just a little hanger

This small hanger caught me by surprise one average morning.  I was in a rush to brush my hair, because of course, we were 2 seconds away from being late.  We are always late.

I opened my drawer and thought to myself “another sign of Gracie,” grabbed what I needed, styled my mom bun, and left.

The next day, I opened the drawer and the little hanger was still there.  In a more quiet moment, I realized how many signs of being a mom were all over my life now.

I thought about how none of my necklaces can be left within reach, and about how my closet is one of Gracie’s favorite places in the whole house.  I remembered how Avery seeks me out when she hears my voice. I reminded myself to revamp the childproofing in the kitchen, as Avery is now crawling.

I thought of how Gracie reflects pieces of me that I previously thought unremarkable:

My obsession with coffee, even though she doesn’t drink it.

My stubbornness.

My awkward dance moves.

My love of extravagant musical numbers.

The way I say “no thank you” right away when I am asked if I need help in a store.

So much of who I am presently comes from being a mommy, and yet almost all of what Gracie knows has come from watching me.

According to research, the single most important role model in any child’s life is the same-sex parent.  In this, the qualities I wish to blossom in them must be planted in me.

I want my girls to grow up valuing grace over perfection.  I desire for them to be strong so that they are shielded them from the shame our world projects on those who are unique.  I hope to model humility and dignity.  I pray that they automatically choose love out of habit, and that they be little lights in a world that often favors darkness.

It’s funny how much just a tiny hanger reminded me of something massive: my daughters are always watching me.  When I least expect it, at a time I may not find convenient, they are still there.  Right now, I am their main influence.  Right now, I can work to shape them into remarkable humans that are impenetrable to the pressures of this world.

Even when I stumble, may they see me shake off shame and grow in grace.

I eventually had to move the hanger, but the pause it gave me was truly something permanent….even though it was just a hanger in the wrong place.

you are a really great mom

You’re a really great mom.  Does it feel like bragging?  Don’t let it; it’s the truth.

If you look at motherhood from 5,000 feet, it doesn’t usually match that perfect Pinterest board you likely haven’t touched since you went into labor.  You’ve assumed a role for which there is no real training.  The books are all conflicting and difficult to remember and they don’t always translate to real life.  The sage advice is confusing and conflicting.  Those with no actual skin in the game feel completely comfortable giving you feedback. 

You are judged constantly.  The judging hurts.  Suddenly, without meaning to…you judge yourself.

You are told to multitask, but be present. 

Do it all, but don’t miss a moment. 

Don’t compare your life to her highlight reel, but look at this super pretty picture.

Let your child cry, but don’t.

Feed them what you eat, but not too early, and not too late.   And it better be organic! 

But don’t be a snob.

And don’t give them juice.  How dare you.

In all of this, we moms may overthink the one thing in life that doesn’t have to be complicated: loving our kids.  Our kids don’t care at all what the world thinks.  They are quick to forgive and they adapt quickly.

Emily P Freeman cites the phenomena of collecting gurus in the 32nd episode of her Next Right Thing podcast (“Stop Collecting Gurus“).  In it, she says: “If you feel frustrated and pulled in many directions like I have felt, it could be because you’ve been looking for advice about the journey before you, even before you know or understand your destination.”

A practical example: sleep. I have several books on sleep that were all purchased between the hours of 2 and 4am, out of sheer desperation, within the first 10 weeks of Avery’s life. I suppose I had forgotten the simple fact that babies hate to sleep at first, and I also forgot that simply buying the book does not “make it so.” I had to read the books, and I never got more than a few pages in without feeling overwhelmed by the charts and scheduling. I decided it wasn’t for me, and one day, I figured we’d try what had worked with Gracie. Instead of trusting an expert, I trusted my experience.

I won’t go into detail because I think it’s important not to advocate for any particular position on something as potentially polarizing as sleep. Rather, I hope to reinforce that:

1. Everyone has their own normal. Every household looks different.

2. Different things are important to different people. Sleep was something I wanted to focus on, but for other moms, a wait and see approach is better because there are other fish to fry.

3. As our pediatrician told me at my very first visit with newborn Gracie, 3 years old: “You already know her better than anyone.”

It’s so empowering: you already know your kids better than anyone.

So perhaps the best way to accept that you are already doing a great job is to look honestly at your kids, and acknowledge how they look at you.  Choose what is important to you.  Decide what kind of mom you want to be…and then, seek that out.  Pick 3 things to focus on, because you can’t do it all. No one can.

Unsubscribe from the unsolicited and conflicting advice.  Leave the moms group if it doesn’t help you.  Give yourself space to parent. And again, try to see yourself in the way that your kids do.

What a terrible loss it would be to believe the lie that you are not the amazing mom that you actually are. How awful would it be for our children to internalize our own tendency to sell ourselves short.

