Capturing the Moment

I always feel a little silly having maternity photos taken, especially with it being my third child who is on the way. But I never regret having them taken. We get family photos taken a LOT and it sometimes seems a bit frivolous, but we all have our priorities, don’t we? And though there are things we may have to go without, I’m always so glad we invest in professional photography. Our photos are something I cherish the most. They’re hanging all over our house and the ones that aren’t, I return to often to look at in photo albums and on the archival CDs. I just love them.

The photographer we chose this time is one we’ve never used (because she’s very very VERY expensive), but I’ve long dreamed of her taking my photo because she’s AMAZING. And I daresay, our maternity photos from last month are my favorites yet (though it’s a tough race between these and the family photos we had taken in Hawaii in February!). Which is saying something, considering that I feel as if I’ve chosen some pretty amazing photographers over the years. I wish I could show ALL the photos in all their glory on this blog. There are so many others that I can’t show here — ones with a beautiful sunset and Cupcake hugging my belly and my girls and I in flower crowns and my family walking on the beach… But alas, for the sake of staying somewhat anonymous, I’ve had to do some careful cropping and editing. I hope I’m able to still showcase how magical these photos truly are. (If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve already seen the best of the best, so this post will probably be a bit ho-hum. ;) )

But without further ado, here is a little looky-loo at me and my belly at 31 weeks…

With Skittle. I love it when they're this little and can sit comfortably on big bellies!

With Skittle. I love it when they’re this little and can sit comfortably on big bellies!

This is Cupcake's little hand. She's

This is Cupcake’s little hand. She’s “playing” with “Charlie,” the temporary nickname she’s given to Baby Poppy.

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Honey: He Just Gets Better and Better

Well, since I’ve already written posts about Cupcake and Skittle this summer, it seems only fair that I pay tribute to my incredible husband as well.

Honey.

He’s kind, patient, thoughtful. He’s confident, genuine, and strong. He’s accepting of everyone. He’s hard-working and funny. In fact, he prides himself on his sense of humor and the jokes he tells (think: Chandler from Friends). He has no desire to actually make a living as a comedian, but he seems to be constantly working on a stand-up routine. He loves to brag about his amazing head of hair (and that’s not just ego talking; he really does have great hair!) and he’s smarter than just about anyone else I know. The amount of knowledge and information in that brain of his is astounding. And the facts that he remembers, even if he learned them long ago! He’s a sponge. Really. And I feel stupid on a daily basis because he just out-thinks me all the time. And I love him for it.

But that’s not really the purpose of this post. I don’t want so much to talk about who he is, but about the kind of devoted father he has evolved into over these last few years, and the wonderful man and husband he has been to me, always wonderful since the day we met nine-and-a-half years ago but especially so since the start of this pregnancy.

Honey really has been a gift to me, since our first coffee date in 2006, always and ever understanding of my insecurities and mood swings, gently guarding my easily-wounded heart, validating all of my irrational feelings and emotions, encouraging me to follow my passions and dreams, allowing me to be who I am without asking me to be anything more, and never shaming me for my infertility or miscarriage or all the pain and grief that it has caused me. In that, he has been amazing and everything I needed at all the right times. But when Cupcake was born in 2010, it was as though he lost all confidence. He’d never spent much time with children and he didn’t know what to do or what I needed from him. It took him a loooooong time to bond with Cupcake and, in the meantime, I think he maybe changed two or three diapers in the first two months of her life. He only held her when I essentially asked him or required him to. And he went to bed every night at 10 or 11pm and slept through until his alarm went off in the morning, while I got up to breastfeed frequently and then sometimes spent hours holding a baby who just wouldn’t sleep in the bassinet. I remember feeling so dang alone (and tired!) in those first few months. (For all of you first-time expectant moms who worry this could be you in just a short time, I promise it doesn’t stay that way forever! I think it maybe took us six months to find our groove and get back to some version of “normal.”)

Flash forward five years and everything is different. The Change started as soon as he and Cupcake made a connection in her later infancy, but it was especially noticeable years later, in the delivery room before Cupcake’s little sister Skittle was born. Instead of napping for three hours while I was in labor like he did with Cupcake, he stayed awake the whole time I was laboring with Skittle. And he was engaged and asked questions of the nurses (lots and lots of questions) and seemed happy and excited, rather than indifferent, unsure, or scared. And when our Skittle was born, he cried hard and whispered “I love you” and, every time I think of that moment, I fall in love with him all over again. Like, madly, deeply, I’m-so-giddy-I-could-sing in love. It still took a while for him to form a significant bond with Skittle, but he never hesitated to change her diaper, or give her a bottle, or hold and rock and snuggle her.

And now he is the father whose face lights up whenever he sees his children. And the father who spends nearly every second, from the time he walks in the door at the end of the work day until the time he tucks his children into bed, playing and reading to them. The father who stands at one of his girl’s bedroom door when she is asleep and says, “I just want to wake her up and hold her.” And the father who patiently takes Cupcake to her bed over and over again when she gets up multiple times before falling asleep with multiple lame excuses about why she’s up (“my blankets are twisted, Daddy,” and “I need someone to tuck me in better, Daddy” and “I want some more water, Daddy”). He’s the father who slowly and in the greatest detail explains how digestion works or what a sewer system is whenever his curious preschooler asks. The father who insists on calling the nurse about a low-grade fever. The father who feels guilty when he goes to a movie with a friend or on an out-of-state father-son expedition in search of meteorites, because he is not spending it with his girls. And praise the LORD, he’s the father who insists on sitting beside Skittle’s crib on the endless nights of teething when she is crying out for us, just sitting there in the dark with his Smartphone, sometimes for an hour or more, until she falls asleep. And never once seeming to mind doing it or making me feel guilty because I never handle that part of parenthood anymore. He’s that incredible.

