Category Archives: Lele Marie

Doing Life Together

We throw that expression around quite frequently in the church. Join a LifeGroup, so you can Do Life Together. 

I refused to join a LifeGroup for almost two years after we started attending our church. Mainly because I’m not great at doing life with anyone other than my husband, kids, mom, mom-in-law, some relatives, and a few friends. I’m not competent in relationships where so much action is required. 

Five years ago, we joined one. Not because the Lord told us to do it. Not because our Pastor was often asking people to join. Not from some video that spoke to us. 

We joined because a guy I had attended college with asked us four times. Four. Dave and I figured that if he could keep asking us, knowing we were going to hem and haw our way out of the conversation, then we could at least humor him and show up. One time. 

That’s all Dave and I committed to one another. We will try it once. And if I hate it, we never go back. I had never been to a Sunday School class. I was nervous and worried and fearful I would say something stupid. 

And I did. I said several stupid things that first day. I had slept two hours a night for several nights leading up to that Sunday morning. It was bad. Embarrassingly bad. I don’t think a coherent sentence came out of my mouth.

So I told Dave I wasn’t going back. And Dave said he thought we should try one more time. I told him he was a liar, because our agreement was one and done…if that’s what I wanted. 

The second week was better. I was less awkward. I said fewer dumb things. I thought, “Okay. We can do this a third week.”

Several weeks went by, and we decided that we were going to stay. Try “Doing Life” with these people.

Then the pediatrician said, “Adelaide needs an MRI to rule out brain issues, since she’s not meeting milestones.” 

I sobbed. Our LifeGoup prayed. A lot. 

Then the pediatrician called. “They found a posterior fossa cyst in her brain. She needs to see a neurologist. They will probably do neurosurgery.”

I felt like all the air in our house had been poisoned. It was one of the hardest days of my life. 

I bawled. Our LifeGroup loved on us. A lot. We had known these people less than 3 months. People offered to bring meals. People offered to pay our gas to drive across the state. People offered to watch Graham. We didn’t take them up on any of it. Dave and I are pretty autonomous. And we were beginning to feel like a drain on the group. And we hated that feeling of being the needy ones.

They barely knew us. We hadn’t gone to the extra things. The breakfasts. The dinners. The stuff families do. We showed up on Sunday morning and that was the extent of our participation. 

We weren’t harboring any ill feelings toward them. We avoided the extra stuff because I felt like I was constantly putting my foot in my mouth. And I was running on no sleep. And Graham was so incredibly strong-willed. Just a really tough toddler. 

But it didn’t seem to matter to them. 

They didn’t have a scale, with weights on one side and the Ballews’ contributions on the other. It didn’t matter to them that we were the newest members, yet the neediest ones. They just kept pouring into us. 

Over the years, we still haven’t done enough. I know they aren’t keeping track, but I do. We made meals for members who had babies. They brought us meals for two living babies and two dead ones. We helped a person move. They offered to help my mom, who they had never met, move. We offered to help members during emergencies. They took our kids while we were at the ER. Fed them, changed diapers, texted updates. We gave money when offerings were taken up. We were given more money than we’ll ever contribute. Ever. 

Even though it’s been a blessing, I still feel like I have no idea what Doing Life means. Unless it means that others treat you better than you treat them. And they don’t even blink when you need them. 

I feel like the last five years have almost been their own lifetime. Dave and I actually use the expressions “Before Adelaide’s MRI” and “After the twins died” and “During the case” and “Before Bob’s tumor” in conversation. Does our LifeGroup regret all they’ve done? All the time they’ve helped us, prayed for us, and included us? Doing Life with the Ballews seems like an exhausting venture. 

If they do regret it, you’d never know. And maybe that’s the beauty of this whole LifeGroup experiment: there really aren’t scales. No one is keeping track. And I think if my college friend could go back, knowing how high maintenance we would be, he still would’ve asked four times. And I don’t think he would’ve stopped asking if we hadn’t caved that one time in July and shown up to Room 318. Where I still say dumb things. And we still have a prayer request every week for our baby girl. 

Wash Feet

I was giving Adelaide a bath, when she grabbed the washcloth from me. I assumed she was going to chew on it. She mouthes everything, especially cloth items. 

But she surprised me and ran it over her legs. Then she plunged it into the water, brought it up, and rubbed it over her legs again. One at a time. 

My eyes brimmed with tears, watching my girl scrub her own legs.

And then the tears actually fell as she put the washcloth on her feet and said, 


And she scrubbed her own feet for about 15 seconds, before trying to put the washcloth in her mouth. 

