New House Details – Part II

Just a super quick update to say: we’re officially homeowners!! Whoa!

My words as soon as we left the closing were “David, I think I might throw up.”  Being in charge of A HOUSE THAT I OWN is terrifying and exciting, all at the same time.

It’s terrifying, because:
a) the gene for “spatial intelligence” was completely absorbed by my engineer father and I couldn’t tell you how to fix anything
b) I am used to seeing a lot more money in my bank account
c) I sing “the wise man built his house upon the rock / the foolish man built his house upon the sand” to Zoe…and then David always jokes “the entire state of Florida is the foolish man.”  We now own a chunk of that sand and a house built upon it.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 2.00.52 PM

We may be idiots.

It’s exciting because:
a) I am ECSTATIC about the house’s layout
b) I am THRILLED with our new yard
c) the kitchen makes me want to cook again, unlike the pass-through hallway that I try to get out of as soon as possible in our current house (no offense, current house—I love you otherwise) 
d) I like my new neighborhood and the roads that I’ll drive and walk most often
e) my friend and her sweet daughter live next door, with another little buddy soon to join us!

We rented our home to the sellers through the weekend (we went from homeowners to owners of a RENTAL PROPERTY all in one week! I’m so dramatic), so we’ll get some keys tonight and get in there tomorrow to start some fast and furious renos!

Pray for a good week of work for my sweet husband who has a lot to endure—both in terms of physical labor as he paints multiple rooms, and emotionally as he has to deal with my complete waffling and indecision on the last color selection (for our playroom and eat-in area).  He wants a bright color, I want a neutral, he is willing to give up the bright color but that’s not enough for me because I want him to want what I want and be happy about a neutral.  It’s going to be a great week for everyone!

This will not become a home decor blog, because I am just as qualified to write that as I would be to write a spatial intelligence blog, but I might give you a few more updates in weeks ahead.  I may also write a sappy blog post about moving, as my friend Jeanette pointed out today that what I was telling her about all that I’ve learned in this house sounded like “a blog post in the making.”  I love my friends.

All joking aside, I went into this house during our home tour and instantly thought “this is a great house for ministry.”  This house has the best layout for packing in people to cook for and serve and love…the best backyard for imperfect parties where people can get dirty and have fun playing football and soccer…the best little nook for Bible study with another mom or two while our kiddos play in the adjoining playroom…the best kitchen window to stand at while my coffee brews and look out and praise God for another day.

We’ve never had the opportunity to choose a home before, but we’ve always made each living situation work—so I don’t feel like we “needed” this upgrade.  However, it is a huge blessing to have had the chance to choose a home based on the activities and people that are most important to us.  I can’t wait to see what God does in us, through us, and with us in this home!

IMG_4717

See you in a new house! (unless I need to use my coping strategy of writing sooner due to paint-related issues!)

Advertisements

All About Riley

I realized the other day that Riley is almost 11 months old and hasn’t been the solo subject of a blog post since her birth story.  Oops!  I promise, she has had more accomplishments than being born!  It’s just hard to separate her news from Zoe’s news these days, since their lives are so intertwined.

That being said, here are a few Riley-specific updates. (Zoe will make her way into a few of these photos because, well, you’ll see.)

How big is Riley? SO BIG.

IMG_4216

As I type this, she is a week away from being 11 months.  She’s approximately 20 pounds and wears size 3 diapers, 12 month clothes, and 18 month PJs.  People always comment on her squeezable thighs and happy personality.  Many also comment on her hard-to-pin-down ethnicity.  Her skin tone is very similar to Zoe’s now, but her eye shape reflects some of the other aspects of her heritage.  She has a head full of curls, but her hair is finer than Zoe’s hair is.

She has one tooth.  It kind of makes my life.

IMG_4465

She is very affectionate.  Kisses, cuddles, skin-to-skin…she soaks it up, and returns it.