But there’s more.

This pregnancy has been a hard one for me. Not only do I have two kids to wrangle now, rather than one or none, but the nausea and vomiting continued into the start of my third trimester. (I think we’re finally past it now. Woot woot!) There have been days — many, many days — where I was just too tired or sick when he came home to make dinner, pick up the toys, and do any other expected parenting duties. And so he would (and sometimes still does) handle it all. And I mean, all of it. My husband has never had much confidence in the kitchen, but he has learned how to cook and blend and bake anyways. He’s become the Smoothie Master in this household and has tweaked many a cookie recipe in an effort to create something that Skittle could eat with all of her allergies. And when he’s done cooking dinner or baking cookies, he’s gone on to mopping the kitchen floors, putting away the mess of toys spread from one end of the house to the other, bathing our girls, and putting them both to bed all on his own. And then he does the dishes, cleans the kitchen, empties the trash, and does whatever else I have put on his list for that day. There have been days in this pregnancy when he has worked, either for his employer or at home, from the time he woke up until the time he crash-landed in bed at night. And though I know he’s tired, rarely has he ever complained. And rarely has he made me feel like I’m not doing enough. And still, in between all of the chores and work and exhaustion that plague his day, he finds a way to make me feel extra-special, with an unexpected foot rub or a surprise treat brought home at the end of the day. He’s always thinking of and working for me and his family, never of and for himself.

The truth is, I don’t deserve him. Because he is every cliche in every epic love story. He’s not perfect, but he is my knight in shining armor. A hero. My rock. Bigger than life and always there, always strong and dependable. Always saving me, in one way or another. And I am not worthy of it. I am often tired, and cranky, at the end of my days, unable to give much of myself to anyone at that point. And he just gives and gives and gives. And somehow, he chose me and he sees that this is exactly how it should be and, as far as I know, doesn’t wish for anything else. Except maybe a bigger house. :) Yes, I’m unfathomably lucky.

In fact, I often look at my Honey, and my two beautiful daughters, and this expanding belly, and I can’t believe how lucky I am. It’s not that infertility and my miscarriage and all of the junk that goes along with it is forgotten. I remember. But I it doesn’t rule my life any more. Or at least, not right this minute. Right now, there is no bitterness, or jealousy, or anger, or despair that I had to go through that. Just gratitude for what I have. Gratitude and love.

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Update: 6ish weeks to Go

It’s time for a little update, I think. And on this Monday morning, when I’m tired and have a lot to do, bullet points seem like the way to go:

  • I’ll be 34 weeks pregnant tomorrow, which is crazy. Because in one way, I feel two weeks past-due. This pregnancy is going sloooooowly and I’m really thankful for that, but it does make it seem like the baby should be here anytime now. And in another way, I keep thinking, “I can’t believe we’ll have another baby here in about two months!” It’s impossible to believe that I am soon going to be responsible for three children. Impossible and exciting and frightening. And very, very exhausting.
  • I had to take the 3-hour glucose tolerance test recently. I passed, but just barely. Still, I’m thankful there’s no “gestational diabetes” diagnosis on my medical record for now.
  • I wrote my birth plan last week. My goal is another natural birth. I’m nervous and excited for that. I know it’s not practical, possible, or desired for everyone, but I am certain it’s the right thing for me. I can’t wait to give it another go! (Well, I can actually, since I’m not ready for Poppy to arrive just yet!) Fingers crossed it all works out mostly as planned.
  • I’ve been having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions lately. I think. Not that it means anything. I’ve never gone into labor on my own. And while I’m hopeful that I will this time, I also have a lot of doubts that it’s even possible for my body, though everyone assures me it is. I don’t want an induction, but thankfully they usually work out okay for me, so I’m not entirely opposed to one if necessary.
  • I totally rocked my prenatal appointment last week. As if it’s some sort of performance or job interview! :) No, what I mean, is that my blood pressure was stellar, which always makes me feel like I deserve a gold medal or something. Last week, it was 102/63. If you remember from my last pregnancy, my BP started to skyrocket and I was having some major swelling in my feet by this point. So far, I’ve had neither of those problems and I’m super relieved.
  • I had maternity photos taken late last month and the digital files just arrived in my Inbox on Friday. I’ve already posted them on Facebook and will be posting a few strategically-cropped and -angled ones here in the coming days/weeks. I’m in love with them! With every pregnancy, I’m just so pleased that we invest in this and that I get to cherish these photos forever.
  • Completely unrelated to this pregnancy, Skittle saw her allergist last week. Her dairy allergy is now classified as “borderline.” I’m thrilled by that and hopeful that, by this time next year, she will be testing negative. Her egg white allergy is still clearly present, though. And she also is very allergic to peanuts and dust mites, both of which have me feeling really bummed. Peanut allergies are so scary and dust mites are impossible to avoid. We had some blood drawn to get a few more answers, but my poor girl. She just can’t catch a break.
  • Also, we drove three hours over the weekend to see my sister. Things are kind of awkward between us right now. Her divorce is almost finalized and it’s obviously a really sad time in her life and a really happy one in mine. I don’t know what to say or do, except to listen when she wants to talk (which isn’t much) and to let her know I’m here, always. I never know if I should talk about the pregnancy or avoid it, because her daughter is two-and-a-half now and this is the point at which she really wanted another baby and I don’t want to rub it in her face, so I just let her lead the conversation when it comes to that. It’s funny….for the longest time, she had the life I wanted for myself (a good marriage, her dream job, a big house, lots of money, and a pregnancy that comes after two months of trying) and now the tables have turned and I know she would give anything to have what I do. So it’s weird between us. We’re both making something of an effort, though, and I guess that’s something.
  • Up next for us: preparing the nursery, a weekend ocean getaway over Labor Day (our final trip as a family of four!), and more doctor appointments.

