A family on the move!

So this is a post where I’ll attempt to squeeze in the content of about five posts into one. It’s been a busy spring and summer. We’ve had a lot of life change – some pretty big things – and I’m finally getting the chance to share them beyond a quick Facebook/Insta post. Yay for the moment to take a breather, give you all an update and share how God’s plan is always greater than ours.

For the past few years, my husband has had a wonderful job as a food service director at a private school. Great people, great hours and the awesome opportunity to send Brogan to that school. It was a wonderful time as Blake was able to be home more than ever before and we grew in our faith, in our marriage and as a family. We were just humming along, enjoying our life, happy with the status quo.

And then this spring, Blake was contacted about another career opportunity. One that would pay more, but mean more time away. Not as bad as his work schedule had once been, but more than what we had grown accustomed to. Our initial answer was no. No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. We were content, the money would be nice, but we knew money was not everything. And so the first few inquiries about this new opportunity were met with a hard no. Because a change in job would not just impact Blake’s time/our family time, but also Brogan’s school. But the opportunity persisted. And so one day Blake and I decided rather than completely dismiss it, we should pray about it. And so we did.  Relentlessly. Our specific prayer was for God to open doors and close them. To help us see His will. To make it so obvious that we couldn’t deny that we were on the right path. And can I tell you that we both prayed over this more than anything we had ever prayed about before. My heart began to soften slightly to the idea, and so I tried to take an objective look at what his time away could mean to our family time – so I analyzed week night dinners, weekends together, holidays, small group, church, and at that time, baseball with the boys. I plotted what this new role could mean to Blake’s participation in these family activities… and I was surprised to realize it was not as bad as I thought. Yes, he’d be gone more, but what I had originally assumed would be “he’ll never be here” turned into “he’ll miss some.” So my approval rating of the new job went from 0% to 20%. Progress.

While this was going on, the enrollment process at the private school was in full swing. We reapplied Brogan and applied Beckett. We figured until we were certain about our plan, we’d continue on with the current trajectory. But then Beckett did not get accepted. In a decision that shocked us and shocked the teachers and administrators we had developed relationships with over the last few years, Beckett was denied due to his inability to focus and stay on task during his observation. We are talking about a four year old – applying for Kindergarten. But when Blake called me to tell me the news, our emotion was not anger, or sadness – it was awe. Pure awe. We asked for doors to be shut, and this one was slammed. Blake and I knew we did not want our children in different schools and so Beckett’s denial meant the school component was removed from our career decision.

And so we continued to pray and decided to move forward with the opportunity. We knew the official application process would be months of interviews, tastings and red tape. So we moved forward with the same prayer – God please shut doors and open them. Make our path obvious.  Blake entered the candidacy process giving out the disclaimer that he would move forward, but that if God closed a door along the way (either on our end or theirs), that we’d stop the process and there’d be no hard feelings. And so we proceeded.

But because life is never easy, and having a family means our big decisions always impact more than our own lives, we had to start thinking about the other implications of a change. First was school. We knew long term if we didn’t go the private school route that we wanted to be zoned for a different high school, and we did not want to keep moving Brogan to different schools.  We knew that summer was approaching. We knew that if we were going to sell, we needed to do something in the next few months – which also meant that we had A LOT of work to get our house ready for market. Not coincidentally, the money we had saved for the next year’s private school tuition (which was no longer needed), was exactly what we needed to complete the projects on our home. And so Blake got to work. And he worked every night and every weekend. The man who once napped every Saturday and Sunday went two mouths with no naps – and some say miracles don’t happen! 🙂 He painted our entire house, remodeled our master bath, installed new floors, fixed all the random issues that a house develops after 11 years. He was a beast. And he got it all done.

So we also had to find a new house. But we couldn’t pull the trigger until we knew the new job was 100%. Not only were we looking to move school districts, but we needed a bigger house. Like we seriously needed a bigger house. Because it was not only us and our three children, but also our nanny and her one year old son who had been living with us since January. And so the manic Zillow stalking ensued. We knew exactly what we wanted – 5 beds, 4 baths with a basement – but as always seems to be the case, everything we liked was just outside of our budget. But then one day, a house – that met all of our wish list items and then some, within our budget, zoned for the schools we wanted – went on the market. Despite the fact that we did not yet have Blake’s offer in hand (at that point we had been given the verbal “you’re hired” but hadn’t received the piece of paper), I convinced my skeptical husband that we should at least go see the house.  Then that way if we liked it, once we got the job offer, we would be ready to make an offer. So we contacted our agent and made an appointment to see the house that afternoon. As we toured the house, taking in all it had to offer – the amount of space, the openness, the kitchen, the yard – I asked Blake, “is there anything you don’t like about this house?” And his response – “Nope.”

