Chesed

Helping Babies Sleep at Night

After my last post, you should know I don’t consider myself an expert on this baby life thing.  Babies are so intricate and individual and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.  Equally important, moms are different and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

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If I could only tell a new mom one thing I think this would be it.  Do what works for you.  Follow your mom intuition.  You may not have a big sense of it yet; but you do have one.  The more you exercise it, the more you will hear it.  Listen to it. It doesn’t mean you are always right; but often you are.  The right decision is the one that works for you. Not the one that works for your sister in law or your friend or the other mom at church who makes parenting look like a piece of cake.

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I learned this quickly.  Adam was a few months old when I tried making him go to sleep in his crib.  Why? Because that’s how most of the moms at church did it.   It’s what the pediatric magazines all said.  It’s what his doctor recommended.

He cried for what felt like an eternity while I bent over his crib and patted his back.  I hated every minute of it and I totally refused to do it again until he was almost two.  I love, love, love rocking my babies. It’s one of my favorite things to do.  They love it, too.  So I don’t care how many hours of research are behind those magazine articles, I will rock them until they or I am ready to transition.  Same thing with so many other things.  Figure out what you believe when it comes to all those hot button mom topics and follow your heart.  You will be a far more consistent and less frustrated mama if you believe in the way you are parenting.

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So I offer this, not as a do it this way solution; but simply as one of those hanging out in the nursery at church chats.  It’s what worked for us and some of it has been handed down from my mama because it worked for her.  She was told by her mom and it worked for her.  Who knows.  Maybe some of it’s genetic.  Maybe it’s just the way we’re wired to parent.  But I’ve been sharing this with friends for awhile and sometimes it has helped.

I’d reeeaaally like to avoid creating a hot button post so please can I say one more time, this isn’t the only right way.  I have no judgement for anyone who likes to sleep train or who enjoys getting up with their baby at night and doesn’t want it to change.  I’ll celebrate whichever way you want it.  But just in case you wish your baby would sleep through the night and want to try something that might help, I’ll share the love that was shared with me.

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My babies have all slept for long chunks of time at night from early on.  One of them waited until just shy of four weeks to pull a five hour stretch but I think they all did eight by two months.  The last three slept four to five hours by the time they were a week old. Bella might throw me on the eight hour stretches by two months though. :)

We don’t do any sleep training.  I’m a bit more of a gentle, middle of the roader when it comes to that one.  But I do like to encourage it.  Here’s what we’ve learned.

Advice from my mom and from her mom.

Keep it quiet at night.  Believe it or not, in those first few days it is possible to be so euphoric about your darling baby that when she wakes at 2 AM you want to talk to her. Try not to.  Don’t make eye contact either because eye contact is super stimulating to a tiny baby.  Use the lowest light possible for those diaper changes and feedings.  We put a 15 watt bulb in a lamp and keep it away from the changing table / feeding area.

Keep your baby warm.  All the experts say to dress your baby like you dress or maybe one more layer.  Really? They just exited a cozy apartment where they were snuggled tight and the temperature always stayed just shy of 99 degrees.  And now we’re supposed to lay them flat on their backs in a 70 something house with only the amount of clothes we wear and expect them to sleep.  It’s kind of laughable, really.

Lots of babies like to be swaddled and it’s safer to swaddle them than to put a loose blanket on top of them.  So swaddle them up.  Bella loves a cotton swaddle and a heavier blanket wrapped around her and tucked in.  Your baby shouldn’t sweat, but if she’s waking up with cool hands and feet, she’s probably cold. (Yes, I know they all say babies have poor circulation.  Their hands and feet might be cold.  I’m just saying what works for us.)  Think about how hard she sleeps when she’s lying on your chest.  She gets all warm and relaxed from your body heat.  Her circulation might not be great; but she doesn’t like being cold.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a tiny baby with mottled arms and legs in a cold restaurant and had to almost physically restrain myself from walking up with a blanket. 😉  Babies love to be warm.

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The other tip I learned from lactation consultants and my mom.  Wake your baby to eat during the day.  How often will vary based on whether you breastfeed or bottle feed.  Until mine are sleeping well through the night, I always wake them every two hours through the day.  Babies often want a 4-5 hour block without feeding during a twenty four hour period.  They just don’t always choose to take it at night.  I choose to not let them have that block during the day to help encourage them to take it at night.  Occasionally I hear a mom say, my baby woke up every two hours at night; but she takes such good naps.  Sometimes she sleeps for four hours.  That was baby’s night.  She just happened to take it during the day.

Once they’re solidly doing nights, I let them stretch it out longer if they want to.  But until then, two and a half hours is our max.  Three if it’s in the morning or soon after lunch.  Don’t be surprised if your baby wants to cluster feed in the evening.  This is usually a sign that they want to stretch out their nights a little longer.

Listen to your baby! It’s amazing how much they tell us.  It’s just not always easy to decipher the codes.  Zara was a few months old when she started wanting a double feed around ten in the morning.  I almost didn’t let her because I was sure it was going to be disaster.  I figured she just had tummy ache.  But when I did, she slept for three to four hours straight!  It was such a God-send because I was doing school with the boys at the time.  It became the consistent pattern of her day.  Be wakeful, eat, play, do a double feed, take a loooong nap, be wakeful, take a catnap, and then do an seven to eight hour night.  On the days when Bella isn’t tummy achey, she’s definitely asking for more 2 1/2 to 3 hour slots than any of the others who seemed to start yelling for food every hour and a half.

So encourage, but listen to your baby, too!

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If you’re still staggering through to many dark o clock feedings, here’s a hug!  And if I could, I’d deliver a hot cup of coffee in the morning.


When Your Baby is Fussy

I feel a bit like a whale who has been forced to swim underwater for longer than anticipated and I just now broke through the surface of the water to get air.  I think they call that spouting, right? Hopefully this will be a gentle one. :)

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Bella has had sooooooooo many tummy issues.  For awhile, I said she was my next to fussiest baby.  Then David and the boys were gone again and I realized that in some ways, she may be my fussiest.  I just survive a little better because there are more people to help hold her.

