The Miracle in My Mailbox

A few minutes ago, I walked out the door for my usual afternoon chore: dump the full diaper pails in the trash can.  Check the mail.  Nothing exciting.

But in my mailbox today, there was an envelope from the Social Security Administration.

Inside, there was a card.

There was her name.  Riley Grace Ourlastname.  There was a number.

And then there were my tears.

After a year and a month’s worth of paperwork, this was the last detail for my last daughter.

Three years ago, when we started Zoe’s adoption process and began what would become nearly three years of continuous paperwork, I read the book “Adopted for Life” by Russell Moore.  He writes,

“Keep yourself from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all this paperwork by seeing it for what it is—a labor for the children God is calling to be yours.  You are kind of like Jacob of old, working years of arduous labor for the permission from her father to marry Rachel.  For Jacob, the years of work ‘seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her’ (Genesis 29:20)…imagine that Jesus himself is asking you to fill out that stuff, and do it with joyfulness and gratitude.”

I fully embraced that philosophy.  All of the work and i-dotting and t-crossing has been part of our calling to find and love these girls and make them part of our family.  And it’s over.  And they’re ours.

And it still all feels like a miracle.

I couldn’t fill out enough paperwork to earn the right to hear these girls call me “mama.”

It’s all His gift.

Thank you, Lord.

“Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness…let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  –from Psalm 150 

Where I’ve Been

I didn’t mean to disappear for almost a month, but that’s exactly what happened.  Zoe was sick, my family came to visit for a week, and writing professionally and editing others’ writing professionally seems to kill my interest in sitting at a computer and writing during my spare time.  Lent also impacted me a lot more than planned (more on that to come) and oh yeah, I have two kids and they’re both MOBILE now.

AHH!

photo 4-8

(As a side note, this post will feature even more gratuitous photos of my cute kids than usual because I have a MONTH to catch you up on.)

To begin, I want to finally admit “out loud” that having two kids so close together is way more work than I ever thought it could be.  There are so many joyful moments, but I do not think I would use the phrase “tons of fun” to describe the last 8 months.  Perhaps “overwhelming,” “surprised I didn’t die,” and “just ordered powerful under-eye cream” sum things up better.  As each one of David’s and my parents have independently observed when coming to help, “wow, someone always needs something.”  

It has been hard to hang on to the Sarah that isn’t just a need-meeter, but a person with her own needs and interests.  Sometimes I have done a good job of planning and anticipating my own needs, and sometimes I have pushed past them and wound up angry at everyone else.

Thankfully, I am growing and learning at the same time as my girls, and I feel like I am getting a little bit better at taking care of myself.

Here are some of the things that have helped me be “Sarah” lately.

Sleep.  I mentioned a few months ago that we were starting to sleep train Riley.  I am overjoyed to report that after 6-7 weeks of effort, the plan worked, and my big girl has slept through the night almost every night since.  I go to sleep with a smile on my face now knowing that I will probably sleep from 9:30/10 until at least 5 am.  SLEEP IS THE BEST.

photo 1-11Kisses for sleep.

Joining the Jazzercise studio down the street (and using its childcare).  Zoe adores the kids’  room, prays for the childcare worker and asks to go every day.  Riley hates it.  Too bad. I’m going 3-ish times a week, which gives me 3-ish more hours per week where I don’t have to be in charge and instead get to listen to cool music and get my cardio dance on.  Awesome.

Walking the dog: Thanks to the later daylight patterns brought on by Daylight Savings time, I can now walk our dog alone after putting the girls to bed.  I watch the sunset, clear my head, enjoy the silence, and/or call a friend.  It’s a great 15-20 minute exhale.

Working.  I’m busy and I’m good at it, and it makes me happy.  As a bonus, David and I now meet at Starbucks to work together one afternoon a week (which reminds us of our sweet college selves and is a great investment into our “fun away from the girls” tank).  When I’m not at my Starbucks office, this is where the magic happens:

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In related news, I dream of a designated office space…

The girls’ babysitter.  She brings craft ideas for Zoe and even folds our laundry, which keeps our house going and lets me have some rest time in the evenings.  She is the best.

A continued break from social media.  I did not rejoin Facebook or jump into daily blog reading after Lent.  My free time is very limited, and I have realized that I want to spend the little time that I do have on activities that really, truly refresh me or that bring me a step closer towards the person that I want to be.

During Lent, I read 6 books and reconnected with my love of reading the news.  I made nice lunches for myself during nap time instead of eating Zoe’s leftovers.  I reached out to friends more often via phone or text because I couldn’t just open my news feed and know what they were up to.  I found myself more productive with my work time.

I want to be a lifelong learner, an aware citizen, a person who honors herself, an intentional friend, a productive and focused worker—and I feel GOOD and refreshed when I do these things.  Many people can use social media responsibly, and I may return at some point, but for now, it’s just too much information to process and respond to, and is not the most valuable use of my energy or time.

photo 4-9After all, it takes a lot of energy to direct this motorcade.

Riley’s nap time.  Thanks to the sleep training program, Riley now takes a 1.5-2 hour nap every morning.  At first, I resented this because it basically chains us to the house.   After complaining for a few weeks, I felt God pressing on my heart that these mornings are my best opportunity to teach Zoe and fill her little love tank with one-on-one attention.  With that perspective, I’ve grown to love and cherish this time.  We planted a few container gardens, and we water and check our seeds’ growth every morning.

Zoe gardenAfter checking on our seeds, we play outside, read, do crafts or a workbook that I got for her, clean the house (“mommy, I do dust pan”), play with her dolls, build roads for her cars, etc. Throughout our time, I engage her in uninterrupted conversations about her feelings and viewpoints.  I feel our hearts connecting, and I’m so grateful to God for giving me the perspective that this is a time to give my best to instead of wish away.  One of my biggest desires is to be an intentional mom, and this is my chance to do this with Zoe.