So that’s it for me! A lot going on, and a lot to look ahead to. What’s new with all of you? What are you looking forward to before summer ends?

Skittle: 26lbs of Sugar

Note: If you want to read my post about Skittle’s big sister Cupcake, go here.

Ah, Skittle.

She’s a glorious 22 months old (nearly) now, but it’s so hard to describe a young toddler. To really capture who they are. Because they are a little bit of everything at this age. Unlike with Cupcake, who is almost five and whose core personality is probably shaped by now (or so the experts say), Skittle is still in the malleable phase of development. Everything she encounters and everything she does, every person who walks in and out of her life, is impacting who she is right now. She’s ever-changing and, at this point, it’s hard to know if the things she does/says/enjoys/etc are going to last beyond tomorrow.  Is she like this because of her age or because this is who she truly is? I only have Cupcake to compare her to and, though they have proven to be complete opposites as one-year-olds, that’s still not much to go on.

But what I can tell you with great conviction is this: Skittle is the perfect moniker for her. Because she’s all sugar. So sweet, my teeth ache. Her favorite thing in the world are baby dolls, followed closely by babies (the real thing) and dogs (“Gog!” she will screech whenever she sees one, whether it be on TV or at the park or outside the car window or a stuffed animal at the toy store). And the tenderness with which she will wrap her dollies in a blanket and then rock them or feed them melts my heart every time. The other day, I loved watching as she tucked her “Toby” baby in with a pillow and a book and then gave him a kiss and hug before waving to him as she walked away and let him nap. She’s like that to just about everyone and everything. Everybody gets a kiss and hug before bedtime (or before saying good-bye, even if I’m just taking a shower or going out to get the mail), including the dog. It wasn’t long ago that Skittle went through a phase of not wanting many hugs or kisses, but that has since passed. She now loves to snuggle, especially when she gets hurt, or is sad (but never mad), and right before bedtime and right after naptime. When I’m putting her to bed, I will turn off the lights while rocking her in the chair and so sweetly she will say, “Mom mom” over and over again, looking into my eyes with all the trust and love and peace that her tender heart can hold. And lately, she’s been bringing me my Boppy pillow (which we haven’t used in eight months) and wanting to lie on that while I hold her in my lap like a baby. She’s absolutely full of cuddles right now (I wonder if she feels the changes happening in our home?) and I treasure it. And the love that she has for other people! At playgroups, I have seen her quite literally throw herself into the arms of mothers she has never met before. She will offer kisses when she hardly knows someone. And just a couple days ago, we had dinner with her nana (my Honey’s stepmom) and she was so full of hugs and smooches and giggles for her nana, even though we only see her about once each year and neither of my girls really know her at all. (Cupcake, on the other hand, made it very clear how much she did not like Nana that day.) Skittle’s lack of stranger anxiety is strange to me, but incredible as well. And if she sees someone cry, her first response is always, “Hug?” or even more, “Hug. Hug! Hug!” as she forces it upon the person in distress. Like I said, just pure sugar. So loving. So sweet.

And going hand-in-hand with all this sweetness…she’s a happy girl. Happy. Relaxed. Chill. Easy. Basically, the exact opposite of her sister. And while I do appreciate the unique brand of drama that Cupcake adds to my life, it’s nice to have a break from it too. Because for the most part, Skittle just goes with the flow and she always has, content to do just about anything as long as she has someone to do it with. She was the happiest, easiest baby in the world. An excellent sleeper and not giving me one bad day or night until well after her first birthday when she became very ill with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. She’s a breath of fresh air. And because she is so laid-back, it means that if we miss naptime or don’t get her to bed on time or can’t stick to our normal routine, it’s not the end of world. She just goes with it. It has made adding a second kid to our family so tremendously easy. I know…we’re lucky! (Please know that I really, really know this and am incredibly thankful for it and do not take it for granted.)  We have yet to experience an epic tantrum with her and it’s hard to imagine, but even as she was in the thick of her worst eczema flare-up ever at around 8 months old (it was truly awful, head-to-toe, oozing and weeping wounds…I didn’t even know it could get that bad until it did), she was still my smiley girl. The fact that she was having some mildly fussy periods is actually one thing that propelled me to seek help because it was just so unlike her. And anytime we take her to the doctor (between her allergies, eczema, and regular check-ups, she sees many, many doctors), she just lets them poke and prod her without saying a single boo. She opens her mouth when they ask, stands still on the scale upon request, and lies down on the table as directed. It’s truly amazing, especially for this age. Unless she’s badly teething or sleeping somewhere new at night (a weird, out-of-character thing that makes her really, really not happy!), she’s calm. She’s happy. She’s joyful. That’s just who she is.

Skittle is also incredibly fearless. She will climb on anything — our kitchen table, a bookshelf, the monkey bars. She was going down “big girl slides” before she could walk. She is constantly flinging herself from our coffee table onto the sofa and jumping from our sofa ottoman onto the floor. “Splash!” she loves to say afterwards. Which is sort of ironic because the one place she isn’t fearless is in the water. She’s not a fan. Bathtime is fun. Pooltime is okay if I hold her the entire time and she doesn’t go above her waist. Lakes are only good for toe-dipping. And she wants nothing to do with the ocean. She’s no water baby, but on land she is a physical child who uses her body in amazing ways. She’s been doing somersaults (like real, textbook somersaults!) for months now and is always surprising us with the places she gets herself in to and on to. Because of this, she’s had nasty cuts, goose eggs, a black eye, and a smashed finger (that lost it’s fingernail a month later!) already. It’s rather frightening to be the mother of a kid who has no fear (and exhausting trying to keep up with her!), but I mostly try to stay out of her way, because there is so little that stops her and so much she is capable of doing if I only allow her to do it.

