Be a Willow and Bend

I’m honored to have my lovely friend, Ashlei, here on Small Moments Mondays this week. Ashlei blogs over at Shades of Blue and Green.

I truly admire Ashlei and her fierce commitment to her writing; she greets each day a bit earlier than necessary to allow herself time to write.

My lovely friend, Cheryl, and I were talking about Ashlei and we agreed that if we could describe her in three words, they would be loyal, down-to-earth, and talented.  She is all of these things…in spades (I do realize that I’ve used five words).

This week, Ashlei is writing about a topic that I feel so strongly about … a topic that I truly believe we should all feel strongly about.

Thank you, Ashlei, for sharing your words with me…with all of us.  I am ever-so-grateful.

Be a Willow and Bend — by Ashlei

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of pros and cons to being a second-born child. True, parents are broken in and kinda know what they’re doing, but there can be a slight been-there-done-that vibe when you’re the “spare” instead of the “heir.” I know. I’m a second child – baby sister to an older brother. Being of opposite genders, there was a built in newness factor reset button for sure, but second nonetheless. It was with this perspective that I anxiously awaited the arrival of our second child, a.k.a. “oh, another boy,” dubbed so by strangers who would inquire about my burgeoning belly.

He would be his own little guy, I told myself, partly because I couldn’t scream it at the molesting idiots, but mostly because I was a stupid ingrate who didn’t deserve to get pregnant every time my husband looked at me. My hormones and selfishness had me swinging from “all Hot Wheels/no Barbies, sob” to “this is a new cherished soul who just happens to have a Y chromosome.” He would be different in every way. I instinctively knew it.

I had no idea.

First, he arrived smiling, so unlike his prone-to-be solemn and reserved older brother. As I type, I can look over at a framed photo of second born just minutes out of the womb, swaddled tight, hospital-issued pink/blue-striped tube sock hat on his noggin, sporting a mouth-wide-open grin. He looks as happy as a fresh parolee. I’ve never had to wonder what this child is thinking. He is the personification of heart-on-sleeve.

Second, and most important to this story, he came equipped with a bad liver, specifically with a genetic metabolic disorder that goes by the name of PKU. For the majority of you all, your only experience with these three little letters would come from either the Newborn Screening heel prick test your child had in the hospital sometime after they were born, and then performed again two weeks later, or you’ve read it on the side of a product that contains Aspartame, such as Diet Coke.

We, on the other hand, received a day-long genetics counseling session covering our new “normal.” As of 10-days old, his good health required that we monitor every single ounce of protein ever to enter his mouth. This was important, because without controlling the one thing that most babies thrive upon, our child would develop irreversible brain damage, leaving him completely mentally retarded within a year.

Oh yeah. No pressure to get this right, at all.

Flash-forward almost five years, and my beloved second son is a thriving, brilliant child who just happens to eat like a diabetic vegetarian. We monitor, we weigh, we count, we adapt. Like my mother once told me, “be a willow and bend.” Bend we do, along with prepare, plan, pack low-protein cupcakes for birthday parties, rejoice in the fact that McDonald’s french fries aren’t that nutritious, and celebrate sugar candy and open minds.

When dear Nichole asked me to pick a Small Moment, I thought “yikes.” Well, really, my first thought was actually “holy cow, Nichole asked ME?!,” then I thought “yikes.”

But as I created a mental list of all the small moments that have made up this wonderful life, my focus kept returning to one – when modern medicine paired up with a gentle nurse and a Newborn Screening test was performed on my special boy. Without that, the delicious smorgasbord of small moments to follow would never have been. This incredible, shining person who makes me laugh on an hourly basis would be locked behind an impenetrable wall, unable to understand how thankful I am every day that he is mine. I especially try to remember that fact when he impatiently snaps at me “I can DO it.”

Yes, my sweet angel, you can, usually with your own unique flair.

Personal note: Newborn Screening is my one no-debate topic. If you’re pregnant, hoping one day to become pregnant or know someone who is, please online search your state name + Newborn Screening to learn for what disorders your specific state tests. Ask your hospital or midwife about the tests. Make sure to follow through on the two-week retest. Your child’s life may depend upon it.

Now that you have spent some time reading Ashlei’s words here, please go visit her at Shades of Blue and Green. Be sure to read At the playground, Forget Sugar and Spice, and Nina and Will.  Ashlei is beyond talented.