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Our babies look so much alike David jokes that we only have one mold.  Apparently we only have one mold in other ways, too.  They all, to varying degrees, end up with same tummy troubles.  They spit up a lot.  They have a lot of gas issues.  And they can’t lie down to sleep during the day because of reflux (seriously, you can hear the gurgling as it come up their throat); but they sleep well at night (more on that later) most of the time from tiny on.

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Oddly enough, Liam was our easiest little baby.  I still look back and wonder how in the world that happened because he had umpteen food issues later.

You would think by now I’d know what works.  I thought I did.  But somehow every baby still has its own road map.  I’ve talked to a lactation consultant three times.  I’ve tried every position I can think of … boppy pillow, side lying with the head of her crib elevated, bouncy seat ….

The other day I got so desperate I put her on her tummy hoping to buy myself ten minutes.  She was sleeping soundly, completely limp.  I gingerly placed her on her tummy and eased out the door.  By the time I’d used the bathroom and washed my hands she was crying again.

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They should make 0-10 scales for fussy babies like they do for pain management.  I remember when I had Adam I felt like I wasn’t supposed to say I had a fussy baby because I heard people describing babies with colic who literally screamed for hours while you paced the floor.

He didn’t scream.  He just cried and we could often find a good position while sitting on the rocker for part of that time.  It was just that we needed to plan on doing nothing from 5:00PM to 11:00PM except take turns rocking, feeding, patting, jiggling, and burping.  Not fussy, right? :) Ha ha.

I think I just thought that was normal for babies.  Kind of like I thought it was normal that we were soaking 10-12 burp diapers with spit up (some of them I could have wrung out) and he would occasionally hit the wall behind my rocker in the morning.

We’ve come a long way from those days.  I wish I would have known then what I know now.  It wouldn’t have taken care of everything, but I definitely could have helped him be more comfortable those first two months.

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The good thing is, that one mold we have? So far all of them have gotten exponentially better after the two month mark.  Their little digestive systems work better and their little tummies apparently expand a bit more so there isn’t quite as much reflux.

Now there is Bella.  Bella, who on some days, has to be held the entire time because even a bathroom break is too long.  On good days, she sleeps for ten minutes in her crib and although the monitor is turned up, I go flying back into her room terrified she’s died because she never sleeps this long.  And then there are strangely miraculous days where she sleeps lying down for forty-five minutes.  Bella is probably a 6 on that 0-10 scale.

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What is most boggling of all is the fact that she sleeps at night.  There are a few nights here and there where she only sleeps a four hour stretch (and of course, the worst would happen when David is gone), but for the most part she can do a six to seven hour stretch between feedings.  Rarely eight.  Which means about six hours in her crib since it often takes an hour afterward until her tummy can manage lying down.  How can the same baby drink the same milk and be laid in the same crib with the same blankets and sleep for hours at night but not even do ten minutes during the day?  I will NEVER figure this out; but I am eternally grateful for the sleep at night.  Thank God it’s not reversed.

I’ve gotten lots of helpful advice.  Anything from eliminating dairy to which probiotic to meds for reflux to the possibility of a tongue tie.  I’m grateful.  Even though we won’t do all or even most of it, it is helpful to have pieces to sift through and see how they fit into her puzzle.  Over and over again I am amazed at the community that women can be for each other.  It is an eNORmous gift … this thing of holding up each other’s arms.  (More on that later, too, I hope, but there are too many things to write about and precious few minutes available for it.)

I started eliminating dairy last Monday.  Monday and Tuesday were terrible.  Wednesday and Thursday she was so angelically quiet we worried she was sick. She slept and slept and slept.  I woke her several times to feed her.  Her body language was so relaxed it made me realize how much she had been hurting.  And when she opened her eyes, she focused well instead of having that glazed look I assumed was newborn, but actually was because of pain.  There was one poopy diaper per feeding instead of three.

I was in awe.  Getting rid of dairy was worth it.  Then came Friday and the crying started all over again.  I walked and walked and bounced and swayed and shhhh, shhh, shhhh’d and bounced and swayed some more.  That night I got exactly four hours of sleep and she didn’t get much more.  It wasn’t until sometime Saturday morning as I kept bouncing that I realized I’d had a piece of biscotti Friday morning.  Made with butter.

Seriously.  I used to be the food hawk because I had no choice.  I could sniff out “May contain traces of residual milk protein” labels like a bloodhound.  You would think I’d remember things like 1 cup of butter per recipe kind of things.  But we’ve gotten so far away from those days I’ve forgotten how terribly, terribly careful I had to be.  So I’m off again.  For real.  And today? Today is heaven in a baby package.  She sleeps and sleeps.  Except for when the milk gurgles up into her throat.

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I’m trying probiotics again (she’d gotten sick on the carrier oil in the Gerber one) because I have them only in a tinier dose this time.  And then we’ll keep going down the list of things to try beginning with the least invasive first.  No dairy.  Probiotics.  And if we still need more help I think we’ll try reflux meds.

I’m still researching the tongue tie issue.  It intrigues me because some of the stories make me think potentially all of our kids had it to some degree, but especially Zara.

What tomorrow holds remains to be seen.  For now I will gaze in awe at my sleeping, relaxed darling and dream of the day when I can eat caprese salad, a huge bowl of ice cream with peaches, Dove chocolates, quesadillas with fresh salsa, and ALL the cheese in the house.


Newborn Reality Show

Have you ever seen streams of darling, sleepy newborn baby pictures show up in your newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram (guilty as charged) and wondered in amazement at the idyllic life of a newborn?

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Well, guess what? The reason you see all those sleepy baby pictures is because that’s when moms actually have a free hand to grab a camera.  Much as I believe in documenting real life in all it’s raw splendor, it’s pretty hard to grab a camera when both your hands are occupied holding, patting, sticking a pacifier back in, patting, wiping spit up, patting, feeding, changing diapers amidst those teeny tiny flailing legs, patting …

Luckily, Adam is old enough to operate my camera reasonably well and it’s so much fun to have a few images of the awake and busy moments when my hands are full.