And she’s smart. Not in the she’s-not-yet-two-and-knows-the-name-of-every-president kind of way, but just in how much she absorbs from the world around her without us even trying to teach it to her. She knows words (what they mean, not how to say them) that I had no idea she knew until I speak them aloud and she finds a way to express that she knows what I’m saying. In fact, though her verbal skills are probably just average, the amount of things she can understand blows me away. I can give almost any direction to her, whether it be one step or five steps and easy or complicated, and she will follow through. And she uses that clever little brain of hers for frequent problem solving too. She is constantly coming up with unique ways to do things that I never saw her sister do at this age. Only have two hands and need to carry four or five objects? No problem! She’ll use both hands and her mouth, and then tuck whatever else needs to be carried under her chin, under her armpit, and between her chubby thighs if needed. And it’s been months now since she began pushing a chair over to the kitchen counter so she can help with cooking…or so she can play in the sink when she gets bored. We never taught her to do that. She just figured it out on her own.

She’s a busy, task-oriented little bee too! She always has “projects” that she’s working on, whether it be setting out her toy plastic plates and then matching the cups, bowls, and silverware to them (and then filling them with plastic food for “Mom Mom” and “Dad dad”), or lining up all of her sister’s small plastic animals on the coffee table, or making sure each one of her Little People get a turn on the swing. The amount of careful concentration with which she does things is astounding.

But for all of Skittle’s sweetness, she does have an occasional fierce side. That’s to say, she has a bit of a temper. She easily grows frustrated when something doesn’t work as she intends for it to, like when she can’t get one of Cupcake’s Calico Critters to stand up, or when the block doesn’t fit into the hole as she thinks it should, or when she’s unable to open up a container that she really wants to break into. And when she gets mad, things go flying. As in, she throws them. My husband always says, “Just like her mama” because it’s possible that I have been known to throw things too. And also like her mama, when she’s mad, Skittle does not want to be touched, or hugged, or comforted. Just leave her alone and she snaps out of it quickly (maybe much more so than her mama, ahem!).

But this isn’t all that Skittle is. So much other “stuff” goes into making up her true essence. Things like:

  • She’s no delicate flower…more like a bulldozer. If you or anything else is in her way, she just plows on ahead with little regard to it. So watch your toes and computer and anything else in her path. Though I will say, it did amaze me just the other day with the quiet care that she spent sloooooowly walking to me as she carried a plate of toy food across the room. It never spilled and I was stunned.
  • She’s fascinated by her belly button and absentmindedly pulls at it all.day.long.
  • She loves to look at the photos on the back of my camera. Whenever I take one of her, she cocks her head like a pup who is trying to make sense of what you’re saying and says, “Ah! Ah! Ah!” until I show her the photo I just took.
  • Recently, she has become a terribly picky eater. She says “uck” to about 3/4 of what I offer her. Which is annoying enough on its own, but is even more troublesome for us because she already has a limited diet. Thanks to a multitude of food allergies, she has to avoid egg whites, dairy, and nuts (going to her allergist again soon and fingers are crossed that she has outgrown some of these!), so there’s already so much she can’t have! And now with the toddler pickiness setting in, foods that she once loved (grapes, toast, pureed fruits and veggies, rice and beans, and more) are now deemed as not worthy and it’s exhausting trying to find something she can and will eat.
  • The one food she loves and will consistently chow down is hot dogs. (Yuck. I can’t stand them and, though I buy the best quality ones that I can get my hands on, I still shudder a bit at the thought of my kids eating them. But oh, well. Sometimes you just gotta let things go.) She requests them at every meal: “Hot dog? Hot dog! Hot DOG! Dip! Dip? HOT DOG! DIP! Hot dog?”
  • This girl loves to eat. She’s constantly asking for food by pointing to her mouth and saying “Uh uh uh” (something new to me, since her sister really only started asking for food in the last year or so — I know, that’s weird too). Of course, once offered to her, half of it is rejected. BUT! If you can find that right thing — that “num num” thing — she will eat and eat and eat. I think, at a recent family reunion, she ate nearly a whole box of Wheat Thins on her own. I normally try to encourage healthier foods, but there are times (like around family, who are eating the same things) when you just have to say “Whatever.”
  • She randomly licks things. Like my foot. Or a library book. Or the dirty window. I know. My children are gross.
  • She loves to run from me at bedtime, giggling as she hides in a corner, behind a chair, or under a table, until I have to bend over and lift her 26lbs off the floor. Not easy for this mama with a big belly! I’ve tried waiting her out, but her patience and stamina extend waaaaaay beyond mine.
  • Everything her sister does, she wants and tries to do, too — from climbing to the top bunk bed, to doing handstands on the couch, to brushing her teeth and then spitting in the sink. Adorable, but not always practical.
  • One of her favorite ways to spend her time is coloring. For whatever reason, she calls it “lie” and will stand at the at gate to our craft room demanding, “lie lie lie liiiiiiiiiie” until we give her the box of crayons and a coloring book.
  • She may not like to be in the water, but she does love to drink it and play with it. We have an adult water bottle that we keep in the fridge for her and she will often call for her “wa” from across the house. And when she’s done drinking it for the moment, she’s been known to then squeeze the water into her toy cups, buckets, and all over the carpet. We find puddles of water throughout the house on a regular basis.
  • She loves to make people laugh. She will make a funny face or do a silly dance and then look at you out of the corner of her eye to see if you’re watching and how you’re reacting. The look alone is enough to crack me up.
  • She positively adores her daddy. (He’s, by far, the favorite in this house and I’m totally fine with that.) Before she could walk, she would crawl across the room saying, “Dada dada dada” when he came home from work. Now, she waves at him out the window and squeals his name as she runs full speed to him. She loves him to read to her, hold her, tickle her, snuggle her, dance with her…basically anything. She worships him.
  • She may not have much stranger anxiety or any qualms about loving on someone whom she doesn’t know, but she does seem to be a bit socially cautious, mostly in group settings. Unlike her sister, who will confidently walk into a room and “own” it without a second glance at me or her dad, Skittle stays close (or often, in my arms) until she feels very comfortable. She observes quietly, solemnly, taking it all in. And only once she has done that, will she let me go and wander away, often returning every now and then to touch base and “check in.”
  • She likes to set up place settings for us on the coffee table with her toy dishes. And yes, there’s always one for Daddy, even when he’s at work.
  • She’s weirdly intrigued by my nipples and by the moles that I have scattered across my body. She loves for me to lift up my shirt so that she can pinch them or try to pull them off.
  • When she gets excited about something, she pants like a dog.
  • She loves wearing necklaces. We took a trip to Hawaii earlier this year and brought along a bag full of beaded necklaces. They entertained her for 30 minutes or more — putting them on one-by-one, then taking them off, then putting them on again, and on and on it went…
  • When she falls down (which happens a lot as she races from one place to another), she always points to her knee and says “Boo boo.” There’s usually no booboo in sight.
  • She smacks her lips together to indicate she wants a kiss since she hasn’t learned how to say the word yes. This is one of my favorite little Skittle-isms because it is so unbearably sweet the way she does it. And sometimes, she will look at me across the room and blow me a kiss or smack the air. I love that she is compelled to give random kisses even when she’s in the middle of playing hard.
  • When driving in the car, if we stop at a red light, from the backseat Skittle will say, “Goooo. Go. Go. Go. Gooooo.” And over and over it goes until the light changes green. Apparently she inherited my sense of impatience as well.
  • I am seeing a bit of the “terrible two’s” awakening in her. She’s still happy and calm and agreeable nearly all of the time, but there are moments when she has a strong opinion that I (and not her father) am the one who is to give her water cup to her, or that she needs both the box and the bag of crayons to color with not just one or the other, or that her sister really cannot touch her or be near her or even look at her. So far, it’s really not terrible at all. Just amusing to watch this side of toddlerhood come alive in such a docile child.

