Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Two and a Half!

Our Sal is two and half!  She still only weighs 23 lbs, which is something like 3rd percentile for her age.  She is a tiny little thing.  But you know what they say...Dynamite comes in small packages.  And that is definitely true for our Sal.

This girl is full of spunk, sass, and spirit.  She's a tornado.  I thought Noah was strong-willed, but we might be taking it to a whole new-level with this firecracker.  She is one independent and fiery little lady, and she exhausts me and challenges me for sure.  But at the end of the day, I would not change her indomitable spirit.  I hope she never loses the sparkle of mischief in her eye and that devious little dimple.

Here are some stories to give you an idea of how Sally has kept our life exciting the past few months:

At Noah's music class recently, I was helping Noah with his bells when another mother started motioning to me with wide eyes and pointing to the back of the room.  I turned around to find Sally stark naked, smiling at me knowingly, as if to say, "Oh yes I did, Mom, and there ain't nothing you can do about it."  As Noah said later, "Sal was wearing her birthday suit in front of all the moms and kids at my music class!" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I sang a solo in church a few weeks ago, and afterward, I was holding Sally in my arms when an elderly gentleman came up to tell me what a great job I had done.  He said, "And does this little lady have a beautiful singing voice like her mother?"  Sally looked at him for a second and then burst into song: "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg!"  I have to admit, in that moment, I was pretty sure I have the most amazing kids on the planet. 

Another song that I have heard her singing loud and proud lately is one that she must've learned in her beloved Nursery class (she adores Nursery) with a little twist: "I hope they call me on a teach and preach and work as missionary dudes!"  (For those of my friends who aren't Mormon, the original song says, "missionaries do."  I like her version even better!)   I hope that Sally does go a mission and all sorts of adventures someday--and I have no doubt that she will keep up with those missionary dudes!

Speaking of music, she doesn't like to hear me sing.  Humph!  She often covers my mouth with her little hand when I try to sing her lullabies.  I've tried to tell her that many people enjoy my singing, but she is not convinced.  I guess I'll save my musical performances for elderly gentlemen at church who have hearing aides.

Even thought she doesn't like my lullabies, she loves to be rocked and have her back scratched.  This is pretty much the only way that I can get her to nap anymore, and I actually enjoy it because it's the only time of day that I can get her to cuddle.  She is not a snuggler at all and will almost never give kisses.  But for these few precious minutes some afternoons, I get to hold her, and then I lay her down for a doze.

She cut her own hair.  Oh yes she did.  She hid in her room and just started snipping away.  Fortunately, Ryan realized that it was entirely too quiet and went in there before too much damage was done.  When Sally saw him, she said, "Uh, I'm not doing anything in here, Dad!  You can go away now--thank you!"

She managed to give herself a pretty good mullet, but my friend Tanille is a whiz with hair and did her best to clean it up.  Some parts were so short that she had to leave them, but it's a pretty cute little bob when the hair is pulled back. When the hair is down, it looks a little bit like a 90s bowl cut, but whatever--we do urchin well at our house.  Just ask Noah and his boots.

Sally tries to put a hex on me when she's mad.  I am not kidding.  She got this from an episode of Sofia the First where one of the characters decides to be a good little witch instead of a bad one, but I guess Sally would rather be a bad one?  When she's not happy about something, she storms off and gets her little magic wand.  Then she hides behind a corner or opens her bedroom door just a crack and sticks her wand out, so just her hand is showing, and waves it around at me.  I can only imagine the curses she is muttering in her head. So hilarious.

She has this little move that we call "The Scorpion."  She will just be walking along, and suddenly she pops down on all four and sticks one leg up in the air and holds it for a few seconds like a yoga position, then pops up and keeps walking.  So random and funny.  

She doesn't like to help.  Shouldn't two-year-olds still like to help?  Shouldn't the "Clean Up Song" still be kinda exciting and effective?  I remember Noah being pumped about his little jobs, but Sal flat out refuses to help with anything.  This morning when I asked her to hang her cloak on a hook (yes, she wears a cloak), she said, "I'm too busy, Mom."  Uhhhhhh???? 