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But just in case you wanted a glimpse of what it’s really like to have a newborn (or a bit of humor for your otherwise normal Tuesday) let me tell you about last Monday.

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I woke for the how manyeth time at 7:30 to tiny, hungry baby cries.  I was completely hung over with exhaustion.  We’d spent the day in Virginia on Sunday because David was going down to pick up his niece and I couldn’t stay out of the van when looking at the chance to see Bella’s almost twin cousin.  Seriously.  How darling are these babies and how fun is it that they are only three days apart in age?

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I figured if women in Bible times walked to the temple on day eight to get their boy babies circumcised, it couldn’t hurt me to drive three hours in a van, right? Hmm.  No long term repercussions, but oh was I tired Monday morning.  We needed to be out the door by 9 to get to the pediatrician on time and it certainly didn’t look like I was going anywhere big when I could hardly make it out of bed.  David rescued me and said he’d take me in. He walked out the door to work and said he’d be back to pick me up.

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I thought this should go like clockwork (how is it that I’ve still not figured this out?).  After all, I had the diaper bag packed the night before.  This is baby number 4.  I have very little mama pride left, plus, I’ve got long standing rapport with the pediatrician’s office by now.  Bella was simply going to go in her puked on sleeper, because no one was going to assume I was a negligent mom based on dirty pajamas.  You can bet child number one would have gotten a thorough bath if it meant getting up at 6AM to do it.  I’m telling you, by baby #3 or 4, it’s about survival.

I fed her and like usual, milk entering her belly created a poopy eruption down south.  While I was holding her legs up to change her diaper, she peed and gravity spread everything up toward her umbilical cord and over her belly.  My hand felt pushed so I grabbed clean clothes and bath supplies and headed out to the kitchen sink for a quick sponge bath.  Just like our other babies, Bella has regurg issues so I always try to bathe right before a feeding and even then she usually manages to puke on her clean clothes before I’m even finished dressing her.  Well, with a full tummy, she erupted three times, not just once.  I kept wiping skin with the wash cloth and clothes with baby wipes and finally she was dressed, wrapped in a blanket, and carefully positioned with a burp diaper placed strategically around her chin … just as David walked in the door to pick me up.

I handed her off to Adam with instructions to please keep her upright and the burp diaper in place and rushed off to shower since I smelled like every body fluid known to man and apparently there is still a teeny vestige of mama pride in there somewhere.  About  that time Adam announced that Bella had filled her diaper again.  David went to change her and called out that she’d pooped through.  Oh please.  I knew the outfit change would only start the puke cycle again and it was a tiny amount anyway, so we wiped it up with baby wipes.  If you’re the investing type, you may want to look into buying stock in a baby wipes company.  They’re sure to go up with the amount we’re going through.  David moved to take Zara potty and we headed out the door only five minutes late.  The boys and Rochelle stayed home to start laundry and do a few other chores.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Late, sure, but hey, we were making it.

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Halfway down the curvy, hilly, thirty minute trek to town Zara got carsick and threw up all her breakfast down over herself and her car seat.  She was crying in horror as I wiped things a little bit with baby wipes and promised we’d get her cleaned up as soon as we stopped.  Bella started screaming with tummy ache because that’s what happens every time we put a baby in a carseat.  I was suddenly in a game of twister with one hand trying to hold in a pacifier and one hand holding wipes in place so Zara couldn’t see as much of the awfulness in her lap and trying to soothe both verbally with little success.

We arrived and I escaped the stinky van with baby and bag while David cleaned up the mess, stripped Zara, and wrapped her in the Moby for lack of anything else. It was a forever long appointment with a repeat PKU and finally we were out.  A stop at Roses, the only store in town with clothes, to pick up a dress for a pullup clad toddler and we were back in business.  We made a quick stop at the grocery store since we were in town anyway then headed home.

David hurried back to work and I had nothing more wonderful in mind than the recliner and some rest.

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About that time Zara popped in her panties.

Let’s just say potty training has only been about 50% successful around here and I’m never quite sure if the positive 50% is me being trained or her.  Either way, we both missed it on that one.

More clean up and a bath later, we were eating lunch.  She was on my lap because she wasn’t eating when I felt a warm flush all over my legs.  A diaper and a nap for a two year old rarely looked so good.

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It may have been Monday, but I’m pretty sure it was spelled with a capital P because it pretty much looked like poop, puke and pee to me. So there you have it. The other side of that darling wouldn’t trade it for the world newborn stage.

Actually, I’m pretty sure I could sum it up in one word.

#momlife


Baby Love

She’s here!

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Isabelle Claire arrived a little over two weeks ago in all her teeny, tiny 6 pound 1 ounce cuteness.

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We are deliriously happy, sleep deprived, head over heels, smitten.

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No one seems to be able to get enough of her.  Not even me at 3 in the morning.

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I sniff her hair and neck and wish there were some way to preserve that newborn smell.  You know, the way some moms save baby clothes or locks of hair.

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I wish I could memorize her. The creases in her neck, her long fingers, the way she lazily blinks when she’s trying to wake up, the ever so slight rhythmic motion of her breathing as she snuggles against my chest, the way she curls up into a C.  I try; but it’s impossible.  I’ve had three babies before and somehow, sadly, the years make you forget.

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This newborn stage is intoxicating.  It’s the one that makes me want twenty more babies.

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I’m not the only one.  The day after we were home Liam had her all snuggled up on his shoulder when he looked at me across the room. “I wish you’d go through another pregnancy.”

“Whatever for?” I asked, curious how he could possibly so soon forget what it was like to have a pregnant mom.

“Just for this.”

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To Our Newest Darling


I can’t wait to meet you.

