29 June 2015

7 Quick Takes Monday

I'm doing a little 7 Quick Takes, but on Monday, because I rarely have much time on Mondays.

1. After a few weeks of having Abigail home from preschool, our days have adopted a nice little ebb and flow that feels very natural now. The trickiest part of the day, actually, was figuring out nap time. It took several days of trial and error, then several more days of getting used to the new normal, but we set up the Pack n' Play in the master bedroom and Eleanor naps in there. This gives Abigail access to the toys in the girls' room and puts more distance between the play and nap zones of the apartment. A few days a week, Abigail even takes her own naps, and the two separate napping locations means that everyone naps when and for as long as they need.

2. It's been a very cool and wet summer so far in Michigan. Pre-kids Jacqueline would not have minded one bit, but apartment + kids Jacqueline is starting to feel frustrated. The daily scattered showers makes getting outside for a walk pretty difficult and the cool weather rules out the pool. The girls, especially Abigail, need to burn energy and doing so within the walls of a two bedroom apartment is very challenging.

3. Abigail started at the eating clinic last week and starts equine therapy this week, and I'm really enjoying our foray back into Therapy World. Ever since she started school last September, Abigail has gotten 100% of her therapy at school. It was a totally different experience for me, as we'd had therapists over to our house weekly since her birth. Therapy is something I'm good at, and we all enjoy getting out of the house for the extra appointments. I'm also really glad we can do some very specific, as-needed work on her weaknesses this summer, especially since Abigail doesn't receive any therapy during the summer (unless we seek, and pay for, it privately.

4. We've made progress in the Getting A Second Car department. At first we thought we'd have to buy a second vehicle with third row seating, as our compact car carseats wouldn't fit three across in our mid-sized Ford Fusion (first generation). We decided on an Explorer since we're a Ford family. Matt calculated how much money the budget could handle and I started doing research online to figure out how much Explorer our budget would buy.

But we were both uncomfortable with the search.

Matt didn't think we could get what we wanted with what we could afford. I didn't think I could handle driving such an enormous vehicle. So instead I started researching car seats and found a number of European carseats that are much smaller than the ones we currently have. It turns out that when you broaden your search from "What Target sells" to "What you can find on the Internet," doors open. So we made a few purchases from retailers that would let us return them for free if they didn't fit in the car. Initial measurements are promising, but when the new carseats arrive, we'll spend an evening seeing what lineup we can get to fit. Streamline European carseats are significantly more expensive than what Target sells, but three $300 car seats are cheaper than an SUV. If we can get the new seats to fit three across in our Fusion, we could then buy an inexpensive little Focus or Ranger for Matt. This model of Second Car Life would save us about $6000-7000.

5. I have no updates on the job front. Matt is actively applying for positions, but as I explained earlier, the place he's mostly applying to releases job listings over the course of a few months and then does all their interviewing at once. We could not hear back for a month or more, but still have a chance. His active applying brings me a great amount of hope, though. There is still a good chance we could be in our own home by Thanksgiving. Having hope is crucial when one is living in a two bedroom apartment and about to become a family of five.

6. We've really been struggling with some behavioral issues with Abigail lately. I have a post saved as a draft right now that I'm working on. It's a tough line because I don't want to overexpose her. But at the same time, this blog covers special needs. I really, really, really need to go to the local Down syndrome group's mom's night out. They have them monthly, but I'm really good at coming up with excuses not to go. I'm more comfortable dealing with life on my own, but I know that the best experiences often happen outside of the comfort zone.

7. The girls have no idea what's coming and Matt is preoccupied with work, but I'm getting very excited about our upcoming vacation. I can barely wait until we pick Matt up from work and begin the trek up north later this week. In my head, I'm already packing bags, loading the car, and organizing the most efficient pit stops.

26 June 2015

Today's Wave: I Totally Got This

Matt has been gone all day, so I had to pull out an entire Friday of the dreaded Single Parenting. Obviously I'm used to doing the all-day stuff by myself, but today I also managed to make dinner, give the girls baths, and rock out bedtime, and no one, I repeat, no one, had a meltdown. Especially me. I did no yelling, no frustrated pulling out of my own hair, no choking down swear words. In fact, the whole day was good. As anyone who's ever parented a child knows, these days are few and far between. Today was amazing and confidence-building. And exhausting. But mostly totally awesome.

24 June 2015

Family Vaycay Plans

Before we were pregnant, Matt and I were eagerly planning a short vacation in which we would actually sleep in a tent. Intense, I know. We want to be tent campers and we decided to start slow by camping some place super close to our apartment and for just one night. But then we got pregnant and 5-months pregnant Jacqueline does not tent camp.