Photo on 4-8-15 at 2.39 PM

She had a great run with sleeping through the night, but things change, and recently she has been waking up once during the night about 3x/week.  She has also started to fight her predictable 2x/day nap schedule.  I have learned in my 2.5 years of parenting that the only constant with kiddos is change, so I’m not too grumpy about it.  The Keurig Rivo espresso machine that I got for Mother’s Day mayyyyyy also contribute to my positive outlook (#bestgiftever) and if she gets too fussy, there’s always the option of sacrificing my body to let her get a good nap in.

Photo on 4-26-15 at 12.31 PM #3

She started crawling at 7 months, waving at 8 months, and clapping at 10 months.  I may have made up the last fact because I haven’t written in her baby book since she was 8 months old and it all blurs together.  Anyway, she has no shortage of things to clap about, as her sister has several stage personas and two guitars.

IMG_1746

This is where I want to mention how special it is to have two girls who are close in age.  Riley adores her sister.

IMG_1734

IMG_4444

They don’t get along all day every day, but when they do, it’s beautiful to watch.

In other developments, Riley is experimenting with walking (with assistance or a walker).

r walking

She also loves to pull up on furniture.

IMG_4463IMG_4464“Did you miss me?!!”

Her favorite toys are a Melissa & Doug wooden stacker, the play kitchen (the doors OPEN AND CLOSE, GUYS!!!), and balls.  This is Riley’s demure face:

IMG_4346

This is her wild face:

IMG_4355

She says “mama” (mostly indiscriminately,) “hi da” on occasion when David gets home from work, and the occasional “buh” when someone leaves.  Like her sister at this age, her most consistent word is an excited “dohhh!” for our dog.  She loves to wave “hi” and “goodbye,” and (adorably!) will usually offer a goodbye hug!

She still isn’t a great puree eater, but loves her bottles.  Over the last month, I’ve tried to cut her afternoon bottle since her pediatrician told me to start weaning her, and girlfriend was NOT HAVING IT.  As of today, I’ve decided we’re back on the sauce, because I think she’s still hungry without that bottle and I can’t take any additional misery between 4:30 and 5:30 pm.

Her deepest and truest food love are the Plum Organics kale and apple teething wafers.  She squeals with excitement when you rustle the package.  Pavlov would be proud.

IMG_4446“Um, mom? I’m having a moment.  Please go away.” 

I would describe her overall temperament as fun, easygoing, independent, and loving.  I think the best description of Riley that I’ve heard is “she is the kind of baby that makes you want to have lots of babies.”  Unfortunately, someone says we’re done with babies (that someone is the smug looking guy in this photo, and Zoe, we’re in agreement).

photo 1-12

Since I have been told that this is my last baby, I’ll try to do a better job of documenting her life from now on 🙂

Riley is a fun, sweet, wonderful little blessing and we are so thankful for her presence and light in our lives!

The Waiting and the Harvest

Waiting for something is hard.  Every single day, you look to see if it’s time.IMG_4329But even if you’re ready, it doesn’t mean it’s time.  IMG_4332This is a lesson I’ve been teaching my daughter through gardening.  It’s a lesson I think she’ll be learning for a long time, if she’s anything like her mama.  When it looks like THAT, then it’s time.  Not before.  IMG_4333In the meantime, I tell her, we don’t just sit around.  We prepare. IMG_4337We put in the work.  We pray for God’s blessing.IMG_4338Then one day, it’s time.  And, bedhead and all, we are ready.  IMG_4362 IMG_4363 IMG_4364 IMG_4366 IMG_4367 IMG_4368 IMG_4369Waiting isn’t fun.  But harvest time is sweet.

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.

photo-75

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…meaning, he/she is 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!

IMG_3189

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.
photo 1-9

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.

IMG_3415

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! 

Loving God in the Midst of Mess

This post is going to be short and simple, but it’s what I have today.