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Game Time

Adelaide brought this puzzle to me. The pieces are in another room. She put it on the couch next to me and stared up at me. 

“Adelaide, do you want to play a game?”

She eye-gazed the puzzle and clapped. 

“Adelaide, where is the cat?”

She eye-gazed the cat.

“Where is the dog?”

She looked it over, then eye-gazed the dog. 

We played until she had eye-gazed each one. She got them all correct. I even tricked her by using mouse and house separately. 

Sometimes we have no idea what’s going on in her head. 

Then she surprises us. 

Two In Diapers

I’ve had two kids in diapers for more than 3 1/2 years. But Bess’ diapers, right before she pottytrained in the Spring, weren’t that much smaller than Adelaide’s. 

I can’t help but laugh when I pack the diaper bags for Adelaide and Lewis. It reminds me of Buddy the Elf every time. 

It doesn’t help that Adelaide loves singing, Santa, sugar, and tall socks. 

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Gorgeous. Brilliant. Affecting.

Made the list of movies I will watch over and over again. 

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Nursery Rhyme Time

Me: “…and they couldn’t put Humpty together again!”

Me: “…The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes, when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!”


Me: “…half a pound of treacle! Stir it up and make it nice. POP! goes the weasel!” 

Lew, I’m with you. Nursery Rhymes are puzzling at best. 

Room Switcheroo (part 1)

We’re moving Graham into the girls’ room, and he’s gaining Lewis as a roommate. It’s basically Christmas over here. Graham’s been wanting to share a room with a brother since Bess was 3 days old. It dawned on him that she and Adelaide would be together, and he would be alone. 

Since Lewis has almost outgrown his bassinet, and Adelaide has outgrown her crib, we decided it was time to get our room situation figured out. It was actually my mom who recommended switching the kids’ rooms. She knew Dave was designing and building a loft/bunk/trundle special needs gated bed for Adelaide and Bess. “Why not move the rooms? The girls’ bed will take up less space, so they can be in the smaller room. Since Lewis is taking Bess’ old crib, it just stays where it is!” Perfect!

Even though Dave is still working on the bed, I decided to start switching the rooms. I don’t have the space to pull stuff out, sort, purge, and put it into the correct room. So I’ve been winging it by moving everything around, creating piles, and trying to make a bit of progress everyday. 

Enter Graham and Bess. Who started throwing stuff. Literally. They misinterpreted my piles. It became a free-for-all. I lost control of the situation quickly when Lewis needed to nurse. Then Lewis had a growth spurt and all progress stopped. 

So now I’m trying to move furniture, purge, and clean up my helpers’ mess. They really did think they were aiding me in this monumental task. By creating Mt. Everest in each room. 

I’m trying not to stress about this…which is what women say when they are stressing about it…but I know it will all be done before Adelaide goes to school in the fall. 

I also moved her crib, diapers, and rocker into her new room so she can get used to her new space. Our kids have never lived in other rooms. So I didn’t want her to get a new room and a new bed at the same time. 

She’s had 4 naps and 3 nights in her new room. She seems to be sleeping well. 

“Adelaide, do you like your new room?” 

She may not be verbal, but she can still communicate. 

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Memes Are Lazy 

I once made the mistake of reading the comments section of something on the Internet. (I know. Don’t lecture me. It’s right up there with that time I wore gaucho pants with knee high boots.) I honestly think that’s the first place the FBI should be trolling for suspects in any crime ever committed at any point in modern history. 

The article was about something important. Don’t remember what. Maybe how One Direction was breaking up? Or the Iran Deal? Either way, the comments were a mixed bag of everything from fake prayer chains to that guy who thinks he know everything about boy bands and/or nuclear weapons.  

But someone wrote: 

“Memes Are The Lazy Way Out!” 


It didn’t concern me that it had nothing to do with Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, John Kerry, Philip Hammond, Sergey Lavrov, Federica Mogherini, Javad Zarit, or Ali Akbar Salehi. (Confession: I had to use Google on this one…I didn’t know the names of those British boys.) I was most put off by equating memes with torpescence. 

Has this person never searched for the perfect meme? It takes sweat to keep scrolling through all the cliched ones even your great-Grandma has printed out and handed to a friend at church (totally not kidding…this actually happened) to finding that treasure. 

The perfect rejoinder. 

If we are friends and I’ve never sent you a meme, there’s a chance we aren’t that close. 