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Some days when you poke your heel out so far I can almost feel half of your foot in my hand, I feel as though mere skin keeps us from seeing each other.  I hold my hand against you, rub your back, and cringe a little as your heel runs hard down the side of my abdomen.  If I don’t miss my guess, you have big feet like your sister.

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The boys laugh as they watch you dance.  The flutters that used to make them smile are now gigantic squirms that make them squeal ewwww in shock.  They can’t wait to hold you.  This time they remember Zara and the unbelievable sweetness of snuggling a newborn and  I wonder if I’ll even get a turn.

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I love having you inside me.  Always right there.  Safe.  Comfortable. Close.

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But I can hardly wait to hold you in my arms where I can feel your soft skin, touch your cheek, and stare at your eyelashes.  I can’t wait to smell you.  To just sit and drink in the miracle that is you.

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Some days that moment seems so close.

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Other days I think about what lies ahead for you and I and it feels as though an ocean separates us.  I feel twinges of apprehension.  I wonder what it’s like for you.  This passage from inside to outside.  I wonder if you know that change is ahead.  Be safe, little one.

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And know that you are already so very, very loved.

 

 


When Bears Stalk Us

I went to bed completely exhausted the Wednesday night of June 1 with the kitchen in a mess.  Thursday morning I stumbled to the kitchen, groggily hoping the coffee David made hours earlier before leaving on a work related trip to Virginia was still hot.  Still sleep deprived, I noticed the olive oil bottle lying on it’s side.  Exhausted or not, I don’t leave bottles side lying. Ever. I thought maybe David knocked it over in the pre-dawn hours but that wouldn’t be like him either.

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As I got closer, I realized that not only was my mess still on the counter, there were wet clumps of cut grass and bits of watermelon rind there, too.  Then I noticed the window sill was FILTHY.  Coffee forgotten and wide awake, I picked up the olive oil bottle.  Dirty.  Scratched label.

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I saw the watermelon had rolled forward from where it had been at the back of the counter, thankfully rolling against a random fork as opposed to falling to the floor and splitting.  When I returned it to a safer spot at the back of the counter I noticed it had claw marks.

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Oh, wait.  The screen was gone.  And the window had slobber marks on it.

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I stepped outside to see the screen and saw paw marks that reached above my head next to the window.

Seriously alarmed, I circled the house.  Sure enough, two windows in the living room had ripped screens from bear claws.

So there I was.  34 weeks pregnant.  Three kids. And a husband five hours out of town.  Why do our crazy things always happen on the days when he is so far away?  He offered to call the DNR and I declined.  I was going to play my pregnant with three kids card well and I meant business.  I had absolutely zero interest in walking out the hallway some morning to find a bear in my living room, thank you very much.

The bear had been bothering us some over the past few weeks.  He bent a two inch metal pole, stripped the metal screws out of the back of the bird house and consumed the poor baby bluebirds.  He knocked the hummingbird feeder down and while I was gone one evening telling tales about him, he walked the entire way around the deck and dumped the planter on the far corner before dragging it out into the yard.  I was mad at him then, but this was way, way too far.  If people go to jail for breaking and entering, this bear needed to be shot.

I called the DNR office and first left a message with the “invasive species” department before realizing I really should have transferred myself to the “nuisance animal” department. :)  I called back and got an answer.  The drama worked.  She took notes as I was talking, “How far along did you say you are? I’m putting out an emergency call to your area. You should get a call soon.”

I cleaned up the messy kitchen except for all the bear souvenirs and before I’d even finished got the call I was looking for.

“We’re bringing out a trap today and should be there soon after lunch.”

From there, things played out like clockwork.  Sometimes they set a trap and nothing happens.  Sometimes they set a trap and get a bear a week later.  And sometimes they set a trap and get a bear right away.  I was super impressed with the warden who came out. He was so patient with the boys and showed them exactly how the trap worked.  The plan was to fill the trap with donuts and molasses and then “process” him if he got caught.  He’d get pepper sprayed, shot at with rubber pellets, and hopefully figure out that people and houses are not enjoyable.  He also confirmed that my bear death threats wouldn’t land me in jail because it would be considered protecting my family.

That afternoon my friend, Anita, arrived for five days.  It was the normal hullabaloo of heading out to baseball only this time we got soaked in the rain.  She helped me finish putting strawberries in the freezer when we got home and once again we cleaned up the messy kitchen before heading out to the front porch to enjoy our strawberries and ice cream to the sound of the whippoorwill.  It was 9:45 and our conversation turned to the bear.  What would we do if we suddenly saw an even blacker shadow emerge from the darkness? I was a bit nervous because the rain would certainly muffle any sound of his shuffling.  Anita was still damp from the ball game and feeling cold so we opted to head inside.  (Ok, ok, we were also a little bit nervous.)

I headed downstairs to tuck the boys into bed and, as I hugged Liam, noticed a flash of lightning.  Do you guys want the curtains open so you can watch the lightning?  Oh, yes, they did.  I flung the left panel to the side and instantly saw a huge, round shadow lumbering between the clothesline and the house … not fifteen feet from where I stood inside the door.  “I think I saw the bear,” I said, then immediately crossed it off as fear induced imagination.  You can see a lot of things when you’re scared.  Still, I checked the other window just to make sure and watched as that big black shadow lumbered straight up to the trap and walked in front of it.  The boys yelled upstairs to alert David while I ran to yell through the bathroom door to Anita.  By the time I got back to the window David had turned on a floodlight to the yard.  I started to yell, “don’t scare him away,” when Liam said, “The trap door is closed!”

We dashed upstairs and out and instantly heard an angry commotion coming from inside the cage.  And oh, let the adrenaline rush begin.  He was thumping angrily inside the cage, shaking it, rattling it, throwing himself against the sides.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Finally, it was HIS turn to get the short end of the stick and I told him so gleefully.  Going to bed was a different story.  About the time I thought I could settle down, I’d hear the cage start back up.  He rattled metal that started to sound like the door and I was petrified he was smart enough to figure out how to open it and get away.  I mean what bear wouldn’t love that.  Donuts and molasses and no punishment.  I kept waiting on him to growl and he never did.  Did you know black bears don’t growl?  They snort and clack their teeth and sometimes they whine. We only think they growl because of Disney!

