Thursday, December 31, 2015

celebrating Christmas

Christmas is special each year, but this year has been extra sweet. With a new little brother, time with all of our grandparents, and extra time off for Andrew, we've had a season filled with love, joy, and wonder. I love the magic that Christmas brings. As we wait for our coming Savior, the sweet anticipation fills our homes with a spirit unlike any other season. I am so thankful for another year shared with our children--another year to teach them about Christ's birth, to let them revel in the magic of Santa, to play and bake and unwrap and sing and dance and make forever memories. As this precious time comes to a close and we move into this new year, I pray that the beauty of Christmas will linger in our home, that we will remember that Christ came to us to stay, that He is with us even now, and that the joy of this season can be carried forward throughout the year.

This year we loved our matching PJs.

We decorated the tree.

We made cake...and ate the sprinkles.

We had breakfast with scuba-diving Santa (and Nana and Papa).

We went to Gigi and G's house (and ate more sprinkles there).

We decorated cookies...and ate more sprinkles.

We got new dress-up clothes.

We went to church and left food out for Santa's reindeer.

We made one final round of cookies for Santa...with sprinkles.

Santa came!

We sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.

Monday, December 21, 2015

but if not

In this week of waiting--waiting for God with us, for the birth of a baby sent from perfect love--my heart has been heavy. A law school friend and his wife said goodbye to their precious two-year-old son last week. He was just a few months older than Shepherd. From photos, you could tell that he had a playful spirit, adored his big sister, and was deeply loved by his mom and dad. My heart is so grieved for them. I truly cannot imagine their pain. The thought of continuing life without one of our children is so unthinkable, so crushingly unfair. Yet even in the midst of their heartbreak, this family's faith has been astoundingly evident.

When faced with the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded: "If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” But if not. But if not, we will remain faithful. But if not, we will still believe in God's deep love for us. But if not, we will still cling to our Lord. 

We all have "but if not" moments in our lives. Some are small, some are large, but everyone has pleadings that seem to go unheard. I need so much work on my "but if not" response. I wish I could say that I am always certain, that on dark days when the world makes no sense I still begin my morning with words of praise. But that's just not true. My "but if not" takes time still. For me, sayings and platitudes offer no comfort. Instead, in my doubt and wrestling, I have found the greatest comfort in resting in the mystery. So much of what we believe as Christians, or as followers of any religion, is based in mystery--truth that is hidden in God. And while it seems a bit oxymoronic, my analytical self finds solace in the mysteries of our faith. The mysteries of new mercies each day, of grace upon grace. The mysteries of forgiveness and love personified. For me, there is comfort in the concept that we are are not supposed to understand.

I am so inspired by this family's response in their unimaginable "but if not" moment. I pray that the mystery of God's grace and mercy continues to surround them in a way we cannot understand. And I pray that both their pain and their perseverance will remind me of how lucky I am. Yes, days with four little ones can be tough, but not nearly as difficult as a day without them. I keep going into our bathroom and looking at our towel hooks. Four hooks for four towels for four precious heads. And during this week of waiting, this week filled with anticipation, I wait beside them in their grief and and I wait, full of renewed gratitude and wonder, for the birth of our King. 

"In the dark, in the doubting, when you can't feel anything, oh His love remains the same."
- Ellie Holcomb

Sunday, December 13, 2015

meeting santa

I have so many back-logged blogs in my much I want to capture before I completely forget the details. But for now, a timely post.

We saw Santa twice this weekend, and the second visit resulted in some of my favorite pictures ever. No tears in the picture and no parents (for the first time). Shep got a little nervous at first, but Barnes held his hand and he quickly calmed down. Ellis petted his soft furry suit. All three big kids told him one thing they wanted. They were enchanted. I love Christmas magic though the eyes of my children.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

half a year of ellis

Somehow Ellis is 6 months old. In fact, he'll actually be 7 months old next week, and I have been terrible about documenting his life. I haven't blogged enough, haven't even opened his baby book, and most of my pictures are on my phone. But I can promise we've been loving on this little one. From his gummy grin to his still bald head, we're smitten with our youngest.

At 6 months old, he is rocking on his hands and knees trying how to figure out how to officially crawl. But just because he can't crawl doesn't mean he can't move. He rolls, he scoots, he spins, he booty-bounces. Today he managed to move across a room while I was turned away, and he's super determined if he sees something he wants. He is so glad to be able to sit--he was getting very tired of lying on his back all the time.