A few weeks ago, I was having a bit of a bummer day.  David had left early that morning for a meeting, I was drowning in to-dos, and Riley napped poorly and just wanted to be held.  I felt guilty for overlooking Zoe’s needs to tend to Riley, for having a house that was so messy, for having uncompleted tasks all over the house, and for the fact that I was struggling to be joyful and patient through it all.

Why is this so hard? I asked God.  Why don’t I have this DOWN by now? 

In response, He brought this series of pictures to mind.

IMG_1552Thanksgiving beach trip 2012

1505333_708589090215_1688169908_n

Thanksgiving beach trip 2013

photo 4-6

Thanksgiving beach trip 2014

Oh.  That’s why 🙂 Life is constantly changing, and my goal shouldn’t be mastery of a life stage.  (That stage will inevitably change anyway!)

Better goals: seeking the Lord’s presence and will, pursuing contentment and joy, and loving others, myself, and the Lord no matter where I’m at.

So—the girls stagger their naps so that I have no time to myself between the hours of 5:20 am–7:30 pm? (This happens to be today’s scenario). Thank the Lord for the gift of my girls and for the opportunity to serve Him well through loving them, and seek His energy and patience to help me make it through.

Work deadlines that feel out of reach? Seek God’s guidance in how to structure my time, and pray for His help in working efficiently and effectively in the time that I know He will provide.

House is disastrous? Thank God as I clean for the possessions we have, for the house that keeps me warm, for the gift of my health that allows me to bend up and down as I pick up the toys.

Feeling frustrated with myself because this is hard? Remind myself that it IS, but that I can do all things through Him—and that He loves me for me, not for my efforts, outcomes, or the ease with which I do this all.  Give myself some grace. (And maybe a latte from time to time…have you seen this “Blank Space” parody video? HILARIOUS).

On that musical note, I’m off to practice what I just preached with 3 foot naptime rebel…wish me luck!

Happy Birthday, Dear Zoe

Two years ago today, I was meeting this sweet girl for the first time.

IMG_0035

IMG_0041

IMG_0058

It’s funny, the things you hear over and over again as an adoptive parent.  Some of the most commonly repeated phrases I hear are, “what a blessing you are to this little girl!”

“She’s so lucky! She hit the jackpot!”

“You changed her life forever!”

Over and over I reply: she’s a blessing to US.  WE hit the jackpot and it wasn’t luck; it was the purposeful design of our gracious God.  SHE changed OUR life, and we are so grateful.

IMG_0900

IMG_0934

IMG_1101

IMG_1384

IMG_1453

IMG_1658

IMG_1777

photo 2

IMG_2320

IMG_2314

IMG_2705

IMG_2805

IMG_3282

IMG_3785

My favorite explanation of adoption ever was something my friend’s almost-three-year-old said when she met Zoe for the first time.  She said, “Miss Sarah wanted a baby, and prayed for a baby, and the Spirit of God came and gave her a baby!”

Thank you, Spirit of God, for this beautiful baby—for all she has taught me, for all she will teach me, and for how she has changed my life forever.

Life with Two So Far

I thought I’d write a little post about life with two kids.  This is a good illustration of what my day to day life looks like now: 

Photo on 8-17-14 at 11.06 AMIf you detect a slight hint of fear in my eyes, you’re right on! It’s a little overwhelming to have two under two, especially when one is a strong-willed and energetic toddler and one is a completely helpless baby.  Throw in a move and starting a new semester as an adjunct instructor, and wow, it’s been a crazy month.    

I’ve been SO blessed to have lots of family help over the last few weeks, as David’s mom and my mom both visited for about 9 days each.  This, along with David’s paternity leave, provided me with about 3.5 weeks of a 2:2 adult-to-child ratio.  Without this, I think someone might be dead (and the odds are fairly even for all of us–Zoe from self-inflicted daredevil-style injury, Riley from Zoe-inflicted injury, and me from fatigue and/or despair! LOL.) 