As a friend said after watching me trying to discipline Sally for a day recently, "Let me know how it goes when that little girl is a teenager."  I'm telling you, she is a pistol.  I have my hands very full.

Sal in her cloak:

Last month, I tried to be a good mom and bake muffins with her.  She really wanted to add some water from her sippy cup and kept trying to unscrew the lid to pour some in. I patiently explained that the recipe didn't call for water, and I let her add other things to the mixing bowl, but she would not give up.  Finally she just took a big swig from her cup and spit the water directly into the mixing bowl.  Ha! I was so stunned, and even a little impressed by her problem-solving, that I couldn't do anything other than move her out of the kitchen and turn on a show.  No more cooking with Sally for a while!

She has THE cutest little voice.  It's kinda raspy, and I love the way she says certain words, like "Otay!" She calls herself "Sal" all the time, and it's so funny to hear her talk in the third person: "Sal do it!"  She also often calls people "humans" which is just hysterical.  She will say things to me like, "Mom, stop talking to those humans" when she wants me to hurry up so we can go home.  She really does like humans though--she is super friendly, just like her brother.  She will willingly go to just about anyone, and she waves and says hello to people everywhere we go.  We have two very outgoing kids.  It's fun.

A few months ago, we were at a petting zoo and Sally was so excited to feed the goats.  She absolutely loves animals.  Well she quickly became incensed when she saw that the big goat was hogging all of the pellets from the littler goats.  "Stop it, Goat!" she kept shouting.  When he wouldn't listen, she finally got fed up and just punched him right in the nose.  I loved it.  A Shakespearean quote came to mind: "Though she be but little, she is fierce."  I hope she is always a defender of the undergoat.

She insists that she is "Queen Elsa of Arendelle" (don't forget "of Arendelle" or she will quickly correct you) and she pretty much refuses to take off her beloved Elsa nightgowns.  It's hilarious, endearing, and infuriating, all at once.

When I was diagnosed with Intracranial Hypertension a few months ago, I started seeing a counselor again, and one day I was telling her about how wild and crazy Sally is--and how it is sometimes hard for me to connect with her, especially when I am feeling crummy.  She doesn't like toys or books or songs...there is literally not one toy that she will play with.  What am I supposed to do with her all day when I don't have the energy to chase her around or take her to the park?

"All she likes is Frozen!"  I vented.  "She refuses to take off her darn Elsa dress!"

"That's it!" My counselor interjected. "You need your own Elsa dress!"

I was stunned.  "Me??" I stammered in surprise.

"Yes!"  She insisted. "An adult-sized Elsa dress, and you two could have tea parties and dance together.'"

I let that image sink in for a minute, and it was just so absurd that I burst out laughing--and didn't stop laughing for the thirty minutes after my appointment as I searched the options on Amazon.

So I did it.  I bought myself a silky, sequined Elsa dress--with a long tooule train, no less.  And it is every bit as ridiculous and awesome as you would expect.

As you can imagine, Sally absolutely loves dressing up together, brushing our hair, putting on red lipstick, and dancing to Frozen.  We've choreographed our own little routine to it, so even though it's not really in my nature to be playful--I like to get stuff done--when she says, "Mommy, will you dance with me?" I try to take a deep breath and let it go (see what I did there?). I slip on my dress over whatever I am wearing, and we have a grand old time twirling and building imaginary ice castles in the front room for a few minutes.  We have big windows, and I often wonder what the neighbors must be thinking. Ha!

I love this crazy little Elsa with all of my heart.  And she has her daddy wrapped around her finger as well, as you can see by their little manicure session at 7:30 a.m. one morning.  Sally is the perfect mix of a diva and a tomboy.

We sure love you, Sally Grace Nielson!  Even when you fall off of counters and get black eyes, get into my lipstick and smash the tip, and cut your own hair into a nasty mullet.  We wouldn't trade our Spunky Sal for anything in the world!