Black bear snarls

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(shhh! Yes, we opened the trap door to get a picture of him! And no, we didn’t stick our fingers in the cage.)

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By 7 the next morning the bear was the attention of the neighborhood.  I called the warden on his personal cell phone and he never even said hello.  Instead he greeted me with, “Hi Michelle.”  We weren’t the only ones excited.  They only catch about three bears per year so it was a big day for everyone!  He was so generous about letting camp come over to watch and learn.  Seriously, I was completely amazed!  I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear them say they don’t want to deal with a crowd, it’s not safe, yada yada and I would have totally respected that.  Instead Rande said sure and spent an enormous amount of time educating us on how bears get habituated, what is “acceptable” bear behavior (in their book, not mine!), and what happens when they cross a line like this one did.  It was so impressive.  Kids are always teachable, but at an extraordinary moment like this, they soak in and remember so much!  One of our campers from the city decided he wants to work for the DNR because of the presentation and education!

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After he explained everything, the bear got put to sleep while our crowd of nearly sixty headed to the other end of the yard.  He estimated he might weigh 300 lbs and it’s impossible to know exactly how a bear will metabolize the meds.  But it’s a given that if he’s worked up from the noise it’s going to be harder to put him to sleep.

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Once he was truly sedated, they dragged him out of his cage and let everyone circle up around him.  We guessed his weight and then a few of the campers got to don gloves and help to weigh and measure him.  He was HUGE!  An average neck circumference is 25 inches.  This guy was 29.5!  And not only did he reach the estimated 300 lbs, his actual weight was 348!!!  His paw was 5.5 inches across and he measured about 72 inches long.  He was truly a big, big very naughty boy.

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They medicated his eyes and wrapped them with a cloth since the sedation would keep him from blinking, pulled a tooth to check his age, took a hair sample to document his DNA and then tagged his ear so they’d recognize him if he caused trouble again.  Because three strikes you’re out.  I may or may not have silently told Mr. Bear he wouldn’t get another chance at our house.  I was going to learn how to load a gun if I saw him in our yard again.  If you are a bear, you don’t mess with my kitchen windows or food sources inside the house and you don’t make me nervous about having kids in the yard without repercussion.

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And then everyone got in a line and had a quick turn touching him and posing for a picture.  The bear’s respirations were getting less shallow and it was time to get him back in his cage.  Which also meant it was time for the crowd to leave because the next part should go like clockwork, but it was unpredictable.

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What happened next was supposed to be the dramatic part of the day and actually turned out to be way shorter and sweeter (for the bear) than I expected.  The remnant of us hung out around his cage and he was given meds to help him wake up.  Once he was truly awake, he got poked at to make sure he was good and awake.  He really wasn’t happy.  His ear was hurting.  His mouth was hurting.  He was probably kind of confused if I don’t miss my guess because drugs do that.  And then he said all children and unborn children had to go inside.  Bummer! David was allowed to stay at his own risk and was planning to get a video of what happened next so we could show everyone at camp since they had to leave.  In the excitement, he pushed the wrong button and got nothing!

I dutifully went inside and watched them spray the bear with pepper spray through the window.  As soon as the pepper spray was done I sneaked out to the deck to get pictures but I was too late.  What I thought would take two minutes took less than ten seconds.  They lined up on either side and on top of the trap with “slammers” (rubber pellets and koosh balls) and “bangers” (fireworks that got shot over his head) and then opened the door.  By the time I got out and got my camera to focus, the bear was at the edge of the woods!  Interestingly, they’d turned the trap away from the house before releasing it and he still emerged and ran straight down through our back yard the way he’d come.  Clearly he is way too familiar with the territory!

Did it work? You decide.  We haven’t seen him since.  But that very night he showed up in the neighbor’s yard about 1/2 mile from our house.  They saw him every night for a few nights after that.  He’s definitely not afraid of people and houses, just our house.

Less than two weeks later, we saw a black bear at the edge of our yard eating watermelon rind we’d thrown out.  We’ve been keeping the trash barrel in the garage ever since the bear trouble started in April and most of our food scraps go in there.  But watermelon rind is heavy and messy so we threw it outside.  Our mouths dropped open as we stood on the deck and watched him eat.  It wasn’t the same bear.  No yellow tag. He didn’t look quite as big.  And he had a bit more brown on his snout.  Still!  How did we suddenly have two bears in such close proximity!  And this one wasn’t nearly as scared of us, coming out in broad daylight instead of watching our movements and coming when we were inside or gone.

Around 7 that evening I sent Liam out with a bowl of lemon rinds to dump.  In typical Liam fashion he didn’t just take them.  He ran.  He was past the playhouse in the backyard when he suddenly realized the bear was back for more and they were within fifteen feet of each other!  His trip back up the hill to the front porch was on wings as he gasped, “the bear is back.”  I grabbed my camera and this time David and the kids walked around the outside to the back deck to avoid the very squeaky patio door.  I walked through the yard, determined to get a good picture since he was so fearless.  I snapped, walked closer, snapped.  When he lifted his head I went motionless.  Sure enough, he put his head back down for another bite of juicy watermelon rind.  I sneaked just past the garage and snapped another picture as he lifted his head.  I don’t know if he smelled me or heard the shutter click, but he decided that was enough and turned to amble off.

I realize it’s only June, but I’m quite sure this is likely to be one of my favorite shots of 2016.

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Meanwhile, I’m quite fine with the fact that he hasn’t shown up again.

I’ll be even more fine if the almost seven foot black snake on our front porch the following Wednesday NEVER slithers within my sight again.

Wildlife is cool.  But not on my porch and not in my kitchen.

The end.