So with intel that there were two other very interested buyers, we took another leap of faith and made an offer. And they accepted. And a week later we had our job offer (which we accepted). And two weeks later Blake finished the work on our old house and it was listed. And a week later he started his new job. And two weeks after that we moved in to our new house. And in two days the boys will start at their new school. And two weeks from now, we will close on the selling of our old house (prayers please that nothing falls through!), just in time to not have two mortgage payments. And if you’d have asked me back in Feb/Mar how all of this life change would go down, and I would have tried toexplain how it would all have to happen so perfectly and intricately, you would have thought I was crazy to even attempt. But here we stand, on the other side, saying wow! God sure does show up with you ask. In our prayers of closing doors and opening them, we were met with just that. I get emotional just thinking about God’s plan for us. And we know that this is not it. God did not lead us here just to relish in the material things of a bigger house and a better job. No – we are looking for ways that from our blessings we can bless others. That we can take the new job, the new house, the new school, the new neighborhood and somehow use it all for His glory.

Oh and because I seemed to have written this entire post without mentioning what Blake is doing – he is now the Executive Sous Chef for the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena. He’s working with an awesome team of a former colleague and a very talented new Executive Chef. We are so excited about this new opportunity! Stay tuned for more great things to come!

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On medicating my kid

Scrolling through my newsfeed I’ve seen countless articles and posts spouting that we have become a society that is needlessly drugging our kids. That there is an epidemic of misdiagnosis of ADHD, when in fact, we are simply in the midst of a generation of active children with parents who think a pill is the solution that will make their lives a little easier.  Drug them into obedience – shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves? What these kids need is good parenting! Interesting perspective. I didn’t give it much thought. Even seemed plausible.

But in hindsight, I was ignorant.

Because here I am, with a child who has been recently diagnosed with ADHD… who has been prescribed medication… and truly needed it.

Our seeking professional help was not the first choice. And if we’re being honest, we knew something was different about Brogan’s behavior since he was very young. He was super, super active, he was defiant, he was disrespectful, he was impulsive.  He expressed himself with outbursts of rage. We did research and thought the answer was “spirited child” (which he probably is too), so we settled on that self-diagnosis and did our best to equip ourselves with strategies that help kids like him. It worked some times. But not most the time. And so we found ourselves in a cycle of time outs, taking stuff away, sending him to his room and spankings. None of which actually stopped the bad behavior. But at least we felt like we were trying and so we kept on.

Fast forward to this fall. All these behaviors that we’d experienced at home started surfacing more at school. His impulsivity was getting worse. His decisions were poor. He was saying inappropriate things. He started seeing the school counselor who tried working with him on his filter, his social skills and how to stay focused at class. He was hard to teach, but his teachers tried loving him through it. He started to get down on himself about his poor choices. But after months of various tactics and incentives ultimately being ineffective, his teacher, his counselor, his principal and an academic advisor sat Blake and I down and said they felt he was unable (not unwilling) to control his behavior. They thought he had ADHD. We heard them out and committed to do whatever was necessary to help him be successful in school… and in life. And so we immediately made an appointment with his doctor and a psychiatrist.

Prior to this, I’d always thought ADHD was simply about hyperactivity and focus. I thought because he was able to focus in some scenarios, that he didn’t fit in the box. But there are many other symptoms, I discovered, like impulsivity, lack of executive functioning, disorganization and lack of a social filter that are evident in ADHD kids. Mind blown.

As we sat in the psychiatrist’s office, after the testing was complete and she had made her official diagnosis – ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (with a statistical certainty of 89%) –  we felt relieved that we had an answer. When she said that traditional parenting techniques don’t work with kids with these conditions, we felt reassured that we didn’t just suck at parenting. When we heard her say that kids with ADHD and ODD, who are born into the wrong homes, are often abused, we felt thankful that God chose Brogan to be our son.

We are now a few weeks post-medication – a slow release version of Ritalin – and wow, what a difference. His teacher said the change in his behavior is like night and day – he’s able to focus on his work, his reading comprehension has improved, his handwriting has improved, he’s getting along better with his friends, he keeps his hands to himself and the impulsivity has nearly stopped. But he’s not a zombie – he’s full of spunk and energy and life. He still eats. He still sleeps well. He still fights with his brother (bummer we couldn’t fix that part ha!).  He’s still Brogan – only now he’s Brogan at his full potential. He likes himself on it too – says he feels more in control and able to make good decisions. He gladly takes his medicine each day.

And so here’s the part where I get on my soapbox. Where I get mad about the spouting of ignorant generalizations that claim my kid is one of the multitude that we are drugging in an effort to make parenting easier on ourselves. That claim mental illnesses such as these are a hoax, citing the unprecedented rise in cases.  You know, there are other conditions that seem to be much more prevalent now than when I was a child, such as food allergies, but no one looks at me sideways as I tote my Epipen around. While I suppose I can’t say that all children diagnosed  with ADHD and prescribed pharmaceuticals are all correctly diagnosed, I can speak for my child. I can say that he has a real condition that needed treatment. I can say that I am at peace with our decision to take action to medicate him rather than live in denial of his mental health condition. I can say that giving him a pill each morning that helps him excel at school, get along with his friends, and improves his self-esteem allows us to sleep well at night. From my soapbox, I can confidently say that I refuse to feel guilt or shame for this choice, and I hope to instill that same confidence in Brogan.