So that’s Skittle. She’s a wonder to me, always so sweet and a unique mix of caution and throwing caution to the wind. She is bold and brave in places where her sister is not, and yet unexpectedly reserved and unsure in other situations. She is always impressing me, surprising me, and making me laugh. She adds so much to the dynamic of our family, unbridled joy and a quiet peace, and I sometimes wonder who would we be, each of us, if things had never worked out for us those two or three years ago, when it felt like we may never bring another child into existence.

Thankfully, we’ll never know. She’s here and she’s wonderful in all the ways a child can be and I’m glad it’s her, precisely her, whom God gave to us. She’s just what we needed in our lives.

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Cupcake: I’ll take the Spiced Cake, please

With my due date now less than two months away, I am becoming increasingly aware of how time is ticking by. This pregnancy still seems to be crawling (and I’m okay with that), but I know I will look back and say how quickly it all went. And I will lament that I never cherished it enough, and that I can no longer remember how Cupcake asked “Do you want a hug, Mommy?” when I was crying last night during an overwhelmed-mom moment, or how Skittle wanders through the house every day calling “Waaaah waaaah waaah” as she searches for her water bottle just as my beloved childhood cat would prowl around crying for me to hold her.

These days alone with my girls, just me and them while Daddy is at work and we are free to snuggle and fantasize and play to our hearts’ content, are numbered. Poppy is coming. Every day his arrival is one day closer and, once he is here, I know that everything will be different. The days will become a blur for a while. I will forget to memorize the way Cupcake’s hair curls at the ends. I will forget how Skittle stands in front of our coat closet and “sings” her jibberish and, when we clap at her performance, she takes a little bow. I’m going to forget who they are and I’m not going to have the time to savor everything they are becoming. I’m not always going to have the time to hold them, smell them, feel them against me. It’s sad, but it’s true. That’s just what happen when a new baby comes into the home. Life shifts and moves in mysterious ways.

And so with that said, I want to write two posts some time within the next few weeks, one dedicated to each of my girls, in an effort to memorialize who they are right now. Of course, I know it’s impossible. Capturing the essence of everything that someone is on paper really only reduces them to a 2D version of themselves. But it’s something. It’s better than not even trying. Years from now, it will remind me of the details that will be hardly a whisper of a memory anymore.

These posts are going to be long, but I’m doing this for myself. Because I am desperate to hold on. And I’m doing this for them, so that they know I did my best, and I loved them then as much as I will in every day after this one.

This one is for Cupcake.

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Cupcake.

My firstborn. She’ll be five in November, which is incredible and unimaginable, and also seems like a long time coming.

