Maggie is a Stay at Home Mom of five lively boys and a strong advocate for Down Syndrome.  Read more in this Women of Grace piece.

Women of Grace

This Women of Grace interviewee, Maggie, could quite possibly be the definition of strength when it comes to moms.  I grew up with only sisters so having five boys seems unreal to me.  I’d say it takes a special type of woman to raise that many boys, but toss in the title of special needs mother and you know God sees Maggie as one of the strongest!

You’ll love Maggie’s attitude about life with boys, advocating for children with Down Syndrome, and doing the mundane work of a stay at home mom.  She’s completely relatable even if you don’t have boys, or any children with any sort of disability.  You’ll find that word “disability” doesn’t really mean much to this family, because they all know there is nothing their little Matthew can’t do given a little time.

Without further ado…

Tell us what makes your family unique.

The most obvious answer is that we have 5 little boys.  Three of whom have red hair, so we always stand out in a crowd.  But if you look a little closer you might notice that our youngest, Matthew, has Down syndrome.
While having a child with Down syndrome was never something we expected, he has definitely made our family stronger and helped us to not take anything for granted.  Matthew has brought immeasurable joy to our family, and he has already touched so many lives even though he is only 17 months old.
My husband, J.P.,  and I decided very early on that we wanted to share Matthew’s journey with the world.  We wanted to show our friends, family and community that Down syndrome is not something to be afraid of.  It’s not something to be sorry about.  It is not devastating. Down syndrome is actually a blessing.
We feel so lucky to have Matthew in this day and age, where acceptance of people with different abilities is at an all-time high.  We have taken it on as our mission as a family to make sure that Matthew has more opportunities in life than we can even imagine right now.
Life with five boys is never boring, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

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What are the difficulties in being a stay at home parent?  The joys?

I have wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember.  When I was only 6, I used to wear my mom’s maternity clothes around the house with a ball under my shirt while she was pregnant with my little sister.  Staying home with my babies is something that my husband, J.P., and I discussed in premarital counseling.  It has always been important to me, and my husband has been extremely supportive of that decision.
The hardest part for me is having so many people depending on me 24/7.  I am almost never alone and there aren’t any days off.  Even if I go out of town it requires a crazy amount of preparation just to make sure everybody is where they need to be and has everything they need.  I am very lucky to have both grandmothers in town, who help me so much, but those five boys are still needing their Momma as soon as I get home.
The monotony of life as a stay at home parent is real!  I do the same things over, and over, and over.  I clean the kitchen countertops off 5 times a day.  I have a never-ending stream of laundry.  I could pick the same toy up off the floor four times in a day.  It is easy to feel like you are fighting a losing battle, but I try to look at the big picture and remind myself that someday I won’t be doing laundry for seven humans anymore. But today is not that day!
Finding time for myself is something that doesn’t happen unless I schedule it.  Having dinner with friends?  Put it on the calendar and I will be there, but otherwise it will never happen.  I recently started working out in the early mornings, before the kids wake up, and it has been one of the best things for my mental health.  Having an hour to take care of me before anybody else wakes up gets my day off on the right foot, and there is no way it would happen if I tried to squeeze it in once kiddos were awake.
Although I complain about not being able to even go to the bathroom without somebody needing something, I wouldn’t trade staying home with my kids for the world.  Being there for every milestone, knowing that I am the one who knows every little thing about them better than anybody else, that is priceless to me.  The days I get to spend at home, playing with my kiddos and watching them take in the world around them, those mean more to me than anything else.
When we found out Matthew’s diagnosis and started to realize all the extra commitments that come with Down syndrome (therapies, doctors, etc…) I realized just how lucky I am to be able to stay at home with him.  I simply can’t imagine trying to juggle all the extra care that he needs with a full-time job.  I feel so blessed that I get to be the one advocating for him every step of the way.

How would you describe yourself as a person?

I was on jury duty a few years ago and we had to say our name and occupation, I said “homemaker” and immediately felt like it was a dirty word. I felt like it carried a negative connotation.  But the more I thought about it, that is kind of the perfect description for me.  Almost everything I do in a day is to make a better home for my family.
I am a wife and mother first and foremost.  J.P. and I were only married three months before I got pregnant with our first, so the solo wife role didn’t last too long on its own.  My Instagram profile says I am “Boy mom extraordinaire” and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.  These five boys of mine keep me busy from the moment I get up until I crash at night.  I’m a baseball mom,  basketball mom, former soccer mom, boy scout mom, homeroom mom (although not this year), school volunteer and chauffeur just to name a few of my jobs.
My identity is pretty tied to my kids at this stage in life, but I do have a few interests of my own.  I love photography and home design.  I used to have my own photography business, but retired when I was pregnant with my fourth baby.  I still get plenty of practice by taking on a picture-a-day project during even-numbered years- a picture of my kids, using my big camera, every single day of the year! I have also always love all things having to do with houses.  I check Zillow every day, even though we have no plans to ever move again. I just love to look at houses and I can see potential in almost any space. Someday I hope to buy and renovate a beautiful old house, even if I don’t get to live in it in the end.
The most recent addition to my resumé is special needs advocate.  Fighting for what is best for Matthew has been a top priority since the day we found out he would have Down syndrome.  Some days it just involves posting cute pictures along with a story about how amazing my baby boy is.  But other days it involves fighting with insurance to make sure he can get a vaccine to keep him out of the hospital, or trying to coordinate doctors appointments out of town so we only have to make one trip.  It is a role that brings me so much joy, but can also cause a lot of frustration.  I promised him, when he was still in my belly, that I would do everything in my power to give him the best life possible, and I intend to keep that promise.
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Share something you value in others, in life, or just generally.

