Three for one more night

Tonight, for the last time in my parenting experience, I put a three-year-old to bed. Tomorrow, she will be four, and the girl who just weeks ago would rarely put two words together will hand me a book and say, “Mommy, help please. Read.” She will be excited for school in the morning, and when brother is too slow, she will yell up the stairs, “Corin! Come! Backpack! Bus!” She will belt out her made-up songs and dance with her reflection in the glass door. She will count to five or maybe even 10, and she might play hide-and-seek with brother. At some point, she’ll inevitably yell in astonishing volume at the unlucky soul who has crossed her purposes. She’ll laugh at silly faces and sibling antics. When she’s sleepy, she’ll rub my hair and suck her fingers and let me feel, just for a minute, that I have a baby still.

Tomorrow, she will do the million things she does every day to light up my world. But tomorrow, she will be four, and she will be just a little taller and just a little stronger and just a little wiser, and she will need just a little less of me. And I will be so proud and also sad, because I’m a mother, and it’s what we do.

Sleep well, baby girl. Another year begins tomorrow, and there are new worlds to conquer. I’ll be here with you, but just a little further back than I was yesterday.

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Start your (Mario Kart) engines!

Corin is old enough now to choose his own birthday party themes. I admit to a bit of trepidation on this front, but this year’s choice was manageable and fun, the win-win of kids’ parties. We still stick with mostly family parties, so both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins came to help us celebrate six years of Corin. The weather was COLD for the first official day of spring, but we made the most of our brief time outside and spent the rest of the time playing Mario Kart on the Wii, eating banana cake and ice cream and opening gifts. It was really fun. Seriously, I think my kids’ birthday parties are some of the best times of the year. I love watching them have a blast, and it’s such a great time with family.

But enough chit-chat, and on with the massive photo dump.

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Our newest addition, dad’s guide dog Honor, just home from training school.

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I think they love each other.

Longing, remembered and fulfilled

Last night, I tucked a five-year-old boy into bed for the last time. This morning, I woke a six-year-old up with the birthday song and made him scrambled eggs for breakfast. After he left with daddy to meet the bus, I sat down at this computer and pulled up the journal I kept for more than three years leading up to Corin’s birth. The first entry was dated December 28, 2006. I addressed the journal to our as-yet non-existent child.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at that journal and remembered what those years of infertility were like. I cried as I read back over the entries and remembered months upon months of delayed hopes and crushing disappointments, the endless prayers of longing and fear and hope and trust.

On July 28, 2009, I wrote:

I find myself feeling almost superstitious as I type this entry, as if by writing out the same hopes and dreams I’ve expressed so many times before, I might chase away the possibility of a different outcome. I’ll admit, I am scared. I have moments where I can hardly breathe for fear of the crushing disappointment that may wait just around the corner. But as I said, I have hope, too. And in those moments when emotions swell, I reach for my only true recourse: prayer. I know God continues to be with us, and I am determined to trust Him with my life – and yours, little one. I plead with Him to let me now be carrying our firstborn child, but I pray that above all, His will is done. What is faith if I only trust Him in smooth waters, when I can see what lies ahead? Faith becomes real in these uncertain moments.

The next morning, I went in to our local clinic for a blood beta pregnancy test. After so many times staring at a tiny window and wishing for a line that never appeared, I was too afraid to test at home before the official blood results. On July 31st, the nurse at the clinic in Maryland (where we had gone for the actual IVF cycle) called with the news that the test was positive. Jon and I jumped with joy and trembled and cried, and then we stopped to say a prayer of gratitude and to ask for God’s protection for the tiny life that was just beginning to form.

Today, I still pray over that life, no longer so tiny. I remember the little butt that was wedged for weeks under my ribs and the tiny hands and feet that rocked my belly, and I marvel to see those parts walking around, pieces of this marvelous, challenging, growing boy. That tiny life we longed and prayed for is my six-year-old son, who throws his arms around me and says he loves me several times a day. I look at him today, and I remember the longing of those years. I remember the baptism by fire of his newborn days, and I remember so many moments of joy and frustration and exhaustion and laughter since. There is no honor in my life – no accomplishment or goal met – that will ever equal the fulfillment of being this boy’s mother. He is my firstborn, the child of those many years of longing, God’s answer to innumerable prayers.

Happy birthday, Corin.

Newborn Corin

A cold day at the zoo, or, happy birthday, Corin

Five years ago today, my son, my precious firstborn, made me a mom, and life has been so rich and full ever since. The pictures pretty much tell the story of how we’ve celebrated his actual birthday. Still to come: his favorite dinner of homemade mac and cheese.

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They really do love each other.

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This photo cracks. me. up.

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Licking the frosting off the chocolate cupcake he picked out at Ivey Cake.

The boy who would grow up

So, it’s only been… how many weeks since my last post? Let’s just call that a blogging dry spell, shall we?

And now we’re moving on to talk about the fact that my eldest child is turning five on Wednesday. He’s spelling words – sounding them out, by himself! – and real, honest-to-goodness, five-days-a-week school is just a few short months away. I’m not entirely sure how any of this has happened, but it’s here, and I’m doing my best to keep up.

We celebrated with family today, and it was fantastic. Corin chose Peter Pan as the theme for his party. We kept things relatively low-key, but we did dress in costume, which was way fun.

