Missing one half of my matching kitty set

We found them at the animal shelter – two black and white brothers who had been returned when their previous owners became too senile to care for them.

They were a matching set.

I’m a crazy cat lady. I own that. When we started talking about having kids, Evan mentioned the possibility that we might have a child who would be allergic to them. I told him it would be a really tough choice about who to give up then ;) 

Even people who claimed they were “not a cat person” have admitted that our kitties are pretty darn awesome. They have always been super friendly, not aggressive in the slightest – even letting the kids hold them and pet them and use them for a pillow.

Earlier this week, we discovered one of our boys was very sick. We tried to give him a fighting chance, and then it became clear that there was either nothing left to do, or a whole lot of things that could be done, with no guarantee of a good prognosis.

We brought our sweet Gus Gus home from the animal hospital for one last night with us so we could love on him.

Though he had been aloof and unwell all day, in the middle of the night, I felt him crawl up to me purring. He slept the rest of the night on my pillow, draped around the top of my head.

Gus was my wild man, the one who wants to chase and wrestle… but who also loves with the best of them. He would literally climb up on me and wrap his paws around me in a hug. Sometimes if he felt like he wasn’t getting enough attention, he would go down into the basement and loudly meow until you called him up – to “prove” you wanted him around, apparently :)

I held him and stroked his fur while he took his last breath. I have to think that leaving this world with the person who loves you most of all is the best way to go.

The kids have continued to ask about him and say that they miss him. We’ve been talking a lot about heaven, and Connor lights up when he talks about Gus Gus playing with his other kitty friends in heaven. He asks me what heaven looks like, and we speculate how amazing it must be.

It was a hard day yesterday, and I’m sure missing one half of my matching set. But I’m grateful for the joy that this furry face brought to my life for the last seven years.

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Stepping into Step2: my blog ambassador trip to Ohio

I don’t think I’m going to use the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” anymore.

I think I’m going to switch that to “like a kid at Step2 Headquarters.” I mean, I’m 31 and I still got super excited seeing all of these awesome toys when I walked through the doors…It was nearly three years ago when I saw that MoneySavingMom had posted about Step2 accepting applications to be on their blogger team and to test some of their toys. I applied on a whim, and was a little surprised to be chosen. We had a Step2 water table, so I was familiar with their toys, but I really didn’t know much else about the company.

In the last 3 years, they have really revamped their ambassador program, and I have gotten to be a part of it since then, so I have been able to learn so much about Step2 and their values and products. I thought I was a big fan… until I went on this trip last week to Step2’s corporate headquarters – and now I want to move to Ohio to work for them. :)The blogger team all flew in bright and early on a Tuesday morning and were whisked to Progressive Field, the Indians’ baseball stadium, for a marketing meeting, lunch and a tour of the field. We spent all afternoon talking about our blogging, giving feedback about different toys, and giving input about upcoming ideas and possible licensing opportunities for Step2.

Step2 sponsors the Kids’ Club at Progressive Field, so it was fun to see all of their toys at the stadium!

 The next day was full of Step2 Headquarters…

Definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire trip! We got to tour all of the major areas of the headquarters, including the manufacturing facilities, and learn exactly how toys are made! It was like Santa’s workshop :)

Getting to feel the resin, which is ground up into this fine powder and colored, and eventually forms one of the pieces of the toys…

The safety standards are just amazing. See this little black clamp sitting on the ledge? The force of the clamp mimics the strength of a three-year-old’s bite – so they test each of the pieces of their products to make sure that if a child bites on it, it’s durable enough not to break off and cause a choking hazard.

After three years of being in their blogging program, here’s what I love about Step2: 1) their commitment to their products – releasing extremely safe, durable and exciting toys that encourage creativity and pretend play. My kids LOVE Step2 and will point out Step2 toys wherever we go! 2) the way they value families. And not just as customers, but really value them. Step2 has been a part of programs like Everybody Plays, which features children who have special needs or differences, (and I’m trying to get them to bring this back!) and they have joined the Changing the Faces of Beauty Campaign, which commits to using models of all abilities in their advertising.

And the Step2 staff – there was not a person there that I was not insanely impressed with…. from the CEO who spent so much time listening to our feedback and even joined us at dinner one night, to the manufacturing workers who waved to us, to the toy designers. And of course the marketing staff, who were truly amazing – energetic and knowledgable and so very hospitable during our trip.

And oh yeah – can’t forget one of THE best parts about Step2: Made in the USA!

During our time at HQ, we also got to visit areas like Research and Development (SO many awesome toy ideas!!), and the photo studio…

And we ended our day at the restaurant Melt, famous for its grilled cheese sandwiches. I got the fried mac and cheese grilled cheese – tell me you’re not drooling right now at that photo. It was as amazing as it looks.

And our last day, they treated us to a spa day!    

I’m so excited by what we’re going to be seeing coming out of Step2 very soon – and I’m so grateful to have had this chance to learn more about this wonderful company. And who knows… maybe you’ll be seeing Brenna in future promotions as part of their advertising diversity?! Wouldn’t that just be a huge “Step” for ichthyosis awareness? ;)


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Parents: What I Wish You Would Do

As we enter the playground area, your child immediately points to mine, calling loudly “Mom, look at HER!”

You quickly hush him, calling him to you to quietly reprimand him.

You’re at the end of the same grocery store aisle when your child catches a glimpse at the baby in my cart and asks “why is that baby so red?”

You practically put your hand over his mouth to stop as much of the question as you can, while hurrying around the corner without looking back.

Your children freeze, staring open-mouthed at my daughter at the library, and you get a rising panic in your eyes as you try to distract them to look anywhere but.

I recognize all of this unfolding, nearly every day. I hear all of the questions, I glimpse all of the pointing out of the corner of my eye, I notice all of the whispered comments.

I hear you, and I see you, and I feel it all, deep within my heart. And it makes it worse when you then try to “hide” it from me, from us.

You’re embarrassed, and I understand that. But we’re both parents, trying to do our best, and we both love our kids fiercely. And when you try to hide these obvious conversations that are happening right in front of us, it feels like you’re hiding from our family. It feels like the small insignificant gap between us that your child has noticed has now grown into a wide-spanning canyon that no one wants to cross.

What I wish you would do?003

I wish you would invite us into these conversations about us.

I wish you would close that small gap by relating to us as you would to any other family on the playground, instead of making the gap bigger by treating us as unapproachable.

When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, “Yes, look at that pretty little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!”

When your child asks you “why is that baby so red?” or “why does she look like that?”, I wish you would answer honestly: “I’m not sure, but the way someone looks isn’t important. We all look different from each other, don’t we?”

I wish you would encourage your child to say hi and to ask my kids’ names.

I wish you would apologize without feeling ashamed if your child is offensive right in front of us: “I’m so sorry, we’re still learning how to ask questions respectfully.” It also goes a long way if you tack on: “Your daughter is so cute, how old is she?”

And above all, I wish you would talk about differences more often. I wish you would read to your child about differences, and I wish you would positively and naturally converse about various kinds of differences, from wheelchairs to birthmarks, from Down syndrome to ichthyosis, from racial differences to wearing glasses. Ultimately, I hope that our children learn that if they have questions about someone’s appearance, they can ask you later, privately, so that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings – because, after all, how we treat each other is much more important than how someone looks.cIMG_9550

So next time, I hope you don’t hide. I hope you invite us into your conversation. Instead of a steep divide that places our family on the other side with a “do not look at and do not talk to” sign, I’d rather be a positive opportunity for your child to learn how to respect and appreciate physical differences.

If you subscribe to my email list, you can download a list of my favorite children’s books about differences and disabilities.

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