I start every day sitting in the bathroom for a minute and telling God, “I need you!!! I can’t do this alone! You gave me these girls.  Now please give me what I need today to be the best mom to them!” After that, I take a deep breath, force myself to leave the bathroom, and try to take it hour by hour because I don’t know how long my day will be, what sorts of toddler challenges await me, whether Zoe will be nice to her sister or will spend the entire day trying to pinch and hit her, whether I will get to take a shower or not, whether I will get a break at all in the form of simultaneous naps or if I will just spend the entire day caring for babies (my “workday” now can easily be 4:45-5 am until 9-10 pm, so if they don’t nap at the same time, it is a long day.) 

One thing that I DO know is that my day will be purposeful…because although it may be difficult sometimes, I believe wholeheartedly that I am right where I am supposed to be with the children I am supposed to have, and that God will give ME what I need to give THEM what THEY need.  

Every day I have to admit my inability, put my faith in something beyond my own abilities and energy, and trust in Him for what I need.  It’s humbling, and honestly, “humbled” is not my favorite feeling. 

But every day He has been faithful to provide what I need—whether that is patience, insight into their needs, energy that belies my sleep deprivation, a positive daughter/daughter moment…

IMG_3128(Zoe loves to play “patty cake” with Riley)

…a friend who is miraculously able to come over when I need an energy outlet for Zoe, dinner delivery, a break in the extreme heat that lets us get outside, a fun hour where Zoe does not challenge me once, or a positive text when I need the extra encouragement.  Also, the God who invented the coffee plant is a good God.  Amen.  

Here are a few things I LOVE about being a mom of two: 

  • I’ve been trying to take Zoe for some special “mommy/daughter trips” that are just me and her.  She REMEMBERS them and talks about them later.  It’s so sweet and makes me feel really good about the time that I invest into making it happen. 
  • Seeing Zoe and Riley interact.  Zoe is very sweet with Riley about 85% of the time.  She says “hi Riley!” every time she passes Riley’s bassinet, whether Riley is in it or not, and in the mornings she usually wants me to put Riley into her bed so that they can cuddle for a few minutes.  Zoe sleeps with a blanket and an Elmo doll, and she will tuck Riley in with her blanket and will make her Elmo doll dance for Riley.  Riley is very interested in Zoe…unless she’s sleeping.  Even then, Zoe will often find a way to involve her in an activity!  
    IMG_2895
  • Having Riley around has brought out a nurturing side in Zoe.  She really loves playing with her baby dolls now, and thanks to Grandma, we have expanded our collection of toy baby accessories to include a toy bottle, a toy bouncy seat, and a toy Pack N Play.  In between these and the real baby accessories littering my house, there is NO mistaking the presence of two under two in this household.
  • One day when Zoe had been particularly unkind to Riley, I was feeling very discouraged…until I saw Zoe pick up her baby doll, sweetly cuddle with it, and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to it.  It made me feel like everything I have been doing to try to help Zoe learn about kind and nurturing behavior will eventually pay off.  Learning at this age is a lot of scaffolding, but eventually, she will act kindly without me having to constantly instruct her.  Plus, when she does get it, Riley will have another role model.  
  • Zoe is OBSESSED with riding with Riley in the double stroller.  
    IMG_2898
    When we go for walks outside, Riley tends to open her eyes REALLY big.  Zoe thinks that Riley is being intentionally funny, and giggles hysterically at her.  It’s hilarious.  
  • I finally bit the bullet and hired a sitter to come for a few hours a week to help me get my consulting/teaching work done.  I felt too guilty to do this with one child and tried to just work during nap times, but with two, I know that their naps won’t always coincide and so I felt very confident in the decision to hire a sitter.  God provided a great and energetic sitter—an alum of our youth program who is currently home for a “gap time” between college and graduate school. I’m scary excited for 9-1 on Mondays! 
  • With two kids, there isn’t a lot of time to spend sitting around holding Riley, so I sometimes worry about our bond.  However, when she does get fussy, she seems to relax the best with me over any other adult in our home.  I love this! 
    photo-72I may not feel the slightest sense of mastery yet, but I’m excited to keep improving as a parent of two and I am so thankful for the chance to parent these girls with my amazing husband by my side!   