So before you are quick to judge, quick to discount the merits of medication, just remember that many, many children truly need it. Do the research and discover that ADHD is a real disorder based on decades of research, and more recently backed by brain scan and DNA evidence. Realize that when you make uneducated generalizations, you further the stigma associated with mental health conditions such as these. And I ask that when you hear that someone has reached the decision to medicate their child, please try to respond from a place of respect and love.

 

 

 

 

Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions.  Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.

So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
  6. Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
    [at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
  13. Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.

I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.

Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay

 

My New Piece of Advice

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the fam. It’s a combination of reasons, really. Three kids means not as much free time, a lot of my evenings are now spent editing photos, and frankly, motherhood has humbled me – all the advice that I once thought I had, well… in retrospect all seems a bit smug. I think I got a few things wrong.

The reality of parenting is that there are lots of great ideas on how to succeed. However, most of those great ideas forget that most days we’re just trying to survive. Trying to get through the daily grind and salvage some sanity and happiness in the midst of chaos.  While I don’t discount that helpful suggestions and well meaning advice do aid in the plight of parenthood, my sometimes one-size-fits-all approach was naive. “If you want to get your kids to sleep through the night, do this… “. “If you don’t want your kids to be picky eaters, do this…”. I’m here to tell you if your kid doesn’t want to sleep, she won’t. And if your kid doesn’t want to eat the broccoli, honey, she is not going to eat it. And if she does, you will both be a little worse for the wear. I think the worry about whether we’re doing it all just right is futile. I’ve parented my kids from most sides of the various parenting trends, and I’ve not a clue if any of those decisions will yield well-adjusted, Christ-like, productive members of society. And while that is my prayer for my children, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be because I breast fed or bottle fed, co-slept or let ’em cry-it-out, restricted screen time or allowed a free-for-all, fed them organic or indulged them with candy, spanked them or did time out. It’s as if I thought good works might get us to the parenting promised land. Not so, my friend.

So when a few years ago I’d sit down at my computer each evening and be excited to share my war stories, my triumphs – feeling certain that my insights were unique and maybe even influential and inspiring – the delusion has faded. I’ve gotten wiser. I’ve realized that not only do I truly have no idea what I’m doing, I’m no longer looking to myself for all the answers. I come home some days to one kid who was in trouble at school and is pitching a fit over homework, one kid who screams out “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” every few minutes and throws himself on the floor for attention, and one who is only happy when she’s eating snacks… and so I feed her snacks all the way up until dinner, and then shocker, she doesn’t eat dinner. They’re all screaming and running around and fighting and tattling and destroying the house and being disrespectful, and I think really, am I qualified to do this? Never mind give advice, can I even successfully raise my own kids??  Truth is none of us are qualified. Will I make it through this parenting journey? Yes. But will I act as though I’ve got all the answers? Nope – because I don’t.

Interestingly enough, though my tone may have told a different story, today was actually a really good day. All the kids surprised us with good attitudes and helpful spirits. We enjoyed each other’s company and there was minimal fighting. Homework was done without a complaint and the two littlest played contently outside. And so with kids in bed, and a little “me time” I felt like writing. Felt like sharing about my victory of a day and what lesson could be told. But as I thought about how I wanted to tell the story, how I wanted to boast about my awesome day, God laid a bit of humility on my heart. I was reminded that this perfect day was not of my own doing. I was a reminder that He is and always will be in control. And so while we can run ourselves ragged trying to be the perfect parents – of our own kids and of everyone else’s too – He does not call us to perfection. He calls us to be kind, to show grace, to treat others how we would want to be treated and most of all, to love.  To love our children and each other. I hope I always remember what it was like when I was told the “right” thing to do, but couldn’t muster the energy to execute… or it just didn’t sit right with my soul. I hope I remember my own feelings of unworthiness and failure, of judgement and hopelessness. I hope in moments where the urge comes to judge or see situations through my own narrow lens, I choose grace, compassion and humility. And so as I reflect on what I do know as a mom, the only piece of advice I feel qualified to give is this: seek the answers to parenthood through prayer, and honey, give yourself a break.

Getting back to normal

Dare I say it… but things are getting back to normal: Berkley finally likes people who aren’t named mommy, I get a few hours of “adult” time each evening, and [knock on wood] I’m even getting to sleep through the night again – well, sometimes.

Yep, I’m getting the hang of this mommy-of-three thing. I’m feeling like myself again. A better version of myself, actually. Excuse me while I start reciting clichés, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s true. I’m proof. In the last year, I’ve had to grow and pick up a few more life skills – how to control less, how to stress less and how to enjoy the little moments more. I’m Type A and so this was hard. Real hard. But I’m trying.

