Shelton & Brandi

Hello! We're Brandi & Shelton Koskie. Since 2006 we’ve been one of the many couples on the In Vitro Fertilization journey. We were the first IVF fundraiser blog, and thanks to the generous help of many, in we had our first successful IVF attempt. Nine months later, we had a beautiful girl, Paisley. You’re invited to follow along on our journey from infertility to parenthood.  Learn more

Are you a Quantity or Quality Parent? I’m Both and Neither.

It’s 10 o’clock on a Thursday night. I’m currently sitting in my bed in the dark with my four-year-old passed out asleep on my right arm. The one I type with. Her tiny baby face is lit up by my computer screen, her hands tucked together under her head. She lied there and watched me work until she finally fell asleep.

This tiny part of me thinks it’s sweet; snuggled up next to her. The rest of me feels like shit. My co-worker absolutely would have understood if I’d pushed our conversation back ten or 15 more minutes. But I’d also just returned from a late night at the office, and my brain was still in work mode. Dad allowed her to stay up late until I got home, so this was the only time we had together today, and I squandered it.

It’s not like this every day. Some days. Sometimes a lot of days. That’s why I don’t have the luxury of playing quality/quantity game.

Carla Birnberg recently wrote about the quality/quantity debate on her blog. I adore Carla. She’s brilliant, generous with her time and brain cells, has an energy that I crave and covet, and does not care at all what anyone thinks. Everything she writes almost always has me sit back, nodding my head, mumbling uh-huhs under my breath in agreement.

This time, though, I paused. She made me stop and think about which parenting camp I fall in — quality or quantity. I loved her analogy of saturating the market “with mama-product and hoping, along the way, I’d churn out at least a few quality stuffs.”

Who amongst us doesn’t feel the same way? We all want to do the very best job we can; that’s why we are killing ourselves with guilt and Pinterest projects. My mom never worried about that stuff. Her mom certainly didn’t. And I’ll take a safe bet that neither my great- nor great-great grandmother messed with it either. They just loved their kids the best they could and that was good enough!

Somewhere along the way we allowed ourselves to be ruled more by the opinions of other mothers than by our own two cents and intuition. It became easier to declare Worst Mom Ever and Mom of the Year than to just own the decisions we were making, own the circumstances in which they were made.

Some days, like this one, my daughter and I get so little time together that the quality/quantity argument doesn’t even factor in. Tonight there was no real quantity and there was absolutely no quality… but we were skin to skin, and we made small talk, and I kissed her and hugged her a dozen times, and played with her hair in between chat IMs. Instead of a book, between chat IMs, I read an old blog post to her from when she was two. She loved it, and asked for another.

And so maybe my definition of quality is skewed. Because on the surface I look at how we spent tonight and I’m just appalled with myself. Then I read that scene back and think, you know, that’s not so bad. After all, it shouldn’t be about how I define quality, but how she does. For her, she got to have snuggle time with mom in bed, hear a story, and fall asleep in … on… her mom’s arms. That’s all she needs, right?

Tomorrow I’m taking the afternoon off work. I wish I could say it was by choice, but we’re between nannies and we’re sharing the load with her. She’s having a friend come over to play and I’m throwing our usual super healthy food rules out the window. I stressed for 20 minutes at the grocery store tonight trying to figure out what to make for the kids and what nice thing I could make for my friend and then decided that I’m absolutely exhausted, the most tired I’ve been in recent memory, I still have to work while she’s at school in the morning…and then make lunch? We’re ordering pizza and making sugar cookies. She’ll be thrilled!

And in that, we’ll score a little quality and a little quantity.

I get frustrated when I can’t do some big awesome red-banner star-spangled actual Mom of the Year level thing with her every. single. day. It doesn’t matter to her though. She likes riding the escalator at Target three times in a row. She likes to help load the washing machine and unload the dishwasher. She likes to read an extra story at bed time. She likes when I lean my head over the tub so that she can wash my hair for a change. She likes to sneak in an episode of Gilmore Girls. She likes getting an iced tea at Target to share while we shop. She likes looking at pictures on Instagram. She likes when I help her do the math for a pizza game on the iPad. She likes walking to school instead of riding in the car. She likes when I take even 5 minutes to play “getting married” with her.