 

Our Journey to Riley: The End (and the Beginning.)

I am writing this final chapter of Riley’s story in my new dining room in my new house—the house I wasn’t looking for and didn’t know I needed, the house that is blessing our family immensely.

A few feet away from me sleeps a baby I could say similar things about.

IMG_3098

I am still getting to know this house, and I am still getting to know this girl.  But what I do know about her is this:

  • She has a great smile.
  • She has the most peaceful temperament of any baby I’ve ever met.
  • She is immensely loved—not just by us, but by her biological family, by her extended family, and by her spiritual family of friends and family—and their love for her is a beautiful reminder of what is good and right in this world.
  • She was meant to be ours.

I will back up a little now and finish the story.  But I just had to say this first: in case anyone else out there finds themselves in a situation, wondering what is God doing??!!

He is doing something good.  That verse that says He works all things for your good? It’s true.

And I’m learning that you don’t have to understand it all.  You just have to thank Him for what you do understand, and let your faith in His goodness carry you through the parts that don’t make sense.

Back to our story…

***

We got to the hospital around 4:30 pm on June 21.  Riley’s birth mom, “P,” had been induced the night before, and we were all expecting a baby to come that night.

Nothing happened.

We spent hours that night with the birth parents and the biological grandmothers, chatting as P had contractions. I challenged myself to stay present and tried to soak each part of the conversation into my memory so that if this baby came home with me, I could tell her details about her family…but I have to admit that my impatience was getting the best of me.  I just want to meet this baby.  Why is it taking so long? I asked God.

Around 10 pm, I left the room to go to the bathroom.  The birth dad’s mother followed me out and there, under the dim lights of the hospital hallway, asked me a rapid-fire series of questions about myself, David, our faith, adoption, and our hopes for this baby.  We talked for almost thirty minutes and wound up hugging and crying together.

“I thought you were the right ones for this baby when I read your profile,” she said.  “Now, after meeting you both and hearing your answers to my questions, I have no doubt.  You are the family God picked for this baby.”

At this, I decided to pipe down my inner Thomas and trust God’s timing.  I was not going to ask Him one more question.  I was going to enjoy this ride!

David and I wound up spending the night at the hospital, as the doctor said that if anything changed, they would have P begin pushing right away.  P had invited us to cut the cord and catch the baby—a tremendous honor and an opportunity we were not going to miss.  We got a few hours of sleep on a combination of a borrowed hospital bed and the vinyl family waiting area couches.  No baby came.

The next morning, we were exhausted.  We couldn’t imagine what poor P felt like, and so we were relieved for her when the birth dad came in and told us “they are doing a C section, starting now.”  The time? 8:30 am.

(Guess when my Bible study had already decided to corporately pray for a safe delivery for P? 8:30 am.)

At 8:50 am, a beautiful little girl entered the world.  At 8:54, we were invited to gown up and head into the infant nursery to meet our daughter.  We actually ran into her on the way into the nursery.

I instantly burst into tears.

“She’s so beautiful,” I said.  “She’s so beautiful.”  It was all I could say as I looked at her, thinking of our journey to get here, thinking of how much I had longed for and prayed for this baby.

My mind sped through the past I looked at her thinking, this is happening in the present—in MY present.  There is a baby in front of me and she is moving, squirming, looking around, and these nurses are calling me “mom.”  I am crying and feeling real tears fall on my arm.  I just drank a large coffee so I know I’m awake! This is not a dream! 

