It is my pleasure to introduce you to this week’s Smarty Mom, Kristin Arnold. Kristin and her husband of 11 years, Todd have become a close friend of ours through that crazy web that can only be called the 6 degrees of Charlotte. She is one of the brightest, funniest and caring people that I know and she can make some mean shrimp and grits. Kristin is one of those rare people that you can kick back and be silly with and also turn to for advice when you just need someone to talk with. She and Todd are the proud parents to 17-month old Virginia and over the past year have dealt with and are continuing to overcome a devastating illness that Todd was diagnosed with, Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I am constantly amazed at their strength, grace and humor. I will now turn it over to Kristin to tell their story and to find out more about the upcoming Guillain-Barre Syndrome GBS/CIDP 5k and Miracle Mile event, check out the CSP Cares tab.
On May 9th your family will be participating in the Guillain-Barre Syndrome GBS/CIDP 5k and Miracle Mile. Can you share with our readers why this event is so important to your family?
Last June, Todd and Virginia and I spent a wonderful week in Colorado for my sister’s wedding. About a week after we got home, Todd started feeling bad. I didn’t think much of it to begin with because like most men, every illness for Todd is very serious. He thought it was just a sinus infection that was hanging on but after two weeks of staying home from work and driving me crazy, his doctor could not find anything wrong. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind and just wanted him to be back to his normal fun self-little did I know the long road that lay ahead of us.
He actually started showing his first signs of GBS on 4th of July. We had three parties to go to that day and I was really hoping he would rally and get in the spirit of the holiday. He told me he felt exhausted and his arms really hurt like he had been working out a ton and said he could not lift them over his head. I, of course, being the loving supportive wife that I am, rolled my eyes and said suck it up-let’s get to these parties. He bailed on two of the three parties but did make it to the cookout, where he continued to feel worse. Over that weekend, he continued to have more and more body pain and numbness. Finally on July 9, he tried to get off the couch in our den and fell on the floor. I will never forget watching him struggle to get off the floor and stand up. I was still in disbelief that something could be really wrong with him. He decided it was time to go to the emergency room, so we packed up Virginia and took her to our neighbors and drove to the ER. By the time we got to CMC, Todd could not walk and the orderlies had to pull him out of my car and hurl him into a wheelchair. Luckily, the ER doctors knew what they were doing and realized that Todd had no reflexes (a classic symptom of GBS) and told us they were checking him into the hospital. Eight hours later, Todd was in neurosurgical ICU and the doctors were telling us that he had GBS.
I vaguely remembered having heard about GBS from a woman in my bible study. I remember her putting a friend who had GBS on the prayer list each week and giving us updates about how he was completely paralyzed, was learning to walk again, etc. I could not believe this was actually happening to my husband! I remember going home that night and reading a ton on the internet and being completely overwhelmed. I remember thinking there was NO WAY I was going to let Todd understand exactly what this illness could do to him because if he knew the extent to which it could devastate his body he would completely lose hope. I was determined that we were going to stay positive and not expect the worst. I think in the long run, that positive attitude really did help us get through this ordeal but unfortunately, Todd’s GBS was really bad. Within days of getting to ICU, he was completely paralyzed and could not move anything. The GBS even attacked his eyes and made his vision blurry. Because GBS attacks the peripheral nervous system, Todd also had severe body heat fluctuations and one minute had to be packed in ice and the next had to be piled high with blankets. On top of all this, Todd had extreme pain associated with the GBS and had to be given large doses of pain killers to help him survive the pain. The only thing the GBS did not attack was his lung, which was truly a blessing.
After three weeks in ICU and then a step down unit, the doctors decided that Todd was through the worst of the GBS. This meant it was now time for him to move to the rehabilitation hospital where he had to learn how to walk, talk, dress, eat, etc. Basically everything we take for granted on an everyday basis, he had to learn all over again. I cannot tell you how proud I was and still am to this day of the work that he put into his rehabilitation. He had the most positive attitude I have ever seen and was determined to walk out of the hospital on his own accord and he did just that after a month in rehab. After another two months of out patient rehabilitation, he was able to go back to work and resume a fairly normal life. Today, while he still has residual numbness and weakness and definitely does not have the strength or stamina that he had before the GBS, we feel very lucky that he has recovered as well and as quickly as he has. There are many people we have met through the GBS support group that are still wheelchair bound or have significant disability from GBS.
I honestly look back on that time in our lives and wonder how we got through it. I know that I could not have gotten through it without my faith in God and my belief that everything happens for a reason. I know that I could not have gotten through it without the support of our families who spent many weeks here in Charlotte helping take care of Virginia, keeping me from going insane and helping Todd in whatever way they could. I also know I could not have gotten through it without my wonderful support group of friends and neighbors who were always willing to bring us dinner, help out with Virginia or run an errand-I even had one friend offer to take my dog to the vet!
