Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Leah, Our "Keeper"

"As I walked into the door, there she was, sitting on the steps in our first home in all of her glory, excited to see her "mama" for the first time in several days. I sat on the stairs next to her, embracing her, while the tears streamed down my face. Just like the movie, these words were said, "in a few minutes, your life is about to change. Your sister will be coming through that door." Her daddy walked in, holding the car seat as the tears overwhelmed his eyes when he greeted his girl with a new surprise: the baby. Inquisitive she was while looking at this new life, not sure what to make of this, but even, within those first moments, she was hers. She was always meant to be hers." (The first time Leah met Autumn)

Five years ago to the day, my life forever changed. It was the day we adopted our rescue Labrador Retriever mix Leah. I so desperately wanted to be a mom but knew my husband wasn't ready so instead of a baby, he gave me the go-ahead to adopt a dog. I searched for days for the perfect dog and knew what I wanted: a young female puppy that had to be some sort of retriever mix. Oh boy did I get more. 

When she first came to us, she smothered me with kisses and then went right into the kitchen, which is where she's never left. Training her had it's difficulties, granted she WAS a puppy after all, but we got through those tough days together. Not only did Leah become my companion, she helped me overcome my depression with her constant love, she got me into better shape with our daily walks, she kept me motivated to continue moving forward when I wanted to give up while attend grad school with that look in her eyes, and most of all, she brought the fun back into my life with our games of "ball" and dancing to christmas music. She filled many lonely days with love, laughter, and sometimes irritability because she loved chewing on my clothes. Aside from my husband, I had another "best friend" within my life. 

But things got even better. Fast-forward to after Autumn's arrival and the years that have since followed. We were so nervous as to how Leah would be when Autumn was born. We even took a dog class to help introduce the pup to her sister and felt ashamed for ever doubting her.  As we all know, Belle was diagnosed with Autism after she turned two and despite some of the hurdles she's had to go through, Leah has always been by her side and has loved her from day one. There's no doubt about it. The two of them have been inseparable, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, Leah's ALWAYS been right by Belle'side. Even though it's taken Autumn some time to "warm" up to her, she too loves her "sissy" more than anything. I can see it within her eyes, in both of their eyes, when we play outside or in her room, it's like magic.

As we celebrate five years of becoming a family, I can't help but think how precious time and life can be and how lucky we are to have this beautiful creature, who has captured our hearts, but most importantly hers, within our lives. I'm also reminded that there will come a time when we will have to say goodbye to our "first born", her "sissy" and "our keeper" and how on earth will we be able to get through that? How will Belle cope with this and how unfair it seems to be that our pets are not meant to outlive their owners. It just seems so cruel and breaks my heart at the mere thought of loosing Leah someday. 

I know I can't focus on the latter, but I will say that having adopted Leah, she's  taught me how to become a mother. She taught me how to love unconditionally and to try to see the good in everyone. She's taught me to give second chances to those who deserve them, to follow my instincts, and to also kick the grass behind me when when life seems to be full of crap. The best though, is she's allowed me to see what it's like to be forever patient, kind, enduring, selfless and always there supporting those who need love without muttering any words. That silence can be golden and a hug or a dog'a kiss goes a long way.

I know within my heart that there will never be another dog quite like Leah. She's been one of the best things that's happened to our family and for Autumn without a doubt. She's the perfect "therapy dog" (if you want to call her that) for myself, my husband and for Belle. Who can ask for anything better? How lucky we are to receive such love within our lives? How amazing is it that an animal, this four-legged enigma, can bring such happiness that I never thought existed?! Words cannot express my gratitude for you my "sweet Lee". Just like our song: "When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful, Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart
And when she was sad, I was there to dry her tears, And when she was happy, so was I, when she loved me." (Except I still love you and never will stop loving you.)



Here are some of my favorite pictures of Leah, "our keeper" and the best darn companion, a family could ever ask for!
(Leah on the beach for the first time)

(Daddy snuggles)

(My favorite picture of us)

(my girls)

(And there she is, Our sweet Leah girl)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Day I Stopped Giving a S***

Diagnosis day, or what us butterfly parents refer to as "D-Day", was the day I stopped caring and giving a shit about the one thing that most moms have dealt with in some form or another: the mommy wars. Oh yes, you all know what I'm referring towards. Those endless debates about how a mom chooses to raise her family and the cycle of narcissism that stims from these so-called "friendly debates" because we all know that "our way is the BEST way and screw everyone else".

I admit, I was one of "those moms", feeling like I had to "defend" certain topics in hopes that someone would approve of my parenting style and reassure me that I got this, "raising a child" thing down. When all in all, I didn't need anyone else's approval or support to tell me I was doing a good job, except maybe my husband. 

Thus, I happily raised my white flag in victor the day that my daughter received her autism diagnosis because everything up to that day no longer mattered. None of that petty shit was on my "defend list" anymore because I realized in those moments that there will be bigger battles ahead that will have nothing to do with what transpired within the first year or two of Belle's life. I had no choice, but to become stronger and resilient in many areas of life as a mother and a person in order to move forward for Autumn's sake. 

Also, when it comes down to it, I realized that no one really gives a crap as to how you "parent" your child, except your child. Who knows, perhaps in twenty-five years they'll be blaming you as to why their life turned out the way it did and I guarantee they will not complain about whether you "nursed them enough" or if they wore "cloth diapers" (unless they're bloody face from AHS-serious fan here- then maybe they will, joking!, insert LOL). Or maybe they'll be in college, living at home, on their own, married, kids of their own, etc., the opportunities are endless here. Regardless of where our children may be in the future, they'll STILL need our love and support and honestly, that's all that they will care about once they become adults themselves (scary bittersweet thought). Just like most of us "may" still need our parent/parents in our lives for emotional support. The cycle will continue.  

Having a special needs child diagnosed with autism changed my mindset, my focus, and helped me realize that there are so many more important things worth my time. I grew up a lot on her "D-day" and that feeling has been humbling. However, I feel that if we do decide to give it another go in the future, I'll be prepared, more confident in my choices as a parent, and won't need an "audience of approval".  Since having my first being a "butterfly", well, it makes this parenting road a little more interesting and unpredictable, but I've learned that's parenting in general. 

Thus, my journey isn't "greater" or "more difficult" than other parents and our opinions most likely differ, but if it's one thing we all can agree upon is that we love our children more than we'd ever thought possible. So for any new/soon-to-be parents out there, my best advice is, none. This is YOUR journey to take, your story to tell. It's not my place or position to say anything indifferent. In time, you may learn to take it all in stride and to not waste your time defending what "you do" as a parent. It took my daughter's diagnosis confirmation for me to realize the above. 

However, I will say this one thing and this goes for all parents out there: You ARE the expert on your child. No textbook will give you the answers. That's 100% the truth. Remember that! 



(This post was inspired by seeing all of these "mommy debate" blog posts throughout my news feeds. Below is a picture of Belle and me when she was ten days old. See the tired look in my eyes/face. She was also crying in this picture. Adjusting to the "newness" of motherhood/babyhood together.)