Friday, January 27, 2017

They Said I Might Have a Brain Tumor...

This fall, I started noticing weird problems with my vision--not so much so that I was super concerned, but enough that I took note.  It was just sorta blurry around the edges of my vision and something was a little off.

"My prescription must be changing," I thought.  "I might need to call for an eye exam."

I was noticing other things too.  I was having really frequent headaches.  I found myself popping ibuprofen most days, sometimes multiple times a day.

"I'm a busy, tired mom who doesn't take good care of myself," I reasoned.  "I just need to get more sleep and drink more water."

But then it was weird stuff like dizziness and pressure changes when I stood up--the world would go sorta dark for a moment.  And I felt pain behind my eyes, in my eye sockets, a lot of the time.

"Do I have sinuses right above my eyes?" I asked Ryan one morning (because obviously a dentist would know this...ha!).  "I feel like I have clogged sinuses right in the back of my eye sockets!"

He sorta shrugged and left for work, probably thinking his wife was insane.  Which I am.  I am definitely a hypochondriac, so I can't take myself too seriously when I have medical concerns, and neither can he.

So I just kind of ignored all of these weird things, but then one afternoon I decided to call the eye doctor about the blurry vision stuff, and when I started describing all of the other symptoms, they said I should come in right away--which honestly surprised me.  And worried me a little.

So I zipped right in there, and sure enough, when the doctor looked in my eyes, it was what he suspected: my optic nerves were extremely swollen.  This can be a sign of two things: Idiopathic Intracranical Hypertension (IIH) or a brain tumor.

He assured me right away that it looked like a textbook case of IIH, which is basically unexplained increased pressure in the skull.  It causes extreme headaches, and it pushes on the optic nerves which causes vision problems, and if it goes untreated, it can cause loss of vision and eventual blindness (horrifying!!).  But it is treatable, and we had caught it early enough that my vision hadn't been compromised.  (See! It pays to be a hypochondriac!)

But since all of the symptoms also mimic a brain tumor, obviously they had to rule that out immediately.  I was scheduled to see a neurologist and set up for an MRI and a spinal tap.  Just a tad overwhelming, particularly for a girl whose mother died of cancer.

I drove home in a tearful blur.  When I pulled into the driveway, the kids were playing outside with Ryan, and Sally ran up to the van calling, "Mommy!  Mommy!" and waving with such delight, and I just lost it.

In my heart, I didn't think I had a brain tumor--but all of the sudden, life just felt so fragile.  I just cried and cried thinking, What if I did have a tumor?  What if I got cancer and had to leave her?  Or what if I lost my vision and couldn't see her anymore?  What if I couldn't see that sweet face and that little dimple and that twinkle in her eye?

Sometimes life just feels heavy.  This year has been heavy.  With my sister's extreme depression (she has been doing Electro Convulsive Therapy since the summer, and it has been so difficult), Katie and Drew's divorce, and now this sudden just felt like, what's next??

The next few weeks were rough.  The MRI was so hard for me with my anxiety--the enclosed space, the loud noises while in the tube, the expectation to lie perfectly still, the fear of what they would find in the scans.  Right when the MRI tech put me in the tube, I actually panicked and asked him to pull me back out so I could take a Xanax.  Not even kidding!  (Remember the Xanax that I didn't take on the airplane to South Africa??  Hahaha!)

Then the spinal tap...NOT comfortable.  These past few years when I have found myself in hospital beds for my various fertility issues, getting poked and prodded, I find myself feeling this resigned sort of patience and humility, but also this sadness and lack of humanity almost.  And I always think of my mom and wonder how on earth she did it for so long.

Fortunately, the scans came back clear--I don't have a brain tumor.  So thankful!!!!  But the IIH isn't a picnic.  They think the pressure in my skull has been building over time for a couple of years.  So it's going to take a while for the pressure to come down with medication.