I’ve learned with three kids there’s not a lot that I really have control over. For the planner in me, this is terrifying. But I live in a world where there is 3 times the chance that some part of my “plan” is going to get uprooted. And there are 3 tiny humans with little to no self control who have their own agendas at work. With them there are two outcomes: behind door #1 there’s “I get what I want when I want it how it want it precisely” and behind door #2 is “tell me no and I will go batshitcrazy on you”. What I want is behind door #3 where “the children obey, don’t ask why and don’t throw themselves violently on the floor”. I hear one day we may get there, but honey, we ain’t there yet. So my point – I’ve learned to surrender to the fact I can’t plan for everything and the kids don’t give a crap about my plans anyways.

Stressing less means that when my kids do go batshitcrazy, I don’t care. Kick your legs like a maniac, go on. Throw your sippy cup across the room. I don’t care. Scream your head off in the grocery store – you’re still not getting that candy bar. And I don’t care what people think of my parenting either. See, I used to think there were some parents who had it all figured out. I thought that those “lucky” ones had cracked the code and were raising consistently obedient children that didn’t throw fits or talk back or require bed-sharing for 11 months. It’s a lie. There are no perfect parents and there are no perfect children. The third child has taught me that 50% of this parenting thing is a crap shoot. So am I apathetic? No. But do I stress about the fact that my child just screamed in public that I’m the poopiest mommy ever? Nope. And he still isn’t getting that candy bar.

Looking back, I don’t think I took enough time with my boys just enjoying them. I was wound up too tight. I couldn’t wait for them to start eating solids or sitting up or crawling or walking. I did a lot of time thinking about their next milestone and not enough cherishing their “now”. But with Berkley it’s been different. Perhaps it’s because she’s our last. Perhaps I’m smarter and know that she’s easier now than she will be at three. Whatever the reason, I have just cherished her little moments. And I’ve been being intentional about doing it with my boys now too. I’ve learned time goes by so fast and they’re not little forever.

For me, normal means I can exhale. It means I can enjoy our life. It means I’ve got energy to spare for my marriage and myself.  I’ve only gotten back to “normal” by surrendering, by reflecting on the craziness of the past year+ and by learning from my mistakes and doing better. Yes, my life is loud and chaotic, but there’s also a calm to it.  It’s contentment knowing that our family is complete. And it’s peace in knowing that God made me the mommy of these precious children.

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A Family Day of Kindness

This past Saturday I put my family on mission. We spent the entire day out in the community spreading kindness and doing for others – we had a Family Day of Kindness. For the last six months or so I’ve been tossing around the idea of giving the kids this sort of opportunity. After reading a blog post by a mom who did this with her children to celebrate her birthday, the notion was laid on my heart. And while December is crazy for everyone, it was important that this experience be part of my kids’ Christmas season because this is what Christmas is all about.  And so we did it. We spent the day being intentional about giving; about putting others first.

Now before you go imagining this picturesque day of my family out spreading kindness and Christmas cheer – where everyone was smiling and happy and selflessly giving of themselves for the benefit others – please remember that I have a 3 and 5 year old. That is not how it went down. For starters, I got my children in and out of the van (and car seat) 11 times in about 4 ½ hours. 11 times people. And with one child who will not under any circumstance willingly go into the car seat on anyone’s timetable but his own, let me just say that I deserve some sort of award for my patience and the fact that none of the four letter words in my head came out of my mouth. It made me tired. But we persevered – safely and all buckled in – ha! I kept their interest by making it a game, urging them to complete one “mission” so we could hurry on to the next one. But herding 2 little boys is about like herding cats and so “come on!” and “keep it moving!” were the phrases of the day (as were “come back!” and “don’t touch that!” and “you better not run into that parking lot!” and “I’m going to call your father!” – but I digress).  I started singing this hurry-up kind of song to pick up the tempo, which of course thoroughly annoyed one of my boys… so he made up his own song that I should sing instead. And of course my other son hated the new song.  Did I mention I was tired?

Trying to get kids to buy in to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around them is tough. Kids expect to always get something. And while telling my kids no is not a new thing, the blatant “you get nothing, but you will give to someone else” was pretty in their face – especially at our stop at the Dollar Tree. I handed each boy a few dollar bills and told them to place them in the toy section so that other kids could purchase toys. “So can I get a toy?” they asked. “Nope. Today is about giving to others.” Oh. My. Gosh. Talk about a meltdown. You’d have thought I told them they were never getting another toy in their life. In a matter of moments I turned into, and I quote, “the worst mommy ever!” and the day turned into, and I quote, “the worst day of my entire life!” It was affirmation that the kindness outing was needed.

But the day was not all bad. Absent all the ins and outs of car seat… and trying to get them to leave the fire station (after the firemen so graciously let them play in the trucks)… and the Dollar Tree episode, there were bright spots that warmed my heart and I pray leave at least a small impression on them as well.