Also, you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. gigi

    A great a willow and bend. This may be my second new daily mantra, right behind keep calm and carry on. :)

    You have a great spirit about you and I am sure your kiddos can feel it. Good job girl!

  2. Miri

    What a wonderful outlook, and a very important message. Or rather, two very important messages. Be a willow, and be smart about your child's health.

    You sound like a wonderful parent. Your children are very lucky.

  3. tracy

    Love this. I can feel your warmth in your writing and now am heading to your blog. What a great message – I sometimes have a very hard time bending to meet my eldest child and what her needs are from me – and how that changes each year. Thank you for this.

  4. Renee

    What an important message you've passed along.
    And how wonderfully you bend to the needs of each day. Those small moments are the best rewards ever.
    Love to you and your sons.

  5. Your outlook is so positive, and this post carries such an important message. Your boys are lucky to have you as a mother. Dietary restrictions can be so challenging, especially one as crucial as this one, yet you sound like you do everything you can to make his life as "normal" as possible!

  6. tulpen

    How have I never hear that saying; "Be a willow and bend"? HOW??

    Willow trees have always been my favorite.

    I've taken care of older people with PKU, that had gone undetected, so a big THANK GOODNESS for Newborn screenings!!

  7. ash

    Thanks Gigi, I'm just doing my mom thang, you know? There are days I'd rather be doing my sitting on the beach drinkin a pina colada thang, but it's all good.

  8. ash

    Thanks Miri. My children are definitely very lucky ;), but so am I.

  9. ash

    Thank you Tracy, for your sweet comment and your time to come visit. Bending isn't easy, that is for sure. The life lesson from yoga?

  10. ash

    Thank you so much Renee. It is an important message for sure. From my experience, and from some of the other genetics moms I have chatted with, Newborn Screening can get lost in the birthing mix. Even if you don't get "the" phone call though, I think it's important for all parents to know what their children were tested for, and to request a copy of the results from your state.

  11. ash

    Funny thing, my older son has a severe peanut allergy. Now that scares the crap out of me :)

    I must confess though, it took me a very long time to move into positive outlook territory. I was mad for a very long time. I still have moments of anger, for sure, no one wants to see their child struggle, but in the greater scheme, it's all good.

  12. ash

    Thank you so much Jen, for liking my perspective and my blog!! I hope to continue to entertain. I too am so interested in birth order. I think it has the ability to determine your future even more so than genetics. That's why I was so anxious about my second boy – hello stereotypes :) Here's to breaking them.

  13. ash

    Oh that beloved elephant rear – always smile when I see it. So glad you like the willow, some wisdom handed down from my Gran. Not sure where she got it, but oh so true – the tall oak may snap, but the willow will bend.

    Quite Zen for a dyed-in-the-wool Episcopalian.

    (thank you for taking care of them – lucky souls :)

  14. ash

    (weird, I replied to you first in line, but I think it got eaten) I appreciate you Gigi!!! I'm trying with the good job thing, still trying…

  15. Leighann

    "be a willow and bend" I've never heard more beautiful words.

  16. ash

    Leighann – thank you! Over the years, I've found great comfort and motivation in the thought.

  17. ash

    To Nichole – thank you so much for your too-kind introduction and for the opportunity to put this all out there. I appreciate all that you do.

    (I promise I meant "anxious" in regards to the birth ;). I worry waaaay too much.)

  18. Nancy C

    I'm so glad you featured Ash. She is truly one of my favorite people. Like you said, she's talented and wicked smart too.

    Joel came home from the Nicu with a pku diagnosis. A mistake. He doesn't have it. But when I thought he did, I knew that it would be something I would just do. It was my job. Of course, I cried too.

    Bend like a willow. It's what we do. Your writing says it so beautifully. You are such a gift to my life.

  19. Jessica

    Beautiful new phrase that you have introduced me to, I need to borrow it for my own mind. I love that along with your writing, you have shared your sons story, it is always amazing to hear the stories of what brings different people to where they are. How scary that must have been for you but as I read your writing, it is so clear the appreciation for life that this has given you. Beautiful writing as always.

  20. bywordofmouth

    Since I live down in FL, we could do the Mom thing AND sit on the beach with a pina colada.
    That is a great way to look at life, we need to stop sometimes and go with the moment, whichever way it bends instead of being rigid and unyielding.
    Here we watch how the palms sway in the wind, gently taking what Mother Nature dishes out … we can learn.

  21. Sherri

    I love seeing Ash here and reading her beautiful words. I need to spend more time at her place, not just seeing her smiling mug on Twitter!