Even if we brought our air mattress and got the site closest to the bathrooms. It's. So. Not. Happening.
But even with proper camping off the table, I still really wanted to make some sort of vacation happen, because, as I keep saying, I really want to do lots of memory-making, bonding, lovey-dovey family and spouse stuff before we re-enter the newborn days.

Matt and I casually brainstormed during family walks, car drives, random texts throughout the day. We needed something very affordable, something we could do without taking time off work (we need to save all Matt's vacation days for his paternity leave), and something kid-friendly. After a few weeks of thinking, we finally settled on Mackinac Island.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Mackinac Island is a small island between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. Its known for a few things, including:
-Being frozen in time. They don't allow automobiles on the island, instead, everything is done by horse-drawn carriage or bike.
-Really good fudge. As in, really, really good. Really super good.
-A gigantic, gorgeous, and very historic hotel called the Grand Hotel. This place is such a beautiful and incredible draw that non-guests have to pay $10 just to stand on the front porch.

As you can imagine, this place is a huge draw for Michiganders, and finding a hotel in the area on a holiday weekend would destroy a modest budget. Luckily for us, Matt's parents' cabin is only 1.5 hours from Mackinaw City (a port of call for the ferries that make hourly runs to the island). Having such a close home base makes Mackinac Island a day trip. The second deal-sealer is that our kids are still young enough that everything save food is free. The ferry? A horse-drawn carriage island tour? Entrance fees to the 1780's Fort Mackinac? It will cost us the same as if it were just the two of us. The ferry doesn't even charge to haul our double stroller!

Neither Matt nor I have been since we were kids, so we're both pretty excited about the trip. In true Jacqueline fashion, I've already been planning the details of the trip for weeks:
-We'll leave the cabin super early so we can take one of the first ferries over (gotta maximize the day!) and when we arrive, we'll do all the "intensive" stuff, which means the site-seeing we'll do by foot. Everyone (especially me, the pregnant one) will be most energetic and patient at this time of the day.
-We'll save the horse-drawn carriage island tour for after lunch. This will be timed to coincide with Eleanor's nap. Plus we'll all enjoy the rest before we resume walking.
-Souvenir and fudge purchases will happen shortly before dinner so that we don't have to lug the extra bags any longer than necessary.
-We skip the diaper bag in favor of a backpack. It'll be much easier to maneuver with, especially when we leave the stroller locked up during the carriage tour.
-We wear light-weight clothing and comfortable shoes. I'm thinking this tropical dress and a floppy hat will be perfect:

Matt has Friday off work, so we'll leave on Thursday after quitting time. I plan to skimp on Eleanor's nap so the girls are more likely to fall asleep in the car and I'm seriously contemplating a family-wide game of travel bingo so Matt and I have a nice distraction once we hit traffic. We think Friday will be the day of choice for our Mackinac trip, that way we'll have a nice recovery Saturday before the return drive (and traffic) of Sunday.

There are a shocking number of logistics involved in taking small children on vacation. Even to a cabin! Do I lug up the girls' high chairs or do we just wing it? Where on earth are we going to put Abigail for the night? She's too big for a Pack n' Play but won't stay in a bed. What is our meal plan going to look like? I want to bring as much food as I can so we don't waste precious vacation time at the grocery store.

This top looks comfortable and breezy - a definite "yes".
How many tropical dresses are too many?
After an exciting but exhausting day on the island, we are planning to be as relaxed on Saturday as possible. We will fill the day with all the up north traditions: ice cream at the harbor, visiting the light houses (it will be Eleanor's first time!), putzing around the lake on the pontoon, making s'mores when the kids go down. The cabin will actually be surprisingly packed: Matt's parents, all his siblings, and a few aunts will all be up north at the same time (my sister-in-law who just had her baby will probably stay downstate with her littlest ones, but her husband and the older kids will be up too). It'll be crowded, but for only one day, so even an introvert like me is looking forward to the visiting.

Arriving home and resuming regular life is too depressing to think about, so instead I'm focusing on all the fun pitstops we can make on Sunday: that one rest stop that overlooks Lake Huron would be a great place for a snack and diaper change. A local burger joint would be yummy for lunch.

Only one more week until the big trip: I guess I need to find a few more things to plan to fill up the time...

19 June 2015

The Simple Grocery Trip Gets Dramatic

I knew it was a brave decision when I first made it. When I announced my plan to Matt, he thought I was joking. Grocery shopping. With the girls. By myself. Usually I go on Thursday evening after they're sound asleep (grocery stores are dead on Thursdays at 8pm), but for the last few weeks, it wasn't happening until Friday night, and I was sick of grocery shopping on Friday nights. The girls needed to get out of the apartment and I needed to get food. As Matt left for the bus this morning, he wished me good luck.