So here’s what we did all day…

1) We made homemade cookies and delivered them to 12 of our neighbors

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2) Left a card and homemade sweets for our mail lady

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3) Randomly purchased $10 in gas for a stranger

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4) Put quarters in the carts at Aldi and left a bag full of quarters for later

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5) Delivered handmade cards and a treat basket to the fire station

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6) Dropped of a bag of food at the local food pantry

7) Left dollar bills in the toy section of the Dollar Tree

8) Left our waitress an extra-large tip at lunch

9) Dropped off handmade cards and treat basket for the local librarians

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10) Placed a card and flowers at the grave of my husband’s grandparents

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11) Walked the halls of the nursing home delivering hugs, handmade cards and homemade cookies

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12) Went to the park and gave away bubbles to other children

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13) Stopped by another fire station and delivered more cards and a treat basket

While I gathered a lot of the ideas from the blog post that inspired me, I asked the boys for their input as well. Brogan came up with the idea to visit his great-grandparents’ grave and leave a card – and told daddy what to write on the card – I just love his little heart! Beckett wanted us to give treats to the firemen, and also suggested that we talk to everyone we saw. They really can be the sweetest kids.

Fortunately the idea of random acts of kindness is more prevalent now than ever, but people still have a hard time comprehending that someone will do something for them without the expectation of anything in return. When we were at the gas station, I asked the boys to pick a number (bad idea – 2 boys and I needed 1 number – I’ll rethink that next year, ha!) and I told the clerk that I wanted to put $10 in gas on that pump. She kept saying, “that pump is empty” and I responded, “I know, I want to put $10 on it.” To which she asked, “what kind of car are you driving?” And then I repeated that I had already purchased my gas, and wanted to buy gas for a stranger. It just didn’t register. And then at the park, as the boys were trying to give away bubbles, they would walk up to a kid and say, “would you like some bubbles?” and either the kid or the parent would kindly say thanks, but no thanks, you can keep your bubbles. And the boys would deflate and I’d interject, “we came to the park for the sole purpose of giving away bubbles, please feel free to take them if you’d like them.” And then they’d get it and graciously accept the bubbles. And the boys just lit up when they did.

I share this experience not in search of recognition or kudos, but in hopes that it will inspire someone – just as the blog post I read inspired me. Our experience was not perfect. My kids were not perfect. I was not perfect (but close because seriously, 11 times out of the car seat and I didn’t lose it!). There was more that I wanted to do, and I’m already thinking about how to make next year better. But the point is that we did something. We live in a world where most things aren’t free and if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. This makes me sad about our world. There are so many lessons that I want to teach my children – one is what it means to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. And while I don’t believe that all of our acts of kindness met this criteria, maybe one did. My hope is that their little hearts were softened by making others feel good. My hope is that they begin to realize that life shouldn’t be all about me, me, me – that greater joy comes in giving than in receiving. My hope is that this experience planted the seed of selflessness that will allow God to use them for His purpose. Seeing them boast with pride as they handed out their own handmade cards and got big smiles in return brought me so much joy. I could see that they were getting it – the true meaning of Christmas.

Why my third baby turned me crazy

I made the assumption going in to my third pregnancy, that this third child would be easy, as if I had earned some advanced degree in babies, and this little one would just follow suit. I’m a pro at this, I thought. I’ve been through it all, I thought. Of course this baby will sleep through the night, I thought. But somehow over the last 7 months, I have lost my damn mind and forgotten everything I learned with my boys.

You see, we used to be on a schedule. There was a morning nap and and afternoon nap, and nothing, I mean nothing, would get in the way of those. And it worked. My little guys were well rested and generally happy babies. And I thought getting uninterrupted “me time” while the babies napped was the norm.

I used to have babies that slept through the night. Oh yes. From sometime in the 4th or 5th month, my little guys would sleep a solid 8, 9 or 10 hour stretch. And so I also slept long glorious stretches. And it was awesome.

I used to have babies that fell asleep on their own when you laid them down. It was easy – It was like magic. Lay baby down. Walk away. Poof!! Baby goes to sleep.

I used to have babies that slept in their crib… in their room. As soon as I went back to work both times we made the transition. They could have cared less. They went with the flow. I mean, that’s what a nursery with a crib is for right?

I used to have babies who would allow others to hold them. It was great. It’d go something like this: “Awe, can I hold the baby?” “Sure!” [I hand over baby, baby remains happy, happiness continues whether I stay in the room or walk away].

But now… Now I don’t even recognize that mom I used to be – the one who had this whole baby thing figured out. I almost wonder if I dreamt up my past baby experiences, because this time around it is not that easy.

You see, now there is no schedule. Ideally she’d take a nap, or two. But that doesn’t happen every day. If she does sleep, it’s in her bouncy seat, or in the car, or some other place where the poor kid’s exhaustion is greater than the level of craziness and noise that is constant with a three and five year old. And bedtime – that’s just as soon as we corral the boys to go to sleep… and I’ve finished the dishes… and picked up… and washed my face and put my PJ’s on. Oh wait! Her bedtime is my bedtime!

