. I was surprised to see them already, since it seemed pretty early in the afternoon, and then I realized it was already after 5:00. Time to switch gears to birthday mode. With a day in town and taking care of new chicks, we had a kitchen table full of groceries, the living room wasn’t picked up, and with the meal we added a bunch of new dishes to the melee, but the birthday celebration comes just the same.

While I cooked in the kitchen, our lucky birthday boy received Grandma’s full attention while she built towers of blocks for him to knock over. For supper we ate our little guy’s favorite, spaghetti and sauce. My oldest daughter, quite the baker, whipped up her own creation of a banana blueberry birthday cake after his favorite flavor of baby food. The cake was awesome.


Our little buddy opened a few presents, including a swimming suit, which prompted my daughter’s wisecrack “Hey Mom, let’s call this his birthday suit!” and some fleece hand puppets –the very sweet creation of my six-year-old. We sang Happy Birthday a few times and he smeared cake all over everything. Bedtime came a little later than usual, and he went to bed a very tired, very loved little boy.

When all of the kids were finally in bed, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out with a flashlight to check on the chicks in the barn. They all looked cozy and warm in the glow of the red heat lamp, so all was well with all of the babies for the night. One baby turning a year, 65 babies one day old, and a good day all around. Happy birthday, little buddy. We love you!

Written May 23, 2017.