Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Memories of 2010--In Words and Pictures

Welcome to the 2010 edition of Top 10 Memories!  I'm linking up with Katie at Sluiter Nation today, so make sure you head over there and read about her memories, as well.

Most of 2010 was wonderful, but these memories are Top 10, not necessarily Top 10 Happiest.  That being said, these things made this a year I will never forget, for better or for worse.

Let's start the countdown, shall we?

10. Brandon started doing photography as a side income.  This was his New Year's resolution for 2010.  The thing is, Brandon does water resource engineering for a living.  He still refuses to call himself a professional photographer, as this is not his living and he thinks that's very unfair to "real" professional photographers.  I think he's wonderful (for more than just his photography...awwww...), and I think that a boost of a few bucks a month here and there is wonderful and necessary.  He pretty much just does family and kid shots, since he knows a little something about having a family and lots of kids.  From beginning to take some family shots occasionally, to doing Fall photos for a daycare, to having taken the photos on several of the Christmas cards we received this year, I think that he can definitely call his resolution a big success.  Here are a couple of my favorite shots:

 That cute baby?  Not ours.  That cute family?  Some of my favorite people in the world.

9. Brynn turned two, and Brynn stopped nursing.  Both were bittersweet for me.  I loved her/our birthday party--did you know she showed up three weeks early just to be a birthday present for her mommy?--it was Disney-themed, so of course it was a favorite!  Also, she really "got" it this year.  She blew out candles.  She opened gifts.  The year before this, she didn't know what to think of cake, and this year she shoveled it into her mouth by the handful.  We're big believers in child-led weaning, and Brynn had weaned herself down to only nursing just before bed.  On her second birthday, I wanted to jump up and down with excitement because WE HAD MADE IT TO TWO YEARS!  That's the recommended age from most health organizations, and I considered that a HUGE success!  And that night?  She didn't ask to nurse.  It's like a switch was flipped, and she thought, "Ya know, I'm a big two year old now, and I am done."  And she was done.  And I was okay with it, too, cause I was also almost six months pregnant and only had three months to rest before starting it all. over. again.
Mickey AND cake?!?  Yes, please!

 8. Julia got her first haircut at the age of 4 years 4 months.  When Julia was born, she was bald, for all intents and purposes.  We let her hair grow so she wouldn't look like a boy.  And we let it grow, and grow, and grow, until...Disney World.  What better place for your first haircut that the Harmony Barber Shop on Main St. USA?  Here's her "before" shot--would you want to cut those curls?  Didn't think so.

Disney World is magical, and they do a wonderful job of easing kids through their first time in a barber's chair.  She got covered in stickers, a great conversation, special "First Haircut" embroidered mouse ears, a certificate, and pixie dust in her hair when it was all over.  She loved it!  And I got to keep those precious curls in a little tissue with Mickey's face on it. 

7.  Disney-mania hits our household.  We took our first trip in September '09, when Brynn was 17 months old and Julia was 3.  They had fun then, but the second they spotted Cinderella's Castle in May, they went nuts.

 We were always fans of the Disney Princess movies, but after this trip the girls became obsessed with all things Disney--Sing-a-longs, CDs in the van, YouTube clips, park planning DVDs, behind the scenes documentaries, books--you name it, they wanted to see it, sing it, or read about it.  And I must admit that I have absolutely no problem indulging this obsession, mainly because they're enabling mine.

6. We're officially a big family--we bought a mini-van.  After our tax refund came back in February, we immediately went and bought a van.  We had a few requirements, and it met all of them: Honda Odyssey, used, low mileage, extended warranty, DVD player, in our price range.  I knew what we could afford, and since I was hugely pregnant and not in that great of a mood, the salesman had no problem negotiating with us.  We traded in my husband's Honda Fit (sniff, sniff...) and drove home with this thing:

Okay, so that's not the best view of the van.  This is the van loaded up for Disney (see what I mean about obsession), but it's pretty much the only picture we have of it.  So, enjoy the picture because of the van, or enjoy the picture because of my mad packing skills.
Since I'm in the business of publicly admitting embarrassing things here, I am willing to admit that I always wanted a van.  I mean, there's lots of space to pack things, there's a DVD player, there are more cup holders than I could ever possibly fill...awesome.

5. Julia, the prima ballerina.  Well, in my eyes she is, anyway.  She was definitely the stand-out star of her recital, where she danced to "I'm a Little Eskimo."  Still not sure why they would ever pick that song, and still not sure they didn't offend an entire race with it.  But the point?  She was the best dancer up there, if I do say so myself.  And I do.  I don't even think it's Proud Mommy Syndrome (it might be) that makes me declare that.  I just think she's that good.