And sleeping through the night – ha ha ha. Wait a second, she’s done it… once. Which may even be crueler than me living in a world where I thought she was incapable of the feat. Ignorance would have been bliss. But nope, her MO is a wake up call for me every two to three hours. But it’s cool. 8 hours is super over-rated. Humans don’t need that much sleep – and plus I hear that waking up that much makes it easier to get up at 5:30 am to go to work.

And this one sort of falls asleep on her own. All she has to do is be in my arms… and nursing… and boom! She’s out. Until I move her… then we start over. Repeat two or three (or four) times. No big deal – I mean it’s almost the same, right?

Yes, Berkley has her own room. Yes, in that room there is a crib. No, she has never slept in either. That’s right, I have a 7-month-old with a beautiful nursery who has never caught one wink of sleep in it. Good thing me and a lot of my family members busted our tails to make sure it was ready before she was born! Good thing. Nope, this girl sleeps in our room. But she sleeps in her swing. Initially. Until she wakes up (which is anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours from when I place her in the swing – which no longer swings, for the record). Then she sleeps in our bed. I mean, a king sized bed was meant for three people right? I think deep down if we really cared to not share our bed, we’d have gone with the queen. Yep. And when she’s sleeping in our bed, all she wants is to be touching all night – tummy to tummy or cheek to cheek, that’s all. She wants to be able to run her (clammy) hands through my hair or caress (pinch) my face. It’s sweet actually. No, really it is.

And no, she doesn’t want anyone but me to hold her. And if I’m lucky enough to pass her off occasionally, I better run. She better not see me. Because as soon as I come into view, she remembers that I’m not holding her, and commence the water works and the pitiful “someone-must-be-pinching-me screams”. But then all I have to do is drop whatever I was trying to do without a baby in my arms, hold her and voila! She’s better.

You know, as I think more about it, she’s really an easy baby. All I’ve got to do is hold her or be within arms reach all day and night. That’s it. She’s happy. Never mind that I’m a wife, or mother to two others, or work a full time job outside the house, or have hobbies like laundry or dishes.

So how did I wind up here? I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe she is just predispositioned to be a stage 5 clinger. Maybe. Maybe it’s because I know she’s my last and I feed into all her baby-ness and want her close all the time. Maybe I am so damn sleep deprived and exhausted that I am unwilling to do anything that in the short term may cause an inkling of further sleep deprivation or exhaustion (regardless of the potential future benefit), and so I live in the moment of make her stop crying now, please.

So what does the future hold? Are the mistakes I’m making today dooming me for tomorrow? Surely she won’t be like this forever (and if you know any two or three year olds still exhibiting these behaviors, please, please for the love of God, do not tell me – I’m living off hope right now). One thing I do know is that she won’t be a baby forever. One day, sooner than I would like, she won’t have those baby rolls or that baby smell. She won’t want to me hold her all the time or snuggle in bed. One thing my older boys have taught me is that kids grow up way too fast. Before I know it she’ll be grown, and I would give anything to have the sweetness of this stage again.

So as crazy as it may sound, I’m good with life right now. And while it may come as a shock to most (including my former self) that I am still a breast-feeding, co-sleeping, attachment-parenting kind of mom – I’m good. Sure a full nights’ sleep every now and then would probably do me good. However, I know one day I will sleep again. But another thing I’m certain of is that she will never, ever be this little again.

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Dealing with Our Food Allergies

A few weeks ago we received some test results that indicated Beckett, our almost three year old, has food allergies. This wasn’t the first time he had been tested – the first two times showed a mild allergy to milk and moderate allergy to eggs, and at the recommendation of our doctor, we limited his exposure but went on eating food like normal. But then a few months ago, his eczema started to get out of control. We tried changing detergents, soaps and lotions. We tried creams and oils, and while these things helped a little, the poor guy was just miserable. He wasn’t sleeping well, he was itching like crazy. At one point he asked for some scissors to cut his leg off it itched so bad. Heart. Breaking.

Back to the doctor we went, but this time we requested they test him for a gluten allergy on top of the others, and sure enough, it was positive. Non-celiac gluten intolerance to be exact – in the moderate to high range. And the milk and egg allergies were still there too. Combine that with the fact that Brogan, our almost five year old has a tree nut allergy… oh, and Berkley is also getting eczema, and seems to be reacting to the dairy in my diet – and it’s A LOT. Holy allergies, Batman.

Initially, I was in shock. What would we eat? We decided that in addition to cutting out gluten, we’d be more strict on limiting his diary and egg too. Anything to get his eczema under control.  But all I could think about were the foods that he loved. All the treats I loved to cook. All the things he could’t eat. How hard birthday parties and eating out would be. I was sad for him. Sad to think about telling him no more cheese sticks or goldfish or ice cream or yogurt or cupcakes with buttercream frosting. But on the other hand I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe we had figured out what his eczema trigger was and we could stop it.