Because you are already a great mom.

It’s up to you to accept it.

9 months in, 9 months out

Pregnancy is typically expected to be a 10 month ordeal.  And yet, 9 months is more popularly recognized as the length of pregnancy.  Avery Joy has been here, on earth, for as long as she grew inside of me. Therefore, it seems fitting at the 9 month “out” mark to reflect back on all the beautiful changes and growing pains brought about by the newest human in our home.

In the first few days of having Avery in our home, it surprised me just how much I had forgotten about the early days with Gracie.  I remembered the major stuff: I should have lots of outfits ready because they spit-up all.the.time; don’t buy too many newborn diapers because they grow fast; it’s so hard to start nursing a baby; babies don’t really like to sleep; babies don’t like to have been born.

However, I found myself at 2am googling things like “When do babies finally sleep longer than 10 minutes?!?” and “How much spit up is too much?!?!” (including the punctuation) more often than I had anticipated.

And even though I remembered some of the facts of newborn-ness, I had forgotten many of the *feels*: how it feels to hold a tiny baby, how it feels to change a tiny diaper; how icky it feels to be in the early days of post-partum recovery; how it feels to be tired all the way down to your bones and have to wake up and do stuff anyway.

I had forgotten how tiredness can be felt behind your eyeballs.

As I was with Gracie, I was so nervous in those early days…but it was a new set of fears.  I wasn’t sure how to balance being responsible for two lives.  I had two very little people in my care who both needed a lot of attention, and who both needed very different things.  In this, add in a layer of utter and total fatigue, and I found myself feeling in over my head.  Every day, I would pick Gracie up from daycare with a pit in my stomach on the drive home: for the next hours, while Jon was away for the day, I was on the losing end of 2:1.

What if one was crying and I couldn’t get to the other?

What if Avery needed to nurse when Gracie needed to nap? 

What if Gracie woke up Avery? 

What is Avery woke up Gracie?

How do people have more than one kid?

Could I really do this?

Was I good mom?

And yet, without my expressed consent, time marched on.  Soon, I found myself feeling accomplished as a day turned into night and everyone was relatively happy.  I realized that it was probably ok if someone had to wait a bit for mommy.  Patience is a virtue, and it has to be learned.  Although it may have alarmed the UPS guy who was delivering a consistent stream of diapers to our door on the daily, I accepted that it was actually ok if someone was always crying at our house.

One day, it hit me between the eyes: people do this.  All the time.  Parenting is hard…and I had help.  I have always marveled at the strength of single parents, but now, my respect for any mom or dad doing all this alone was multiplied, ten-fold.  How could I expect nurturing a new life be anything but challenging?

No matter how out of control it seemed, the situation was what it was, no matter how I felt.  And everything, every challenging moment that seems totally impossible, always passed.  I discovered that I could choose to find humor in the absurd chaos that often ensued during nap time.

I reconciled that screen time was my friend, and that it was perfectly fine in moderation…for both of them.  I learned to scale my list down.  I picked three things a day that  I wanted to do, and a shower was included as one of the three.  A shower was not a given.  I planned weeks of endless crock-pot meals.  I found nursing clothes I liked.  I accepted that it would likely be years before it did not seemed like our home was consistently covered in a fine dust of cheesy pirate booty.

I talked to my toddler honestly, and I asked her for her help.

I learned to consciously be present in the moment, but not to guilt myself for wanting to fold a load of laundry with some help from Daniel Tiger.

Even though I still struggle with it, I learned to forgive myself for failing, for yelling, for crying.  

I reclaimed the attitude that I am trying my best.  I have good intentions.  I am a good mom.

And now, when I zoom-out and look at life 9 months later…I see our home changed.  Avery has grown so well and is settling wonderfully into our rhythm.  Gracie has rebuilt her rhythm to include her sister.  And as a mom, I strive daily to be humble.  I don’t take any quiet moments for granted.  As much as I want to be, I am not entitled to naps from either of them.

As babies often do, Avery came bursting in and completely leveled our life.  We rebuilt around her.  The life we have now is better and stronger than it ever could have been without her.  Seeing my children laugh together makes my heart leap with joy.  More than anything, I will work to ensure they understand how special it is to have a sibling.

So Avery, you are officially 9 months out.

Thanks for being you.

We love you, Goo-goo.

Excited to share some of my favorites from our 9 month photo session with Jen Lauren Photography!

gracie turns 3

I can’t believe you are a 3-year-old…a “three-nager” as they say.

I think 3 is the age I had feared, because I heard so much about the challenges of your newfound independence.  And yet, here we are…and yes, you can be challenging; but oh my goodness, can you ever be sweet.

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You are learning and growing and discovering.  You experiment with words like “never,” “always.” You tell me that I “have to do” things.