And since that recital?  Even better.  We switched ballet schools (and not because they choose offensive songs), and now she's even started tap dancing.  She really loves it, and she loves to try and teach her little sister.  By teach, I mean she likes to yell at her that she's not doing it right.

4. Bed rest.  See, I told you not all of this would be happy.  Just after this recital, I went in for a routine midwife checkup at about 32 weeks.  I mentioned that I had a strange pain in my lower left abdomen, a pain I was sure she'd dismiss as round ligament pain.  But when she felt my belly, she felt a contraction.  (Gulp.)  I was moved to a doctor's office chair for monitoring, as all the rooms were full.  A few minutes later, they rushed into the room and told me to get to the hospital ASAP.  My contractions were consistent, and they were coming faster and stronger.  When I got to the hospital, I also learned that I was dilating and almost completely effaced.  This was not in the plan.  I was given drugs to stop labor, and thankfully it worked.  But from that moment on, I was on strict bed rest.  My midwife even told Brandon that if the house was on fire, I was not to get up--he needed to come get me and carry me out.  I did get bathroom privileges, so that was nice, but that was the only time I was allowed up.
Before I was actually put on bed rest, I never realized what people were complaining about.  I mean, who wouldn't like to be forced to rest?  Except that I didn't get any rest.  What I got instead was anxiety and depression over being separated from my kids.  I had no focus.  I evaluated every twitch I felt to see if it was a contraction.  I timed everything.  I obsessed over my water intake and whether or not I was in a good position.  I listened to my kids downstairs having fun without me.  And I hated every second.  Because I was so terrified of going into labor again, I couldn't focus enough to read or pay attention to TV, and I couldn't sleep at night for fear something would happen.  These were the last few weeks of my girls being my only kids, and having them visit me a couple of times a day upstairs was not enough time with them.  And having my mom and mother-in-law cooking and cleaning and putting them down for nap, while appreciated greatly, was like hell, like a big slap in the face.  That was MY job, and in my mind I was the only one who could do things correctly.  Plus, I was jealous of the time they were getting to spend with my kids.
My friend Tami drove me to all my appointments, and at each one I held out hope that I'd be taken off bed rest, but at each one I'd be disappointed.  My contractions were still happening, I was still dilating, they were just making sure he'd be okay...blah, blah, blah...it all started running together. 

35 weeks 5 days, documenting bed rest

I was finally taken off bed rest at 37 weeks.  And then?  He decided to stay put for another two and a half weeks.  Thanks, buddy.  Which brings me to...

3. Sawyer was born!  This should probably be my number one, but since these aren't actually in a particular order, it's good at number 3.
At this point, I was nicely dilated and effaced and my midwife told me I'd be in labor within 24 hours, but I didn't believe her.  And when I was in my tub with a tummy ache the next morning, I still didn't believe her.  And when I rode into work with my hubby just so we could go see if something was happening, I still wasn't convinced.  Until we got near the hospital.  And then my contractions hit.  HARD.  When I walked in, I was six centimeters dilated, and in absolutely no time flat was ten centimeters.  (Yay, third babies!)  I scooted down on the bed and he nearly came out, and one big push, plus a tiny push later, I reached down and delivered my baby, my first son. 
Yes.  I got to deliver him and pull him up on my chest and I thought my heart would burst out of it with love.
He started nursing like a champ and immediately loved snuggling with his mommy.

Easiest birth ever.  And easiest baby ever.

2. I have three kids.  I HAVE THREE KIDS!!!  And never does that come to light more than when I'm attempting to have them all in one place at one time, like for a picture.  A time that will always stick out for me is this picture at Halloween:

I was so happy when this shot was taken.  First of all, how cute are these kids?  And secondly, I was chuckling to myself about the story behind the three Tigger costumes.
I bought Sawyer's costume at Target, and then found Brynn's buried in the garage during a garage sale, so I thought she could wear it and we wouldn't have to spend money.  But Julia?  Julia could NOT allow the two of them to be Tigger without her!!  Do you know how hard it is to find a Tigger costume in a size 5/6?  Not easy, let me tell you!  But thanks to the interwebz, Julia got her costume.
She has no affinity for Tigger, but this whole episode pretty much sums up her personality.  She is the most important (in her eyes), and she will not be left out.  And when you have three kids?  You have to make them all the most important and never leave anyone out of anything.  My lesson was learned.

