When I Signed Up to Become a Parent...

When I signed up to become a parent, I expected certain things. 

I knew I'd experience sleepless nights. I knew I'd kiss boo boos, plan birthday parties, and volunteer with the PTA.  When I became a parent, I had a vision of what my life was going to be. 

Never in my plans were appointments with surgeons, therapists and psychiatrists. The words "esophageal abnormality," "thoracotomy," "Aspergers," or "autism" never appeared in my plans. But we aren't given the hand we plan for, are we?  

We're dealt whatever hand God chooses for us and its up to us how we play our cards.  

So many of my friends have faced a different hand of cards than the one they expected.  I've had friends lose their child to cancer before her third birthday.  Friends that have watched their children fight genetic diseases; friends that have lost their child's other parent; and, friends that have been told that their child may never talk or be independent.  My friends did not ask for or expect the hand they were dealt, yet they all have one thing in common:  They've done an amazing job playing that hand.  

They are wonderful parents and love their children in some crazy, unbelievable way that they never could have imagined before becoming a parent.

It may be tempting to look at the hand dealt to the parent next to you and wish you had their cards, but don't.  We don't pick our cards and we can't trade them in.  For some reason, God specifically chose us for the cards we have.  It is our job to play them the best way we know how.

Yesterday, Gabriel was given a preliminary diagnosis of Asperger's (or "mild autism" by the new diagnostic standards) and tomorrow Cadence will have a CT scan to determine the next step in the "quarter saga."  I definitely didn't expect my story of parenthood to include these twists and turns, but that's the journey I'm on... and I wouldn't trade it for the world. 

Responsibility: Giving Back

One of the most important values that we try to instill upon our children is responsibility.  In addition to being responsible for typical kid issues such as remembering their homework and cleaning their rooms, we focus on "grown-up" responsibilities too such as being responsible to this amazing planet we call home and being responsible for those less fortunate, both near and far.  After all, we aren't raising children, right?  We're raising responsible adults, who happen to still be children.

This weekend, Cadence and I had the opportunity to, once again, prepare dinner and serve some homeless families from our community.  We sat around the dinner table with them and talked about the beautiful fall weather we've been having; their plans for the upcoming weeks; and one family even shared how they came to be homeless.  Their story was something that could easily happen to pretty much everyone I know.

They had children that were around Cadence's age and she had a great time playing basketball and soccer with them.  This is the second time that Cadence has helped with this program and I continue to be very proud of how well she does.  She has never asked the children questions or made them feel uncomfortable.  She doesn't play with them any differently than she does the kids in our neighborhood.  She was having so much fun playing that it was difficult to get her to leave.  She probably would have stayed their all night if I would have let her.

I continue to be impressed by Cadence's compassion for the world around her and for the personal responsibility that she feels towards helping others.  Her birthday is on October 29th.  A month or so ago, she approached me and told me that she didn't want any presents.  Instead, she would like everyone to collect new kids' shoes in her honor so she could donate the shoes to a charity for distribution to children in need.  I'm so proud of that kid.

A New School Year - New Schools - New Attitudes

Over the summer, I vowed that this school year would be different.  Last year, I was at the school three times in the first week for Gabriel.  He threw terrible fits and his teacher couldn't get him to focus.  The teacher didn't know how to handle him and, frankly, didn't want to learn.  He began to despise going to school and started acting out more at home.  We requested a new classroom, but were told that the school "didn't do that."  Instead, the principal suggested that I sign a waiver giving my consent to Gabriel not attending kindergarten at all.  That way, they could have him come in for just a few hours each day and send him home when needed without worrying about his attendance.  I refused and was completely appalled that that was the best suggestion the principal had.

Around Christmas break, we began our search for a new school.  While looking at schools for Gabriel, I found a few that I thought Cadence would like as well.  She was doing well in her current school, but I was surprised to see how many schools we had access to that I thought would be better for both of my children.  Both kids were really open to the idea of changing schools so we began touring them.

They were both accepted to several schools in our area.  Cadence ultimately chose to attend Sterling School and Gabriel chose East North Street Academy of Math and Science.  This meant that I'd have three kids in three schools (since William is in preschool).  The first few weeks were tough, but we have it down to a routine now.  The kids love their schools.  Gabriel still has some behavior issues, but nothing like last year.  His biggest problem now is calling out all of the answers when it isn't his turn.  He at the top of his class for reading and math and adores his teacher.  Cadence has many opportunities at her current school that she never had before.  She's involved in several after school clubs and is participating in her school's talent show next month.  It is amazing what a change in environment can do.

To all of you that have children struggling in school, I strongly suggest you take a step back and evaluate the school they are in.  My children were in one of the highest rated elementary schools in our district, but that didn't matter.  There were other schools out there for them that better fit their needs and they are flourishing this year.

Return to Haiti

Last month I had the privilege of returning to Haiti.  I traveled with Restore Haiti and assisted in the delivery of school supplies for the children in the community of Morne Oge.  I was also honored to be asked to speak at the Party of Excellence, an annual celebration recognizing the very best students from the previous school year.  Like my first trip, the journey was amazing.  I worked in the feeding program, assisted with the construction of a family's home and spent many hours playing with the children in the community.