Honesty.  I’ve really been working on being more honest with myself and with God about my feelings.  More to come on this in a later post, but here’s one snippet of that honesty:

When I got married, I knew that marriage (and eventually, my role as a parent) was a commitment to something deeper than my personal feelings of happiness.  Parenting a toddler has challenged me to understand this principle on a new level! It is NOT all fun and it does not always make me happy.  But I am learning to emotionally detach from the tough moments—because they are fleeting and not intended as personal attacks anyway—and lean in to the good ones.

Girls in the backyard

An older woman once walked by as I loaded a defiant Zoe into the car while wearing Riley and said, “I remember when my children were exactly their ages.  Those are such great memories!” I literally cried right then and there because I was so glad that someone who had been in my shoes looked back and remembered the good things first.

That’s my goal!

The last 8 months have felt hard, but I can see where I have grown and gotten it right, too.  I can’t go back to a stage of life where things felt easier and I can’t skip ahead to a time when my girls’ needs will be less intense; instead, I’m doing the hard and worthwhile work of learning to be Sarah where God has planted her now.

IMG_4207And I’m thankful to have been planted here.

Adoptive Parent Questions

On this blog, I typically write about lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having.  I don’t write from a place of complete resolution very often—my blog title is “Journeying with Him,” not “Journeyed” or “There!”–but I always try to share SOME nugget of a lesson learned or perspective gained so reading it isn’t just a waste of your time.

Today, I thought I’d break from that and write from a place of complete NON-resolution about some of the things that I find myself thinking about as an adoptive parent.  None have answers; they’re just things I think about and weigh from time to time.

So many of my readers have expressed an interest in adoption.  Here are some of the things you may find yourself considering if you go that route.  Some apply to multiracial families, some to open adoptions, some to adoption in general.

Race/Ethnicity:

-In an average week, what color is my child’s world? Is she seeing people who look like her? Where is she seeing them? What are they doing? What assumptions might she make about people who look like her from what she sees? In other words, is she seeing black/biracial people in a variety of jobs with various levels of educational attainment and SES, or is she just seeing white people and/or white people who are served by black people?  (The default in our area is one of those two, which frustrates me to no end, but that’s why I think about it and try out different solutions.)

-Do we have friends of other races? Do we have friends from other ethnic backgrounds? Are we spending enough time with them to make sure they are quality friendships? Do my daughters know these friends?

-Do we see and spend time with other multiracial families?

-When my daughters read books and watches TV, does they see children that look like them and families that look like their family? If not, where can I find these materials for them?

-How do we talk about race in our family? What are our terms, what is our approach, and what is developmentally appropriate? For example, Zoe just started talking about “dark skin” and “light skin,” “brown eyes” and “blue eyes.”  Do we add words to the conversation like “beautiful” and “different,” or just keep it to the color descriptions right now? At what point do we progress the conversation to why our skin is different?

-How do I best care for my daughters’ hair? What products, grooming routines, and hair styles do I need to learn about to keep their hair healthy and to help them feel comfortable? What resources do I still need to learn about and who can I call for more consultation?

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-The same questions above, in relation to their skin?

-What will my daughters look like as they get older? Will my daughters be accepted in this mostly-white area? Will boys want to date them? Will they be accepted in image-focused activities like dance team or cheerleading if they want to (and do I want them to? Ha).  These are the kinds of questions that every mom probably has, but I have no insight from my own life to draw from as I sit around projecting into the future :)

Adoption:

-Lots of my friends are pregnant right now.  Zoe has been very intrigued with the concept of a “baby in belly” and talked about how “Baby Zoe” was in my belly.  I told her that some babies grow in their mommy’s bellies and some grow in their mommy’s hearts, and that she and Riley grew in mommy’s heart.  This was probably not developmentally appropriate and it’s definitely not biologically accurate; however, I did not want her walking around with the incorrect thought that she grew in my belly, and she is not old enough to really understand the concept of her birth mom.  When do I begin unpacking this for her?

-Likewise, Zoe understands that “P” had something to do with Riley’s birth.  What does she understand? How much should I discuss this/how much should I have discussed this?

-We have a lot of adoption books, all depicting different aspects and stories.  How often do I read these, which should I read now, and how much should I just let her set a pace for our discussions on this?IMG_2884

-What resources (if any) should I provide to friends as they discuss our family with their kids?

-What language do I teach my girls about how to tell their own stories?

-As my daughters grow and understand their stories, I know that aspects of their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging will probably be impacted by the fact that they were placed for adoption.  What else might be impacted? How do I build strong foundations for my girls in these areas now? How do I know if they are struggling at some point?

Birthparents:

-How do I best preserve memories of their birth stories, correspondence with their birth parents, legal documents, photos, etc.? Keeping up with a baby book is already a struggle, but I have to make time for this too, as they deserve access to information about their stories.  What’s the best way to do this for them, and when do I introduce these records of their stories to my daughters?

-How will each daughter’s individual story affect her at different stages of her life? What do we tell each girl, and when do we share that information?

-I have different types of information about each daughter’s story (and different pieces of missing information in their stories).  How will the holes in their stories affect them as individuals and as sisters?

-What will our ongoing relationship with both girls’ birthparent(s) look like? How do I best serve my girls? How do I best respect their birth moms? Should I still be sending photos to one of their biological grandmothers, who asked me to, even though she never responds?

-How are our girls’ birthparents doing? Do they need anything? We can’t really give it to them if they do, but are they doing okay? How are their families? Along those lines, how do you keep wise boundaries (relationally and emotionally) in place, while still loving?

-There are some aspects of my girls’ stories that I’ve chosen not to explore.  Is this actually doing them a disservice, or is it the best thing for them and for respecting their birthparents?

-Will we be asked for something by our girls’ birthparents in the future?

-Will our girls wish we would have done something differently someday?

-Should I reach out and say “thank you” to their birth moms on Mother’s Day, or is leaving them alone more helpful for them?

-Is sending lots of photos at our pre-determined photo intervals helpful, or does it harm the healing process? Is 7 better than 30, or is 30 better? What updates do I include? Do they want to see their baby only, or does it bring them more peace to see their baby in her community/family? Is it safe to share these photos? Are these photos being shared outside of our private communication? Do any of our photos reveal anything I don’t want shared about our neighborhood, family, or community?