Baseball

We were thrilled to discover there is a Little League team in our tiny town this year.  I’d been wishing for a way to get the boys involved in something more active since we homeschool; but wasn’t willing to look at a long drive on top of a super busy season.  But ten minutes from our house for practice and home games? Cha ching! It’s been such a good experience for them to get to play on a team.  I’m sure that’s a good thing for everyone, but with where we live, it’s even more important.  At first when camp was small they were sometimes allowed to play with staff games.  It wasn’t ideal because they were always up and against adults, but at least they got a little bit of practice in.  More and more since camp is growing and other people from the community are invited, they tend to get sidelined instead of allowed to play which means they get almost no chance at organized sports.  It was so GOOD to see them be able to play a game consistently enough to hone skills and to do it with kids their own size.  They’re learning a lot of discipline and team dynamics and having fun doing it.

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I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. I know I was hoping the boys would have fun and that they’d get along well with their coaches and team mates.  I think I also hoped I wouldn’t get frustrated with the crazy schedule and that I wouldn’t get too bored. 😉  I had no idea I’d actually like it so much.  Is it crazy? Yes.  With two boys on two different teams we’ve had up to eight practice / games in one week.  Our evenings and some Saturdays are almost exclusively devoted to getting out the door and heading to a game.  But it’s just a season and it’s a short one.  The two things that surprised me most was that it it’s so much fun to watch them play! It’s always disappointing when their games happen on the same night and we have to miss out on one child’s game.  The other thing that’s been so much fun is getting to know a few parents in the community.  I feel like I’m making friends, not just attending baseball games, which has been a really perk in my sometimes isolated world.  Sometimes I think it’s a study in human dynamics and diversity, but mostly it’s about friendship. 😉

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Oh, and of course, the nachos.  Can’t forget the nachos. Pretty sure there is a direct order line for in utero service and the order is always the same.  Nachos with plenty of cheese, please. I took a little tumble last night and didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but the midwife insisted on an ultrasound today to rule out placental abruption.  Everything looked great and baby is measuring a little above average.  I think we’ll just plan on not needing too many newborn size diapers and blame it on the nachos.

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Adam has been playing first base and catcher and loving it! Sports aren’t his first love.  He likes playing with friends, but tends to gravitate toward a book or fishing in his free time.  He wanted to sign up, but was lacking the exuberance that nearly had Liam bouncing off the walls.  It was really fun to see him get more and more excited about it after a few practices.  One of his coaches told him he’s really good.  He thinks he could go on into the majors (Oh, the nice things coaches say. Adam is very average.)  Adam said, “Nah, I’d rather do construction.” :)

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Liam plays third base.  He’s loving baseball, but dreams a lot about soccer.  It’s so interesting to see how kids grow up in the same family with such unique interests.  Adam was obsessed with trucks growing up; Liam mostly played with them to be with Adam.  Adam is passionate about reading, but will sometimes opt to play some kind of ball with Liam.  Liam has wings in his feet and springs in his arms.  He is constantly dribbling a ball in the house and shooting imaginary hoops.  If Adam won’t play with him, he’ll practice soccer moves on his own.  He often asks to go running and will run for up to thirty minutes … on the road if he’s allowed or around the perimeter of the property if he’s not.  He’s fast, agile, and has amazing endurance.  The other day Adam and Liam both decided to run a mile and a half and it was Liam who would wait on Adam to catch up and then finally dashed on home.  You can almost feel his happiness when he gets to speed around the bases.

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Liam’s team is significantly weaker than most of the teams they play against.  While a lot of moms say their kids don’t care, Liam was pretty disappointed.  They’ve been losing left and right, sometimes by a margin of 15-20 points.  It’s given us a lot of chances to talk about loss and about doing your best.  Even more, we talked a lot about personal growth and how sometimes that’s just as important to think about as team growth.  He’s learned a lot this season.  He’s always been good at catching and throwing, but he’s getting more consistent with batting and he’s learning a lot about baseball plays.  Somehow, I think he’s learning important things about life he doesn’t even realize. Sometimes I wish his mom absorbed life lessons as easily as he does.

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Hats off to Little League coaches (and support staff) who spend hours behind the scenes who volunteer their time to encourage kids and help them learn to give it everything they’ve got.


What Would You Do?

The other week Zara and I were shopping at Marshalls after my prenatal appointment.  It was pretty busy like it usually is in the afternoons.  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to other shoppers unless I’m standing in line people watching; but this time I ran into the same mom twice.  I still probably wouldn’t have even noticed except that she had two boys just younger than the ages of ours.  And there was a lot of yelling.  Neither one of the boys was staying with her and the youngest, who was maybe six, was in under clothes racks, tunneling through clothes like a rabbit creating a new burrow.  Did I mention yelling? Oh, yeah? That was the mom.  The boys didn’t seem to hear her.

She had clearly had it.

I finished looking and got into the checkout line.

Unknown to me (until the yelling started again), she was in line behind me.

The yelling got worse.  The littlest kid whined and she snapped that he’d just lost his privilege of stopping at Toys R Us.  He whined some more and she said yelled, “No, I mean it.”

He spit at her.

I’m not even kidding.  It was kind of a spluttery, lots of air included spit, but clearly intended to be a spit.

About that time, Zara peers around my shoulder at their little family, makes eye contact with the mom, and breaks into one of her biggest smiles.

I didn’t even turn around; but her words pierced the entire area.  “Yes, I see you being all cute.  But I’m sure you have your moments, too.”

That’s not the question.  Zara definitely has her moments.  But in my head, I wondered how overwhelmed a mom has to be to get snarky with a two year old who smiles at her?

We checked out while her son walked over in front of the door and picked at the floral display while his mom tried to ignore him and then said, “Do you want to get picked up by someone? Get back over here.”  I had Zara buckled and crawled into my own seat just in time to see her forcibly dragging a very reluctant boy across the parking lot.  The doors were closed but her facial expression and mouth movement when they crawled into their own car was telling.

And all the while, I watched helplessly.