Respect and Kindness.  I try to remind myself of the quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  You never know when a little bit of kindness could change somebody’s day.
I believe respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships.  When there is mutual respect, the other issues can usually work themselves out.

What outcomes do you want for your children and how do you attempt to achieve that?

I want all five of my boys to live their lives to their fullest potential.  I want them to pursue their dreams in a way that brings them happiness and fulfillment.  I want them to be good, kind people.  I want them each to strive to make a difference in the world, whether that is by loving their families, teaching the next generation, finding a cure for a horrible disease or creating a business that helps people in some way.
I hope that my boys learn from Matthew to see the good and worth in everybody.  I saw a study once that said that siblings of people who have Down syndrome go into careers of helping people at a much higher rate than others.
For Matthew, our goals are the same as for our other boys.  We recognize that the end result will probably look different, but it doesn’t have to be too far off.  We want him to be able to pursue whatever he is passionate about.  We want him to be able to live as independently as he is able to, although I have to admit I am a little sad at the thought of him not living with us forever.  We want him to be given opportunities in life, just like any of our other boys.
One of the biggest ways my husband and I are attempting to set our children on that path is through education.  My grandfather has instilled in me the importance of education for as long as I can remember.  He would always ask what we were learning in school and how my grades were.  J.P. and I both went to Catholic schools and agreed before we got married that we wanted our children to do the same.  The education our children get at Marquette is not just about things that can be graded on a standardized test, but lessons in faith, service, acceptance and so much more.  When we found out Matthew would have Down syndrome, one of the greatest comforts to me was knowing that he would still be able to go to school with his brothers, thanks to the Marquette RISE program.  The mission of the RISE (Religious Inclusive Student Education) program is to provide students with special needs the opportunity for an inclusive Catholic education in their home parish school.  Over the past year, my husband along with many others, have worked to bring a similar program to Bishop Kelley High School.  The program started this Fall with three students, and is off to a great start.  We are so incredibly lucky to have Matthew’s education all mapped out through high school!
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Is there anything you wish you would have done differently at the start of your marriage/parenthood?

We have a quote by LR Knost that hangs in our living room, it says “Life is amazing.  And then it’s awful.  And then it’s amazing again.  And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.  Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary.  That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life.  And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
I wish I would have known this sooner in life.  To appreciate the normal, mundane moments.  After 13 years of marriage and 5 kids, this is the best advice I could ever think of.
It’s easy to go into marriage or parenthood with this picture-perfect idea of how it is going to be, but that isn’t real.  There will be hard times, but you can find beauty in those too.

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What have you learned along the way that others may also benefit from knowing?  

God has a plan.  I know that is nothing new or revolutionary, but I really believe it.  When we found out that Matthew would be born with Down syndrome, my husband said to me “God has been preparing us for this baby for a long time, we just didn’t realize it.”  And he could not have been more right.
My husband thought three kiddos were probably enough for us, but I always wanted one more.  Once our youngest turned 5, I finally accepted that we were super blessed with having three healthy boys.  I always wanted one more, but finally accepted that we were super blessed with having three healthy boys.  Little did I know, my husband had changed his mind and the month I gave away all of our baby stuff I found out I was pregnant with our 4th, A.J.!  After A.J. was born we decided that our family was complete. Having four kids will keep anybody plenty busy! But I would have these random feelings of “somebody is missing.”  They would happen out at the grocery store, or at home when getting dinner ready.  It was never me saying “I want another baby,” but rather feeling like something was missing.
Matthew was a complete surprise!  But from the day I found out I was pregnant I kept thinking to myself that God knew I needed this baby, even when I didn’t know I needed him.
The ways that God had put Down syndrome in our lives are numerous when I look back.  Our oldest has a friend named Owen, who has Down syndrome, in his class.  They have been together since kindergarten and played basketball together on the team J.P. coaches.  Owen is one of the friendliest kids I know, and he brings a smile to my face every time I see him, without fail.  One of our second son, Luke’s, best friends little sister has Down syndrome.  We have known Morgan since she was only 2, and watching her grow up has been amazing.  J.P.’s high school friend, Mikey, and his wife have a daughter, Gracie, who has Down syndrome.  They are only a couple years ahead of us on this journey, and have been an invaluable asset to us over the last two years.  We have been so blessed to have all of these people surrounding us, showing us that Down syndrome is really a blessing.  Because of all of them, we were not devastated when we received our Down syndrome diagnosis.  We were hopeful that our baby would have a bright future full of possibilities.
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Tell us three fun or interesting facts about you.

1.  Three months after getting married, my husband and I went to India for 6 weeks!  He was there on business, and the company paid for me to go along.  While we were there, we found out I was pregnant with our first baby!  It was such a momentous way to start off our marriage.  I am so glad we got to be adventurous and go on that trip together, because there hasn’t been any international travel since then.  Someday we would love to take all of our kiddos to India, where our family really began.
2.  My mom’s parents and J.P.’s mom’s parents were friends even before our parents were born!  This is midtown Catholic Tulsa in action!  For our wedding gift, J.P.’s grandfather gave us two silver candelabras that my great-grandparents had given to him for his wedding.  I also still have a monogramed silver cup that J.P.’s grandparents gave me when I was born.  We really wish that our grandmothers would have lived long enough to see their great-grand babies, but we know they are watching all of the chaos down from heaven.
3.  I have always gotten along with boys better than girls.  I had a couple of close girl friends in high school, but I was usually hanging out with the guys.  I spent my weekends off-roading and watching the boys work on their jeeps.  I think this is why God gave me all boys.  He knew that I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with a gaggle of girls.
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