Closing thoughts 

As you can see, some of these questions are productive and some aren’t.  Some questions have research and a best practice recommendation surrounding them, while others have have no answers and no way to get closer to answers.

Listing all of these questions all out like this probably makes it seem like I fret a lot, but the truth is that I am usually too busy with the logistical concerns of caring for a baby and toddler to spend lots of time analyzing these questions (and I would never let myself think about all of these questions in a row anyway…hello, anxiety!)

Still, I should think about them from time to time, as I think it would do my children a disservice to parent them as if we weren’t a multiracial family, as if we weren’t an adoptive family, or as if loss wasn’t a part of their stories.  (For more on the latter, read this fantastic blog post.)

And I do have one answer: the best things I do as an adoptive mom is the best thing any mom can do, and that is to pray for wisdom, trust that God will give it to me, and take the advice in Philippians 2:4: “…each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If I am interested in my daughters’ emotional lives, proactively begin conversations with them about their feelings as they grow, pray for them, and seek insight into how to understand and support their unique needs, I cannot go wrong.

What I Do

I have been trying to write a variation of this post for a few months.  Every time I sat down to write it, the words that came out were academic, impersonal, distant.  I had a truth I wanted to share, but somehow, it was getting stuck.

Start with the personal.  The answer came tonight as I made pizza for my family.  As I spread the pesto and washed the mushrooms and grated the cheese, the words began.  And as I am learning to do, I baked the pizza and plated the food and praised the toddler and put the pajamas on and sang the goodnight song, holding off the flow of words but not losing the spark.  And now I sit down to write these words, that once were choked and now are loud:

I am finally proud of what I do. 

So here’s the personal: when I first became a stay-at-home-mom, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stay home, but I felt mixed about the decision itself.   I was proud that I had made the decision based on my values instead of societal pressure, but I still felt societal pressure.  Additionally, my success at work had become a huge part of my self-worth, and taking it away left some definite holes (this actually prompted some positive growth, but growth isn’t always easy).

On a day-to-day basis, caring for my daughter and seeing the benefits of my work with her took away this angst.  I knew I had made the right choice for her, and honestly, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, so it felt like the right choice for me as well.

Photo on 1-25-13 at 5.09 PM #3

But when I had to admit to other adults what I did full-time, it was a different story.

For about a year after leaving my full-time job, I dreaded the “so, what do you do?” question that people would ask at parties and networking events.  I didn’t know what to say.  Did I tell them what I was capable of, or what I was currently doing?

After a few social events fraught with these instances of panic and pause, I asked David, “what do I say when people ask me what I do?!”

He mildly replied, as someone who was not experiencing an existential crisis would, “maybe say what you do?”   

But to me, the answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom” somehow reflected “I am June Cleaver and hoped and dreamed that I would find fulfillment in the home as a homemaker.”

I knew people who had dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom since second grade.  These are the same people who spend lots of time on Pinterest and who can make pie crusts from scratch.  THOSE people were the stay-at-home moms.

I was not.  I hadn’t spent my whole life waiting to be a wife and mother; I was surprised when I wanted either.  I liked working and advancing professionally.  I’ve only made two pies ever, and both burnt.  And so even though I found myself happy as a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t seem like enough. 

So, “I used to be a —–” is what I would settle on, feeling like a fraud, “but now I’m a (hurriedly under my breath) stay at home mom and I do consulting work part time on the side too.  Man, this bruschetta has a kick! Gotta go get some wine! I hope I never see you again and that you don’t remember this conversation at all!”

It’s hard to put into words exactly why this role was hard to own, but I think some commentary from our culture will help:

From an article on depression among executive women: 

“Choose a female-friendly employer, said Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting firm in New York City. Its open-door policy and flex-time option help women cope. If a woman stays home for a few years to chase kids, ‘she’s welcomed back,’ she said.”   (Source, emphasis mine.  The semantics kill me! We couldn’t possibly be imparting anything of VALUE during those times with our kids…nope, just chasing them).

From a conversation last Friday with a new colleague: 

“So, what did you do before children interrupted your life?”

From a conversation with a man (who has children!) two summers ago: 

Him: “So, you left your job? Do you actually find that spending your day caring for your child is fulfilling?
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Him: “Really??”

From a conversation with a recent (female) college graduate: 

“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work, huh?”

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive, nor am I skewering anyone quoted above for their word choices.  These comments and excerpts reflect a larger debate in our culture over the value and necessity of a stay-at-home parent.  I understand why we have that debate, and from a sociological and historical perspective, I think it’s important that we keep discussing it.

But I hope that conversation evolves a little to say this: act from your values, ignore the critics and “shoulds,” and make yourself proud.    

As a woman, I’ve been told everything from you should of course stay home with your kids; how could you leave them? to if you don’t go back to work, you’re betraying all women. How do you ever expect your daughter to respect you if you don’t?

On that spectrum, I’ve experienced everything from congratulations, you’ve made the best decision for your kids! to rolled eyes at a university faculty meeting when I said that I was a mostly stay-at-home mom and an abrupt silence at a professional luncheon when I mentioned my kids.

But I’m learning to be okay with it.  Because it’s my life, and I’m acting from my values.  Yes, they are values that surprised me, but it’s okay to be surprised by the evolution of your life. Accepting that evolution is called “growth.”

Since becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom who works an average of 5-8 hours a week, I’ve earned $40,000 in grant funding for nonprofits, taught college classes, trained youth professionals, nonprofit employees, youth, and parents in our area, and helped a nonprofit organization completely recreate its evaluation plan to better measure their impact, to name a few projects.

But the most important thing I do? Undoubtedly, is care for and nurture these two girls.  

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Now, truth: it’s sometimes the most boring thing that I do.  It’s often the most thankless thing that I do.  It’s not sexy and it doesn’t look great on a resume (or apparently, to a female-friendly accounting firm).  But in my core, I know it’s the best thing for my family now, and honestly, I find so much joy in it.

