We first started reading Kelle Hampton’s motherhood and lifestyle blog, Enjoying the Small Things, even before we had our own kids. This Naples, Florida-based writer had already grown a sizeable following by sharing her life as a mom to a toddler, daughter Lainey, and stepmom to two boys when she welcomed her second daughter, Nella (now 9), who was born with Down syndrome. Her post about the overwhelming news, and her reaction to it, is deep, heartbreaking and inspiring, all at the same time. This beautiful piece of writing (accompanied by powerful photos) and the subsequent essays who penned about her experiences turned into a New York Times bestselling book, Bloom, which is also a must-read. Today, Kelle continues to cover life as a mom (she also added another boy to her brood, with Dash, 6), including raising a special needs child, as well as fun topics like party planning, crafting and travel. We were thrilled to chat with Kelle about her journey as a mother and writer.
You’ve been blogging for a long time. How has the site evolved?
The site has naturally evolved both with how our family has evolved as well as how the Internet has evolved. Back when I started it, blogging was still fairly new. I was in those young motherhood years, and I did a lot more story telling ,which was why most people came to blogs. There were a lot of long posts with lots of pictures and details because that’s what everyone was sharing. I still share the same themes I’ve always been passionate about—creative pursuits, parenting, celebrating little moments, holidays, fashion, home, etc.—but now it’s more in a way that’s, let’s say, “easy to digest”.
Your outlook of gratitude and optimism has clearly resonated with people. What gets you through tough times?
I have a really impressive stack of evidence in my life now that proves “This is temporary” when I’m feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by challenge. I know that life requires us showing up for the hard stuff and trudging through it. We learned that from [the] We’re Going on A Bear Hunt book when we were little—you can’t go around it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go over it…you have to go through it. Besides trusting that “this too shall pass” and knowing I will be stronger and wiser after having gone through something, I have three solid pick-me-ups through those “funk phases”: talking about it with friends, clinging to self care rituals every day and celebrating little moments.
I think other people would describe me as a pretty laid back parent, but I have certain areas where I’m strict. The parenting theme I hope I’m most defined by though is FUN. I love making ordinary things fun. I love kitchen dance parties, disco balls in the bedroom, cutting sandwiches into hearts, drawing with sidewalk chalk in the driveway, renovating dollhouses. That sense of childhood that dries up in so many of us? It’s where all the magic is—where all the happiness is.
We’re all about giving moms the gift of time. What is your favorite time saving mom hack?
Disguising store bought food into “Look at this beautiful treat I spent hours on!” when I entertain. A great example? Buy a round store bought cake, scrape off the obnoxious flowers and thick frosting decoration, and redecorate it with a little of your own homemade frosting and some fresh pesticide-free flowers. Smoke and mirrors, baby.
What do you wish people would know (or ask) about Nella?
Well, I tell the world a lot about her and don’t wait for people to ask. But I want kids to know that her receptive language and understanding of things is not much unlike theirs, even if she isn’t as conversational. I want them to ask her questions and tell her funny stories, and if she doesn’t talk back or respond like everyone else, don’t quit doing it.
What has surprised you about motherhood?
That kids get so much harder when they’re older. We talk so much about babies being hard and exhausting, but I’d take a million babies. They are cake compared to the emotional exhaustion of older kids. Babies need boobs, diapers and arms to hold them, and that’s about it. Kids? Sure, they might sleep all night, but hey need to be driven places all day long, they need homework help, they need you to listen—a lot—and they need you to say the right thing when they’re crying because they’re going to remember it unlike the babies. They need you to know their secret signals, they need you to tell them important things about life, and they need you to be a really good human because they’re always watching you. The emotional responsibility of loving and raising kids feels so much heavier to me than raising babies, and I guess I never realized that going into it (not that I still wouldn’t sign up for this 100 times over—give me all of it.)
Your birth story with Nella is an enduring, powerful essay. What would you tell the Kelle that wrote it 9 years ago?
You know, I think the first thing I’d say is, “It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. It’s okay. Feel it all. Cry. Get it out. You’re human. You can be all the things at once: devastated, confusedand a strong mother who fiercely loves her baby.” I think one of the most powerful catalysts of accepting Nella’s diagnosis and falling so in love with her was first making space for the grief I was feeling. Of course I would have wanted that scared, sad mama to also know that Down Syndrome was going to bring so much joy to our lives and that it really wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was, but sometimes you just have to discover that on your own—slowly, through living it.
What is the greatest gift that comes with raising a child with Down syndrome. And challenge?
Acceptance. When you have this preconceived stereotype about something and then you realize you were completely wrong? When you get a backstage pass to something beautiful and realize there is so much more behind the “disability” the world sees? You start thinking about other things you might be perceiving wrong, other people you whose gifts and abilities you might be overlooking. You see people differently. And then you start seeing yourself differently.
I really appreciated when you wrote about “emotional procrastination” as a coping mechanism. Can you explain what that is?When you’re procrastinating about hitting the gym or sending those e-mails or finishing a not-so-fun project, it’s easy to link responsibility, action and follow-through to the solution. You just have to do the work. But when it comes to emotions—”I want to feel happier”, “I want to accept this diagnosis,” “I want to get over this grief,” it’s not so simple. In hindsight, yes, there was emotional work to do. But when I was feeling those feelings and overwhelmed, there wasn’t a clear path to getting out other than letting myself truly feel those feelings and then writing the things I didn’t quite believe yet but wanted to believe. I wrote things like “Everything’s going to be okay” and “We are going to take this unexpected gift, and we are going to make something beautiful of it!,” and just writing those things and practicing playing the version of myself I wanted to be gave me strength, and transformed me into that strong mom who truly believed the things she wrote.