Monday, December 26, 2011

This Is How I Do It: Andi of Bringing the Sunshine

Welcome to the first guest post in a series called "This Is How I Do It." I'll be featuring awesome bloggers who have kids with special needs; they're going to share how they manage to juggle everything and still keep their sense of humor (and, oh yeah, their sanity).

Blogger: Andi Sligh of Bringing the Sunshine

Her kids: Sarah Kate, 8, who has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy and Nathan, 21 months, who has Down syndrome

My three biggest secrets to sanity are…

1. I have a "Thing" that is mine and only mine. Although I take pride in the accomplishments of my children and in taking care of my family, I don't want My Entire Being wrapped up in them. Before I had children, I was a "serious amateur" photographer with a darkroom in my basement. I bought my first digital SLR camera in 2002—three weeks before Sarah Kate was born—for an obscene amount of money, but I eventually set it aside for a point-and-shoot. After Nathan was born, I rekindled my love of photography and committed to a 365 project. I keep a separate blog where I post a photo that I've taken every day. I started it on January 1, 2011, and haven't missed a day yet. I never feel guilty about spending time on my photography, either, because the photos I take create a permanent record of our lives. They're a love letter to my family.

2. I have a plan! I have a schedule or a routine for just about everything—specific days for specific housework tasks, paying bills, grocery shopping and meal planning, etc. I keep a calendar of the week's appointments and activities open on the counter at all times for everyone (but mostly me) to see.Therapists don't generally work on Fridays and I avoid scheduling regular tasks on Fridays, so I use that as my "catch up" day. If everything has happened according to plan and I don't have any catching up to do, then it's a free day! I love my free days, so I try to make them happen more often than not.

3. I don't freak out when things don't go according to the plan. Something always goes awry. As long as I follow the plan 80-90% of the time, I call it good and keep moving.

I keep track of the kids' therapy and medical appointments by…

In addition to the weekly paper calendar that I have out on the counter at all times, I have a Google calendar account that tracks everyone's activities, appointments, travel dates, etc. Mr. Andi has his own Google calendar that he has shared with me, and I set up separate calendars in my own account for each of the children (I actually have two calendars set up for myself—one with Travel/Busy Dates and one with appointments). All it takes is a few seconds on my iPhone to see what's on everyone's schedule.

One way I relax (actually really, really relax) is…

I run. A long way. I've been a runner off and on since high school, but I took up marathons in 2008. Although I only run three days per week, I do it consistently and marathon training requires a long run (sometimes up to four hours for me) on the weekend. It's the only time that I get to think my thoughts without distractions or interruptions. I'm not sure if it's the rare ability to concentrate, the deep breaths while running long, slow distances, or something else, but I find that much of my stress dissipates during a run, and I do a lot of problem solving in those hours, as well. My best ideas happen on a run. And finishing a marathon is a feeling like no other—it gives me a sense of empowerment that translates into all areas of my life.

When I get bummed out about something related to my child, one thing that gives me a lift is…

Running, of course! A good run releases some of the stress in the pressure cooker. Beyond that, though, it really helps me to look back at how far we've come. Sarah Kate used a walker until she was three, and then canes for awhile after that. No, she still can't run or jump like most of her peers, but she's completed a few fun runs and has been on the swim team for the past couple of summers. I also remind myself that she is rarely (if ever) bummed out about her condition—if she's happy with herself and her life, why should I be sad?

If it weren’t for [fill in the blank], I am not sure I would be able to get through the day.

The brilliant blue eyes and captivating smiles of my children, and my husband's caring nature and sense of humor. I'm blessed in that both of my kids are healthy and happy—very happy!—kids, so I never have to wait long to see them smile. My husband has an absurd and relentless sense of humor (but in a good way!), whereas I'm typically more serious and intense. I keep him grounded, but he keeps me sane.

The way my husband and I split up responsibilities for caring for our child is…

Almost all of the doctor visits, therapy appointments, and the like falls to me; I don't work outside the home, so it's a better fit for my flexible schedule. My husband's work schedule is very unpredictable, he's essentially on call 24/7. Where he picks up the slack is in giving me a break when I need it, which with an active toddler is, um…every night! If it's my night to run, he handles dinner for the kids and gets them ready for bed, and even on the nights that I cook he cleans up (mostly…are all men deficient in wiping down kitchen counters)? On the weekends, he offers to take the kids with him just about anywhere he goes (he's got ants in his pants so he's "going" a lot, LOL!), and just having an hour or two to sit in peace and quiet in the house is often enough to recharge my batteries.