As grateful as I am for modern medicine, this is a devil drug.  It makes me nauseous and extremely fatigued.  I often fall asleep with Noah at 8:30 p.m. and sleep through the night--for a night owl like me, that is unheard of.  And even after all that sleep, I never feel rested.  I am always so tired.

The medicine also makes me feel anxious and depressed.  I have not been myself lately, which is so hard.  I always struggle with anxiety and depression this time of year, but the medicine has made it even worse.  The months of November and December were a bit of a blur, as I tried to do the holidays, the fundraiser for South Africa, and motherhood/ life while my body adjusted to the drug.

The good news is, they don't think I will have to take it forever.  Despite the crummy medicinal side effects, the condition itself is responding well to the medicine, and the pressure inside my skull seems to be decreasing.  My optic nerves are less swollen, and probably by summer I can try weaning off of it and see if the pressure in my skull stays down.

Unfortunately, we can't try to have another baby for probably another year to make sure that things stay stable (we were hoping to do IVF again this month, but that is obviously on hold indefinitely), so that was super disappointing--but I have sort of become resigned to the fact that family planning  has never and will never be in my control. 

I will be honest and say that I have felt sorry for myself these past few months.  I have felt angry that I have this body that does weird things and is so unpredictable.  I have felt sorry for myself that I have hormone issues and pretty much never feel that good.  It's unclear whether this newest issue is related to my PCOS and endometriosis, but it seems like it all must be connected somehow.

So that was the last big challenge of 2016.  It was a soul-trying year in a lot of ways.  In 2017, I am looking forward to recharging my physical and spiritual health.  I hope the new year brings lots of peace, health, and happiness for me and for those I love.

We got these family pictures taken in Denver when my dad got the extended family photo shoot.  I love seeing my people and realizing that no matter what obstacles we face, we have each other.  Not that things are always butterflies and roses in our home--they aren't.  Motherhood is a challenge for me--it stretches me every single day--and even marriage, which has always been pretty easy for me and Ryan, was difficult this past year with all of the stress of the medical problems and big decisions with his career and such.  But at the end of the day, I love these people fiercely, and they love me.  We are "Team Nielson!" as the kids say.  They are my best friends.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity that I have to live each day with them, and I continually try to accept the mantra that one of my favorite church leaders used to say: "Come what may, and love it."

Life is good, even when it is hard. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Home for the Holidays: Part 2

We kicked off the holiday break in Pocatello with a visit from Santa Claus a few days before Christmas!  We couldn't believe it when he came walking right into the Nielson home!  Noah was so shocked that he fell off the couch where he was sitting.  Ha! 

It was actually Ryan's uncle Kelly who dresses up as Santa and does parties and stuff around the holidays as a little business--isn't he absolutely perfect??  The kids loved it!

On Christmas Eve, we had a feast made my Grandma, and then we acted out the Nativity story as Grandpa read it from the Bible.  The kids were so excited about this.  One of the highlights of the night for me was hearing Noah whisper to Kate, "Isn't this so fun??" as they waited to come in as Mary and Joseph.  I love the memories these cousins are making as they spend time together.

As I was tucking Noah into bed that night, we talked about the possibility that the Polar Express might come for him that night.  He said he was pretty sure it was "just an old railroader's tale," but he asked if he could lay out his snow clothes just in case.  He wanted to make sure he was ready to hop on the train and stay warm if it came for him.  My heart truly exploded on the spot--I cannot get over how much I adore that imaginative, smart, innocent, playful little boy.  I made him promise that if the train came for him, he would come and kiss me goodbye before leaving the house.

The next morning, the kids were so excited to see what Santa had brought for them, and we snapped this photo of them waiting on the stairs before they ran into the living room to discover their loot.  Christmas morning is definitely the most magical day of the whole year.