And admitting that latter part? Is huge for me.  Because I’m finally admitting that what I do as a stay-at-home parent matters, and that it’s okay to have made this choice—and to enjoy it.

Our culture doesn’t always value it.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

So what do I do?

I’m a stay-at-home parent.  And I’m finally proud of it.

My Lent So Far

For Lent, I have given up Facebook, reading blogs, and looking at Instagram accounts (I don’t actually have my own Instagram account, so I mostly just creep on others’).  The following are some stream of consciousness notes on the experience thus far.

-I am such a rule follower that I honestly have not been tempted to cheat yet.  Noteworthy: I do not have a smart phone.  IMG_0196

This post needed pictures, so baby Zoe will be helping me out.

-I didn’t realize how much pressure social media created for me to “respond” and “be up to date.”  Within two days, I realized, “hey! This is pretty amazing…the only people I am conversing with are people who actually seek me out or whom I intentionally put effort into initiating conversations with.”   It’s like an introvert’s dream.

As I reflected on this, I realized that in between my roles as professor, consultant, friend, and family member, I already have two email addresses, one online learning system, and a phone to stay on top of.

Facebook and blogs initially felt like my “fun escape,” but removing them from my life made me realize that they still add that pressure to “stay on top” of something.

-I didn’t realize how much I used Facebook messaging to communicate.  As soon as I de-activated my Facebook account, I realized that I had made plans with a relatively new friend this week via Facebook message.  I am still trying to figure out how to get her number or email address to confirm our plans.  Oops!  IMG_0204

-I also realized that there are a few friends who don’t actually have my number or e-mail because we just use Facebook messaging to communicate and plan, and that a lot of my mom friends use “group message” on Facebook to plan play dates.  In all honesty, some of these friends may not chase me down if it’s not as easy as just adding my name to a message, and that’s okay.  In between sleep training, giving up my stroller workout class (which is during Riley’s naptime now), and giving up Facebook, I think I am basically bowing out from some social scenes…which actually gives me more space to focus on those close friends who wouldn’t let me bow out.

I LOVE making new friends, but sometimes feel a tension between my love of making new friends and maintaining those really life-giving relationships with my closest friends.  Giving up social media is making some of this tension go away.

-Without social media, I focus a LOT better.  Sometime along the way, my “starting work” ritual had become, “sit down, make work plan, check e-mail, check Facebook, THEN get to work.”  Now, I skip steps 3 and 4, get right to work, and stay focused the whole time.  This right here would be reason enough not to go back.

-My e-mails are so boring.  Seriously.  I do NOT get the dopamine hit from my e-mails that I got from Facebook.

-For a while now, I have relied on social media and blog reading as one of (if not the) main tool for my “relaxation,” but I haven’t felt like it was very successful.

Since Lent began, I have read one book in its entirety.  I found time to go on our library’s website and place a bunch of book requests.  I have watched two episodes of Gilmore Girls.  I have also had more nighttime conversations with my husband (who gave up espn.com for Lent).  All of these activities have successfully helped me relax, and have made me feel more peaceful and better able to focus on my purpose.

Peace trumps relaxation.

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-I don’t know why (Satan testing me?!! JK) but ALL THE FUNNY THINGS have happened since I quit Facebook.  Apparently I am supposed to just muffle the hilarity instead of broadcasting it to a wider audience?!  Oh wait.  I still have a blog.  So you all get to hear that:

  • in the last two weeks, I joined Jazzercise, wrote my last will and testament and advanced medical directives, and bought a minivan.  I doesn’t even need a closing quip to make this funny.
  • today, one of my daughters had a hysterical fit because she didn’t want to share a book with her sister.  The book? Sharing Time.  

There were others, but I respect your time (and am thankful you didn’t give up reading blogs for Lent).

Okay, email subscribers and those who access this blog by typing the URL of this blog into your navigation bar instead of lazily waiting for me to put this on Facebook…it’s been real.   Thank you for spending your time with me!

Life Lately

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but almost none of it has made its way onto this blog because when I proofread it the next day, I sound about as articulate as Chris Soules.

In related news, Riley’s in sleep boot camp.  Mama cannot function like this any more.  I mean, I love a good early morning party after not sleeping through the night as much as the next guy, but 6 months of it?!!

Photo on 1-12-15 at 6.18 AM

Not sure why ZOE is the tired looking one in this photo,
as she’s the only one who slept through the night.
Drink that coffee, girl.  

The training needs to actually, you know, WORK before I can think (much less say) something profound again, but since I have the itch to write, I’ll settle for sharing a few fun tidbits from our family life these days.

 

-Zoe: Hilarious

My sweet Zoe cracks me up every single day.  Some of her recent gems:

“I need a ponytail.  I have a busy day.”

Scene: Me, trying to put R to sleep in her darkened, sound-machined-up room.
R, screaming hysterically.
Z bursts into the room and says to me, as if to say come on, you’re missing an obvious cue here: “Riley no like dark.”  To Riley:  “Light, Riley?”
Duh…why didn’t I think of that?

photo 1-10

She has also started going behind her kitchen set in the morning and saying “soy latte please” while passing me a pretend cup (she says “medium mocha!” for David).  She also likes to pay for “soy latte please” with her pretend credit card at her toy cash register.  I have no idea where she picked that one up.   No idea…

She got to meet Elmo at a recent toy store grand opening.  She was transfixed.  She now prays for Elmo at night.

photo-77   Don’t mind David’s wardrobe choice.
He looks like he just got back from a funeral because…he had.
#OOTDpastoredition

At least once a day, she likes to pretend to be Mr. Frank, the oddly charismatic man who leads our local library’s story time.  She switches into her Mr. Frank persona by putting glasses on, putting a ball under her shirt to simulate his “bump bump” (her word for belly), telling us “I’m Mista Frank,” and leading us in a series of songs.

I really hope Mr. Frank does not read this blog.

 

-Riley: She doesn’t sleep.  But she does other things well, like be cute.