    Be a willow and bend…good advice for us all.

  22. Elaine

    There are so many parents out there that have had to "bend" and you my dear Ashlei have done such a fabulous job of it. I adore how your love for your son comes through so beautifully in your writing…

  23. Jennifer

    Such wonderful advice! My sister-in-law is a pediatric dietician whose specialty is PKU. I had never heard of it before we got pregnant, and she made sure we knew how important it was to have not only the minimum screening done at birth, but also the secondary tests. (There are about 30 tests that most states perform, but KS only does a handful of them.) I'm so glad everything has worked out well for your family!

  24. tsonoda148

    "Be a Willow and Bend" is certainly what you and your family have done, Ashlei. What a beautiful story of such a vital 'small moment'.

    And you are so right, Nichole…..beyond talented.

  25. ksluiter

    "be a willow and bend". this may be my new motto. Seriously. I would like to needlepoint that and hang it on the wall. Ok, I'll write it on a post-it and stick it to the mirror. But still. it is awesome.

    and thank GOD for newborn screening.

    Such a lovely, thoughtful post. And educational to all the moms who are not aware of the importance of those screenings!

    thank you!

  26. ash

    I remember you saying that about Joel. I'm so glad it was just a false alarm for you guys! And, slightly jealous ;) I'm only human. Willows have been known to weep.

    You, my early morning sunshine, are the gift. Thank you for every single word of kindness, always.

  27. ash

    Thank you so much Jessica, and yes, the years since his diagnosis have been a roller coaster, but one I'm so blessed to be strapped to, for sure. Nothing like visit after visit to the Children's hospital to keep it all in perspective. And if there's one thing that blogging has taught me, it is that everyone has something – a struggle, a challenge, a heartache. Sadly, I know you know. XO

  28. ash

    I want to live in Florida!! For so many reasons, but that mommying/pina colada thing sounds right up my alley. Palm tree? I like. Especially since I'm a little coconutty somedays.

  29. ash

    Your OB/GYN may blow you off a bit, don't be surprised. Newborn Screening is a "baby" thing, not a "mama" thing. That's what I experienced, anyway. The sheet explaining which tests they will be performing should be part of your "welcome" packet when you go in to have your son. The tests are automatically performed so no worries about that, unless you sign a paper to opt-out of it, which the hospital will make difficult to do. (Personal note: if you or anyone you know opts out of Newborn Screening, they're idiots. I don't use that word lightly, but I mean it.)

    I'm sure he will be fine! This stuff is all so rare. We buy lottery tickets now.

  30. ash

    Thanks Sherri! These days, I'm on Twitter more than my blog – it's ALL good.

  31. ash

    Thanks dearest Elaine. He's a stinker for sure, but one I've grown quite fond of – I'm already getting sad over the thought of sending him off to kindergarten in the fall. I pray that he too will be able to bend.

  32. ash

    Thank you Jennifer. Things are so well because of incredible dieticians like your sister-in-law (she's not in Dallas by any chance?). Our genetics team is out of this world, part support system/part therapist/part cheerleader, all friend.

    You're so right, Newborn Screenings have come a long way – in 2002 when my first son was born, Texas only tested for 5 automatically. We had to pay $30 for the other 25 – priceless. By 2006 and second son, 32 tests were conducted automatically. Thank goodness. The information and speed of results are key for so many of the disorders that they can catch.

  33. ash

    (blush) Thank you Terri. Too, too, TOO kind. Per usual. XO

  34. ash

    Post It notes rock for sure, but how smitten with you am I that you even referenced needlepoint?! It's going to be the new knitting, I can feel it.

    Thank God for sure. Just the answers it might provide for SIDS parents is reason enough to praise it. I big puffy, fuzzy, hot pink heart modern medicine.

    Thank you Katie.

  35. Cheryl @ Mommypants

    So glad to see you over here, Ash. So glad.

    And I am glad your son got you for a mother.

  36. I echo the same thoughts as Cheryl above. I love how willow trees are all bendy–good analogy. But I can't help but also think of their powerful, reaching roots. So strong and grounded–like you (just keep them away from pools and septic tanks).

  37. ash

    Thanks dear Cheryl – it's so nice over here, warm and cozy. I may stick around until Nichole kicks me out. Maybe I should have brought donuts?

    I'm glad he's mine as well. I just feel bad I gave him such crappy genes.