Let’s start with the hard stuff, the stuff no mother likes to admit to. Because the truth is, it has not often been easy to be Cupcake’s mama. I hate labels and yet if there is one for her, it would be “strong-willed.” She is a strong-willed, challenging child who tests me at every corner. Please don’t tell me that is the nature of a toddler. All you have to do is watch her with her peers (not in just one moment, but in a collection of similar moments) and know that she is entirely different. She has been a challenge since shortly after her first birthday, when the tantrums started way earlier than I ever imagined they would. She was the child at a farm playdate when she was just 18 months old who was crying and screaming because I wouldn’t let her touch the rabbit pellets (poop) or because she couldn’t put her fingers into the chicken pens, while all the other children paraded around, following behind their mothers like good little chicks, just happy to see and touch the animals that they could. While it has gotten better with age and improved verbal skills, it is like this to some degree, in some way, at every single playdate. I’m not exaggerating.

As part of this strong will, she is terribly defiant. When I ask her to stop doing something, she will ignore me. When I ask her to do something, she won’t. When I tell her not to do something, she will try to do it as fast as she can, before I can even complete my sentence, so that she can say I never told her not to do it. And the more I want something from her (like saying “sorry” when she accidentally hurts someone or shaking someone’s hand at church), the more she resists. I am no master of indifference, but I’m learning to be, because it’s often the only way to get through to her. This, I will concede, is probably partly because of her age, but it’s to a heightened degree. It like this with nearly everything. Just yesterday, right before “quiet time” (no more naptimes for her), I started picking up the scarves and hats she and her sister had been playing with and she was upset because she wanted to play with some of them still. So she went to their toy grocery cart and upended it, sending “groceries” everywhere and making an even bigger mess for us to clean up. It’s moments like this that often make me feel like a failure as a mom, like, “Why can’t I just get her to listen?! And cooperate?! And BEHAVE?!” And it’s made especially difficult because she and I clash fiercely in this way. While I am the person who is uber-agreeable, willing to make sacrifices and go out of my way to please others (also, not always a desirable trait, I know), she is just the opposite. So it’s hard for me to understand and embrace this side of her.

And yet, I don’t want to let myself start wishing for an easier child. Her will is part of her. Whom I love far beyond space and time. And everyone assures me that a “strong-willed” child can be difficult, but they are going to achieve great things. They know exactly what they want after all. (And I can attest to that…”NO! Do NOT tickle me!” and “I don’t want the blue bubbles. Only pink!” and “DON’T talk to be like that, Mom.” and “I will NOT wear that!” and “I need five more minutes!” and…and…and…) So she’s going places. But I already knew that. I’m just a little terrified for the ride.

Cupcake is also toy-obsessed. Which I find curious since Honey and I are not the types of parents who buy their kids a toy every time they go to Target. She gets toys for her birthday, Christmas, and Easter, and occasionally if we find a good deal at Goodwill or go on vacation, and that’s it. Seriously. And yet…she is the child (the only one of 15 or 20, mind you) who is crying at a friend’s birthday party because she wants this toy and that one and every other one that the birthday girl unwraps. And I am the parent wiping her tears, whispering in her ear that she can add it to her wish list, and feeling oh-so-embarrassed. When we brought home a toy for each of our girls from Goodwill a few months ago, she sobbed because she wanted her sister’s toy just as much as she wanted her own and, in what I know was very real pain to her, she said, “I wish [Skittle] had never been born. She should have stayed in your tummy forever.” And just the other day, out of the blue, she started crying because she wants the same giant doll house as her best friend has…which led to a discussion about how we don’t have room for that because Skittle will soon be moving into her room so that Poppy can have Skittle’s room and Cupcake’s subsequent declaration that she doesn’t want a baby brother (whom she very much wanted five seconds before and after) anymore. Le sigh. It still baffles me, but I’m rather used to it by now. This is just how we roll ’round here. And some day, I trust, she will learn that there is more to life than dollhouses and puppy purses and every other toy on the planet.

And for all struggles that I have with Cupcake, there is so much to love about her. She is just a ball of emotion, always functioning with her heart and not her head. This can be a challenging aspect to deal with as her mother (or anyone who comes into contact with her), too, but it’s also beautiful. Essentially, she is a heart with arms and legs. Anger, excitement, fear, frustration, disgust, irritation, curiosity, disappointment, and great, forgiving love…it all shows. And comes flying at whoever is in the way. She doesn’t hold any of it back. My mom often says, “You always know where you stand with [Cupcake],” and it’s true. She hides nothing and has no shame in expressing exactly how she’s feeling to whoever is there (be it stranger or best friend). She is quick to anger and quick to laugh. And just like her mama, she falls in love easily. Two days ago, I had maternity photos taken by a photographer we’d never met before that day. At the end of the night, Cupcake asked for a hug and kiss from our photographer and said, “I love you, Brigette.” And that’s just how she is with nearly everyone. She becomes attached quickly, which I think is a beautiful way to live life, but it’s frightening as her mother. I already can see all the broken hearts that lay ahead for her.

She is clever too. And smart. I was a dedicated, straight-A student in school, but I think her braininess is all her dad’s. He has a brain like no one else’s. He craves knowledge and education. And he’s a sponge, so he remembers it all too. Cupcake is the same way. She loves to listen to her daddy’s explanations on what Pluto is made of or what a sewage plant is. She asks lots of questions and listens with rapt attention and, moments later, will regurgitate to you what she just learned. When we met with a dear blogging friend last year, the very first words out of her mouth were to explain how babies come of vaginas. And for a while, she was often heard saying, “I have a hypothesis!” We’ve outgrown that phase (mostly), but now she is happy to tell anyone who will listen what the umbilical cord does. She’s a mini brainiac, full of ideas and facts and theories and solutions, and it blows my mind every day.