1.  Yes, I love technology...always and forever... 2010 was a big year for technology in our house.  We had new camera lenses and flashes, new software programs, and...dun, dun, DUHHHHHHHHHHN!!!  The iPad.  Brandon traded a camera lens for it, and it's been a non-stop battle over the darn thing since we got it.  Every person in our household wants to use it all day, every day.  And that includes the baby.
Also, I got a Twitter account this year.  Yep.  Just this year.  Cause I'm that far behind the times.  And also, there's this little blog thing I've got going...

So, there you have it.  2010.  This might just be the most memorable year of my life, and not just because my memory is failing me more and more and I can't recall much about the past.  This year was wonderful and full of good friends, family, and lots of love.  And 2011?  Will be even better.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Peace, Love, and Joy

  I'm not exactly wordless today, but these are not my words--they're simply some of the best words ever written.
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" (Luke 2: 13-14)

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.
(Julia and Brynn as angels, Sawyer and Mommy as baby Jesus and Mary)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It Happened at Daycare--Or, How I Became a Stay-at-Home Mom

Have you been over to visit Mama Kat
Mama's Losin' It
Besides being a bloggess extraordinaire, she also does this cool thing where she lists some writing prompts, just in case you're stuck.  I've never used them for blogging purposes before, but I visit there often because reading the prompts usually makes me remember things that might have slipped from my mommy brain (and, let's face it, there are lots of things).  But today I saw a prompt that pretty much slapped me in the face and screamed "WRITE ABOUT THIS!"

Honestly, a part of my brain is telling me not to write about it.  Cause it's hard to write about.  It's hard to think about.  And I have a lump in my throat just letting my mind go there.  That means that there is no doubt in my mind that this needs to be said and be open for everyone to read.  So here goes nothing.

I stayed at home with Julia, my firstborn, for about eight months before I had to go back and finish my student teaching.  We are attachment parents, and we were attached to the extreme.  When she wasn't nursing, she was cuddling me in the rocking chair or sitting in my lap to do every activity.  I was there to answer her every need and desire.  I loved being at home, but I had to finish school and wanted to give this whole teaching thing a try.  I eased in slowly, only having to leave her a couple of times a week at first.  Eventually, she was spending five days away from me... hard for anyone, but especially trying because I'd been so spoiled spending every second with her.  She was staying with my mom's friend, who was keeping her for the tiniest amount of money ever, just so I would finish college.  I love her, and Julia loved her, too.  I never worried about her safety while she was there, and I knew she was having fun with T's kids...in fact, the only worry I really had (besides missing her terribly while I was away) was whether or not I could pump enough breastmilk to keep her fed (I could at that point).  Graduation happened, and then three glorious months at home with my baby girl.  Because I was no longer a student, I felt guilty allowing T to keep Julia any longer, especially since she was doing it as a favor and had FOUR boys of her own.  I decided on...


I traveled around and looked at several places, finally choosing one that was shiny and new and affordable.  Worries crept up, of course, but I attributed my more-than-a-little-bit-shaky nerves to my newly-discovered pregnancy and starting  a new job teaching fifth grade.  (Go with your gut.  Lesson learned.)
She seemed to be fine there, if fine is "good enough."  She inevitably came home with more sicknesses and more bumps and bruises, but she was around more kids now.  Later, I'd realize that those things are normal, and I should have been focusing more on things that weren't.  Like the constantly bickering teachers.  Like the yelling matches when one got fired.  And like the fact that they wouldn't tell me why she was fired--did it involve my child??

Brandon and I came up with a system for dropping Julia off at the daycare each morning.  We would drive our cars there and both go in to get her settled in for breakfast.  Because I was suffering from what I now know was probably prenatal depression, Brandon would be there to help cheer me and balance me when the thoughts of leaving my baby girl each morning made me want to not only cry, but grab her and run back to my house.  Plus, he got to make sure she was safe and secure and happily eating before heading into work himself.  It's always good to start a day with a good image of your baby, and as she shoveled cereal into her mouth by the fistful, she looked perfectly delighted each day.  So it went for a couple of months.

And then there came an image that is so burned into my mind that it triggered anxiety like I had never experienced in my life. 

We got dressed and out the door a little bit late that day, mostly due to my morning sickness.  I watched Brandon and Julia in the car in front of me.  I could tell they were happily singing and talking.
I didn't see the smoke until we turned into the parking lot.
I didn't notice that the daycare was mostly ashes and still smoldering.
Maybe I didn't want to see it.
And then it was right in front of me, black, and hot, and surrounded by firemen, policemen, a calm daycare director, and sobbing children and their parents.
Immediately, thoughts started swimming in my head, and I was crying.  When Brandon walked to my car, I heard him talking but couldn't speak myself.  I couldn't put words together and form sentences.