How did dealing with GBS impact your family and do you have any advice for other families who are facing or may face this type of illness?
I think the best advice I can give to anyone facing GBS or any serious illness is to lean on your friends and family. They want to help and feel so helpless and are willing to do anything to make your burden lighter, so let them. Don’t feel bad about asking for help! It made my load so much lighter and allowed me to focus on the most important thing which was getting Todd well.
Tell us what you love most about raising a daughter, and what are the challenges?
We didn’t find out what we were having when I was pregnant with Virginia, so when Todd announced it was a girl, I remember this wonderful feeling of complete happiness in my heart and thinking now I have my girl and I can teach her all the things my mom taught me. I love being able to do things with Virginia that my mom and I did growing up and I am so looking forward to passing on all the family traditions that have become so important to me over the years.
With regard to challenges, I think on the big picture front, raising kids in today’s society is just plain tough. There are so many different philosophies about raising kids and there are so many pressures and stresses upon kids that just were not around when we were growing up. I think it is a real challenge to not get overwhelmed and second guess your parenting. I just try to trust my gut and not over analyze everything and hope that Todd and I are making the right choices and raising Virginia to be a kind, loving person who respects others and gives back to her community. As for day to day challenges, we are currently struggling with how to explain to a 17 month old that teeth are not for biting!
You have just returned to work full time and have Virginia in daycare, what advice do you have for moms considering returning to work after having a child?
I feel super lucky that I was able to stay at home with Virginia for her entire first year but when a dream job opportunity came my way (especially in this bad economy), Todd and I decided that it was really best for me to go back to work. The hardest thing for me was determining whether to put Virginia in day care or hire a nanny. I knew that I would not be happy at my job unless Virginia was happy. After looking at the different options, I decided that day care was the better option for us since we only had one child and I thought Virginia would do well around other children. After talking with and visiting tons of different programs, we fell in love with the school that ended up having a spot for Virginia. We started her in the program a month before I went back to work and gradually transitioned her. She had the easiest transition the teachers said they had ever seen which made me feel like I had made the right decision and that she was ready to move on and learn bigger and better things at school. SO, my advice is do your homework, check out all the different options and do what is best for your child and family.
How do you balance time for yourself & family dedication while working a full time job?
I would love to say that I am super organized and have it all together but the truth of the matter is that I have never been an organized person and never will be. I am the queen of piles and to do lists that never get finished and that will never change. I think the one thing that I have learned being both a stay at home mom for Virginia’s first year and now a working mom is that you just cannot sweat the small stuff. There will always be more laundry that needs washing, floors to vacuum dog hair off of, and toys to pick up but it just cannot all get done and to me the most important thing is spending time with my family and that is always going to come first. I want to savor all the moments I can with Virginia and I don’t want to look back on my life and say that I missed Virginia doing this or that because I was making sure the house looked perfect.
What are the funniest/cutest things Virginia has done so far?
Virginia makes me laugh all the time, especially now that she is talking quite a bit-it is always funny trying to figure out exactly what she is saying to us. She also loves to sing and makes me smile singing her favorite songs just out of the clear blue sky. Probably the funniest thing she has done recently was the other morning while we were getting ready for work, she found my drawer of jewelry and proceeded to put on three of my necklaces and walked to the full length mirror in the closet and admired herself in the mirror and then pranced around the room. Todd and I took one look at each other and said boy are we in trouble and then died laughing.
What is your favorite family activity?
Our favorite family activity is going to Music Together class on Saturday morning and then going out to lunch afterwards. Virginia and I have been going to Music Together classes since she was three months old and we have loved them, so I was really sad when I thought I was going to have to quit since I was going back to work but I found out they have a Saturday morning class and it has been wonderful. The three of us go as a family and have a ton of fun singing songs and playing instruments. It has also been a great way for us to meet other working moms and dads.
Favorite “mommy time” activity?
I love reading a good book and going to the movies- but I don’t get to do either often enough! I also so look forward to my monthly girls supper club.
Most enjoyable time with Virginia?
I love reading books with her. We have read together since the day she came home from the hospital and I love it! My mom and dad saved a lot of my books from growing up and I love getting to share them with Virginia and help instill in her the love of reading that I have. I love her snuggling up to me and saying book, book when she is ready to read. Now that she is a little older, she definitely has her favorite books and wants to read them over and over which is just fine with me.
Favorite place to eat out with the whole family?