What is there to do?  We all know moments of frustration.  But there was something in the level of their interaction that spoke of living this way a lot.  He was six for crying out loud.  Not two and missing his nap.  Not thirteen and belligerent.  Just six.  There was a side of me that wished for a business card for Allegany Boys Camp so I could have scrawled, “Hang onto this for three years.  I suspect you’re going to want it.” and quietly given it to her.  There was a side of me that wished I could think of something encouraging to say ….. anything.  A “hang in there, you’re going to make it,” kind of message.  After the way Zara’s smile antagonized her, I’m not convinced anything could have felt encouraging.  There was a lot of me that ached inside for that kid and his mama and the life they’re living.

I really don’t like seeing pain happening.

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Have you ever run into a really upset family in public and have you ever had the courage to speak into it? Have you ever been that mama? What would have spoken hope to your heart?


The Resident Two Year Old

Zara is two.  The past six months have swished by so quickly there are days I cannot comprehend this. But all it takes is a few minutes of watching Zara and the truth is unmistakable.

She is definitely two.

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I’ve absolutely loved watching our babies turn into little people with such distinct, individual personalities and Zara is no exception.  She is super independent most of the time. If I dare to pick her up to put her in her high chair, she yells a distressed, “Me! Me! ME,” that doesn’t let up until I put her back down on the floor and let her climb in by herself.  Choosing clothes for her to wear is best done quickly and strategically while she’s not looking, because if the dresser drawer is open, you can bet your bottom dollar she will have enormous opinions about what to wear.  Around February I had a few packs of diapers with XO’s on them for Valentines.  Zara loved them.  Every diaper change turned into an ordeal because she wanted the “E,O” ones and anything else produced huge alligator tears.  Speaking of clothes, it’s hysterical taking her shopping.  For the longest time, everything she saw was “dat TUTE, me, ME!” and there were huge tears when things had to be put back on the shelf.  But the other day she was in a mood and it wasn’t a pretty one.  She’d missed her nap for the second day in a row and I was actually looking for spring / summer clothes for her.  I thought she’d love it.  But oh, no.  It was not her day for shopping.  Every time I showed her something and said, “Look Zara, isn’t this cute?” she wrinkled up her nose and said, “Dat ewww.”  But the independence dissipates like mist under a July sun when it’s time to go out the door and she becomes completely incapable of walking.  She is terrified of Goldi.

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Yes, Goldi, who has always been the docile golden retriever and is now showing her advanced age by lying in the sun and barely walking around.  Zara was fine with her until last fall when the neighbor’s dog came to visit and jumped all around and on Zara and now all dogs are to be feared like the bubonic plague.  She can’t wait to go bye bye, but the instant we get close to the front door she chants liturgically with shakes of the head for emphasis, “No, de doh.  No, de doh. No, de doh.”

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She’s a girl of routine.  Months ago I gave her a toothbrush while combing her hair to help keep her distracted.  Now, even if it’s two minutes before lunch, she can’t get her hair combed without “teef.”  She’s also the girl with music in her veins.  She sang before she could talk and at twenty-one months held a pretty impressive repertoire of songs she could sing along with, including “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Miss Polly Had a Dolly,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and a host of other Christmas songs.  Now she sings “Dinkle Dinkle Little Star” all by herself and I still catch myself just stopping to listen as her little voice lilts through the words.

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But the funniest thing about her currently is the dramatic expressions.  When I call her name from another room, she yells “what?” in the most grownup tone imaginable.  As soon as I tell her to come she says, “otay” in a baby voice.  If the boys were downstairs, she used to stand at the top of the stairs and yell, “Addie {Adam}! Tom!” in commanding mimicry.  It’s becoming more and more obvious there are big brothers in her life. Sometimes when I tell her to do something, she flounces her arms down against and gives me a huge sigh …. oops! You’re two, honey.  Not THAT age … yet. 😉  But my favorite is the facial expressions which seem to be impossible to catch on video because they’re so unpredictable and even more difficult to describe.  She can furrow her brow and throw her eyes in a quick move that has all of us erupting in laughter.  Or, in a current signature move that looks an awful lot like her Grandpa Beachy when he’s thinking about something you’ve said, she purses her lips to the side and gets uber thoughtful in an expression far, far beyond her years.

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One of the best parts of being two is the vocabulary explosion.  I knew it seemed like she was saying new words every day but two weeks ago when David and I went to Life for our last training session, I was in shock at all the new things she was saying after three days of being away from her! It’s the dearest thing the way she brings things and says, “I nee’ elp.”  or the way she randomly gives me a hug and coos, “I uv ou.”  Most words are pretty decipherable, including her funny little “another” that starts with “a” and turns into a tongue swishing across her lips funny sound; but we’re still trying to figure out why a horse is a “ba ba” and a fish is a “wee wee.”  The other day we were heading into town when my phone beeped with a new message alert.  “Dat noise?” piped up a little voice from the back.  That was my phone. “Dat ‘nnoying.”

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I thought for awhile she was going to potty train herself.  With all the hullabaloo of school and a few trips this spring, I wanted to wait until late May when we could really focus and then stay at home for awhile.  There is nothing more inconvenient than a recently potty trained child on a long trip who figures out they get out of their car seat every time they need to go to the bathroom.  But Zara was ready.  She begged to go so I bought a little potty to introduce the idea at bath time and let her get good and ready.  Twice in one day she told me she needs to go and sat down and went.  We still haven’t gotten serious about it.  I’m pretty sure she mostly goes when she wants candy.  “Me pee pee. Me tandy.”  There is no rhyme or reason and while I feel she’s close enough we’d probably get there in a day, I’m not willing to go through the recession I think is likely to happen on  a long trip so I try to ignore the subject as much as possible.

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Meanwhile, she’s awash in a world mixed with routines and new discoveries.  Playing guitar with the purple pick (and only the purple one), wrapping her baby in a blanket and learning how to burp her after a bottle, making little beds with pillows and blankets and insisting Liam lie down and take a nap, helping to tear lettuce for salads, learning how to crawl into her crib, going bye bye with daddy, making rounds at chuckwagon with Liam to say hi to her favorite boys, singing the ABC song, needing paper and pen so she can write, counting to ten,and thinking hot tea should be a daily occurrence.  It’s a fun world, this world of being two.