There were many differences in this year's trip versus the trip I took last summer.  Neither trip was better or worse than the other.  They were just different.  I liked that.  It made this year's trip seem like a whole new experience.  For starters, I didn't know anyone on my team.  I had spoken to our leader once on the telephone and met the team when I flew into Miami.  I was a little nervous to travel with a group of complete strangers, but we were friends by the end of the week.  Haiti has that effect on people.

Another awesome difference about our trip was that three of our team members were children all under the age of ten years old.  I was so impressed by how well the girls adapted and by how hard they worked.  They sorted school supplies with the rest of us.  They escorted children into the Party of Excellence and assisted with the feeding program.  They were absolute angels and it was so much fun to hang out with them. They helped the "homesick" feeling that I had from being away from my children and I miss them now that I'm home.  They also gave me the confidence that I think I needed to bring my children with me on a future trip.  The next time I go to Haiti, it will be with my children.

I felt more immersed in the community this year.  In my previous trip, we rode from the hotel to the church each day and then to dinner and the beach once.  We weren't able to spend an extended amount of time in the city and really take it all in.  This year, on our first afternoon, we set out from the hotel on foot.  We walked through the streets of Jacmel down to the waterfront.  I was impressed with the work being done there to increase tourism.  They were putting in a boardwalk with beautiful mosaic work and there were hotels being built.  It was very encouraging.

Some other fun firsts for me:  I snacked on a sugar cane.  I bought ice cream out of the back of a Suzuki Sidekick.  I rode on a moto with four other people.  :)  The moto ride was probably one of my favorite memories.  It wasn't my first Haitian moto ride, but it was my first with three kids and another adult.  The kids chatted all the way to the hotel.  They told me all about their aunts and uncles and asked about my family.  It was a fun time.

I spent time with both of my sponsor children on this trip.  During church on Sunday, I thought I recognized Rose Martine's aunt, but I wasn't sure.  Then she handed me a note welcoming me to Haiti.  Rose Martine and her family live near the hotel where we were staying.  Her aunt brought her to visit me at the hotel early on Monday morning.  I visited with them there a few times during the week, as well as during the feeding program.  It was nice to have that one-on-one time with them.  Rose's aunt speaks very good English and we were able to chat for quite some time.  I feel much closer to her and to the whole family as a result of this trip.  I was able to see Wendell towards the end of the week.  It made me so happy to see them both.

Again, I was in awe at the impact that Restore Haiti is making in that community.  The children are happy, healthy and educated, thanks to the work being done there.  People are in safe homes and the community is thriving thanks to Restore Haiti and the sponsors.  It is amazing to see the growth from last year to this year.  Imagine what the next year or the next decade will bring.

For more information on Restore Haiti, please visit

Here are a few of my favorite pictures:

The beautiful work being done on the waterfront of Jacmel

Walking the streets of Jacmel with my sugar cane 

Visiting my Haitian family at the hotel 

Our tap tap driver wearing the most awesome t-shirt in all of Haiti ;)

 I had the honor of escorting Clara, my friend's sponsor child, into the Party of Excellence

.My beautiful Haitian daughter Rose Martine in an outfit that my mother-in-law sent her

Perfect Toddler Storm

I was awake and I'd checked on the kids twice.  They were watching Aquabats in their new TV room and playing with light sabers.  It was a typical non-school morning.  I buried myself back under the blankets one last time while I debated between starting the day off with a run, a trip to the grocery store or cleaning house.  Suddenly, the doorbell rang.  It wasn't a normal ring.  It rang several times in a row, meaning one of two things - there was an emergency outside or it was a kid.

Chris rushed downstairs and threw open the door to find Liam standing outside, wearing a girl's pull-up and eating a block of cheddar cheese.

I can explain.

I promise that, generally speaking, I do not allow my toddler to roam the neighborhood alone, in a mostly-naked state and I do not condone eating entire blocks of cheddar cheese (although that does sound pretty good, doesn't it?).  A series of event that, when combined, created this weekend morning conundrum. 

1.  On Friday afternoon, one of the big kids accidentally snapped off the doorknob cover on the garage door.  They told me about it, but we were in a rush to make it out so I figured I'd fix it when we came back home.

2.  We completely ran out of pull-ups.  We don't use them that often since he only needs them at night and it always sneaks up on me when we are low.  Luckily, a few weeks ago, I received a sample of a pretty girl's Good Night brand pull-up with a big purple butterfly.  Liam wore that, and only that, to bed last night.

3.  When we came home last night, I left the garage door open because I had to unload some items from the trunk.  I came in the house, took the child lock off of the refrigerator so I could put the items inside, and then ADD'd on something that the kids were doing.  

So, this morning, Liam walked downstairs in his girlie pull-up, opened the refrigerator, secured a block of cheese, opened the back door to the garage, walked out of the opened garage door and plopped himself in the driveway to eat his snack.  Instead of coming back in the house in the direction he left, he chose to ring the doorbell repeatedly, in true toddler fashion.