The way I deal if strangers stare at my kids or say things is…

I try not to take stares too personally, people just can't help themselves. If I notice someone staring, I typically try to disarm them by catching their eye and smiling at them. Often, people make comments that sound nice on the surface, but I suspect they are just fillers because the person feels awkward, and I let those go, as well. When other kids say things or ask questions, I do my best to educate them on a level that I think is appropriate for their age.

But of course… there are also the ignoramuses who Just. Say. The Wrong. Thing. Like the lady who talked loudly behind me to her friend in one of the queue lines at Walt Disney World a couple of years ago (we've had a few similar encounters, I'm sad to say), clearly intending for me to hear her express, "I don't know why people don't understand that strollers aren't allowed in the lines. Some people just think the rules don't apply to them." She got a carefully-worded rapid education in how strollers are sometimes used as wheelchairs for children who are small enough to fit in them, and that I had a special pass that allowed me to take my child in the stroller into the queue line. And I'm pretty sure she'll think twice before she says something like that in the future. :) As a general rule, though, I try to keep my cool, because I know that the example I set for my child is more important than zinging a stranger.

One great therapy technique I recently learned for my child from his/her therapist that I like doing with him/her is…

The best therapy technique I've found is getting her to do it by herself! Within the past year, Sarah Kate's physical therapist has talked to her in a much more "grown up" way. Instead of telling me what to do with Sarah Kate, she tells Sarah Kate what she needs to be doing (within earshot of me, of course). Because most of what Sarah Kate does is related to leg strengthening and core work, it's similar to workouts that I do at home. She's motivated to "work out" like me and to "train" for local 1-mile fun runs, so she'll do her exercises at home and "run" (that's what she calls it—actually brisk walk because she doesn't have the ability to run) around the neighborhood. For Christmas, she's getting some tech shirts and shorts to exercise in, and as soon as she's big enough to fit into one, I'll be buying her a sports bra, too (never mind that she won't have a *need* for it for awhile). I'm teaching her good habits that I hope will stick with her for life.

One great site I’ve found lots of good ideas on is...

Pudge and Biggie. Courtney and Justin adopted two babies with Down syndrome, a boy and girl, and there's always a laugh to be had and a smile to be found on their blog. In addition, Courtney is generous with ideas regarding therapy techniques they use with "the squibs."

I rock because…

I have the most amazing kids in the world. Being their mom has helped me grow as a person in ways I never would have otherwise. We live in a small Mayberry-ish town and everyone around here knows my kids, even though we've only lived here a short time. THEY are the rock stars. I'm just part of the celebrity entourage, and that's exactly how I like it.


  1. Love it. Having your own "thing" is the key to sanity for ANY Mother, I think.

  2. Thanks for sharing! Its so great to see how other Mum's with kids with special needs live life xx

  3. So happy to meet you, Andi! Thanks so much for sharing your 'secrets' - something for everyone, including me.


  4. Great post! How awesome that Andi also keeps a photography blog - I also took on a 365 project but unlike Andi I have missed some days.

  5. Very well written. Good for you for taking care of yourself. Smooches to Sarah and Nathan.

  6. Thanks for sharing...your children are ADORABLE!

    By the way your son looks reminds me our Baby Noah's friend, Seth! ---->

    Hope you and your family had a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this! I am saving it to read again. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking a few hours for myself. Im supposed to be doing housework when Im home alone all day. But taking some time to just sit and BE is something I need to make it thru the day. I also need to plan my week better, Ive tried and failed but you've given me new hope.

  8. Love this post. It's so cool to read what other families with special needs are doing and how they're handling themselves! Will show this to my Mom :)

  9. I just wanted to let the blogger know while she has TWO beautiful children that has to be one of the CUTEST little boys in the world!

  10. Thanks for the wonderful feedback, everyone!

    Melanie - I think that's probably true, based on talking with other moms who "only" have typical children. I don't actually know, because both of mine are special. :)

    Sabrina - I never expected to complete it! When I started, it was just a way to teach myself digital post-processing. Now, with 361 days behind me, I realize what a great record I have of the past twelve months, so I'm planning on doing it again!

    Noah's Dad - I know the family you're talking about! I stumbled across their blog recently and Seth DOES look like Nathan!

    onemomstips - I used to feel that way, too. It's hard when you aren't working not to feel like you should be doing something while your spouse is out earning the paycheck. But the thing about SAHM'ing is that it's a 24-hour job.

    B'smommy - THANK YOU! I think they're pretty cute, if I do say so myself. :)

  11. Great post Andi! I'm glad you have a life outside of you're children every mother needs that.

  12. I also am doubled dosed with special needs kids.My son Adian is 3 and has CP and my 7 month old daughter Briana has Down Syndrome


Thanks for sharing!

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