And if I’ve never sent you a GIF, our relationship is most likely a sham. Much like most One Direction songs and the entire Iran Deal. 

How Will Your Kids Remember You? 

We have photographs of Dave’s great-Grandparents in our kitchen. Up in that empty space above the cabinets. Right next to my vintage Sandwich Glass canisters. Their faces without smiles. Their bodies rigid. Slight blurs where people moved. You can’t tell what kind of people they were from their photos. Dave’s Grandma scribbled notes on the back for us, so I know who is who and when they came to America speaking Czech. 

Dave’s great-Grandpa came to the States, fought in WWI, then died of a heart attack while working his farm. Leaving his wife without a husband and girls without a father. 

Adelaide is in Summer School. I think they call it Kindercamp. She’s transitioning from the preschool to her new k-4 elementary school. Getting to know her new teachers, classrooms, and routines. We can’t leave our little city when Adelaide is in school. At any moment, she could need us due to a seizure or a meltdown. So that means no trampoline parks, bounce houses, play dates with friends in neighboring cities. We’re on call 5 days a week from 7:40 to 1:50. 

So we decided to come up with a fun tradition for Adelaide’s Summer School days. Donuts and hashbrowns. After we drop Adelaide off at school, we drive through and get a donut for Graham and a hashbrown for Bess. 

We are proud frequenters of our local donut shop. It’s one in a chain, but you can’t tell. In a world of gas station and grocery store donuts, I enjoy driving through a place that uses one of those hoses to sense your vehicle and makes a huge ding. They push the sliding glass window open and take your order face to face. The menu sign is wood with vinyl stickers. The donuts are no nonsense. Their Facebook page has 100-and-some-change followers and hasn’t been updated in 8 months. 

Grandma Tracy makes donuts from her mom’s recipe, and tells me stories about the beloved matriarch. She tells me about meals they made, how she stored her potatoes, how she canned meat, the little sweets she made for them, the dresses she sewed, and how they always had fresh milk. How life was different on the farm. “Those poor city kids’ moms didn’t know how to stretch the rations like we did. And we always had meat. Mom always made sure we had meat.” These stories are fascinating to me. Grandma was raised by a single mom during the Great Depression. 

I chuckle thinking of all these articles written for my generation. 

How will your kids remember you? Are you on your phone too often, making them feel unimportant? Do you put your phone away too often and miss those photos of everything they’ll want to remember? Are you making enough memories? Do you hug them often enough, but not too much that they’re uncomfortable? Are you reading enough books, while also making sure they play outside? Are you reading enough books outside? Will they remember you as a fun mom? Caring mom? Adventurous mom? Even-tempered mom? Confident mom? Strong mom? Godly mom? Graceful mom? 

I wonder if Dave’s great-Grandma even had time to think about her legacy while she was doing the wash by hand, canning everything in sight for winter, and raising a daughter with special needs. Grandma Tracy’s sister couldn’t walk. Only attended school through the 8th grade. Had leg braces. But learned to cook fried chicken. 

In May and June, we ate lots of donuts, while wearing pajamas. My kids may not even remember it someday, and it’s sad that I even wondered if they would. It’s embarrassing to admit that I actually wondered if they would remember me as the mom who let them eat donuts in pajamas. But the mantra of my generation is “Are you making memories?” Like we’re manufacturing them in a factory. 

The question needs to be asked: Do I do things with my kids so they can have a good time…or am I wanting them to remember me someday as a good mom? I think it depends on the day. I hate to even say that aloud. 

In previous generations, I think moms focused more on keeping their kids safe, healthy, fed, and educated. My generation is pressured into focusing on keeping our kids entertained and showing everyone now, and our kids later, that we succeeded in it. Like we’re simultaneously the activity directors  and marketing team of a Summer Camp. 

Grandma Tracy remembers the trips and dancing and candy. But she mostly reminisces about the day-to-day tasks. The love shown through doing what needed to be done. “She played with us in her own way. It was a good childhood, but nothing fancy. And we never once doubted she loved us.”

I have the advantage of an easier life and more time to play. But the motive behind the play matters most. Playing with my kids because I desire to spend time with them, not because I want them to think of me as a doting mom. Planning something exciting for them because I want to see them enjoy it, not because I want to be seen as an adventurous mom. Making a tradition so we can share an experience, but not expecting that to be part of my mothering identity.

I don’t know how my kids will think of me when they’re grown, but I’m done thinking about it. I’m done wondering if I’m messing them up. And I’m done over-analyzing all I do in hopes of giving them some idealistic childhood. I’m bucking the trends of my generation. 