It was gonna be a long shopping trip: in addition to our usual two week supply of groceries, we needed a few presents and some snacks for our 4th of July trip. (More on that in a future post). And I had to buy everything today because I had an eCoupon (Mperks) for 5% off my entire food purchase and 10% off my entire general merchandise purchase.

I had a plan of attack: we'd go first thing in the morning, when the girls are most chipper. I'd get one of those grocery carts with the bench seat attached. I had my grocery list and my coupons all ready to go. I wore my most comfortable sneakers. I said a prayer for patience. I even put my girls in cat shirts that morning (shirts with cats on them) because cat shirts are a fun distraction during a meltdown.

Now my Meijer (local superstore) only has about three of these fancy carts for the entire store and they usually keep them on the far, far side of the building, about maybe 75 feet from either entrance (which entrance is anyone's guess).

I found this pic randomly on the Internet, but this is the style cart, except mine was a rickety ghetto version with only waist belts and no separator piece between the kids' seats.

So at 8:35am, I circled the store in my car, creepily passing slowly by the collection of carts, searching for one with a bench. "Come on, Cart!" I said enthusiastically to the girls. "Where are you?!" I thought maybe I found one by the right entrance, so I proceeded down the aisle that always has good parking. And there, in the cart corral, was a bench cart! With a parking spot open right next to it! What good fortune! I almost never see a bench cart in the cart corral! And when I do, it has never been in Good Parking Aisle. Yet here we were: bench cart and great parking! I let myself get ridiculously excited about my good omen and hoped it wouldn't be the last good thing to happen to us before we left.

With the girls strapped into the bench, our sweatshirts, my purse, and my coupons crammed into the cart's seat, and our stack of reusable bags underneath the cart, we made our way to the first section: health and beauty. The tough section.

This section is tough because I can't fully prepare for it. For example: the flyer might say that L'oreal lotion is on sale. The fine print simply states the certain types and sizes are sale. Will it be the original formula? Only the deep conditioning sensitive skin one? Are the scented ones included? My coupon might state that it only applies to the small size bottles of all types excluding original formula. I rarely know if the health and beauty sale + coupon combo will work until I get there, so it takes me a bit longer in this section. Intense, I know. I knew my girls would consider this stopping, standing, and waiting to be highly offensive to their sensibilities.

They did. Eleanor shrieked like a bottle rocket. Abigail yanked on Eleanor's seat belt to ensure tears would flow. I searched desperately for the right mascara while singing The Wheels on the Bus. I started the panicked sweat and had to stop to make an emergency pony tail. I got some dirty looks and some sympathetic smiles. I swore up and down to the girls that things would go much faster once we were done in this section. I said another prayer for patience.

Thankfully the toy section follows the health and beauty section. Ahhh, the toy section. I don't know when most kids start the "Buy me this or I'll cry" phase, but mine have not yet entered it, so toy aisle was a big break for them. Now our main goal in the toy aisle was to buy their soon-to-be six-year-old boy cousin a very budget-friendly toy. Now I've got more nieces and nephews than I do money in the gifts budget, so we try to keep things very simple. Alright, now what do six-year-old boys want? I selected the outdoor toys aisle. How about a super-fancy looking, $2.70 frisbee? The girls voted yes. A $.68 water gun? Eleanor reached for it. And lets see, if I can one more thing and get out for around $5, I'll consider it a success. A $2.70 nerf football? Um, yes please! Frisbee, water gun, nerf football? Now I'm no expert in six-year-old boys, but I think he'll be happy. Another victory, another victory dance. The lady passing our aisle gave me a bizarre look, but the girls laughed.

The toy aisle bought me peace for 1/3 of the food section. Then the bottle rocket began shooting off and Abigail did her best to make things worse. We needed a new distraction. How about every item I picked up? Perfect! Everything I took off the shelf went to Abigail for her inspection. She passed it to Eleanor. While the girls inspected, I scratched the item off my list and added its price to my running total. Then Eleanor would pass it back to me and we'd move on. My system worked flawlessly for another 1/3 of the store. Somewhere around the chip aisle, the girls started loosing it again. "Come on, Ladies!" I said in my most encouraging voice. "We can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel! Finish strong!"