Photo on 1-28-15 at 2.31 PM #3

I soak up every sweet cuddle and giggle from this precious little gift.

In addition to snuggling nonstop, she is also rolling everywhere, banging toys with determination, nearly toppling over with excitement when I read her books, and eating purees (well, spitting them out…tongue thrust is a bit of a challenge for her.  I had an informal consult at the playground with a feeding therapist and got some new ideas to try, and am ready to get more help if things don’t turn around in the next week or two).   

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These girls make me the happiest mama around.

 

-Bestie time

My best friend/old roommate/basically sister Becky came to visit for 5 days this last week. She brought her husband and 1 year old daughter along for the ride and we had a blast watching our girls play together!

10959381_783643375825_4633402131181552879_nWe also had a blast leaving our children and getting pedicures.  Amen.

 

My life as a hermit

Becky arrived at the perfect time.  Not only had I not had a pedicure since July 2012 (a disgusting realization I arrived at mid-pedicure…don’t worry, I left a large tip), but our 3 weeks of sleep training have made me a near-hermit in desperate need of social contact.

With our new schedule, R takes two naps and Z takes one.  Typically, they aren’t at the same time, which means I have about 45-60 minutes during the “work day” to go anywhere, if I’m lucky.  Good times.

(And by “good times” I mean FREE ME FROM MY PRISON).

I have always said “I’m a stay at home mom who doesn’t like to stay at home.”  But as the cruelties of fate would have it, home is where you’ll find me now, all day, every day (unless I decide I’d rather endure a ragefest/meltdown/car nap that negates an actual nap and results in psychotically cranky child/etc. in favor of some contact with the outside world).   

I realized that my home detention was getting to me the other day when I was THRILLED when some JROTC kids who were collecting donations for their program came to the door.  I happily handed them dollar bills in exchange for conversation.

This is my life now…

 

-On the upside: 

I am loving the 1-on-1 time with each girl that their non-synchronized nap schedule provides.  I’m a great mom of two when one of them is sleeping.

Fun with the girls

 

-Learning vs. doing:

For a few months this fall, I had a difficult time feeling engaged in my faith.  Historically, I’ve felt most engaged in my faith when I’m learning through reading, journaling, attending church, listening to sermons, etc., but with two kids, lots of distractions, and little brain power thanks to sleeplessness, I felt frustrated and told my friend Jeanette, “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new.”

Her response was awesome and has helped me so much.  She said,

“I don’t think God’s always teaching us something new every moment of our faith walk.  I think there are times for learning, and times where He just wants us to put into practice what we’ve learned.”

This is definitely a time for me to take the three minutes, five minutes, whatever I wind up having and yes, try to learn about faith and God…but it’s also the time for me to just practice DOING those foundational things that I already know He calls me to.

This morning, R and Z’s sleep schedule meant I would miss all of our church services, so I made pancakes with the girls, danced to worship music with them, and cleaned the dishes and wiped the noses and sat on the floor and played with the dollhouse figurines, remembering we can do everything for the glory of the Lord and that He can use anything we give Him.  And it was just as great and edifying as church.

 

Valentine’s Day:

Is this week.  I realized yesterday that I had V-Day plans with my toddler, but not my husband.  This situation has since been rectified (holllllla to my youth group babysitters).  

I really don’t write much about my biggest and first love—but I thought this post summed up everything I would say.  In the beginning stages of two under two, I wondered if we would lose something special in the insanity of our daily tasks…but as the storm settles and the tasks and kids get a bit easier, I realize how much we gained.  I love him more than I ever did.  I feel so blessed to have him as my best friend, love, and partner in all of this.

Now: important question! What are your V-Day plans?!! 

My Daughter and the Gospel

Today was a full blown “toddler day”—full of ALL the negative behaviors you would associate with toddlers (with a bonus naptime boycott)!

Normally on days like this, I’d throw in the towel on going anywhere else by about 3 pm, but we were almost out of R’s formula and a number of other household necessities, so I reluctantly piled the girls in the car and settled in for a questionable experience.

As I drove, I told God that my day had felt purposeless, boring, and defeating, but affirmed that I KNEW He had purpose for me in spite of my feelings, and asked to experience His presence during my trip to Target.

I got out of the car to see that Zoe had dumped an entire container of Puffs on herself and the backseat, and mashed them up for good measure.

I opened the car door, looked at her disheveled appearance and the crumbs everywhere, sighed heavily, and said “you are a MESS.”

And that sweet little girl smiled at me, opened her mouth, and sang,

“I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence, I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His arms…Jesus, He loves me. He loves me, He is for me.”

My frustration melted and I smiled back as I remembered that God saw me at my absolute messiest, most frustrated, most defiant, worst self and didn’t just tolerate me. He LOVED me.  And I was covered with much worse than Puffs!

I looked into her beautiful eyes and told her I loved her too, and thanked her for loving ME when I’m messy too.  And I thanked God for showing me His presence, right there in the Target parking lot.

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I know that my husband is a preacher, and yes, he is eloquent, but I think the gospel is most amazing when it comes out of the mouth of our 2 year old.

What “Parenting First” Should Look Like

I’ve heard a lot of buzz this week about this Similac ad.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad caricatures our culture’s “mommy wars” by depicting parents making snide comments about others’ parenting choices at a playground.

“Oh look, the breast police have arrived,” says a bottle-feeding mom.

“One hundred percent breast-fed, straight from the source,” another mom says.

“Water birth…dolphin assisted,” a woman proudly volunteers.

The parents wind up getting so agitated over their differences that a physical fight almost breaks out— until a child is in danger and all of the parents race to try to rescue the child! As the cloying music crescendos, Similac reminds you: “no matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”

Judging from the conversations I’ve had and observed on social media this week, it seems like most moms that I know relate to this ad.

Adoption gives you a different perspective.

Breastfeeding or formula feeding? I had no choice in how to feed my daughters, so it’s not an emotionally charged issue for me.

All natural childbirth, water birth, Bradley method, elective C-section? My birth plan was “show up at hospital, leave with baby,” so again, not really something I’m particularly invested in.