This is what’s important to her. This is what she remembers. This is when I get to hear “you’re the best mama ever;” she means it so I need to stop doubting it.

In that list is a lot of quality and a lot of quantity — by her definition.

So it comes back to my rule of all things in moderation. Sometimes there is quality. Sometimes there is quantity. Sometimes there is neither. I’m OK with that.

A Summer of Happy is Our Next Big Adventure

We’re taking off an adventure unlike anything we’ve done before. We’re doing it for a lot of reasons, and we’re very excited to hit the road.

Here’s the short explanation and some details: We’re taking off on a four-month road trip, departing from Wichita on May 22. We’ll be back “sometime” in September. So far we’ve had a massive moving sale, sold one of our cars (the other will sell soon), turned in notice on the home that we rent, and secured a POD for storage.

We’re mapping out our itinerary, which starts with a month in the Denver area. From there we’ll make a pit stop in Wichita to see James Taylor and then depart for Savannah, Georgia. I’m speaking at a conference there and then we’ll settle in for at least two weeks. From Georgia, we’re not really sure other than we’re going to work our way up the east coast. Part of the adventure is not really knowing! We’ll be in Rhode Island by mid-August and we’ll spend the remainder of our time in the far northeast. After that, we’ll start winding our way back home.

You’ll be able to keep up with the adventure via our Twitter and Facebook, of course, as well as a new blog we’re building at For more on the title, keep reading.

Continue reading A Summer of Happy is Our Next Big Adventure »

The Great Christmas Boycott and Making This a True Season of Giving

This year has been a roller coaster that I frankly don’t want to ride again. I’ve lived 32 years with my family in tact. Save for the loss of great grandparents, no more recent than a decade ago, we’ve never lost anyone. If that won’t make you count your blessings I don’t know what will. In a devastating 17 day window this summer, the two, not just grandparents, but human beings I hold nearest and dearest left us. Without warning or a chance to tell them all of the things, they took one last breath and bid this life farewell. I called this season of my life All Of The Dying. I’ve spent a quarter of my year without them and I’m still grappling with how to deal with this, how to process this. I still keep reaching to send my grandpa funny pictures and stories of Paisley, and on Monday mornings I have to remind myself that there is no grandma’s house where I can take Paisley.

I write for therapy, I have since I was a little girl. And the pain around these losses has been so tremendous, so completely overwhelming that I haven’t even known where to begin, how to properly say it, how to do either of those souls the justice they deserve. But then, I guess I did (and maybe I am again). I wrote my grandfather’s eulogy, and I told a church full of strangers what kind of grandmother 28 of us were lucky to have. Both were humbling experiences that were a great honor.

This season, I intend to honor them one more time. I’m boycotting Christmas, at least in the modern traditional sense. I’m not accepting any gifts this year, and I’m not exchanging any either. Instead, this year, me, Shelton, and Paisley are going to celebrate a Christmas with more heart and make it about anyone but ourselves.

Here’s how I arrived at this.

We’ve done the Angel Tree every year; it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Two years ago I realized they have an adult tree, too. And that year I scanned the cards hanging from the tree and consistently saw microwave or blanket written on every card. Grown adults whose only wish in the world was something they could use to stay warm and comforted, or something they could use to prepare food. I bawled. I stood next to those trees picturing the beastly large microwave in my kitchen, the underwhelming stove, and the cabinets and refrigerator bursting with food. And I bawled because I couldn’t help any of them. I’d already burned through my Christmas budget, having sent bottles of wine to people who really didn’t need them and heaping piles of other gifts that were more symbolic than necessary or probably even desired.

Last year, I returned to the Angel Tree and budgeted to help two of the adult angels. New dishes for a single mom of four and new bedding to another woman were distributed and I felt better, but still like there was so much more I could be doing. After all, look at all the things I’d purchased for Shelton alone that, let’s be honest, he didn’t need at all.