Amidst the exhaustion and unplanned C-section, I didn’t bring my camera into the infant nursery, so this crude cell phone picture is the only picture I have of our first thirty minutes with Riley:

photo-71We stood watching her in awe as the nurses examined her.  She looked around—cooing, interested, alert.  I could barely breathe.

After a while, I was reunited with my camera.  A nurse took a few photos for us:

IMG_2742

IMG_2744

IMG_2747

We invited the birth dad and biological grandmothers to come in for a while to see her while the nurses finished cleaning her.  Then, the nurses told us to go to a private room to spend some special bonding time with the baby.  We couldn’t believe that we were getting this privilege as adoptive parents.

As each moment passed, we fell deeper and deeper in love.

IMG_2770

IMG_2771

IMG_2772

As the day went on, we learned that the birth parents wanted me to stay in the hospital and begin caring for Riley right away.  The nurses gave me a room, ordered meals for David and me, brought me towels and shampoo (I hadn’t showered since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday afternoon) and generally made everything lovely.  For the next two days, I stayed in the hospital with Riley while David went back and forth from the hospital and caring for Zoe.

A few times a day, we’d truck down the hallway to P’s room.  It was beautiful to watch P and Riley’s birth dad interact with her.  I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of details of their story or their time together, but I have a beautiful set of photos that I will show Riley someday.  She is a profoundly loved little girl.

Any parent who has been through a “traditional” matched domestic adoption will tell you that the time in the hospital is a roller coaster.  You are falling in love with and caring for a baby that you aren’t sure you will take home.  You are interacting with biological family members who are on their own roller coaster.  You are aware that you are constantly being watched; that every action has a potential impact.  My desire for this time was to show the love and unconditional acceptance of Christ to the family—not to manipulate anything and not to worry about the outcome.  I wanted our time together to leave an impact on the family whether we took the baby home or not.

Throughout our stay, God was faithful to encourage me that this was happening.  In one of my favorite moments, the birth dad’s mother pulled me aside on Tuesday and said that our conversation the night before had encouraged her more than I could know.

“I had to leave the hospital on Monday afternoon because I was so sad thinking about saying goodbye to the baby,” she said.

“But I made myself come back to meet you.  As I drove away last night, I called my mom and said ‘now that I’ve met them, I have total peace about this.’  You guys are wonderful and so loving, and I know you’re going to raise her to know the Lord.  I don’t look at this as a loss anymore.  I think of it as the joining of families.  I’m not saying goodbye to her.  I’m saying hello to an expanding family. I love you guys and am happy to have you as part of my family.”

THIS is adoption at its finest, is it not? I was so joyful.

IMG_2866

But as I described, it was still a roller coaster.  In Florida, the birth parents sign their parental rights away, thereby placing the baby with you, 48 hours after the baby is born (the birth mom also has to be painkiller free for 4 hours prior to signing.)  This would put our signing on Thursday morning.

For most of our hospital stay, I felt joyful and at peace.  But on Wednesday night, I felt like a wreck.  I was exhausted.  I was alone in a noisy hospital room with a baby that was having some feeding issues (since resolved) and that may or may not be mine.  I felt sad for P.  I felt the reality that P could choose not to sign; that this could be my last night with Riley.  I felt the temptation to detach.  I felt the weight of the failed adoption.  I felt alone.

I said into the darkness, I am not alone.  

And I began talking to God about this baby, my feelings, all of it.  It wasn’t coherent or organized.  It was a jumbled prayer of fatigue, my desires, my questions, and my reality (honestly, I think this must be His favorite kind of prayer.)  I talked through our journey with Him, asking again, what was any of this? If this was supposed to be my baby all along, why did all of that happen? Why did I feel that call to adopt in October? It was so random.  This baby probably wasn’t even conceived then!

And in that darkness, I almost felt His chuckle.  “Really?”

Wait…

I pulled out my cell phone calendar.  My hands began to tremble a little as I counted backwards.

Sure enough.  Riley’s due date had been July 9.