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How should you eat/drink during pregnancy? I sat down and ate with my daughters’ birth moms a few weeks before my daughters were born, and they washed down their lunch meat with soda.  My daughters are fine.  I’m not saying that the dietary recommendations for pregnancy have no merit, but honestly, I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to your decisions.  I’ve learned not to.

Working mom or SAHM? If you’ve put in the time and money to adopt, you may want nothing more to stay home and pour into that child you’ve been waiting for.  You may need to go back to work because you just spent a year’s salary making that child part of your family.  Or you may need to stay home because your child’s traumatic history means that it’s best for them that you stay home and focus on bonding and/or assimilating them to a new language. Whatever your choice, I’m sure that you have based your decision on what is best for your whole family, just as a biological parent should, so no judgment here.

Do you feed your child all-organic foods?  My daughters were placed with our family in part so that they could have ENOUGH food.  I can’t imagine the humility and sacrifice it took to make that decision.  My kids’ birthparents are seriously my heroes, and we’re theirs, because we’ve partnered to make sure that our children have the best life possible.  Feed your child whatever you want, and be thankful that you have the ability to feed them.

I hate this ad—not just because I can’t relate to it, but because it critiques the “mommy wars” without elevating the conversation.  Sure, it clearly tapped into a nerve and went viral, but what does it actually contribute? The strongest “call to action” is to “stop judging and feeling guilty (and hey, buy our formula!)”

To me, a more share-worthy message would be, “hey parents, y’all clearly have a lot of passion and energy, and care that kids’ needs are being met.  That’s great! Now let’s channel that energy towards issues THAT ACTUALLY MATTER, like ending food insecurity among kids in your community, giving homes to the 101,666 children in the foster care system in the U.S. who are eligible for adoption, mentoring at-risk youth alongside your own kids, or supporting organizations who are fighting sex trafficking of minors.”

As Kristen Howerton said, “all of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me…let’s stop quibbling about what competent mothers are choosing for their kids, and step it up for the kids that don’t have one.”

Let’s debate the best ways to help others—not these relatively innocuous choices.  Let’s care about others in our community—not about how others feel about our parenting style.  Let’s stand with others in our community—not on our own positions.

We are parents first.

Two Under Two: My Tips

My first post in this two-part series focused on the pros and cons of having two kids under two. In this post, I’ll share the practical tips and perspectives that I have learned along the way.

Here we go!

Experiment with naptime and see what you can get away with. 

-If at ALL possible, try to schedule their days so that you get at least a little bit of naptime overlap.  For the first 5 months of her life, Riley could only stay awake for about 2 hours at a time.  Zoe typically naps for about 1.5-2 hours.  I realized early on that I could usually get at least a little overlap if I did some calculating, then pushed Zoe a little bit later or put her to sleep a little early based on when I expected Riley to be asleep.  For a while, I got about an hour of overlap most days, which was glorious (especially since I used that time to work on grants, grading, etc).   That being said…

Remember that routines don’t last long with this phase of life.  Case in point: right now, my girls are on completely opposing schedules.  Thankfully, I had anticipated that this might happen and had increased my childcare hours to compensate for the missed “naptime” work time, so I’m not stressed if their naps don’t line up (just exhausted! Ha!)

As possible, utilize on-the-go napping.  For the first 4.5 months, Riley napped beautifully on the go.  I usually gave her one nap on the go in the Ergo or stroller in the morning while I did an activity with Zoe, one great nap at home, and then one cat nap (often in the stroller or Ergo again) while we roamed the neighborhood or played outside. It seemed to work fine for that phase where she could “tune out” easily.  Now, however, she seems to be needing two good naps at home.  This brings me to my next point.

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Set your house up for success.

-Riley seems to be needing more at-home nap time, which makes it harder to go to the park, enriching classes, museums, and zoo as much as Zoe and I used to.  In response, I have made our house and yard a bit more “fun” than they used to be.  Two examples:

1) We can’t always go to the park, so I brought the park to Zoe! We have a sandbox, slides, little car, small playhouse, t-ball set, toddler basketball goal, and a water table.  It sounds like a lot, but our yard is relatively large and all of these items were hand-me-downs, gifts, curbside freebies, or consignment store deals.  We also have fun with bubbles, “painting with water” on the sidewalk, collecting pine cones, watching cars/trucks go by, waving to airplanes, sidewalk chalk, kicking a ball around, chasing lizards, and throwing berries to the squirrels—all this while Riley sleeps feet away inside (I usually prop the screen door open, but a monitor would also work).

 2) I also beefed up our craft closet.  Crafts are great because you can strap the toddler into his/her high chair to do them…i.e., they are restrained! This is a great activity to pull out for the toddler when you need to feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep.  I usually plan a few crafts a week (Pinterest is a great resource, but so are parenting books or my imagination) and I have enough “general” craft supplies that we can be creative (paints, crayons, Dot-dots, stickers, different types of paper, foam sheets, etc).

-Create a place for your baby in every room of the house.  You never know when you will need to put the baby down to hastily attend to a toddler.  Don’t complicate things by having to scramble for a safe spot for the baby!  Rugs, blanket, Exersaucer, swing, vibrating chair, foam mats—screw your decorating scheme and make it look like a toddler and a baby threw up all over your house (chances are good that they literally will anyway).

As possible, have friends come to your house for playtime.  I am so thankful for the friends who have visited us over the last 5.5 months.  It is way easier for us to host a playdate than to travel to visitors or a meeting spot, and it is easier to meet Riley’s sleep needs when friends visit us here.  We still leave our house most mornings, but since it takes two hours to get everybody fed, dressed, and out the door, any morning where we can cut the “out the door” part is greatly appreciated.

Additionally, friends with older kids are such an asset.  You can chat with them while holding your baby and their older kids can play with your toddler! PRICELESS!

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Set priorities, and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make them happen. 

-One of my priorities is that my family eats healthfully.  To get there with two kids, I have had to use some shortcuts…and I’m totally okay with it.