He is obsessed with his siblings. If his brothers or sister are in the room, it's impossible to get him to nurse. He already wants to be in the middle of their antics. I think Frances and Barnes get more smiles from him than anyone, and they are so very good to him. They are gentle and loving and inclusive. They read to him, help him sit, get him toys. They love having a baby brother.

He's still trying to decide what he thinks about food. Like a typical 6-month-old, some days he devours the applesauce and some days he just smears it on his head. So far he really hates bananas.

Ellis is not a great sleeper. In fact, he's kind of terrible. He loves to get up to nurse, and mommy is kind of over our middle of the night cuddles. In fact, he kind of likes to nurse all day every day. Not sure how much he really eats, but the boy loves his mom.

Though our sleep has decreased, our joy is abundant. We are so thankful for these months with him and love watching him grow and learn.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

random acts of kindness

When I feel stressed, I know it secretly seeps over into my littles. With a giant work project looming (and overdue) and some required travel lately, I have felt my fuse get a bit shorter. So I was determined that we would make today special.

Every Tuesday before Halloween, Cheekwood hosts an adorable little trick-or-treating event. It's usually a perfect opportunity to get out into nature, get some free candy, and snag some adorable pictures. But this year, of course, it was POURING. Having already promised we would go, we decided to brave the rain--and luckily got a bit of help from Andrew. We made it in, through the craft, around the indoor trick-or-treat loop, and back to the car with no major incidents. Ellis even woke up in time to dress up. Major success. Since the event was a bit shorter than normal, we decided to go crazy and have breakfast for lunch at our favorite pancake place. Everyone ate and behaved decently--another success.

As we were getting up to pay, our server told us that a couple next to us had paid for our lunch. They told her that they had four children, and while they wouldn't want to go back, we reminded them of the days their kids were young. We have no idea who they were--they didn't come over and say hi, they didn't ask us any questions. They just quietly treated us and made a sweet day that much sweeter.

As a mom in a big family, I get so tired of hearing "Are they all yours?" I am never sure what the questioner apology that I have so many children so close in age? And while I would love to believe I am misinterpreting their intentions, for almost everyone that asks that question that is the entire thought. It's not followed up with anything. No "how nice" or "they're adorable." Sometimes a "well you've got your hands full," which also seems a bit condescending. But the one thing I never tire of is the older couples or the moms or dads that come and, with such sweetness, tell us about their own family. Tell us that they have three or four kids, grown now. Tell us that we remind them of themselves. That they remember how crazy life was. That life will eventually become less chaotic.

So a huge thank you to the precious couple that bought us lunch. Thanks for reminding us that our children bring joy to people other than ourselves. And for giving me an example of the kind of person I hope to grow into.

Friday, October 16, 2015

life cycles

Ellis just turned 5 months old. It's been almost a month since I posted anything here. I still feel like we are getting our footing, figuring out the balance of four very young children. I still feel like I am recovering from his birth, getting back into my body (which is still not really in the normal range since I almost constantly have a baby attached to me). I was getting ready to post a quick blog to say "we're here, we're alive, we're just fine, we're simply behind in life." And then I looked through my blog archives and found a post from somewhere around Shep's 5 month mark. A post where I said I was behind in writing, that we were okay but still figuring things out, that life seemed to be moving too quickly to keep up.

Y'all. Adding a new baby to a family is hard. It is so extraordinarily wonderful and so unbelievably hard. Every single time, at least for me, the house things and the life things and the work things and the friend things pile up...and up and up and up. I get so behind on life that I feel I may never catch up. Finding the time to meet a friend for a taco feels like a real victory...or a defeat because maybe I could have used that hour to do some laundry.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we all feel this way. Moms and dads both, to varying degrees, take longer to come out of the newborn fog than we feel is appropriate to admit. One of my dear friends and I recently had a chat about how backwards the postpartum period is viewed now. Somewhere along the way our country decided that the "best" postpartum period is the shortest one. Moms who get back to normal--normal size, normal activity level, normal sanity level--those are the moms that nailed the postpartum period. The mom who posts a picture of herself back at the gym two weeks after giving birth, the family that manages to make handmade Christmas cards with intricate beadwork for everyone in their neighborhood when they just had their third kid on December 1st--those are the Facebook posts that get all the likes, that lend themselves to comments like "super mom" and "you can do it all."