And her confidence! Oh my, I would kill for the confidence she has. I once had someone (a stranger whom Cupcake had just introduced herself to at her cousin’s party), tell me, “Her confidence! That girl owns the room when she walks into it! Don’t ever let anyone take that away from her.” This stranger was right. My Cupcake can walk into a room full of strangers without even a heartbeat of nerves. She is bold and proud. And if ever there was a social butterfly, it is her. And it is possibly the quality I admire most in her. What has me quaking in my boots and looking for the shadows to disappear in, is her playground. She lives for social situations. When we go to the park or mall play area, it is not so that can play on the toys, but so that she can play with someone new. She doesn’t hesitate to ask someone she’s just met, “Will you be my friend?” and then proceed to run off to the play with them. She’s been this way always. While other toddlers go through separation anxiety, she would toddle away from me without looking back. It used to be so that she could go investigate all the fun toys and, while that is still true now, she is also always, always seeking someone to play with. And she’s also that child who will talk with any stranger anywhere — from the cashier at Target to the dad she doesn’t know at the park (she especially adores men, which is terrifying for this mama who is also a sexual abuse survivor and suspicious of every man) to the teenager who has no interest in her. Some months ago, I remember her turning to the man behind us in line at Starbucks and saying, “Hi, my name is [insert full name here — first middle and last]. It’s nice to meet you.” There’s just no social anxiety for this girl. And while I live in fear of her befriending the wrong person (kidnapper, child molester, etc.), I also live in fear of her social fearlessness disappearing with age and the insecurities of adolescence. But my hope is that this a permanent part of who she is. And while it may be tamed as she searches for who she is in those teenage years, I pray that it will never be gone and will return with full force as she once again finds herself later in life.

And then there are other things about Cupcake that can’t be labeled or categorized, but simply must be named, listed, described because they make her her:

  • She is constantly doing somersaults and hand stands on the sofa as she watches her two PBS shows before quiet time (the only screen time we allow each day).
  • While she enjoys playing on her own (especially when playing with the toys that she cherishes most and doesn’t want to share), she is also really amazing about playing with her sister, considering how little and non-verbal Skittle still is at this age. Today, they spent all morning playing “grocery store” and then having races up and down the hallway.
  • For as much confidence as she has around others, it is peculiar to me that sometimes she lacks so much confidence in her abilities. It is typical that if she doesn’t believe she can do something, she doesn’t even want to try. The amount of tears and encouragement and praise and bargaining that we had to go through just to get her to attempt to write her name when she first began preschool last year would stun you. (For the record, she is now a pro at it.) And already, as we talk more and more about her learning to read when she starts “big kid school” (still a year away), the more she insists that she doesn’t know how to read and can’t learn it.
  • She chews her toenails. Gross.
  • She was the one kid in her preschool graduation photo with her finger up her nose. Again, gross. And embarrassing. And sort of adorable.
  • She bounces back fast. She has always been the kid who runs into walls and falls down and gets skinned up and never says a “boo.” She got an awful black eye and an ugly goose egg last year and, while she did cry then, it lasted less than five minutes and then was never mentioned again.
  • Her face is prone to blemishes. I guess that’s what they are. They’re weird to me. They never come to a head or go away without help. Up until about six months ago (when I finally got tired of it and insisted on picking it), she had a small pimple on her chin for two or three years. (I’m really not kidding here.) As soon as that pimple was gone, two blackheads popped up in identical places on either side of her nose. I picked at one recently, but the other one remains. And I suspect it will until I banish it too.
  • She has a lot of fears, but they’re not of the dark, or monsters, or boogie men. She fears things like the sound of trains, or our belongings being washed away at the beach, or her sister being hit by a car in an empty parking lot. There are times when she won’t go alone into her bedroom because you can hear the horn of a very-far-away train in there. That’s when she asks her sister to come play in her room with her. I love how Skittle is a substitute for Mommy. :)
  • She loves to sing. At a recent family reunion, she gave each person their own private serenade, all to the same song — “Let it Go.” (And no, we’re not Frozen-obsessed here. She’s seen it just once, but prefers Ariel to Anna or Elsa. She had just been given a Frozen microphone, though, and “Let It Go” was the only song it sings, so of course it was the only song she would sing too, even though she has quite a repertoire.)
  • Her interests right now are arts and crafts, books, playing outside, princesses, animals, babies (the real thing, not dolls), and anything sparkly. She’s fairly girly, but I love that she also will play with dinosaurs, cars, and plenty of other stereotypical “boy toys.”
  • She hates her feet being dirty and will freak the eff out if sand or dirt gets in her sandals.
  • She also freaks out if there’s a bug anywhere nearby. Frequently, I get called into her bedroom at quiet time because there’s a “bug” on the floor. It’s usually lint.
  • When she gets hungry (and I mean, very very very hungry), complete meltdowns ensue. Not terribly unusual (I get angry when hungry — er, hangry — too), but the tough part is recognizing when we’re approaching that point of no return. Cupcake doesn’t often recognize her hunger or ask for food when she needs it. So we have to be constantly vigilant…or pay the consequences when it’s too late.
  • She’s fascinated by her poop. “Let’s see what shape it is!” she says to me when she gets off the potty. And she told me once, “I’m gonna tell Daddy and Uncle George I went poop.” And when I informed her that’s usually a private thing that we don’t often talk about, she said so proudly, “Oh, I tell my friends about it all the time!” :)
  • She’s highly anxious (something even her preschool teachers have commented on) and can get herself into a panic over almost anything. Two days ago, it was because our photographer’s shoes and socks were near the water and the tide was coming in. Sometimes, it’s because Skittle is making a mess with her water bottle. Or because she’s afraid another kid will play with the toy she wants at our playdate. Or because a book has a ripped or crumpled page. It’s an endless list.
  • She has constipation problems. It’s something that began just after her first birthday and we struggle with it even now. At this point, she’s been taking Miralax almost every day for over two years. (This was recommended by her doctor and appears to be the standard treatment for the issue…I’m not sure it’s the right answer for us, but it’s also the only thing that’s come remotely close to working.)
  • My child who once hated the camera now loves it. She often asks me, “Can you take a picture of me?” Sometimes she smiles sweetly and sometimes she is a ham. And she loves to take her own photos too! Just like her mama.
  • She loves the water…the ocean, the lake, the pool, the bathtub. All of it. I think she must have been a fish in another life.
  • She is so excited for her baby brother to come. She wanted it to be a boy and has nicknamed him “Charlie” and talks to him frequently. She loves to feel him move. Early in this pregnancy, she said so sweetly to me, “I love the baby. I hope he loves me too, Mommy.’ The sweet innocence in that heartfelt desire nearly made me weep.