After presents it was time for breakfast, and these two little Elsa and Anna cousins "helped" Grandma make her famous pumpkin waffles.  Sally got these Frozen nightgowns for Christmas, and she has pretty much refused to take off the Elsa nightgown in the month since.  And anytime Lucy is around, Sally insists that Lucy be Anna. ;)

Since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, we were excited that we would get to go to church and worship the Savior that afternoon.  I was looking forward to getting the kids all dressed up in their red church outfits and going to sing carols about Jesus.  Unfortunately, we had a massive storm in Pocatello, dumping over a foot of snow, and church was cancelled!  I was actually quite disappointed, as I really wanted a spiritual focus for the day, and it's so hard to do that with little kids around.  But Ryan gave a little family devotional and we made the most of it.  And we decided to end the day with  a wintery walk, pulling the kids on a sled and walking up and down the streets to look at the lights.  It was magical. 

The day after Christmas, we headed up to the family cabin in Sun Valley for a few days.  As always, it was one big party!  Sally was so exhausted from all the fun that she even fell asleep in the sled one afternoon when we were out on a wintery walk! (Or maybe it was from the stomach bug that she had basically the entire week? It didn't slow her down much other than that, amazingly.) 

We went tubing beside the cabin, visited Sun Valley Lodge, spent long days in the cabin with the little ones while the dads skiied Baldy and then took Noah and Kate on Dollar Mountain, played in the hot tub, played Pie Face and laughed our heads off, and made the most of the week.



We are so blessed to have these people in our lives and grateful to have such a fun place to gather with them each winter!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Home for the Holidays: Part 1

Traveling with our kids to be with family for the holidays is not easy.  It involves a lot of travel--long drives, exhausting flights, wild toddlers hitting their heads on the marble floor at the airport and blacking out (yes, this happened to Sally this year!).  

It includes having the kids sleep on our bedroom floor for the week, dealing with the inevitable stomach flu or nasty cold that passes through all of us pretty much every year, and listening to the screaming (or gleeful playing) of a houseful of kids under the age of seven.

It's the constant picking up of toys, making of meals, breaking up of fights...

In the midst of it, I always question if it's worth it.  I am always completely exhausted and overwhelmed.  

But then there are those magic moments with family that I would not trade! And seeing the relationships that my kids are developing with their cousins and grandparents is completely priceless.  That alone makes all of the hassle of worth it!

This year we spent Thanksgiving in Denver with my family.  One day we visited the Denver Aquarium, and when we got home, the kids set up their own aquarium in the basement with stuffed animals.  They set up all sorts of different displays and tanks.  Then they hung hilarious advertisements all over the house and tried to charge people $1 to get in.  So funny and creative and totally something my sisters and I would've done at their age.  

A few of my favorite signs were "Go! Go! Go!  The 5566 acwareeum is the best acwareeum!"" and "100 is the best and the 5566 acwareeum gits 100! yes! yes! yes!" "Awesame acwareeum daoon stares! Only $1!"  These kids are the cutest!

Callum, who is in second grade, has been taking Strings class at school and has started playing the violin.  It is truly terrible to listen to, but Noah thinks it is just amazing. ;) He truly worships everything Callum does.  One night they started their own band, with Luke on the piano, Noah on the recorder, and Cal on the recorder.  Heaven help us all (and get us some earplugs!).

In addition to ear-splitting band concerts, there were communal baths in Bapa's big tub.  I wonder when these cousins are going to get too old for this? Boys don't care about modesty, right?  Ha!

We also spent lots of time with Great Granny and Grampy, who have all of our hearts.  The kids helped Granny decorate her tree and spent lots of time reading with Grampy.

We also got some professional family photos taken with them.  Who knows how many years we have left with these two, so we just love to soak up every moment.

Probably my favorite part of the week was snuggling my fat turkey butterball of a niece, Alice.  Oh my gosh she is scrumptious. I don't get to see her enough.  She lives in Virginia now, and it's not fair.  Too far away!!!  Waaaaah!


So in spite of all the effort it takes to get there and to manage the chaos once we are there, it is totally worth it to go home for the holidays!  I mean, cultivating relationships like this is what life is all about!

Part 2 about Christmas in Pocatello/Sun Valley with Ryan's family tomorrow!