I used to never used to buy steam-in-the-microwave potatoes, pre-chopped onions, pre-cut squash, frozen brown rice, and other prepared foods like these until I had two kids under two and realized: I’m the person they make this stuff for.  Prepared food and cooking shortcuts can make the difference between “PB&J with a side of resentment for dinner” and “a healthy, balanced dinner.”  This season is ridiculously intense.  If you can remotely afford it, buy the stuff that makes it easiest for you.

Similarly, don’t stress if your meals are basic and often repeated.  This stage of life isn’t forever; everyone will survive if you serve the same 10-15 meals over and over again.  If it can be cooked in that tiny window before everyone melts down and it’s healthy, you’ve found a winner and should probably make it next week too.

Finally, have a take-out option ready for those nights when it is just. not. happening.  I am not a take-out gal, but there are times when the options are me dissolving into a puddle of tears before feeding everyone popcorn, and ordering takeout.  In those situations, to be in line with my priority, I pick take-out.

-Another priority? Personal hygiene.  To accomplish this, Zoe hops in the shower with her dad in the morning and I bathe Riley in the kitchen sink while Zoe eats breakfast nearby.  Are they missing out on the joy of fun bath time? Possibly, but they get clean in a way that works with our schedules.  Similarly, I shower at night once the kids are in bed.  Is that my preference? Does going to bed with a wet head produce a great hairstyle? Nope, but it gets me clean while everyone else stays safe.  The end result matters most in this case. 

Be realistic.  Reduce your expectations. 

-That sounds depressing, but if you expect to be able to have the same life that you had with one child, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s going to be different.  You won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’re used to or be as comfortable with your day-to-day life as you’re used to, at least for a while.  BUT…you have a whole new person in your family and they’ll be with you forever.  That is cool!  Try to savor it.

It has helped me to think of this as a new job.  You never feel comfortable or competent at the beginning of a new job, but eventually, you get in the swing of things and start to feel more capable.  Now, the difference between that scenario and this one is that you can’t quit, and you’re not paid, and there are horrible working conditions and no worker’s comp for your injuries…actually, this sounds awful, and if I am completely honest: sometimes it IS awful.  But when you begin to accept the crazy and unpredictable mess that is your daily life instead of resisting and complaining about it, you will feel peace and will be able to find joy and purpose knowing that you have the privilege of transforming babies into humans who will contribute to the world in amazing ways.  It’s an incredible gift. This blog post has a great perspective that has really helped me.

Also, there are hilarious moments.  Allow yourself to enjoy them.
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If someone offers help and it would actually be helpful, take it.  That’s something I’m really working on…that if someone says “I’d love to come to your house and watch one of the girls so you can get some one-on-one time,” or “can I hold Riley so you can chase Zoe?” or “do you want me to watch the girls so you can go to the grocery store?” or “I made extra soup.  Want some?” and it would actually be helpful, and I trust them to help me well…to say yes.  My default is “no thank you, I’m self-sufficient,” but honestly, it often serves my family better if  I can swallow my pride, drop my sense of control, and accept the help.  This leads me to my next point.

-Find a good sitter that you trust.  Regularly use him/her for date nights, time alone with one of your kids, time alone in your house (this is what my work time is for me!) or time alone out of your house.  There may be people out there who can live the two-under-two life 24/7 without sinking into a deep depression or wanting to kill someone, but I am not one of them.  Having a few hours a week where I am not responsible for the care and well-being of two completely dependent children has been absolutely critical to my sanity.  A giant thank you to all those who have watched my children.  You are the reason I can be a good parent the rest of the time.

You might have been a no-TV mom with one kid, but you’re about to meet your best friend: TV.  I use TV 15-20 minutes a day with Zoe, usually around 11:30 pm.  During that time, I feed Riley a bottle while checking my email, and prepare our lunches.  Without that 20 minutes, I give Riley stomach issues from chasing Zoe around the house while yanking a bottle in and out of her mouth, may go until 5 pm without connecting with the outside world, and eat pretzel Goldfish for lunch (if I even eat lunch).  It helps.

Both kids don’t have to be happy at all times.  This was a hard mindset for me to accept at first, but sometimes, you’re doing your best and both kids are crying anyway.  In those moments, take a deep breath, identify the most important priority, and meet it.  Sometimes, the baby needs her bottle and the toddler will just have to have a meltdown in the corner.  Sometimes, the toddler needs some love and the baby will need to cry for a few minutes in her crib.  Sometimes, you need some exercise and your kids will have to cry in the stroller for a few minutes so you can stretch your legs and shake off the stir-craziness.

Take care of yourself.

-One of my biggest paradigm shifts ever happened when Riley was 4 months old, and I realized: I don’t just have to meet TWO people’s needs during the course of the day.  I need to meet THREE people’s needs.  In other words, my needs count too.   I typically work a 13-15 hour day with these children.  Sometimes they nap together; often they do not (and nap time is often work time anyway).  It is unrealistic to expect that I will have no needs during that time frame, or to expect that I can meet all of my needs during that 2-3 hour window after they go to sleep when I am exhausted and resetting the house for the next day.

Thus, I realized that I HAVE to make certain things happen for myself: showering, exercising, eating, and occasional socialization.  Without these things, I end up feeling like a caged animal.  And caged animals lash out.

-Make the things you enjoy most happen, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.  I sometimes put on workout DVDs and do the workout until someone melts down.  Even if I got 7 minutes in, it felt nice.  I order two books a month from Amazon (because going to the library to search for a book myself is not happening,) and I read them when I cook, wash bottles, feed bottles, and brush my teeth.  I listen to podcasts and sermons while playing with Riley.  I occasionally talk on FaceTime or the phone until someone begins to act out.  I have written this blog post in short increments over 1.5 week, and although I would like to have sat down and typed it out in one relaxing writing session, that’s not my life stage right now.