I had to work to ignore the irony of planning a birthday party based on the boy who wouldn’t grow up. I tease Corin sometimes about trying to keep him little. “What if I put really heavy books on your head?” “What if I stopped feeding you all those healthy vegetables?” And he laughs and says, “No, I’ll just keep growing.” I feel keenly the shortness of these days. They are slipping through my fingers, and all I can do is snap photographs and say a prayer that I can hang on to the memories. These days are often hard and not at all glamorous, but they are precious to me.

Today, though, I have been reminded of what an incredible experience it is to watch a child grow and learn. It’s happening before my eyes. He’s taller, his face is leaner, he’s obsessed with superheroes and sword battles, he can spell “table” with minimal help. This year, I watched him anticipate and appreciate his birthday party in new ways. It is bittersweet, but there is joy in it.

For better or worse, our Peter Pan will grow up. It’s happening right now. (They Might Be Giants, anyone? “You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older. And now you’re even older. And now you’re even older…”) I get my brief window to try to teach him things, to shape his character, to point him to the God who made Him and gives him a future. I’ll take it, and call it the privilege it is.

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And just like that, two years have passed.

Jon and I lay in bed Friday night reminiscing about the events of two years ago. Remembering Lina’s birth is a complicated experience. Sometimes, I regret that memories of her arrival are mixed with clouds of grief and chaos. We – and I, in particular, as Jon pointed out – faced some very difficult times two years ago. As we reminisced, I asked: “What if we had received a prenatal diagnosis instead of being blindsided at her birth? What if we had given birth in a hospital instead of at home?” But ultimately, I come back to the belief that events worked out for the best. We didn’t spend months worrying about potential health problems that never manifested. I was able to have a natural VBAC rather than a repeat C-section that would have required a longer hospitalization and recovery period. And even with the chaos, we spent those days falling in love with our baby girl and finding our way to bright hopes for a future that looked a bit different than we had expected.

Today, as Lina teeters on the edge of walking and every day finds new words and ways to express herself, grief no longer plays a role. The pride and joy of parenthood is sharpened into something even keener, thrown into sharp relief by its contrast with those early fears and worries. The story of Lina at two is not about Down syndrome; it’s about the awesome little person she is. It’s about how independent, curious, bright, funny and affectionate she is, how watching her smile and laugh makes the world sing. It’s about her arms around my neck and her sweet babbling voice. It’s about hauling her away from the dog bowls and toilet bowls and picking up the paper she shredded and spread around the living room floor. It’s about watching her grow and knowing how well she is doing.

That’s not to say there aren’t unique challenges. We still spend a lot of time driving back and forth to therapy visits. I struggle to be patient with her sensory-related habits of hair pulling and throwing items across the room. Sometimes there is a stab when I see her interact with other kids her age and come face-to-face with her delays.

I used to wonder how to find the right balance between pragmatism and optimism. Did I need to prepare myself for potential pain and disappointment? The answer for me is a resounding, “No.” I have come to believe that our unbounded optimism about her future will be the single most important factor in her success. There will be challenges, no doubt, but we will deal with those as they come. We focus on today, doing our best to equip her for success, celebrating every milestone with everything we have, believing her possibilities are endless.

I will post later about where she is with specific developmental milestones. For now, I just want to say how incredibly lucky we feel to be dazzled every day by our sweet Eline Katherine. Happy birthday, beautiful girl.

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A little celebration at church

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Post cake, pre nap

Labor Day birthdays

We spent Labor Day weekend celebrating birthdays for two pretty awesome kids. My nephew, Benjamin, is turning four, and Lina will be turning two in just a few days. The fact that the exact date is not here yet allows me to ignore this reality a little longer.

We decided on a simple family picnic at a nearby park. Edwin Warner Park in Nashville has quickly become a new favorite, thanks in part to a nature play area where kids can dig in the dirt, make mud with water from the spigots and generally muck it up to their hearts’ content. This thrills Lina’s soul. She finds the nearest puddle, plops down in it and coats herself in mud like it’s her job. Nephew Luke discovered a shared love of mud, and the two of them ended up looking like… Well, you can see for yourself. Meanwhile, Corin and Benjamin embarked on a “paleontologisting” adventure, digging for T-rex bones at the top of the dirt hill. They made up ridiculous names for each other and generally had a great time all weekend.

The menu was easy: sandwiches, macaroni salad, avocado/corn salad, fresh fruit, and banana cream cupcakes and (very soft) ice cream for dessert. The weather forecast had been threatening thunderstorms, but we lucked out and had overcast skies and pleasant temperatures, with just a little sprinkling of rain here and there. We returned home in time to open gifts before my brother and his family had to hit the road back to Chattanooga.

There is something about these kinds of family gatherings that whispers, “Remember this. This is the stuff of life.” The squeals and shouts of little kids, the chaos of big meals, the mess of toys everywhere I look, knots of people deep in conversation, peals of laughter from the next room… This is family. There is nobody perfect here; it’s just a lot of people who love each other, celebrating milestones together and making some awesome memories in the process.

(My thanks to Ryan for taking quite a few of these pictures.)

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Ben understandably felt the situation required a little observation first.

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To the creek for a bath!

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The vanilla pastry cream was delicious on the banana cupcakes, but trying to pipe it from a plastic bag did not make for the prettiest results. I recommend the ice cream scoop method.

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That kid really hates ice cream.

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Cake!

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Lina’s favorite part was the Tweety Bird card.

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Thank you!

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The new tire swing sees daily use.

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Blowing good-bye kisses

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I spy an airplane.

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You know it’s been a good visit when you’re totally bummed about saying good-bye.