Then, Christmas morning, standing in the kitchen with my grandfather, I saw him choke up, fighting tears, as he told a story. This was a first. My grandpa has tears inside?? He told how he’d recently been in the thrift shop in his small hometown where he saw people purchasing used toys and games. He reconciled that they were Christmas shopping for their kids – with worn out used toys – and he couldn’t come to grips with the financial imbalance in the world.

And then, during the week of my grandmother’s passing, as the stories of this 74-year-old spitfire of a woman were spun, I received the final message I needed to commit to my Christmas boycott.

My grandmother was the most impressive woman I’ve ever known. She raised five kids on her own at a time when families were rarely divorced much less had a mother working outside the home. She raised five really amazing kids while working nights at a club. They didn’t have a lot by way of material possessions, but their home was very full. One Christmas, like so many families face, there was just not going to be enough to pull off a holiday full of gifts and surprises like she wanted. But one night, she walked out to her car after work and found it stuffed to the brim with wrapped presents for her five kids. To her dying day she never knew who did it, but their secret generosity was just the Christmas miracle she needed to make a memorable holiday for her little brood.

This year, we’re truly embracing the idea of a season of giving. I’m pulling together my usual Christmas budget, which really isn’t that much anyway, but what I do have, I’m giving away. We’re going to adopt a family who, like my grandmother, would have no other way to see those Christmas morning smiles. We’ve adopted a girl from Carpenter Place (my grandmother loved supporting this organization) who has an impressive wish list. I’m going back to the Angel Tree and I’ll select a card (or hopefully more) from each side of the trees. I’d like to pay off a layaway. I’m donating hats and mittens to Child Start. And I’ll hopefully find a few more ways to make Christmas morning brighter for my neighbors.

I’m not telling anyone this publicly to get some kind of pat on the back or whatever. Please don’t read this as me being some sort of braggart (God knows I probably do enough of that w/ food and my kid). I’m doing this, quite selfishly, for myself. And I’m telling everyone (namely my family) so that when I decline a gift you’ll know why. Through tears and a cracking voice over dinner recently, I told Shelton how committed to this I was. I told him that on Christmas morning, I want to wake up and know that my gift will be a full heart. My gift will be knowing that I don’t want or need for anything, that my family woke up under any number of blankets of their choosing, that our bellies are full and satisfied, and that we are all, mostly, together.

There will be a gaping hole this Christmas morning; two to be exact. But I’m going to try to focus more on the people who are present; those who I can still make memories with, laugh, hug, and love. That will honor my grandparents more than sappy tears falling all over my pigs in a blanket. They were never ever ever the types to feel sorry for themselves, no matter what life dealt them. So I’m not going to feel sorry for myself this year and I’m going to try to make that the case for a few other families, too.

Santa will still visit our house this year because I have a three-year-old and I believe very much in the magic that is Santa. I’ve talked to Paisley about how we’re going to give more this year and she gets very excited – she loves any opportunity we have to help others and always wants to be involved. But I also know that she’s, for all intents and purposes, a very tiny little girl who has been very good this year and wants to have a Christmas morning surprise, too! Heck, I want to give her that! So Santa will be following the Need Want Read Wear rule this year (that I learned about from Suzanne Tobias), and my little tot will receive one thing she wants, one thing she needs, one thing she can read, and one thing she can wear.

Merry Christmas.

I Voted for Barack Obama Because I’m the Mom of a Little Girl

I became more “political” in this election than I ever have in my life. While not many people could have influenced the vote I cast on Thursday night, I don’t imagine I can influence many either. With 24 hours until the polls close, I’ll do my best to change the mind of someone riding on the fence. In my heart, I can’t help but feel like I want to tell people why I rocked my Obama Mama T-shirt today and why I voted for Barack Obama to have a second term. I can sum it up in two words…

Paisley Joon.

Shelton and I took her to vote with us on Thursday night. It was a very, very proud moment that truly gave me goosebumps. I tried to tell her what we were doing; hopefully the picture of the three of us leaving will mean more to her later on. (PS – anyone else think it’s SUPER weird to vote inside of a church?)