-Accept your feelings without judgment.  At the beginning, I was too busy keeping everyone alive to acknowledge my feelings.  Then when I acknowledged them, some of them scared me. Why wasn’t I grateful for every second of my time with my kids? A conversation with a mom of triplets in which she told me that babysitting my kids for two hours had been (insert significant look) “a LOT” reminded me that oh, maybe because I am freaking EXHAUSTED, and this is HARD, and it’s okay to feel that way. If you’re reading this blog and find yourself identifying with this point, let me just give you a gentle reminder that your feelings are okay, and that they don’t make you a bad mom.

Free yourself—as much as possible—to enjoy the good stuff. 

My house has not been deep cleaned in a month.  And I don’t care.

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As the poem goes, “The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

I didn’t take a maternity leave with Riley, and in between our move, work, and getting used to two kids, I don’t feel like I was able to savor those first few months with her as much as I wish I had.  But regret is a memorable teacher.

I have made some changes, and in 2015, I am going to lie down on the floor and play more, cuddle more, take Zoe out for cookies more, and allow myself to ENJOY these kids.  Because this time, even in all its craziness, is really, really sweet.

Moms who have been there—if you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to read them! 

Two Under Two: A Review

When Zoe turned two, I was pretty excited.  Finally, I didn’t have “two under two.”  Everything would suddenly be easier…right? :)

A few days later, Zoe was turning heads across Trader Joe’s by screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!!” at ear splitting volume because she couldn’t have another sample when it dawned on me: I have a two year old.  You know, the age that is typically linked with the word “terrible.” 

Suddenly, I felt like joining Zoe in her cry.

As evidenced by that anecdote, I’m not an expert on ANYTHING parenting related—but I thought would be fun to write a few posts about what having two under two was like (since I’m soooo far past that stage now).  I will share some pros and cons of having two under two, a few tips I have picked up, and some perspectives that have helped me along the way.

Today: the pros and cons of two under two (at least in my experience!)

-Pro #1: You have two sweet babies to love and hug.

-Con #1: You have two babies, so you will have less time than you want to sit around loving and hugging them because you will be too busy meeting their other needs.  You will remember what it felt like to sit and hold baby #1 for an hour, gazing into each other’s eyes—but you won’t be able to do it with baby #2 because of baby #1, and so your bonding experience feels different.

In all honesty, I struggled with crippling guilt in this area.  I felt like I was giving Riley 50% of the parenting attention and focus that Zoe had experienced as a newborn, and that Zoe was getting 50% of the parenting that she was used to.  I couldn’t do any better without cloning myself.  It was so frustrating.  IMG_2962

Over time, I have learned to deal better with this guilt and have begun to recognize some benefits of the girls having to “share.”  I have also learned how to involve them in one another’s care and nurture (such as “hug circles” where we pass along a hug, or reading to the girls at the same time and having Zoe tell Riley about the pictures in the book,) but it’s still an area that I feel pretty vulnerable in.

 

-Pro #2: Let’s be real: with baby #1, boredom occasionally sank in (especially if you were used to a faster-paced lifestyle before baby).  There are only so many things you can do with a newborn before you get stir crazy and wonder when things will get more fun.

Boredom will not be a problem with baby #2.  Chances are high that you are already doing a lot of fun things with baby #1 because they are mobile and NEED those outings to the park, friends’ houses, etc.  You will be so busy interacting with a toddler most of the day that you will cherish and appreciate any quiet moments that you get with baby #2.

-Con #2: You aren’t bored, but you’re stressed.  When Zoe was in that “baby baby” stage and napped for a lot of the day, I had hours to kill each day.  To fill our time, I would do things like make applesauce from scratch, organize closets in our house while I talked with her about my progress, meet friends for coffee, take walks, read her news stories out loud, etc.  Sometimes I would just sit shirtless on the couch, hold her, watch an episode of Hart of Dixie, and count it as as “skin to skin bonding.”  Although I wasn’t sleeping much and it wasn’t the most mentally engaging time of my life, my job was easy: meet one person’s needs.  Figure out how to stay happy in the house while she napped again.  Meet her needs again when she woke up.

Photo on 5-7-13 at 4.01 PMBaking with Zoe, spring 2013

With baby #2, these days of quiet simplicity are GONE.  There will be no homemade applesauce—instead, you will struggle all day to clean up the breakfast dishes.  There will be no “coffee talk” unless your friend comes to you and is willing to be interrupted.  And skin to skin gets awkward REAL fast with a toddler running around.

Basically, you aren’t bored because you are living in barely controlled chaos.  You wish you could be bored.  You have fond memories of boredom.

A piece of encouragement, though: I found that by the time Riley was 3 months old, I was mostly used to the chaos.  There are still some days when the craziness feels overwhelming, and in those instances I have learned to (literally) contain the chaos.  I will pop the girls in the stroller and take them for a 45 minute walk, sit them in their carseats and drive through Starbucks, or wear Riley while I chase Zoe around the neighborhood.  Containing even one of them helps diminish the chaos a lot.

Photo on 12-3-14 at 4.23 PM #2Wearing the exact same shirt and baby carrier, December 2014.  Different baby.
Definitely not baking.
PS – If you look carefully at this photo, Zoe is “wearing” her baby too.

 

Pro #3: With baby #1, everything is new. When you get to #2, though, you know what to do with a baby.  

Con #3:  You have no idea what to do with a baby AND a toddler.  Whose needs should come first? How do you keep baby #1’s world remotely familiar when baby #2 has so many needs? How do you get their nap schedules to be somewhat complementary? How do you meet the toddler’s needs for novelty without overstimulating your baby? How do you logistically handle two kids at the playground, grocery store, church…?

My friend Becky said she had learned to “love the one who needs you most in that moment,” and so I just pray for wisdom that I can do that well in those moments of craziness.  (In practice, I probably lean towards taking care of Zoe’s needs first, which is unfortunate for Riley…but Riley can’t hit anyone when she’s upset yet).

 

Pro #4: Being a mom is the best thing ever…and even if you sometimes feel like a stressed out, overwhelmed, guilty amateur with two kiddos, you still get these moments:

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photo-74and you realize that it’s all worth it.

Coming up next: some of the most helpful and practical tips I’ve learned in my “2 under 2″ journey.