This meant that the week that David and I had started praying hard about adoption together—the week that he had said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn”—the week that we decided that we felt called into the action of pursuing adoption—the week that we started praying for whoever our future baby would be—was the week Riley was conceived.

We had been praying for Riley since she was conceived.  We just didn’t know it.

And there, in that darkness, I relaxed into this truth: this was our baby.

IMG_2815

I don’t always understand how God works.  I don’t.  I don’t understand why a good and loving God wouldn’t just give me my baby without the painful loss preceding it.  But He gave me a baby, y’all.  Hallelujah! I also know that God doesn’t allow useless pain, and I also know that He gave me the encouragement that the situation with Zoe’s birth mom wasn’t about us.  Through our experience I’ve grown, I’ve been humbled, I’ve learned to understand others better, I’ve learned more about life and grief and marriage and parenting and faith and friendship, and who knows what He’s done with it in others that I don’t know about?  Would I trade all that for no pain? Probably.  I’m weak and human.  But I can also say “thank you” for the pain.

Shauna Niequist writes, “This is the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate.  And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”  

Adoption offers plenty of sweetness and bitterness.  LIFE offers plenty of both.  And God is in both of them.  And, like this dining room I’m writing in, His work might be unexpected…but it is always good.

I look at the baby sleeping next to me, and I listen to the early morning singing of my other baby in the next room (I’ll need to get her soon!) and all I can say is thank you to the One who has given this life to me.

I don’t deserve it.  But I hope to steward it well.

For reasons I do and don’t understand, I’ve felt called to share our story with you along the way—the good, the sad, the ugly.  I hope You see Him in it.

IMG_2810

IMG_2811

IMG_2871

IMG_2884

IMG_2892

It is all Him.

Our Journey to Riley: Part One

IMG_2798

Our family now.  Welcome, sweet Riley Grace. 

I barely know where to begin this story, except to say this: I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d have two under two.

David and I had discussed kid spacing.  2.5 years apart sounded great.

Until we adopted Zoe.

At our first post-placement visit, three weeks after Zoe came home with us, our social worker joked “so, are you ready for another one?” In all seriousness, I said “yes.”

When I told David about our conversation, he laughed nervously.

“You were joking, right?” he said.

“Nope.  I would take another one any time.  Including now,” I said.

My poor husband, sleep-deprived and wondering what glutton for punishment he had married, told me that we could renegotiate our 2.5 year spacing but that he didn’t really want to have a discussion about a new baby until Zoe was one.  He didn’t think we could handle more than one baby.  I understood and tried to respect his wishes, and we settled into life as a family of three.

Colorado

However.

In the first week of October, when Zoe was ten months old, I felt my heart being tugged towards adoption—hard.  A newspaper article.  A song.  A dream.  A story.  A book.  Another newspaper article.  Billboards.  I felt like I couldn’t escape it.  I finally told David at lunch on October 8, “THIS IS INSANITY.  I can’t escape this.  I feel like we have to pray about whether we are being called to adopt again now.”  He laughed.

Later that afternoon, I got an email about a young boy in our community who needed a home.  I don’t ever get emails like this, and when I called the friend who had sent it to ask more questions, she said “I knew you were going to call.  I sent it to a group of people so you wouldn’t feel singled out, but I knew you were the one who was going to call me back.”

After that, David agreed to pray about it.

On October 9, he gave me the okay to call the lawyer representing the boy.  After all, it wasn’t a newborn.

The situation with the boy didn’t seem like a fit, but somehow I left the conversation with a request from the the lawyer to talk to David about whether we would be interested in adopting a baby who was expected in December.  The lawyer was finding it difficult to find a black family—the mom’s preference for the baby—and wondered if the mom would feel comfortable placing with our multiracial family.

I presented the situation to David, mostly as a joke.  We had not called about a newborn—we had called about a young boy.  Hilarious, right?