We decided to drive back home and collect our thoughts and emotions (yeah, right.).  I made it as far as the basement playroom before I had to sit on the floor and pull Julia into my arms.  I hugged her tightly even when she began to try to break away.

What if she had been there?
What if I had been at work when this happened?
What would she have done without her mommy there to protect her?

Brandon stayed home that day with her, I think.  I know I went into work after a couple of hours of composing myself.  Or trying to compose myself.  I remember wondering how everyone could be acting like nothing had happened, going on about their business as my mind kept flashing to the image of Julia's spare Dit-Dit (her favorite blanket) and cherry-patterned onesie in her cubby melting in the flames.  Then my mind would go where no mind should--to picturing Julia perishing, as well.

It didn't happen.
Julia is okay.
Julia is okay.
Julia is okay.

I kept repeating this mantra over and over throughout that day, and throughout the next week as my mom came to watch her until her new daycare (gulp) officially opened.  I had to constantly calm myself as I teetered on the edge of panic attacks.  The "what ifs" pummeled me, and my mind came up with a million scenarios of what could happen to her.  And the rational part of me knew that even if I was with her constantly, her safety would not be guaranteed.  But this was not a time I could think rationally for long.

The newspapers screamed out the headlines about the fire being "suspicious."  I think I already knew this.  I was suspicious.  Two people became persons of interest--the director for insurance money, and the woman she had just fired. 
The woman who I had just seen yelling and screaming at the director (who yelled and screamed back).
The woman who had just been Julia's teacher.
I should have been worrying about them all along, I told myself.  Why was I wasting time worrying about whether or not they fed her breastmilk before jars of baby food?  Why did I waste time worrying if other kids were being nice to her or if she was napping well? 
Truthfully, rationally, I had no reason to worry about ANY of these things.  And she WAS fine, because whoever torched the place did it when nobody was there.  No one was hurt.  And I don't think anyone was ever charged.  I stopped allowing myself to read about it.

I got over the shock as much as possible, and Julia started a new daycare a few days later.  The incident had left its mark, however.
I began to hate work.  I began to hate grocery store trips. I began to even hate midwife visits. I began to hate anything that took me away from my daughter for even a second.  I cried every single day on the way to work.  Brandon started calling me on my cell phone and driving with me until I turned into my school...not the safest thing to do, but better than driving while bawling.
Brandon was the most supportive husband I could ask for as my anxiety crept in.  He declared out of the blue one day that I should just stay home once this new baby came.  Could I do that?  Could we afford that?
Not really, but we'd make it work.
Wouldn't it be worth it if it could help diminish some of my anxiety over being away from my baby (and soon to be two babies)?  Going against my instincts to be with her was not doing good things for my psyche.
And just like that, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  I stopped crying (as much) on the way to work.  I was counting down not only the days until this new baby was to be born, but also until I got to be with my girls all day long, every single day.  So when I went into labor over spring break three weeks before my due date, I was ecstatic not only to be meeting Brynn, but to know that I wouldn't have to leave her or Julia again. 
And so I became a stay-at-home mom.

I had suffered with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, and it was exacerbated by pregnancy, birth, and shock.  The thing is, staying home with my kids has not magically made it disappear.  But it has eliminated one of my triggers, and probably the biggest trigger.  I know myself better now, and I know what I'm comfortable with allowing to happen.  I cringe at the thoughts of my kids spending the night away from me (only while I'm in the hospital having another baby, and only then at our house and with grandparents coming here).  I can't let my mind think about any of them going to school, or growing up and going off to college, though I want that for them and will cross that bridge when I get to it.
Nowadays, you'd probably never realize I have struggled with anxiety issues, unless you really know me well or are paying lots of attention to everything I do and say (and that's just creepy).  I'm actually at a point now where I'm pretty calm and rational and jubilant.
Would you think I'm extremely overprotective?  Absolutely.
But mostly what you'll notice is a mom who is happily attached to each of her children and is blessed to be staying home with them.

I thank the Lord that whoever decided to set that fire was kind enough (?) to do it with no children in the building.  That day in those flames, I lost some of Julia's things, but I didn't lose Julia.  In fact, I gained more time with her and a better understanding of my comfort level as a parent.  Those flames damaged so much--but ironically, they helped me start to feel less damaged.