  38. ash

    LOL to the septic tanks – does that mean I flourish because of all the crap in my life ;). I love you Michele – thank you for your friendship and never-ending support.

  39. Such a lovely phrase: be a willow and bend.

    I do not know how you can be a successful parent and not be a willow.

    My plan to do that thing? Thwarted by reality.

    This parenting philosophy? My son had zero interest in.

    My objective for this milestone? Ummm…the universe does not care what my objective is.

    How could we get through all that if we were rigid and unyielding?

    Beautifully told, Ashlei. Just beautiful.

  40. This post reminds me again of how much I succumbed to the blur of new motherhood…I do not remember either of my children being tested, although they most likely were.

    How much we take for granted until the world makes us stop and take notice.

    Thank you for a beautiful post and the perspective it brings. Just lovely.

  41. erin margolin

    I am not so good at bending, especially lately. Your post makes me wish I was. You are an incredible mother, writer, and friend.

    I don't know much about PKU, but this makes me want to learn more. I am glad he is happy and loving life and wearing his heart on his sleeve.

    I am lucky to know you and love reading your words, as always.

  42. melanieb120

    Thank you for sharing this. Your post is such a reminder to me that sometimes the most challenging of moments teach us to be like a willow and bend – to adapt, be flexible, work along with what we've been given. Funny thing, those moments are the ones we learn from, grow from and cherish – making us thankful in hindsight for them happening. Thanks for this reminder.

    I do love your writing. You have a gift. Oh, and thank you for your encouraging words a couple of weeks ago when you commented on my "Feeling Like High School…" blog entry. So appreciated them. Just through your words, I feel like I've found a new friend. Thanks for that.

  43. Goodness! You had me at your title! It immediately drew me in and made me wince all at once. Why? Because I am forever striving to be more flexible. You illustrated your love and passion and careful, lovely wording and messaging beautifully here. I am so very happy to have read this today- thank you!

  44. @30ishmama

    "Be a willow and bend" is the best way to describe our place in the world as well as our roles in the family dynamic. I know I will find myself thinking of it for years to come.

    I am so glad that this screening is possible and that your son and your family was saved from a lifetime of difficulties. It makes me sad and angry to think of how many children suffer from PKU simply because the screening wasn't offered by the hospital/pediatrician or it was declined by the parents. I know that if it were not offered here I would not have known to ask for it so I really appreciate that you have become an advocate for this cause. Imagine how many people you are helping.

  45. ash

    Rigid and unyielding would result in a need for AA for me. For sure.

    Thank you so much, Lori, for liking my words.

  46. ash

    The beauty of opt-out testing – most parents have no idea unless questionable results are returned. A few years back, a woman concerned with her child's rights tried to pursue legislation that would make Newborn Screening an opt-in program, meaning parents would have to choose to have their newborns tested. I can only imagine the nightmares and needless heartache that would be caused. I'm all for freedom of choice and taking responsibility for yourself, but this is byond that.

    I'm so glad you had no idea!! That what the tests are for ;) I have to admit I'm slightly jealous though. It's all good.

  47. ash

    It is me who is lucky, my dear. Thank you, as always, for your love and support. XO

  48. ash

    Thank you Melanie! I absolutely believe that it is the bloggers in my world that has made a massive difference. Witnessing how parents handle far more difficult issues, it keeps my life in perspective. I am blessed. And I'm so glad I was able to make you feel a little better about the atmosphere that sometimes comes about. Stay authentic chica, it's where it's at :)

  49. ash

    Thank you Galit. Your kind words make me shine. Honest. For you to be happy that you read about my sweet baby boy, that means the world to me. Keep stretching my friend, bending will come :)

  50. ash

    Sorry 30ishmama! That comment below was in response to yours. I knew I was going to do that at least once.

  51. CDG

    Ashlei, I wish I could paste this on a billboard. Both messages, Be a Willow and Bend, and Screen Your Newborns! I actually remember signing a waiver for that heel stick and thinking, "why would you choose not to have a potentially life-saving test?"

    The thing I love about the willow analogy, is that willows bend, but they're strong. They're resilient. They prove that giving a little leaves you less vulnerable, not more. Something I need to work on myself.

  52. Tonya

    What a wonderful motto and way to live. I love this.

    Thank you, Nichole for hosting Ashlei here today.

  53. What an amazing post. You wrote it so beautifully! I love "be a willow and bend"….isn't that how motherhood is?! Beautiful! This was such an incredible story to read. So SO glad you shared with us!!!

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