The more I thought about it, the better my outlook became. It was a challenge, for sure, but I’ve always liked a challenge. I stopped thinking about what he couldn’t have and focused on what he could – he can eat fruit and veggies and meat… he can eat rice and potatoes and oats. That covers a lot, actually. So then I started thinking about meals. What would be our go-to for breakfast – for snacks – for lunch – for dinner? And then I went into planning mode and was on a mission. I was determined to make home-cooked allergy-free meals that didn’t taste like we (or he) was missing out on anything. And so that’s what I’ve been doing. So far, so good. I’ve tried a lot of new recipes, and many that I’ll continue to make.

I’m happy to report that it’s been working. His eczema is MUCH better. He’s still got a few spots in the notorious problem areas (knees, elbows, armpits) that he won’t stop messing with, but his eczema no longer covers his entire body. He’s no longer waking up three times a night scratching himself (no, now he’s waking up three times a night for no good reason – ha!). So far, all the sacrifice has been worth it.

I know we’re not the only family living a restricted diet, and so I’m hoping that through this I can help others with meal ideas and recipes. Dinner on it’s own is hard to pull off every night – add a bunch of things you can’t eat and it’s much harder.  So I plan to start sharing my successes. That is, if Berkley ever goes to sleep early enough for me to have 30 minutes to myself in the evenings to blog. One day… I hope.

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Back to Work

My first week back to work is behind me. It was a good week. Sunday night was hard as I was faced with the reality that I’d be leaving my sweet baby girl, who had not been away from me for more than just a few hours. I worried about how she’d feel and how well she’d eat (she’s been exclusively breastfed for the past few weeks and had a hard time with a bottle the last time she was given one). I knew I would miss her and the boys and all of our extra quality time. I knew my boys would miss me being home in the mornings and picking them up from school. I’d miss all the craziness and just being with them. But I also knew I’d be leaving them in good hands, and that for our family it’s the right thing to do, and so I decided to be at peace with it. And I was, and come Monday morning, there were no tears, just smiles.

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Working for me is both a necessity and a choice – at this point in our lives, I am needed to help support our family, but even if I wasn’t, I think I would still work. But there is a lot of judgement and guilt wrapped up in that truth. Just the other day I called our pediatrician to setup an appointment for Berkley’s 2 month checkup (and shots). As I was talking to the receptionist about the time that would be best, I began thinking out loud… “I work and so late afternoon would be best…” The lady replied, “You work?” Initially I thought she was inquiring what me working had to do with the time choice so I felt the need to elaborate. “I work and since she’s having shots, I want to make sure I’m home with her afterwards in case she doesn’t feel well.” To which she replied, “No, I just noticed that you have three really little ones.” The judgement in her tone was apparent. It sort of kicked me in the gut. I searched for a quick light-hearted response, but I was offended. I’m sure people think it all the time, but she said it and I heard it and it stung a little bit.

So why is it that I want to work? I’ve asked myself this question many times. I’ve felt selfish and guilty about it. The truth is that I’m not sure I have a really good answer. Nothing when you say it out loud seems a good enough excuse to not spend every possible moment with your children. But, whether it’s a good reason or not, I think it’s because I work best when my plate is really full. I need a lot of balls in the air. I function at my highest potential when things (to outsiders) seem to be busy beyond belief. In college, I earned my best grades when I had 2 jobs and 18 credit hours – straight A’s. At work, when I’ve got the most projects and biggest workload is when I find myself most efficient and productive. At home when I’ve got a to-do list a mile long I become energized and accomplished. And so when I look at my life and my different roles – wife, mother, employee, friend, home-cook/blogger/photographer, having all of those hats just feels right. I feel challenged and fulfilled in trying to be the best I can in each of them – and in that, I feel I am living as my best possible self. I really do. At this point in my life, I feel like being all of these things doesn’t take away from each role, but adds to them. Plainly put, I feel like I am a better mom to my kids because I work. This doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I spent more time with them or that there aren’t days I wish I didn’t have to go to work – I do. But I keep focused on the big picture and what I know about myself… and I know my decision to work is the best one for us.

Part of what makes it possible to be at peace with working is knowing my kids are well cared for in my absence. And they always have been. For years they were lovingly looked after by a lady named Elaine, who was tragically killed in a car accident last summer. Then we had Katie and Sarah who loved my boys and had so much fun with them too. We’re now so fortunate to have Blake’s cousin Jessica for the next few months, and we could not be happier!  We weren’t sure what our plan for childcare would be when I went back to work until just a few weeks ago. I had decided this time around I wasn’t going to stress about it – and instead I prayed. It’s amazing how God always has a plan and sometimes in letting go of the worry and trusting Him, some of the greatest things happen. Jessica seemed to have a had a good week with them all – only a few time-outs, and Berkley took her bottles well. She even ventured out of the house to an indoor playground with all three on Friday – hats off sister!  Oh, and my dishwasher was unloaded each day, which is like the best present you can give a gal – so thank you, thank you, Jess.