The “Perfect” Family

For two months shy of ten years I was a mama in a boy world.  Trucks, bulldozers, fishing, fire fighting, jeans with big holes at the knees, hammers, astronauts … these were the language of my days.  I loved it.

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When I was pregnant with Adam I realized that I was slightly terrified about being a mom to a son.  Growing up in a family of three girls, a boy world seemed so foreign.  I would randomly see these twelve year old boys and wonder, how in the world would I have any idea how to parent a son?

Then he was born.  The world was foreign.  I was navigating toy aisles I’d never walked, learning boy language, and what made them feel strong and confident.  I built roads in the living room, drew up targets for BB gun practice, and searched the library for books that would help enlarge his world.  As he got older, I realized that being mom to a boy was really nothing to be afraid of even if I knew nothing about it before.  Boys don’t suddenly show up as twelve year olds.  We get to grow up with them, and because we do, we learn how to parent in stages, progressing so gradually from baby to toddler to preschool that we hardly realize how we are evolving along with them.

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There were many days I wished I’d get to have a  daughter.  As Adam and Liam grew older and often went with David, I would remember the girls shopping trips, the times we’d sit around talking and laughing, or the times we’d do a fun project together when I was growing up. And then there were the Saturdays when my heart nearly burst watching two boys trail after their beloved Daddy … and it smiled a little bigger at the realization that I had a day to myself. 😉

Two years ago, Zara splashed our world with pink.  While the transition felt surprising in some ways … just getting used to a baby world again was breathtaking  …  in other ways, it felt so natural.  Head bands, twirly skirts, toy strollers with babies to ride in them, and tea sets.

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When we found out we were expecting again, I realized I didn’t have as strong a preference boy or girl for myself.  But everything inside me hoped so very much that Zara would get to have a sister.  I know it’s a narrow perspective, skewed by my own experience of growing up with sisters; but I could hardly imagine life for a girl without a sister!  Five weeks ago, I got to peek at the darling little girl who was kicking around inside me.  Zara is going to have a sister!

We were all elated! Even Zara who had no idea what all the cheering was about but whooped anyway because her beloved brothers were cheering.

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What took me by surprise in the weeks following was how many people found out and then commented with, “What a perfect family.”  I’m still trying to figure out what I was feeling inside when they said that.  It wasn’t that I felt upset by the comment … I knew they meant that it was super cool that the boys each had a brother and the girls would have a sister and that it wouldn’t have been imperfect had we found out we were having a boy.  It was more a bumping inside of me.

Long, long, feels like half a life time ago I remember struggling through the “perfect” family image.  When we got married life felt so perfect.  Then we had Adam and it felt like we were complete in a way we hadn’t even realized we were incomplete.  It felt so perfect.  Around Adam’s first birthday, I remember us taking a little walk down to the bridge and almost laughing inside at how we reflected the postcard image of family.  Dad, Mom, a boy and a dog.  But a while later, our family didn’t feel so perfect.  Dreams and prayers and pleading for a baby didn’t bring answers.  I wondered if Adam would ever have a sibling and I begged God to please give him at least one.  I watched him play with little friends and then come home alone while they went away in twos and threes and fours, the party continuing even at home.  I tucked him into his big bed at night and watched him bravely live his little life alone.

I tried to believe that our family was perfect for us, but it didn’t feel like it.

Then the miracle happened and Adam had a baby brother.  The profound gratefulness I still feel for that gift is not diminished all these years later.  Our family was perfect. Or was it?  Their four year age gap felt tricky for awhile.  He had a brother, but it hardly felt like it.  Instead of curling up on the couch to read stories to the boys, I would read short books to Liam, then read chapters of another to Adam.  There were heart melting giggles at bedtime and older brother protection when they walked out the lane to watch for their daddy to get home.  But there were plenty of frustrating moments because playing ball was either no fun for Adam or dangerous for Liam.  Every game even remotely based in strategy was an instant win for Adam.  But in those years as I once again realized there very well may be no more babies, I learned to truly believe that our family was perfect because it was God-designed.  As I watched how dynamics differed in small families versus large families and especially how they differed based on sibling spacing, I chose to believe that God had designed our family to prepare our boys for the life that is ahead of them as adults.  I chose to believe that our family was perfect, even if it didn’t look like what we would have chosen.

I still think I fully embraced that belief.  But the recent “perfect” comments made me realize that lurking in the crevices in my heart were feelings that didn’t feel perfect.  I wouldn’t have chosen to raise what sometimes feels like two families.  I adore that we got to experience babies again, but there are days when juggling two big boys and baby / toddler life feels like a stretch.  There are days when I struggle with wishing we could take the boys on the kinds of outings we thought we’d be doing by the time they’re this age.  There are days I feel guilty for the many naps Zara has to miss because homeschooling and being a toddler mom don’t always mesh.  My perfect dreams at twenty definitely didn’t include doing a pregnancy at thirty-eight.

But you know what? They’re right.  Our family is perfect. Not because we have two boys and two girls, but because it is perfect for us.  In all its seasons.  In all it’s stages.  In the heart melting moments and the moments of juggling, it is perfect because He created it.  I’ve never known anything quite so sanctifying as the gift of motherhood.  😉 Which is making me think that maybe God defines family perfection for us as mothers as much as He does for our children and how it will impact their future.

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So whatever your perfect or imperfect looks like, I hope you can find rest in the fact that the same God who ended each day of Creation with “that’s good” is defining your life with good, too.  Meanwhile, I’ll be over here in my corner, learning to believe that on a deeper level, too, thanks to friends who unknowingly revealed crevices of unbelief in my heart; and wildly celebrating the parts that feel too perfect to be true.

Much love, mama friends!