It happened at daycare.  My life as a stay-at-home mom, a happier mom, began.  Blessings are sometimes highly-disguised.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tacky and Terrific: Our Christmas Decorations

I'm not gonna lie to you, guys...I'm not great at decorating.  Not at all.  But when Christmas comes around each year, I haul out all my tacky things and enjoy every second of it.  My kids do, too.  So much so that they decorate and un-decorate (is that a word?) our tree multiple times a day.  I wish I could say that that's the reason it looks the way it does, but honestly, it's not.  My tree has looked pretty shabby since I first set up a tree in my one-bedroom apartment when I was nineteen years old.  It has, however, gotten progressively worse.
First of all, my tree is fake.  And it's not even a good fake one.  There are bare spots everywhere.  But, hey, it's pre-lit, so that's one less thing I have to do.  That cloud has a silver lining and all that.  This tree was purchased on clearance at Proffitt's department store my second year of college for next to nothing, and it totally reflects both its age and its price.  I pushed for a real tree this year, but Brandon nearly laughed in my face over that one.  Seems he's not into the needles and all that, and he also made a good point---no matter how pretty the tree is, it's still going to look pretty bad due to our ornament assortment and all those grabby little toddler hands pummeling it daily.  In the end, I agreed.  And this is what we've got:

See the ribbon?  That's not me trying to be all fancy or any nonsense like that.  That's practicality, folks.  We used to have tinsel, but that was too tempting for the littles, and most of it was pulled off within the first few minutes of putting up the tree.  Then we moved to beads, but to two little princesses, those seem to make fabulous necklaces, so that was scrapped.  And the ribbon?  If they pull this stuff down, I've got a spool of 100 feet of the stuff, so bring it on.
Our ornaments aren't matchy-matchy like some people's gorgeously-coordinated trees.  It's a complete mish-mash of ornaments collected over the years.  Here's the break-down.

We've got personal interest ornaments.  Those are obviously my British ornaments (only a slight obsession acquired during my multiple trips!), and that's Julia's ballet ornament, which was mine when I was little.

And Brandon's personal interest?  I always tell the girls to hide this as best they can, but for some reason the sheer yellow-ness of it makes it always visible.

We have handmade kids' ornaments.  Glitter and painted pottery are favorites around here.

We have the traditional "first" ornaments.  Our first Christmas together (when we looked like babies ourselves), the girls' first Christmas as babies...and, shame on us, Sawyer doesn't have one yet, but not for lack of looking.

And then there are tacky Walmart shatterproof ornaments.  These, along with the shatterproof balls, are disappearing slowly.  We don't know where they go, but each year we mysteriously have less and less.  Must be an ornament ogre out there, just like the sock thief that lives in the dryer.

Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care...and with those quick-release plastic hooks.  Obsessively safety-conscious mommy won't allow nails.  They're the old-school cheap stockings with our names school glued and glittered on them.  I love it.  When I was growing up, my parents had fancy stockings for us, and I always wanted the ones with names like I saw on TV.  My kids have known no other kind.
This year, our gingerbread houses had to move higher.  Instead of our kitchen decorations, they became mantle decorations.  While making a huge mess making these, we found out the Brynn just cannot be trusted not to scarf down an entire house and spread icing all over her face and anything near her.  So up they went.

Crafty I am not.  But these Target kits make things as easy as possible for me.  Even that does not mean it's easy.  Seriously.  I dyed my hands red and green and am waiting for it to wear off.

Our kitchen decorations now consist of this cookie jar from my childhood:
And Santa's cookie and milk pit-stop area:

There are two cups and only one Santa, I know.  One's for milk, and the other is probably for something a bit stronger to warm him up.

And these are my Sarah, Plain and Tall houses.  They have been my Christmas decoration pride and joy since 1994.  What do they have to do with Christmas?  Well, they're all decorated for the holidays, of course!  (And they've done a much better job than I've done on my house.)  My aunt gave me these when I was eleven and I loved the book and movie.  Now my girls love them, if only to use as props in their princess figure playtime.

So, now that you've been on a tour of my random decorations, let me say that I do realize that I have no theme and none of them coordinate at all.  But you know what?  I love them.  There is not a single decoration here that doesn't hold some memory or another.  Whether things were made by hand, bought to commemorate an occasion, or given to us by our friends, we love each and every thing that we carefully place (and in my kids' case, place again and again) on our tree and in our house.  It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas over here, and we're all super-excited.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.  I hope your traditions mean the world to you like they do to us.
How do you decorate?  And how do you celebrate?  I'd love to hear all about your family's quirkiness!

Wordless Wednesday--This is the South, right??

I'm starting to forget where I live...brrrrr!!