"Don't I know you from somewhere?" A friendly voice asked. I turned around to see a gray haired lady I completely didn't recognize smiling at me. I smiled back politely as my mind raced. Is she the liar from the dairy aisle who told my girls they were being good helpers? Is she one of the secretaries from Abigail's school?
"Did you go to Stockbridge?" She asked.
"Yes - for high school!" I responded, completely shocked. She introduced herself.
"Oh! From home...?"
"Home economics."
"Oh! That's right! I never took your class, but I remember your name!"
I only attended school at Stockbridge for 2.5 years and I graduated 11 years ago. And I never took her class. And she remembered me! What an incredible memory! She flirted with my girls while I grabbed the rest of what we needed from that aisle. The brief adult conversation and pleasant feeling that comes with being recognized helped me vent the building frustration with the girls.

Okay, the produce, bread, and bakery section. That was all that was standing between me and the checkout aisle (which is my favorite part of grocery shopping). My feet, legs, and all the muscles that keep the baby from falling out were aching. The girls were firing up again. My cart was getting too heavy to make sharp turns. You can do this, you can do this! COOKIES! FREE COOKIES! I practically sprinted to the bakery counter. Children under 12 get a free cookie at my Meijer. I rarely bring them with me, so I don't usually take advantage of it, but today? Today was DEFINITELY a free cookie kind of day.

The peace and quiet was so remarkable that my ears were ringing a bit in the silence. I leisurely selected some hot dog buns, doubled back for spinach, and got picky about my strawberries. The cookies survived until we arrived at checkout. Now I'm one of those people who prefers the self checkout, as I'm a picky bagger and I like to double check that my items are ringing up for the right price.

I keep track of the prices of everything as I shop so I don't go over budget. Here I'm pointing to my money column in the margin of my grocery list.
Okay, checkout. Checkouts are tricky. The girls are at the front of the cart, I'm at the back. Aisles are too narrow to prevent little hands from snatching packs of gum. Usually the people waiting in surrounding aisles aren't in the mood to listen to my shopped-out children shriek like bottle rockets.

But then, my friends, then the heavens opened up and God sent down a couple of angels to save me.

On the right side of us, another family with young children pulled up. Their baby was shouting (mine were still louder back in said chip aisle) and their toddler was wearing an Elsa shirt. Nothing shuts my kids up faster than watching another kid yell and an Elsa shirt.

On the left side of us? A Ds mom. Her remarkably high functioning son was in his late teens/early twenties and wanted to unload the grocery cart, so she flashed me that "My soul knows what your soul is going through" smile that only comes from other moms from Holland and pounced on Abigail.

And I rang up and couponed and bagged to my heart's content while my children sat calmly and happily in the shopping cart. And it was marvelous.

My children later that afternoon helping me blog about our grocery adventure.
There was one spot of bad news in my checkout aisle delight. I'll mention it first so that I can end on a good note. It's something that happens annoyingly often to us pregnancy-brain couponers.

You see, my grocery list was a bit long, but my bottom line was doing pretty well, so I decided I was going to spring for these super-special, sale + coupon treats:

Their total should have been just over $2 each, and as their regular price is $3.something high, this would translate to just over 40% off. This was very appealing to me, as iced coffee/tea is one of my most-prized indulgences. But then tragedy struck.

My coupons had expired.

Ah, the inhumanity!!! But the beverages were already bagged and in my cart by the time I learned of the betrayal. And this pregnant woman was not about to unbag her groceries and hand back the item she was most looking forward to enjoying when she got home, so instead I just got them for the regular sale price, which was only about 25% off and completely not brag-worthy.

In the end, 4 of my coupons had expired (on Wednesday, the little bastards), and my total was overbudget by exactly $2 + the total of my 4 coupons. (I'm pretty sure I forgot to add the $2 Frozen fruit snacks in my money column. I blame Eleanor because I'm mature like that).

Okay, now for the good news. And the reason I love the checkout aisle. This is my receipt:

It's about 4 feet long. And my grand total was honestly $199.99 (budgets included: food, household, gifts, and diapers).
A good half of the items I got were on sale or on sale plus I had a coupon, then I also got an additional 5% or 10% off everything I bought.

I am most proud of getting Covergirl mascara and eyeshadow for 43% off ($3/each), my favorite hair dye (Garnier Nutrisse in Light Natural Copper) for 49% off ($3.70 total), and some "bath tissue" (ie toilet paper) for $.12/roll (I think it was 60% off). All the money we save gets put right back into the grocery budget (Matt will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think our grocery budget has increased since having kids). If I have leftover money that month, I'll upgrade our meat quality and get cage-free chicken, hormone-free beef, and nitrite/nitrate-free bacon.