So what’s the first week really been like? Well first off, I’m tired. No other way to put it. Berkley was sleeping better, but not great. And even if she was sleeping great, waking up at 4:30am just sucks. I’m happy to report, however, that as I type this on a Saturday morning, I’m feeling refreshed because she slept for 6 hours straight last night! Fingers crossed that this one-day trend continues!

When I arrived at work Monday morning I was surprised by a decorated office complete with streamers, balloons and roses. I work with the greatest group of people who are not only my co-workers but my friends and they always make the hard times easier. I got to eat lunch (with adults) from some of my favorite spots – welcome back Chipotle Friday, oh how I missed you!  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that I also got to pee by myself all week! It’s the little things, people. I’m fortunate enough to have a locking, private office, so pumping was made pretty easy too.

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So yes, it’s been a good week. I’m looking forward to figuring out what our new normal is and then thriving in it. No doubt there will be bumps along the way, but I love my life and my sweet family and trust that things are as they should be. No worry here – just faith.

And Berkley Makes Three

I’m 5 weeks into mom-of-three-kids status – whew. Between Christmas and house guests and the standard newborn fatigue, I’m finally able to share the latest edition to our family – meet Miss Berkley Elaine.

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Berkley is healthy and happy (she just started to smile!). She is already growing so fast –  it seems like overnight she has outgrown her newborn clothes and she’s changing every single day.

It’s amazing how the amount of love you feel as a mother just multiplies when you have another little one. It brings back memories of my boys when they were born, but just as with each of them, there is something new and special about the bond I feel with this sweet girl. I cannot get enough of her – she’s so small and soft and smells so yummy that sometimes all I want to do is hold her and just breath her in – simply put, I adore her.

Of course, with all the joy comes some challenges too. My boys are dealing with a month’s worth of a lot of house guests, a holiday break from school, Christmas and the biggest change of all – a little sister. While the last few weeks have not been without meltdowns and behavioral issues, it has really gone better than I expected.  And while it’s an adjustment, they boys really, really love their sister. And they tell me this often.

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Handling the three kiddos has been interesting. When it’s just me, it’s pure survival mode. Her basic needs come first (eating), and I do the best I can with the rest. I’m nursing and so I feel like 50% of my time is glued to the couch feeding the baby, and so this leaves lots of time for the boys to run a muck… destroying their room…

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painting the back deck…

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…arguing and biting and hitting and kicking each other. Trying to enforce good behavior when I’m immobile is tough, and so I’ve had to use the “I’m calling your dad!!!!” card that I swore I would never use. But it works, and as I stated previously – survival mode.

But when Blake is home our “zone defense” strategy is that Blake deals with the boys, and I take care of Berkley. And this is working great. I find myself very frustrated that the boys don’t listen well, but all the crying and fussiness and sleepless nights with my little princess do not phase me at all. I think it’s because I know this stage won’t last long and so I’m savoring every bit of it. Blake is just the opposite – he has so much patience with the boys and can deal with all the shenanigans, but I’m afraid too much screaming baby may make him crazy. So we divide and conquer and it has been working for us. Thank God.

I’m at the point now where I’m trying to find out what our new normal is. I’m trying to keep myself sane with daily showers and keeping at least one room in my house tidy. So far so good. I’m still cooking most nights, and some how or another, the kids are getting regularly bathed as well. Aside from the daily pickup from preschool, I’m not venturing out much with all three of them by myself. For starters, Berkley screams in the car. Secondly, I’m not that brave… or crazy. One day (soon – hopefully), when I’m certain the boys will hold my hand when I ask them to and I’m fairly confident they won’t run off, we’ll start leaving the house. But until then, homebodies we’ll be – and I’m totally cool with that.

The greatest thing about adding this little one is the overwhelming fulfillment and completeness that I feel. Before I ever got pregnant with her, I knew I was meant to have her. For a while, Blake only wanted two kids.  At one point when I was worried he would never change his mind I actually grieved this child that did not even exist. But I prayed about it and one day Blake did change his mind. And now here we are with this precious gift and I am overflowing with joy that my little family is complete. And it is complete… and we’ve taken permanent measures to ensure that we’re done. And we’re done.

I’m hoping that once she establishes a more normal bedtime routine that I can get back into the blogging mode. I’ve got recipes and crazy adventures in parenting to share but not the free time to do it. I naively thought that I’d be blogging all the time while on maternity leave – not! I barely have time to go to the bathroom. I’ve been working on this post for 3 weeks! Every time I go back to it I have to change the opening sentence LOL. But I’ll get there. It’s my “me time” and my outlet, so if I don’t make it a priority one day soon, I may go batty.

So until then I’ll leave you with some more pictures of my sweet girl. Hope to chat with you all again soon!

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