You ask me questions in full sentences: “Mommy, do we have any of the green chips?”  Although it has made my days more chaotic, I think your newfound language is my favorite change.

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I love our drives to daycare in the morning, just me and you.  I love talking to you, hearing your questions as you stammer to find the words.  We always try to spot horses and deer.  If we are lucky, we see them at the same time.

I love talking about what you will do during the day, what you hope to eat and who you hope to play with.  I struggle to help you understand that you have soccer on Thursdays, and the point is not to show to coach your shoes, but to learn to kick the ball.  Sometimes the world gets the best of my attention, and it’s never your fault, but not during our morning ride.  I think our 10 minutes in coversation might be my favorite part of the day.

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You love the color “dark pink.”  You wear dresses whenever you can.  You love dinosaurs and learning about the weather.  You love making art projects.  Every time you are outside, you find a stick to drag around.  You are finally trying some new foods again, and I think you actually like red peppers.  You yell everything and you run everywhere.  You live life in two speeds: maximum intensity and sleeping.  You love books.  Your mind is expanding and flourishing.

I live for your massive hugs.  You are three.  You are magic and you are light.  I love you, sweet Gracie.  You make me so happy.IMG_7789

All the gorgeous pictures are thanks to Jen Lauren photography.

the same way

I am a person of habit. In the same way I relish my routine, when I find time for a walk or a run…I often find myself on the same route. The same roads, the same houses, the same turns: what is it about that route that is so soothing to me?

When we moved to our home three years ago, I was 36 weeks pregnant with Gracie. I know, we cut it close. I’m my final stages of pregnancy, when anxiety is high and time passes like molasses. I was looking for ways to be active. The apartment gym was no longer an option for me, and so, I started walking outdoors in the evenings after work.

I’d struggle to lace up my running shoes and waddle up the street. I’d take a left, keep going straight, over the small bridge, up the hill and past the school. The hill was steep, a welcome challenge for my swollen, pregnant ankles.

We are blessed to live in a wooded area, and I enjoyed the sounds that these surroundings bring. I learned the order of the houses as I passed: blue house, red house, telephone pole, white house. I dreamed about walking with my new baby on that same route. And on this route, I breathed through, what eventually turned into, painful contractions.

After Gracie was born, our first outing as a family was a walk. We took the same path: down the road, take a left, keep going straight, over the small bridge, up the hill and past the school. I remember feeling so nervous about venturing out with her. She was very over-dressed, with the stroller shade down, plus a hat. I would not let the evil sun harm her perfect, new skin.

And yet, as we walked, I felt myself become more comfortable. We greeted neighbors, we showed her off, and I tackled that same hill. I couldn’t wait to start running again.

Three years later, I have run that route many times. We walked that route on one unusually warm Christmas.I first pushed Gracie, and now Avery, to the playground. Avery will soon be big enough to enjoy it the same as little Gracie!I’ve enjoyed morning strolls with coffee, and endured evenings of frantically throwing snacks at my overly-hungry toddler, rushing to get her home for dinner.

I’ve run exhausted and wobbly, post-partum, and I’ve gotten stronger on the same route. I know each spot where another half-mile passes. I’ve seen homes go up for sale and be sold. I’ve watched seasons pass, and I’ve mourned as once sturdy trees succumb to drought and massive storms.

I love passing the same places and thinking about how far we have come, and dreaming about what might be next.

So when my husband asks where I plan to go, I take pride in saying “the usual!” I like my familiar way. I like getting lost in quiet thoughts…as a mom, those are to be cherished. I’m thankful for this place we call home. I’m excited to keep running and walking that route. As this season of life keeps passing and the only thing that’s consistent is change, I’m just thankful to be putting down roots in a place that we love.

Avery Joy is born

It’s been over 7 months since I’ve blogged. It might seem a little ridiculous to post Avery’s birth story so late…but this is literally how long it has taken me to find the time. Things are getting better now: she sleeps well, eats often, and lets me put her down sometimes :). I want to share her story because I never want to forget what happened, starting the day before my due date.

My labor started on August 5th. I woke up at 2am on Saturday to a light pain in my belly. All day Saturday, I labored at home with intense back contractions. All three of my labors have been in my back.

Things never got regular, but my contractions were so severe that I feared going in public. Every 5-15 minutes, I needed to run to a nearby stable object, squat down, and hold on for dear life.

To get my mind off the pain, my mom and I walked around a local farm. It was weirdly silent, very muggy and cloudy. We walked and chatted, and I started to feel a little better. However, when we got home, things ramped up to a new level. I couldn’t even move without it causing a contraction…all in my back, for a minute, but still not regular.

Because I’d been laboring for so long and it was getting more intense, I called labor and delivery. They suggested I come in to be checked: it was my third delivery, and I think they heard the pain in my voice. My husband and I grabbed the hospital bag, just in case, and left.