Needless to say, the childproof knobs have all been secured back in their rightful places.  Toddlers, you give them an inch, they take a block of cheese outside while wearing a girlie pull-up and eat it in the driveway.

Christmas Without the "Stuff"

First of all, I know it has been forever since I've written a post.  I apologize.  I always say I'll get better, but I never do, so this time I am not going to make you any promises.  I'm posting today and that's all that matters.  :)

We've been focusing a lot in our house on reducing the "stuff" that we've accumulated.  We still have a long way to go, but we're getting there.  Our current challenge is getting through the Christmas season without a.) undoing all we've accomplished and b.) celebrating a wonderful Christmas season that the children will look back on and enjoy.  What are your favorite memories of Christmas?  Mine involve making cookies with my mom, going on a sleigh ride, visiting my grandparents, going to see the Christmas lights and Christmas Eve church service.  There are a few toys that stick out in my memory too, but not that many.  I remember my first Nintendo.  I remember receiving a swim suit that I really wanted.  I also remember this giant bean bag chair that was wrapped in a sheet.  For the most part though, my memories involved things that we did and not the things that we received.

With that in mind, as well as our mission to reduce our family spending, we've decided that Christmas will be different this year.  Each child will receive two or three presents to open on Christmas morning.  When purchasing these gifts, we asked ourselves the following questions:  Does it encourage creativity?  Do they have something similar?  Is it educational?  Will it create a family memory?

If you're considering downsizing your children's playrooms, here are a few ideas that I've compiled for gift giving:

1.  Memberships to some sort of activity (the zoo, the children's museum, the recreation centers, etc.)
2.  Gift certificates to an activity (Frankie's Fun Park, Chuck E Cheese's, miniature golf place, bowling, etc.)
3.  Spa trip - there are many spas that have packages designed for little girls
4.  Trip - It doesn't have to be something huge.  A night's stay a town over at a nice hotel with a pool is an adventure to kids
5.  Tickets - To a play, an aquarium, a theme park, etc. - anything that pique's the child's interest
6.  Books - Be careful here as many tend to accumulate a lot of books too; however, if they are a topic that the child enjoys and you know they'll read it, it may be worth the purchase.
7.  Art supplies - Great for older children.  Inspires creativity.
8.  Family board games can create amazing memories
9.  Electronics and accessories - As with books, it's easy to have too many, but generally they do not take up much room and children get a lot of use out of them
10.  Dress up clothes - Again, creativity!

For fun, here's a list of items that I would suggest not be purchased for Christmas or birthday presents:

1.  Anything that does not come equip with an "OFF" button
2.  Something that will get stuck in the foot of the poor unsuspecting person that steps on it
3.  Stuffed animals (the poor things are loved for 10 minutes and then forgotten)
4.  Toys with a lot of parts (kids are going to lose a part - I promise)
5.  Living creatures
6.  Anything that involves an oven (easy bake, cupcake maker, bug factory, etc.) - that's just asking for a trip to the hospital.  Also, have you ever tried to eat an Easy Bake Oven cake?  *gags*

Our goal is to make this Christmas season very special for the children and to help them understand that Christmas is about Jesus and giving and not about the presents they receive.  To help redirect this focus, we're planning some fun activities.  Here are a few of the things that we're doing:

1.  The children are picking out some of their gently-used toys to donate to charity
2.  We'll make cookies together and deliver them to a fire department, police department or hospital on Christmas Eve or Day (we haven't hashed out the details yet)
3.  We'll celebrate the season of Advent and discuss the events leading up to, including and following Jesus' birth

We'll also go see the lights, attend one or more Christmas parades, and play and sing along to Christmas music.  Hopefully, with all that is going on this year, the kiddos won't even notice that their Christmas loot has shrunk dramatically. 

What are your plans for gift giving this year?  Do you have any other items to add to the lists?  I'd especially love to hear suggestions for the do not buy list.  

All I Want for Christmas... to go to Haiti.  I know people often say "I don't need anything for Christmas/my birthday/etc." but I really don't.  If there is one thing that I have learned since visiting Haiti is that I have more than enough of everything.  I am truly blessed to have a nice roof over my head, a dependable car in the garage, food in the fridge and plenty of extra things that I really don't need.  There is something I'm missing though.  I think I left a piece of my heart in Haiti and I need to go back and find it.  :)

Early next year, I am planning to return to Haiti, this time, with Chris.  I'm very excited to be sharing this experience with him!  With both of us going, it means that we'll need to raise double the amount that I raised for my last trip.  This worries me a little, but I'm sure it will all work out in the end.

One way that Chris and I have discussed raising money for our trip is to ask family and friends to consider donating to our mission trip instead of purchasing us Christmas presents and I would also ask the same for my birthday.  Of course, we do not mean that everyone should rush out and make donations to our trip because of my upcoming birthday or Christmas (although they'd be appreciated!), we just as that, if you were planning on purchasing something for us, that you consider donating to our mission work instead.

Donations may made payable to "Restore Haiti" and sent to PO Box 680278, Franklin TN 37068 with "Chris & Karen Hall, Feb. 16-23 2013 trip" in the memo.  Your donation is tax deductible.

Thank you and God Bless!

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"  Matthew 25:40