I’m just going to keep loving them well and collecting my vintage glass, which I’ll pass onto them someday. Bess will probably sell it all to buy hashbrowns. 

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Expiration Dates 

“Can you use two red peppers and a Vidalia onion?” our neighbor asked me with a tear in the corner of her eye. 

On the last Tuesday of May, I was headed out to get tags for our van. I stopped to chat with Louise. Steve was home on hospice. They didn’t know if it would be weeks, months, or a year. She asked Dave to burn off a pile of branches. We offered our washing machine while she was waiting for hers to be serviced. It was a quick conversation. 

On the following Sunday, she called to tell us he had passed away. 

On Thursday, I attended his visitation. Saw his military photos. Saw the folded flag. He always wore his Vietnam veteran hat. He brought us food from all the VFW picnics. All the bake sales. So many biscuits and hot dogs and cookies. But he never once talked about what he saw. Only told us that he hated when people set off fireworks on our street, because it reminded him of too many things. 

He had the kids’ birthdays memorized. Never missed a chance to buy them gifts. He and Louise visited on holidays bearing bags and boxes of treats. Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July. Goodies ended up on our door when sales were too great to pass up. Backpacks, clothes, coloring books, fruit snacks, and the craziest character socks I’ve ever seen. So many tokens of friendship. 

We sent homemade jellies and jams. Made fresh bread. We knew his favorite beef jerky and her favorite word search books. We were chastised any time we tried to give them gifts. “You spend that money on your kids! Not on us!” So I started giving them photos of the kids. It was our compromise. 

When Steve was first diagnosed with his cancer, I started texting photos. He was upset he had missed bringing their Easter gifts. I tried to tell him we did not expect gifts from a person going through chemo. The last text I received from him was less coherent than the dozens before it. I sent photos the day he died. Not sure if he saw them. 

A couple days after he died, Louise came to visit. Held Lewis for the first time. The whirlwind was over and she was left with an empty house. Full of his stuff. Where does a person even start? She started with the crisper. “These were his peppers. I don’t even like peppers. I hope you can use them.” Cancer can take a person so quickly, that even the fresh produce from the meal he requested hasn’t reached its expiration date. 

And no one knows when it’s all going to happen. Hospice makes guesses. Doctors make guesses. In the end, it happens in a living room while all the neighborhood dogs bark. 

She came with bubbles and playdoh and chalk and bibs. I remind her that we just want to see her, we don’t need gifts, but that’s not how she shows love. Arms heavy with goodies and produce. That’s how she operates. While she tells me his best friend now has cancer and got into the med trial Steve couldn’t get into. Her husband’s surgeries and radiation and chemo didn’t work. But they’re working for someone else. It’s all so arbitrary. This cancer. 

Steven Lynn Ross, 70, Carthage, MO, passed away Saturday, June 3, 2017 at his home after a lengthy illness. Steven was born September 26, 1946, in Topeka, Kansas, a son of the late Charles L. Ross and Doris L. Rowe Ross. He was a graduate of Topeka West High School, Class of 1964, and received his BA degree in Education from Emporia State College, Emporia, KS. Steven was a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam Conflict, serving with the 27th Artillery attached to the 101st Airborne. He married Margaret L. Stevenson on September 25, 1970, in Emporia; she survives. Steven was a teacher for 7 years before moving to Carthage, where he and his wife operated the 7-Eleven Convenience Store at the corner of River and Fairview, from 1977 – 1997. In 2001, he went to work for the Carthage Wal-Mart Store as a cashier and Customer Service Manager from 2001 – 2017. He was a member of the Carthage VFW Lodge, Carthage Knights of Pythias, and the Vietnam War Veterans Association and was instrumental in getting the Vietnam Memorial Wall to Carthage. 
Additional survivors include a son, Scott L. Ross, Hannibal, MO; a sister, Marcia Ross, Ft. Collins, CO; three brothers, Gary (Linda) Ross, St. Louis, MO, Richard Ross, Topeka, KS and Mark (Julie) Ross, Overland Park, KS.

The body has been cremated. Visitation will be held from 6:00 – 7:00 PM, Thursday, June 8 at Knell Mortuary, 308 W. Chestnut, Carthage, MO 64836. Private family inurnment will be held at a later date. Memorial gifts are suggested to Carthage VFW Post 2590 in care of Knell Mortuary, 308 W. Chestnut Street, Carthage, MO 64836. Online condolences may be expressed through Arrangements are under the direction and personal care of Knell Mortuary.

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