Jon had run over 20 miles that day, and hadn’t eaten anything after. We decided to stop at Wendy’s on the way, so that if I was going to give birth soon, he wouldn’t pass out from low blood sugar. Waiting in the drive-through line, I knew it was time.

The poor person that handed Jon his Frosty. I’m pretty sure he thought I was a prisoner, the look on my face was not the look of a glowing, pregnant lady. It was fear.

We rushed to the hospital, every bump and turn causing me to contact again. We prayed when we arrived, and when we walked in, I had 2 massive contractions in the entry way. Hello, everyone!

They found I was at 5cm and progressing quickly. I’m so thankful I didn’t wait even 30 more minutes. Lesson 1 as a mom of 2: you know what you need. You just know.

After 10 pushes, the doctor said to me “Get down here and grab her!” I pulled her out, I helped birth my baby. Avery Joy Western entered the world in 8/6/17, slightly after midnight, on her due date.

She cried so delicately, different from her sister. Her hands moved constantly as she searched for her mama. She is strong and determined, yet gentle and loving.

She was, and still is, perfect. It’s like our family was missing a piece, and it was her. Our little AJ.

Thank you to Jen Lauren Photography

Since her arrival, I’ve been challenged in new ways as a mother and a woman. I’ve laughed when nothing was funny, and I’ve cried when I wish I’d kept it together. At first, at our house, someone was usually crying. Learning to handle two kids at bedtime seemed literally impossible. And yet, with Avery’s arrival, we’ve all grown.

I was worried that my relationship with Gracie would change, and it has…in the best way. I appreciate her help, I treasure our moments together, and my heart nearly bursts when she tries to make Avery laugh. I rely on her in ways I didn’t before.

Don’t get me wrong: this is hard. Really hard. And yet, when I look at how far we’ve come and what our family is now, I couldn’t imagine life without our Avery Joy.

It’s literally impossible for us to be on time for anything anymore, so I guess it’s only fitting that this post was delayed. Still, better late than never: welcome to the world, little AJ. We love you!

Thank you to Jen Lauren Photography for the amazing pictures!

thank-you to my toddler

It’s hard to believe that my pregnancy with your sister is entering the last month.  It feels like yesterday that I got that positive test.  I picked you up from daycare and whispered “you’re going to be a big sister,” and you whispered “baby.”  All those rough first-trimester afternoons where I held you close on the couch and snuck in a nap while you watched Nick Jr, they don’t feel so long ago.  You were patient, I was learning how to be pregnant and be mommy at the same time.

In fact, you’ve always been patient with me, with us…me and your dad.  I honestly thank you for tolerating all the trial-and-error that comes with first time parenting.  On top of the normal, I was first-time momming with an extra layer of guilt that flared up every time I remembered my first first-born.

Those nights early-on, I felt a little extra afraid at that you’d leave too.  I worried I’d have empty arms again.  That monumental drive home from the hospital, I sat right next to you and watched infant CPR videos until I fell asleep at the foot on your car seat.

I used to lean over your bassinet and feel the warm air coming from your tiny nostrils and pray you wouldn’t leave.  I know so many moms do this, and I’m not sure if my fear was necessarily more, but it was all-consuming at times.

Thank you for hanging in there when my body wasn’t quite ready to feed you, waiting for things to click.  Thank you eduring 10 long weeks of that darn nipple shield, and working through thrush, and being ok to wean at 17 months so that I could get pregnant with your sister.

Thank you for showing me it was ok if you fell down or bumped your head.  Your positive spirit showed me that I didn’t need to always call the doctor when you had a fever.  Thank you for the confidence in my boo-boo kissing abilities.

Thank you for being patient and accommodating the time that I brought literally everything to the beach except sand toys.  Thanks for being cool with playing with the Dunkin Donuts cup instead of a shovel and bucket like the other kids had.  You always are so cool to just roll with stuff.

Thank you for healing my heart and making me a mommy again.  Thank you for nursing extra long sometimes when I did a much-needed devotional as I worked to grow in motherhood with His word.  Thank you for holding my face when I cried then because I was so fearfully in love with you, and now when I cry because I’m nervous and excited for you all at once.

I wish I could tell you what’s coming, and yet, I know this change is going to be so amazing for all of us.  Your life is about to change drastically.  Just like you were so patient with me then, I vow to be patient with you now.  I promise to still spend time with JUST you.  I will understand when you need a little cuddles and reassurance when baby sister is here, and be fine with letting the dishes and laundry pile up.  I may not like it, but I’ll understand if there are nights when I don’t sleep because after she goes down, you wake up.

 

Like everything else, like every first, we will figure it out together.  I can’t wait to see your face in the delivery room, after labor, after she’s here.  I can’t wait to give you a big hug and kiss and tell you what we always say: “I missed you!  I love you.”