Our favorite would probably be Brixx at Foxcroft East. We live in the neighborhood so we just load Virginia up in the stroller and walk up to Brixx. It is such kid friendly place and we like their pizzas and salads.
Favorite place to eat without the children?
We enjoy trying new places and are always going somewhere different when we actually make time for a date night but we have always had the tradition of going to Sunday brunch and love 300 East. They always have something completely non-traditional but simply yummy on their brunch menu.
Favorite place to get a good deal on kids clothes?
My mom is an excellent seamstress and has made tons of clothes for Virginia so that has been a great way to economize on the clothing front-she is able to copy all the great boutique lines. I find tons of bargains at the CMOMs consignment sale. I also have been super lucky because one of my closest girlfriends has a daughter almost two years older than Virginia and she has passed on all her clothes to Virginia!
Best piece of baby/kid gear?
I could not have survived without my BOB stroller. My family gave it to us as a baby gift and it has been the best stroller in the world. We had the car seat adapter for it, so I was able to use it from the first time I took Virginia on a walk and it has definitely been used a ton.
What are your favorite parks?
Virginia is not too discriminating on her parks. As long as there is a swing and a slide, she is good to go and luckily there is a neighborhood park just down the street from our house so that is where we usually head. We also live on a cul-de-sac and on more days than not, we can be found playing in the street with the other neighborhood kids.
Mini-van or SUV?
Neither-I still drive my hail damaged, beat up 1998 Honda Accord that did not even have a CD player until this year when Todd and Virginia gave me one for my birthday. Todd promised to trade cars with me when Virginia was born and I was going to drive his LandCruiser and he was going to take the Honda but he is a car person and I just don’t care so we just kept driving our cars and really it has worked out just fine.
I could not live without my …
1) My husband! He and I are truly a team and I could not get through each day without his help, support and love. He is such a wonderful daddy to Virginia and I always marvel at the amazing bond he has already created with her. He is also a clean freak which really balances out my messiness; 2) My parents-I have been truly blessed to have the most amazing parents in the world! They are such an inspiration to me and make me want to be as good a parent to Virginia as they were and still are to me; 3) My sister-she has always been there for me through thick and thin and no matter how far apart we may live I know that she is always just a phone call away; 4) My friends-since my parents live in Missouri and my sister lives in Colorado, my girlfriends truly are my family here in Charlotte and I could not survive without them! and on a truly practical note 5) my DVR-I would never get to watch my favorite tv shows if it were not for my DVR!
Best kept secret in town?
The Wineshop at Foxcroft East. They have delicious food and a great by the glass wine selection or you can simply buy a bottle from their huge selection and pay a small corkage fee and their donuts are to die for!!!! It also really helps that I can walk from my house.
Thank you Kristin. If you would like to “mominate” someone, please email us at email@example.com.
Don’t forget to enter our GYNORMOUS hot momma giveaway valued at over $1,600. This giveaway ends, Friday, May 8th at 11pm, so click here to enter. This is also part of our annual reader profile survey which is being conducted to better serve you. It is the last giveaway that will appear on our blog portion of the site. Giveaways have become as popular as Kelly & Brenda on 90210 and now warrant their own portion of the site. Each day be sure to check out our latest swanky register-to-win on the Giveaways tab of CSP.
Yea Kristin!!! Good to see you on Charlotte Smarty Pants!!!!!!Katie M
what a truly inspirational story! Loved reading your story this morning. sounds like you are all stronger from the experience and especially loved your thoughts about balancing family & work – focus on what's really important. Thank you!
Kristin, you are a blessing to all of us! Love you!Suzanne
Great seeing you tonight. Your family is truly an inspiration. Not to mention, way too much fun to hang out with 🙂 See you this Saturday at the race.
Great to “see” you here, you super Smarty mama! You have always inspired me with your ability to find humor in yourself through such a tough situation. I also wanted to give a shout out to the hail damaged vintage 1998 Honda club! We sport that same car and my only complaint is that we DON’T have the cd player:-)
What is Music Together? Sounds like something my family would love!!
Music Together is a music class for children ages infant to four years old and their parents. See their website at musictogetherofcharlotte.com for more information.
What an amazing story! You are truly an inspiration!
Kristin — I knew you were amazing the first time I met you at your MVA interview, and remember how excited I was when we convinced you to come on board. Since then you have continued to amaze and inspire me — with the courageous way you handled your own illness for so many years, the way you have embraced motherhood, and now, the grace you have shown keeping your family strong through such a very rough time. I’m pretty sure there is nothing you can’t handle, and I am so proud of you.
Kristin! You are an inspiration! Much love.