Kristie Magnuson is the founder of Gabe the Babe & Co. She and her husband, Alex, have been married for nine years. They have four children: Gabe (6), Lottie (5), Maggie (3), and Vince (2).
WP: Your children are very close in age, and your oldest has Down Syndrome. What made you and your husband decide to have another child so closely after that diagnosis?
KM: We always wanted a lot of kids and close together. Gabe had a birth diagnosis and for awhile we weren’t sure if we should have another baby so soon after him, so we could focus more attention on him and help him with his therapies as much as possible. I asked in a Facebook group about this and parents with older kids encouraged me to have another baby because it has been so great for their children. Without a doubt, having a sibling so close in age (14 months younger) was better than any therapy we could give him. Gabe and Lottie even took their first steps on the same night – he did about 20 minutes after Lottie after he watched us clap and celebrate for her. I love having all four so close in age – it’s chaotic but so much fun and they are just so fortunate to have each other.
WP: Having Down Syndrome puts Gabe in the higher-risk category for COVID-19. How has your family been handling his health and safety?
KM: There are conflicting opinions on if Down syndrome alone makes people at higher risk. However, we err on the side of caution and believe it makes him higher risk, so we have been very strict with taking measures to protect him, but also all of our kids, of course. The first three months of quarantine, we never ate out/ordered food, sanitized everything coming into the house, and my husband only went to work and back home and immediately showered once he got back home. Was the grocery sanitizing a little over the top? I mean, maybe, but I’d rather be overly cautious than sorry. Plus there was changing information constantly on what we should be doing. We also have made the decision to do virtual school/homeschool. Gabe is repeating kindergarten and Lottie is starting kindergarten, so while they’re registered for virtual through the district, that age is just a little tricky for distance learning. We are fortunate that I stay home and can supplement with a lot of hands-on stuff and our own learning activities.
WP: What have you been doing as a mom to help keep things as “normal” as possible during the pandemic?
KM: As I began to realize where things were going in the beginning of March, I started prepping with a lot of fun activities to do at home. Like new little pools, water tables, and fun outside toys. We’ve spent a lot of time in our backyard, doing arts and crafts inside, and admittedly, far too much TV than I probably should allow. But hey, we’re doing what we can to get by.
WP: This summer was certainly not typical. How did you and your family keep things fun?
KM: Alex is in the Air Force so we normally try to travel to see family, or have them come visit us. That of course wasn’t possible this year, but one of the benefits from this is that Alex is working from home more so he can be around during the day. We’ve honestly really enjoyed the extra time together. When the playgrounds weren’t open and then we weren’t comfortable going to them yet, we splurged on a playset for the kids in the backyard and that’s really been a hit with them having swings and a slide in the backyard.
WP: Is there anything your family is looking forward to this fall?
KM: I’m kicking off my teaching career this fall with homeschool, so that’s quite the adventure. Ha! I’m hoping we can do some fun outdoor field trips, like CornDodgers and the Montgomery Zoo. Alex’s sister is also getting married in Minnesota. We are hoping to make it up there for that, but at this point, our plans are still a little uncertain.
WP: Let’s talk about your t-shirt company, Gabe the Babe & Co. How did you get started?
Gabe the Babe & Co. started as a Facebook page/blog to advocate and spread awareness for Down Syndrome. I started it a few months after Gabe was born, and it was sort of therapeutic for me to get my feelings out and learn more about DS myself, as I knew very little when Gabe was born. I had doodled a few designs and sayings over the years, and we finally decided to start making the into t-shirts.
I love our shirt designs because not only do they advocate and celebrate Down Syndrome, but they start conversations out in public.
Right now we’re pretty small and are just doing shirts because that’s what’s easy enough for us to do as a military family who moves every few years. Our hope, though, is that the company grows with Gabe and will provide meaningful work as he gets older. We save and invest the money for him and once Alex is out of the Air Force, I hope we can start a brick and mortar business of some sort that can employ Gabe and other people with disabilities. I really want to build a children’s museum, but it also could be a small café or coffee shop maybe. Thankfully we have a few years to decide! If that doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, then it’s just for Gabe’s future as an adult.
WP: You say that Gabe is the unofficial boss. What does that mean exactly?
KM: Gabe’s the unofficial boss of the business because he’s just a kid so obviously can’t do much with the business, but he’s the inspiration and the reason we started it. Also, he’s very opinionated, particular, and stubborn so he kind of runs the show around here!
WP: What have you found to be the most rewarding thing about the journey?
KM: There are a few things. Alex and I often talk about the change in how we view the world now, as a parent of a child with a disability. We are more understanding, more patient, more empathetic, and compassionate with not only our children but other people as well. I have also loved meeting other families and the instant connection we feel from having a loved one with Down syndrome in our lives. It’s really an amazing thing to just click with our families who understand this joy. And in regard to our shirts, it’s really an amazing thing to see and hear about so many families who connect with the definition I wrote for the back of the shirts. It’s somehow gone “viral” a few times online, and reading the comments of other people agreeing and sharing about the joy their family member with Down syndrome brings to their lives has really been rewarding. It’s really incredible to know so many people relate to these words that I wrote.
WP: With four kids, a husband, and a business to run, busy is just a part of life. How do you make sure you don’t burn out?
KM: Alex and I both kind of thrive on staying busy. I’m thankful Alex is a very hands-on and involved Dad, so that helps a ton. Earlier this year, we had decided I was going to go to Panera every Sunday morning for a few hours by myself to write, work on Gabe the Babe stuff, and have some time to myself. Well, that lasted two weeks before Covid happened, which I kind of laugh about. The first time in 6+ years I was making it a point to get some dedicated time to myself without kids. All is well though, because while I don’t have uninterrupted work time except for after kids are in bed, I started a crossfit program and running during quarantine instead and honestly it’s been the best thing for both my mental and physical health. We make it a point to each get in uninterrupted time alone to workout in the garage and those endorphins have really helped my mental game through the last 6 months.
WP: How would you describe your parenting style?
KM: Oh gosh, I feel like I am so laid back about some things like messes, food, and screen time, while simultaneously worried about things relating to their safety like extended rear facing, cordless blinds, cutting food. So somewhere in between those extremes, ha! I will say that I think Gabe has given both Alex and I more patience with all of our children, which I’m so thankful for.
WP: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
KM: I would tell my younger self to stop giving up on things. I have often started things, they got too hard, so I quit. I am not saying I wished I would have kept doing things I really didn’t like, but I do wish I hadn’t stopped doing things just because they seemed too hard at the moment.
WP: What advice would you give new moms?
KM: Follow your gut. Trust your instincts. You are their mom and you can do this. Everyone has lots of opinions on everything and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by this, but you know your child best. Do what comes naturally to you and what works for your family.