Oddly enough…that husband of mine said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn.  Ask more questions.”

I asked more questions.  We began to pray.  We talked financials.  We had money earmarked for one more adoption.  Could we live on David’s salary + my part time work with two kids in diapers? Yes, we realized.  We could.  It would be tight, but we could do it.    

The lawyer suggested that we put a family profile together for the birth mom.  I made it over nap times and turned it in.  We kept praying.  We didn’t feel the “STOP” we expected to feel.  What was this?

I contacted our old adoption agency.  Can we do an expedited home study? I asked.  Our case manager said yes.  We heard from the lawyer that the birth mom was interested.  Everything was falling into place…for an adoption.

The week before Thanskgiving, David and I began to feel uneasy about the specific situation.  I asked some friends to pray for clarity for us before we signed the retainer letter and put our check in.  We decided to make our decision over Thanksgiving break.

Two days before Thanksgiving, I got an email from our case manager at our old adoption agency.  Could I call her? There was something she wanted to discuss.  

My heart began racing.  Somehow, I suspected what was coming next.

We played phone tag.  I tried to quell my nervousness, telling myself she couldn’t possibly say what I thought she was going to say.

Then, at Target, while Zoe and I posed for a picture by the Lego display—a phone call.

IMG_0108Our case manager.

My suspicions were right.  Zoe’s birth mom was pregnant again and wanted us to adopt the baby.  It was probably a long shot, but were we remotely interested? 

Yes.  We were, I said.

Our case manager was surprised.  Didn’t we even want to talk about it? No, I said, looking at David.  He nodded.  We didn’t need to.  

We had already opened our hearts to the possibility of a newborn, soon, and we had already decided that we could make the logistics work.

We had already talked about it.  We just didn’t know who we were talking about.  

I thanked God for the clarity about the other situation and we rejoiced in the fact that God was making it clear to us that we were supposed to adopt again, sooner than planned, and to adopt a newborn.

We let the lawyer representing the other birthmom know that we were withdrawing from consideration, and began preparing to welcome Zoe’s sibling into the world.

Little did we know what was about to occur.

This is getting long and both girls are up from their naps now (so fun to say “both girls!!!”)…so part II will be coming soon! 

 

Loving Our Children Where They’re At

This is one of those posts that pretty much wrote itself.

The scene: Mother’s Day.  I have already admitted how much I love coordinating my outfits with Zoe’s.  Naturally, we needed to do this for Mother’s Day and then have a mother-daughter photo shoot! FABULOUS! With visions of perfect lighting and charming expressions, I convinced David to be our photographer and headed to a nice photo spot.

“Zoe, smile!” we said.

This was our response.

IMG_2522“Come on, smile!”

IMG_2523

“Please? Smile?”

IMG_2527“What do you want to do, babe?” David asked.

I knew what SHE wanted to do.  And I decided to let her do it.

“Let’s let her run.”

IMG_2529

IMG_2531

IMG_2533

IMG_2534

IMG_2535My daughter isn’t a “stand still and pose for a photo shoot” kind of girl right now—she’s an “explore and run around” kind of girl.  And it turns out that letting her be herself is way more beautiful than anything that I could create with the right camera angles.

IMG_2542Oh, and I got the mother-daughter shot I wanted.

It’s not the most flattering angle, we’re not looking at the camera, and we’re sitting on the dirty street in dresses.  But it shows what I’m learning: to love my child where she’s at.  

IMG_2544In toddlerhood, Zoe is the most unencumbered and free version of herself that she will ever be. I want to love this person, this gift, as she is.  I want her to emerge from toddlerhood knowing confidently, I am smart.  I am beautiful.  I am worthy.  I am understood.  I am loved for who I am and where I’m at.  

It’s a tall order to teach all this.  But this photo shoot gives me hope that maybe I’m getting somewhere.

(A special thanks to my husband for fearlessly throwing himself into the street to get these shots!)