And here's the thing...if you feel like running 20 miles after your six-week check up, more power to you. There's nothing wrong with that. But...maybe there's nothing wrong with just wanting to cuddle your baby either. Maybe it's okay to still need to lose those last ten pounds as you celebrate your little one's first birthday. Maybe it's okay to say no a lot that first year--and not have to come up with a reason other than having a fairly young baby. Maybe it's okay to accept help and not apologize for needing it. Maybe it's okay to take months to get back to a close-to-normal pace. Maybe it's okay to never get back to the same pace you enjoyed before your newest addition.

In my dream world, by the time Frances has her own children we will have learned to value postpartum rest again. While I'm thankful we aren't forced to "lie in" for a month, it would be nice to be met with societal grace for a period. To be expected to be slower to respond, perhaps a bit more flakey and less reliable, and in need of support and assistance at times. Wouldn't it be fabulous if a mom posted a photo to instagram of herself just cuddling with her 6-month-old and the comments were full of affirmation, lots of "good for you for taking your time" and "remember to continue taking it slow, giving your body and mind the necessary time for healing?" Wouldn't it be nice if moms could truly believe that they should be kind to themselves as they adjust to the new life they have entered?

So. We're here. We're fine (most days). In fact, many days we are doing really well. But we're still adjusting. And non-immediate needs are piling up, right along with our mountain of clean but never put away laundry. And that's okay. Because we may have a five-month-old, but we still also have a postpartum momma who is learning to offer herself grace.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

sweet shep is 2

On Wednesday my little Shepherd turned two, and yesterday we had a yard full of friends and "construction" to celebrate my middle man. And y'all, this precocious little guy steals my heart every day.

I usually say I can't believe that one of my littles is turning another year older, but this is different. Shep turning two doesn't feel crazy because he's been acting two, or older, for months. He runs and jumps and climbs. He takes on and conquers unbelievable physical feats. He works so hard to keep up with Barnes & Frances, his favorite people in the world, and he usually succeeds...even if he does sweat like crazy and exhaust himself.

He is a complete chatterbox. This child never stops talking. He loves to repeat whatever Barnes & Frances say. He LOVES saying anything he thinks is funny. He loves to sing, with "Happy Birthday" being a current favorite. He loves to randomly call out superhero names, which he did for about 5 minutes in church this morning. And his very favorite thing to say is "No, mommy." I hear "No, mommy, no hug," or "No mommy, daddy get me down" about 700 times each day. My little Shep...

More than my bigger two, Shep understands the value of a good cuddle. After nap, he often wants to curl up in my lap, one of my favorite moments each day.

He is always thinking. He puts his hand in front of his chin, holds up one just know there is something he wants to say. Sometimes it comes out, sometimes it doesn't, but that sweet little brain is constantly in overdrive.

He loves TV. Like loves it. He is the reason that screen time restrictions were invented. I don't know if he would ever get tired of watching his cartoon friends. Current favorites are Handy Manny, Doc McStuffins, Paw Patrol, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse...though really he will happily watch anything. And each time a favorite comes on, he gets so excited, like he's never seen it before. "Mommy, mommy, Sophia! Sophia!" Yep, still Princess Sophia, just like it was before the commercial break.

He is asserting his independence more and more. He doesn't want help on stairs. He doesn't want to wear a sleep sack anymore. He wants to climb into the van on his own. Basically, he wants to do anything that makes him feel like a big kid.

But despite his desire to grow up, he still has the sweetest, most joyful spirit. When he smiles he lights up the whole room. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. And we love him more than we could ever explain.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Shepherd. I pray we spend 100 more birthdays together. I am so thankful that I get to be your mom. You fill a special place in our family.

construction party--shep's favorite

two little candles for my crazy two-year-old

who doesn't need a cone cup?

i prefer chips to real tools

hope you had tons of fun

caution tape seems appropriate for shep some days

bounce house=successful party

he was pretty pumped

a few little workers painting a house....sorry for any outfits that got ruined!

this little one LOVED being sung to--he actually just sang along

blowing out his own candles this year

Sunday, September 13, 2015

b&f's gymnastics party

A few weeks ago, B&F turned four. For the past three years, I have completely directed their birthday celebrations, choosing the theme, decorations, guest list. They literally planned no part of their first three parties. This year, though, everything changed.

They chose the theme--gymnastics, their current favorite activity.

They chose the colors--purple and pink for Frances, blue and green for Barnes. Not surprising since these are the colors they choose for everything.

They chose the menu--pretzels, sandwiches, cake, cookies...though I did make them add fruit.

They chose the guests--they were so excited to invite their sweet little preschool friends.

I directed the ship a tiny bit, adding in decorations and favors, but for the most part this fourth birthday party was all them. And they absolutely loved it. I can't wait to see what they come up with next year.