This week:

I realize now that the numbers are backwards. It says I saved $80.23 (a solid 40%) today alone! I've saved $1,154.18 since January (we're only half-way through June, so that's $210 a month for a family of four!) So in the end, despite the bottle rockets, the additional 40 minutes shopping took, and the fact that I will not be doing it again anytime soon, I don't regret grocery shopping with the girls this morning. And not even one person said, "Wow, you have your hands full!" Not one! That never happens. I can't take a walk around the block without someone saying that. So I must have been doing something right.

That being said, I now plan to kick back with a glass of iced mocha, countdown the minutes until Matt gets home, and beg him for a foot massage.

15 June 2015

10 Things About This Pregnancy

1. This pregnancy is a lot like my first pregnancy (with Abigail). Mainly: lots of cravings, insatiable hunger, and an almost complete disappearance of my usually insatiable sweet tooth. Another way in which this pregnancy is like my first: it totally doesn't feel real. We had a thousand "oopses" that never went anywhere before Abigail, it took us a while to get pregnant with the girls, and now I'm just "bam!" pregnant when I totally wasn't ready. Plus there was so much space between the first two and so little space between these two. It's really, really difficult for me to wrap my mind around this.

I was all why has my weight loss stalled? Why does it look like this pooch is growing? Now I'm like Oh. Cause I was already 8.5 weeks pregnant and just didn't know it yet.

2. I eat a hearty breakfast around 8am, but I'm still ready for lunch by 10am. Not a snack, but a full-size lunch. I feel like I could eat forever all morning long. But it balances out: I only want a light snack-size meal at 2pm and for dinner.

3. When I was pregnant with Abigail, I gravitated toward a natural birth and non-medical pain remedies. You know, hot shower to relieve contraction pain, birthing balls, squatting during delivery. But then her heart condition made itself known. I was strapped in a hospital bed with IVs and a million monitors. It was a very medically-intervened birth. It was very necessary to save Abigail's life, but it was not something I wanted to repeat if I could avoid it.

Eleanor was a healthy baby and a successful VBAC was very expected and I didn't want to do anything to screw that up. So I ran in the opposite direction. I figured, if I avoided everything I did with Abigail, I would avoid another c-section. No pitocin. No epidural. No continuous monitoring. No being chained to a hospital bed. I read all the natural birth books I could get my hands on. "Those dirty doctors with their unnecessarily early umbilical cord clamping!" I went through my pregnancy with Eleanor with a very "me vs the Big Bad Hospital" mindset. But after 48 hours with no food, water, or sleep, I finally was in active labor and I was so miserable that all I wanted was to lay in a hospital bed! So I mentally prepared myself for a c-section and requested an epidural. But the craziest thing happened! I didn't need pitocin. Or a c-section. It was the most soothing, healing birth experience I could ever have imagined. And it happened while I was laying on my back with an epidural and some of the same heart monitors.

I don't really know where I stand now. I know that it can't get much better than it did with Eleanor or much worse than it did with Abigail (excluding, of course, death). So this baby will have to land somewhere in the middle. I know that epidurals aren't always as effective as mine was. I don't take for granted that I could end up with another c-section. I know that I'm still afraid of pitocin, but not epidurals. I'm no longer afraid of heart monitors or hospital beds, but I do know that I'd like to avoid them for as long as I can stand the pain. I know that I want to give birth in a hospital under the supervision of a doctor because the risk of uterine rupture scares me more than the risk of over-intervention. I wonder if I can even determine a course of action. So much is up to the way the baby is reacting to labor.

And in some ways, I kind of don't care. It'll go the way it goes and I can't even begin to make any decisions until my water breaks and we head to the hospital.

4. My #1 goal before November is to make some serious deposits in the Family and Husband Relationship Bank Accounts. Newborn days are super stressful and draining. So little sleep, so many crashing hormones. For the first four months, we kind of just live moment-to-moment - Matt giving, giving, giving to me, and me giving, giving, giving to the baby. It isn't until the baby starts sleeping in measurable stretches at night and a daytime routine starts to emerge that I can rub the sleep from my dazed eyes and resume the "wife," "house manager," and "actual individual with unique interests" roles. Matt and I are going on monthly dates. We're trying to figure out if we can take a day trip up to Mackinaw Island with the girls in July. We gotta build that bank account up so we have something to draw down on come November.

13 weeks along and getting ready to go out for my sister-in-law's bachelorette party.

5. I am medicating the schnikes out of my discomfort this time around. With the girls, I was all "Oh, I'm going to do this naturally. No chemicals for my unborn baby!" But this time around it's either some Rxs or a nanny. Seriously, I can't be that sick and any kind of a parent to a 1-year-old and special needs 4-year-old. My OB/GYN is super awesome about it, his opinion is that if I'm going to do this again, I might as well not hate life. So I've got my nausea, heartburn, and insomnia all taken care of. I've still got the fatigue, but at least without the vomiting and the heartburn, I can resume my morning cup of coffee.