And so that is Cupcake in a “nutshell.” Which really is much bigger than the shell of a nut, isn’t it, since this post has gone on and on? But s  he truly is a fine mix of sugar and spice, though perhaps a little more spice than I prefer in my cupcakes. But that’s what makes her unique, and mine. It’s easy to wish, on our worst days, that she was easier, more agreeable, a better listener, not so emotional, more willing to share, and so forth. But then she wouldn’t be my Cupcake. And so I’ll take her exactly how she is, impossibly sweet, but bold too, and with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg and molasses thrown in. She’s amazing. She’s incredible. She’s delicious.

And I’m the lucky one who gets to enjoy her every day.

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To the One Who Isn’t Here

Dear Baby-of-Long-Ago,

Sometimes I feel you. Not so much in the ethereal, mystical, magical way of smelling the random scent of lavender or feeling a gentle breeze blow through a room with closed windows and knowing it’s you. That’s only happened once or twice, when seeing a rainbow or a butterfly in the most unexpected places, and even then I don’t know if it was you or my hoping it was you. I’m not sure the dead come back to us like that, or if they leave us whom they love alone so that we can move on in peace.

So it’s not you I feel precisely, but the absence of you. The ever-constant, gentle (and sometimes less-gentle, more raw, stinging, pinching, punching, painful) knowing you are not here. You are not, and never will be again, here. In this very place. With me. With us. Your family.

I go about my day just as I did before your short stay here on earth, except now I have two living little ones to look after, and I am more tired, busy, and cranky and happy all at once. I don’t light your candle every night anymore or cry for you every day. And yet, your not-here-ness is here, drifting silently and invisibly around me, humming in my ear like a mosquito at times, fluttering through my thoughts like a hummingbird at others, and rattling me like an earthquake when things go really badly. These days I feel free, mostly, and yet I am still somehow never quite free of you. Which is okay, because your memory doesn’t hurt me all the time now, and on most days there is a sweet nostalgia in thinking of you, the baby who has stayed a baby to me, the baby who never got to grow up and forever remains as small and precious as a tadpole.

There is something unique and uniquely painful about losing a barely-there baby. It does not take long for people to feel justified in forgetting. And they start to expect you to forget, too. And with time, you do. Not entirely and not forever, but there are minutes and then hours and then maybe even days when you don’t think of your loss and what was and what could have been, and you start feeling guilty for that. I feel guilty for that and find myself grasping at moments, trying to prove I haven’t moved on, haven’t betrayed you, because that somehow means I’m the mom I want to be. The one you deserve.

But the truth is, no matter how often or how little you cross my thoughts, I will never move on, not fully. There is a part of me, the old, pre-miscarriage me, who lives with you in the past. And unlike everyone around me who doesn’t remember anything about you and your time here unless I forcefully bring it to their attention, you are always on my mind during the “remembering days” — the anniversaries of the day when I learned of your conception, and of your goneness, and of course I couldn’t forget your due date if I tried.  But your memory comes to me at other times, too. I am reminded of your absence most when I watch your sisters for too long. They bring me such joy. Across years, I have seen their personalities evolve and unfold. I held them in their immediate, wet, oh-so-real newness and, with awe and some heartache, watched as they have each grown into a bigger, more independent, strikingly beautiful version of those babies they once were. And now there is another baby on the way and, God willing, I will get to experience that with him too. But for you, I have none of that. I did not just lose a baby, but years and years of feeling your soft weight enfolded in my arms in a hug, and watching your eyes widen under the same long lashes as you discover the world around you, and seeing all the ways you change and stay the same as decades tick by. You never got your chance to become anything and it makes me sad for you and sad for me because there is so much more than a kidney bean-sized embryo that I lost.

I often think of you as the Baby-Who-Almost-Was, but even when I do, I know there is no truth in that name. Because there is no “almost” about the place you had here. You were. You existed. And in my past, and my memories, and the empty space in my heart that no amount of babies or love can fill, you still do. You were. You are. In some ways, even if it’s only in the hole that you left behind, you still live amongst us.

So you’re not forgotten. I don’t always remember, but I can’t forget. I won’t and I don’t want to. There’s not much I can give you now with me here and you in some not-here place, with me solid and alive and you a wisp-of-smoke ghost in my life, but I can promise you that I love you still and I won’t forget you and I won’t try to. You are still, and forever, mine.

And maybe that’s the best way to be.

With big love,

Your Mama

Oh, My Heart….

Just had to share this sweet photo of my two girls. In my last post, I mentioned wanting to share with all of you something meaningful, something that matters. Well if ever a post like that exists for me, this is it. These two matter. More than anything. They are my reason for everything.

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Hope all of you reading this in the U.S. had a happy and safe 4th of July! xo