I voted for Barack Obama because I’m the mom of a little girl who will one day be a woman who, like me, shouldn’t be forced to have decisions made for her; especially those completely out of touch with the reality that is being a modern woman (or how a tampon works). I want her to have as many rights as I do right now, if not more. When it comes to her body, her health, her place in the workforce, it’s her choice and her right to be there. I want her to know that I voted for the rights of all people, not those we selectively decide should have voices and rights – and that goes for women, gays, the poor, and anyone else who, I believe, will be left out of the conversation in a few months if Mitt Romney is elected.

For the first time since I was legally allowed to vote, I really studied the issues, I truly listened to both sides, and at the end of the day, I felt I couldn’t look my daughter in the eye if I cast my vote any other way.

I like Barack Obama. I like the work he has done in Washington in the past four years and I can honestly say I think he’s tried to bridge a gap that has dangerously separated our country. I voted for him for a lot of reasons and on a lot of different issues, but years from now when Paisley asks me about this election, I’ll tell her that I clicked the box next to his name for her.

Please vote tomorrow. I sincerely mean this when I say that I hope you vote even if you check the opposite box. Featured at for Infertility Insurance Coverage

I’m always excited to get a press request to tell more people about our story, and the resulting sweet little Paisley Joon! Last week I got an email from Sydney Lupkin at ABC News asking if I could be available. Umm, of course I can!

See the Story Here

Sydney’s story discusses the sad truth that few people struggling with infertility will have insurance coverage for their treatment. For couples like us, male factor with multiple surgeries and procedures, the cost topped out at $20,000. Out of pocket!

Of the day we learned we’d have to do IVF, Shelton said this about this website:

“By the time we got to the car, it was a done decision,” Shelton said. “My wife is one of those people. She comes up with crazy ideas and executes them really well.”

I’ll never be able to thank him enough for saying yes. For agreeing to let me talk about his sperm on the Internet. For agreeing to scrimp and save on a gamble.

The night Paisley was born, I looked across the bed at Shelton and told him, “Thank you for her.” While my words may never completely summarize my gratitude for Shelton going along with all of this, I hope that the sassy, silly, blonde-headed miracle baby napping in my bed at this very moment says what my mouth may not ever be able to.

Thank you Sydney for a well-written article with some important information, and for including our story. And thanks Jennifer White Portraits for capturing the three of us so perfectly.

Traveling for Work Sucks, but Cute Crafts Sort of Make up For it

When I was in college, I had daydreams about having a job that would allow me to travel. “Frequent flyer” just sounded so fancy, so professional. I wanted to be both of those things. When I found my current job, I knew I’d have quarterly-ish trips to NYC. That worked for me! But as the past five years have progressed, I’ve bounced all over this country. It was always relatively easy to throw my things in a suitcase and fly away for a week – I didn’t like leaving Shelton of course but he understood.

Then I had Paisley. The first time I left her for a week-long work trip was right before she turned four months. It was brutal; one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I took a xanax for the fist time in my life because I couldn’t physically bring myself to set her down and leave. I think I’ve been gone 10 full weeks since then. I don’t love it, but I guess I also asked for it.

I used to think the trips would get easier because it would slowly become more familiar for all of us. If anything, it’s gone harder. When I’d leave when she was just a little bag of muscles, she didn’t know I was gone and, well, let’s face it – I wasn’t getting woken up at 3am. But now she does so much, she changes every day, and she’s very aware of my absence.

Shelton and I left at the beginning of September for a week in Portland to celebrate our 10th anniversary and simply just get away. We debated for weeks whether or not to take her because we knew she’d have a blast and we’d miss her. But ultimately, we decided to go without her. We were both so heartsick by the time we got home because seven days was just too much. When we picked her up after we landed, she ran in to my arms and burst into tears. Apparently she missed us too.

Well, I have to leave tomorrow, again for another week. I told her during a walk at the park that I have to go on the airplane and I’ll be home in a few days. Her reply was, “but you just got back to see me again.”

Talk about a world-class heartbreaking guilt machine.

It certainly doesn’t make up for my absence for either of us, but I’m hoping a little project I put together for her will at least ease the time away.

I put seven notes in seven envelopes, each labeled for the days of the week that I’m away. Each has a different note, wishing her a good morning, and a reminder that even when I’m far away I still love her, miss her, and am thinking of her. I hope she feels that.