6. We have formally decided not to find out this baby's gender. We did this with Abigail and I knew I wanted to not know again. I figured this is perfect timing. If I have a girl, I already have everything. And remember I'm due on Thanksgiving Day, so if I have a boy, I have enough gender neutral clothing to get through the newborn days and I'll just ask for boy stuff for Christmas.

7. We already have the perfect boy name picked out, the same name we would have used if Eleanor was a boy, actually. But girl names...yeesh, they allude us. I did have one runner up from Eleanor, but it's been rising in the popularity charts ever since. And then Princess Kate went and named her baby Charlotte and two friends on Facebook followed suit, and that just cemented it as a "no" for me. So after extensive searching online to no avail, we bought our first baby names book. Both Matt and I read it thoroughly and made a list of names we liked, but neither of us found anything we loved. More online searches, more re-reads. Sometimes we'd find a name we liked, but it would sound too much like Abigail or Eleanor or awful with our last name.

Yesterday I was re-reading Matt's name list and I said, "Well [this one] doesn't sound all bad." He nodded. As I went about making lunch, I though more about the name I'd just said. I actually really liked it! I paired it with my top-contender middle name and said it out loud a few more times. "What do you think?" I asked Matt. "It sounds good out loud. I actually really like it!"
"I don't know," came the response. "It sounds like a loose woman's name."


8. This is my fourth pregnancy, but my first time being pregnant in June and July. I was pregnant in south Florida, though, and south Florida during September, October, November, March, April, and May are pretty much like Michigan in the summer.

Real-time photo. Almost 17 weeks.

9. I bought some new maternity clothes, mostly skirts and maxi dresses (I hate shorts and the few pairs I had from Abigail weren't fitting quite as well four years later). Anyway, the new clothes are so comfortable that when we leave the house, I feel like I have to go put real pants on or something.

10. I used to hate it when people would say, "Oh, your such a first-time mom!" to me with Abigail. All I heard was, "Look at this little newbie try to play in the big leagues! Isn't she so quaint? Let's laugh at her naiveté!" I found it very degrading, especially since I thought I was just being myself, not one of those crazy, hyper-vigilante new moms. But I totally get it now. I recently went to visit a friend of mine who just had her first baby and then, six days later, my sister-in-law who just had her sixth. The contrast was striking, and I could see myself in both women.

Of course first time moms act like first time moms! They should! That's healthy! All the mama bear instincts are kicking in, every time they do anything from taking a shower while baby naps to running an errand with baby, it's the first time they've ever done that task with a baby. It's very logical for a new mom to throw away a pacifier that's landed on the floor or spend 10 minutes packing the diaper bag for every outing. It's just like your first day on a new job. "How do I do this? I don't know! I'll spend 20 minutes making sure the signature on my email is perfect!" The stakes with a baby are very high. So new moms want to do everything exactly right. It's logical. And hilarious to watch. Hence the "first timer" comments.

And the sixth-time moms? My sister-in-law honestly said to me as I held her son, "Oh he's turning purple, that's okay." When you've done it a few times, it's easier to discriminate between which floors are okay to eat food off of and which aren't. Donut from the church floor rec room? As long as there's no visible dirt. French fry from the restaurant floor? Not so much. This too is very logical. And still pretty funny. I mean, just yesterday I left Eleanor sitting in her unstrapped booster seat to clean off her tray and I thought to myself, "Well, it's not like she'll die if she falls out."

But in my over-reactive defense? I avoid saying "You're such a new mom!" to my new mom friends. Captain Obvious is no one's friend.

11 June 2015

The Here and Now

At 10am this morning, I loaded the girls up into the stroller, slathered them with sunscreen, and we walked up to the gas station where each girl got her own box of candy (Abigail choose M&Ms over Reese's and I opted for Junior Mints for Eleanor) and Mommy got two 16oz cans of diet coke and a bag of dark chocolate mint covered pretzels.

This is my third year in a row being pregnant (2013 with the baby we lost, 2014 with Eleanor, and now 2015) and I am really starting to feel the effects on my exhausted body. Combine it with two in diapers and trade preschool for summer vacation, and, well, each day feels like it takes a Herculean amount of effort to get through.

16 weeks and I'm already looking very pregnant.

I have resorted to self-bribery in order to get basic household chores done. One thing I really have a hard time staying on top of are the cloth diapers. They usually spend a day or two in the washer and another day or two in the dryer before they make their way back to the bathroom. So I created this incentive:

Last week (Abigail's last week of preschool) I started to feel the "how am I going to survive summer?!" panic, so on Monday, I spent my blissful preschool/naptime afternoon making a daily schedule. One for when we stay home all day, one for when we have a playdate or run errands in the morning.

It came together pretty easily, actually, and has dedicated Mommy time (showering, dinner prep, etc) and family time (story time, outdoor play time). The schedule follows the natural rhyme of the day, so it's pretty easy to stay on track.

I spent the second day making a list of people we can visit for playdates. I'm hoping to schedule one per week so we can all get out of the house but not exhaust ourselves. I'm also trying to get Abigail into an eating clinic and an equestrian therapy program, both of which will involve weekly therapy. (We should probably get a second car sooner rather than later).

The third day was all about Pinterest-ing preschool craft projects. I want to spend about an hour per day doing school-like activities while Eleanor naps - academic things like flashcard-ing her ABCs and practicing writing, and therapeutic (fine motor skills) things like craft projects. I also got some things for outdoor playtime, which we combine with going to the complex pool.

While I was at the craft store (Michael's), I found this ridiculously cute tent. It was $12 after my coupon and folds up in a little bag to the size of a child's camping chair.

I plan to pop it up when rain keeps us trapped inside, although service is a bit slow - I'm still waiting on the mint chocolate chip cone I ordered last week.

I'm really finding that surviving life in an apartment with young kids while pregnant is all about enjoying the small things. Focusing on present moment stuff takes my mind off all the stressful long term stuff. I'm trading job/car/house stress for how Abigail totally looks awesome in yellow:

Or how ridiculously cute her cloppy walk is:

Phew, use that core, Girly!
Yeesh, all back extension, no abs. I swear, she never used an Exersaucer!

Or how delicious this diet coke is or how those new maternity clothes I ordered are suppose to arrive today. Yes, maybe my life is crazy stressful, but right now I'm just going to enjoy the fact that my girls think my slinky black cat is totally fabulous.

08 June 2015

The Precipice

I feel like I am beginning this summer standing at a precipice. The trail Matt and I are walking has meandered out of -- pick a metaphor here: the desert of law school? the woods of temporary jobs? -- into the bright sunshine. And, coincidentally, a cliff. A tall, steep cliff. Two things could happen: We could keep following this trail; it meanders away from the cliff and back into the woods. I don't know when it will come back into the sunshine and show us another opportunity.

Or, we could jump.

I want to jump.

I want to feel my heart pound as my feet fling my body forward beyond the ground. I want to feel that split second of adrenaline-inducing free fall before I spread open my wings and catch myself on the wind. I want to feel my heart burst and the joyful tears pour as I glide over the gorgeous valleys below.

The precipice, the jump, the taking of a new trail is the gaining of this job. We really, really want this job. It's a good job doing what Matt wants to do. It would be permanent. It's in the same city he's in now. I believe it includes a small raise. It's still with the state, so we'd still have kick-ass insurance and holidays and weekends off. Matt wants this job so badly that whenever it comes up, he gets excited and refuses to talk about it - nervous to jinx things. We want this job so badly we are saying a novena for it.

He applied last week, but, for better or worse, because of the way the department does things, it could be months before he gets an interview. So we might not hear back for a while. Or we might here from them next week. There is no way to know.

If he got this job, we'd could finally, finally be done with our gypsy-esque lifestyle of constantly moving. We could put down roots and doing normal, adult things like buy real end tables and take vacations. And we could build our dream house. Earlier this year, we took our floorplan to a builder to get it checked out and to get a price estimate. I could be living in my dream house in this town we've decided is a good fit for our family by the time this baby comes!

I want to jump so very badly.

This summer is full of promise. An eating clinic and a possible equine therapy program for Abigail. A second car. My life could look so different in six short months! We have been paying our dues for so long. We will keep paying them if we have to, but I pray and pray and pray that we can finally jump off the cliff and onto the "regular family life" bandwagon and host summer barbecues and adopt a dog.

04 June 2015

Year One? Check.

You guys!

The first year is over.

She made it, I made it. My first born's first year of school has officially come to a close.

Remember the, like, 10 part series I had on whether or not Abigail was going to preschool? The stress and worry and obsessively rethinking? And then I finally decided, "Okay, she'll go to preschool, but she is NOT riding the bus!" And now the bus is pretty much her favorite part of life.

Abigail is a different girl. A girl with more focus, more self/impulse control. She's a girl who easily follows simple directions. Who uses sentences. Who sings. Who started a little bit of imaginative play. She's a girl who plays with her peers, who uses glue sticks, who knows all her letters and numbers.

Her life, and therefore my life, has profoundly changed over the course of these last nine months. And it's something I never could have done alone. I think that's the nature of the life of a special needs family. These therapists and teachers walk into our lives and in "doing their jobs," they make incredible, profound, life-altering changes.

We hand over precious, vulnerable little pieces of our hearts and, in turn, these professionals with degrees and experience and so very much know-how cherish and nurture and love them. And when the day is over and they give them back, they are stronger and more capable. I want to grab her teacher and her therapists in great big bear hugs and cry tears of thankfulness.

"The world called her retarded and worthless and you taught her how to walk. I will never forget you."

We won't either. Their names and pictures are in the baby book. From her first therapist, Sophia...

...to Bob the bus driver who always made sure to give me a heads up when there'd be a sub. "These little ones like their routine. Sometimes they balk when they see someone they don't recognize!"

It's an incredible bond, the one that forms when you give someone your complete trust and they respect it.

Our first year of preschool was just the next leg in a long line of journeys we're gonna take. I'm so very thankful for it. For all the awesome things that happened during it. I pray and pray and pray that the next leg will be here in this same town in this same school with this same amazing teacher.

02 June 2015

Mr. and Mrs.

Note: I'll be updating this post later this week to include pictures. The update will occur as soon as I get them. Long story.

Saturday's awesome family wedding went off beautifully! Of course it had its moments, because nothing on earth is perfect, but those aren't the moments one records for all of history. The moments we write and photograph and talk about for years to come are the ones that fill us with joy. Like the entire church bursting into laughter when Abigail walked all the way up the long aisle without tossing a single flower petal, arrived at the front and dumped her entire basket upside down at once, then turned and bolted across the front of the church in the opposite direction the flower girls were supposed to proceed. There was the moment during pictures when the bride with her sexy red lipstick kissed her groom and he kissed back, leaving her own lipstick kiss on her cheek. Or when everyone started tearing up when the father of the bride gave a moving speech drawing similarities between the newlyweds and his own parents. And then there are the moments I will be sure we remember, like when the entire bridal party (8 couples plus the bride and groom and a few random flower girls and ring bearers) played musical chairs at the reception and I made it to the top two. The bride was stunning, the food was delicious, and the dance floor was always packed. It was a raving success.

Matt's family has some really incredible blessings going for it. The first is a really loving extended family. My mother-in-law is one of nine, all of whom live in the southern half of Michigan and still come together for Christmas, a yearly family reunion, and family weddings. Her sisters support one another at weddings by picking up wedding cakes, decorating churches, watching each other's nieces and nephews (like my kids) during the ceremony. My father-in-law's family all live out-of-state, so getting together can be much tougher, but when they do, they pick up right where they left off.

The second huge blessing is that they belong to a community of really long time family friends. When they grew up, the S's lived next door, and the D's around the corner, the P's across the cornfield, the R's went to the same church. And even though the kids grew up, the families moved to new cities, and everyone got jobs and settled down, the families all stayed friends. Some of the kids married one another, some brought in fresh blood. But the community stayed together. And when I married the K's, I joined the community. And even though we moved to Florida and Chicago for four years, when we came back, we took our place back up in the community like we never left. We get together for summer barbecues and delight in each other's kids like aunts and uncles. Our friend's parents become like bonus grandparents who give our kids big hugs and ask how terrible twos/potty training/school is going. Because life and relationships are complicated, sometimes we annoy one another, sometimes splits happen between people, and sometimes people say insensitive things about Abigail. But somehow through it all, we still love one another. It's like something out of a freaking Norman Rockwell painting if his subjects were big, Catholic families.

There is nothing like a big, beautiful wedding to remind us that despite all the pain and heartache in the world, there is still never-ending love.

The week of the wedding is packed with memory-making awesomeness: the bachelorette party, the rehearsal, the day-before-the-wedding trip to the nail salon. The forming of inside jokes that keep running all week, the hilarious stories we swap of other weddings, the delight we take in each other's latest kid stories and pretty dresses, the bonds that form over our mutual love of the bride. And then comes the big day. When I snuck up to the front of the church to drop off a few items in the bridesmaids' pew just as guests were being seating. Tip toeing back down the aisle, smiling and waving at everyone on the bride's side. "Hi!" "You look beautiful!" "I love your hair!" "We'll talk at the reception!" At the reception, Matt's aunts wrap me in big bear hugs and tell me they love me and I'm a beautiful person. We make our way to those long-time family friends, asking about summer vacations and promising play dates until the DJ starts playing the cha-cha slide and we all bum-rush the dance floor. And the dance floor? It's the ideal metaphor for people coming together. Circles form made up of people from her side and his side, everyone shaking their hips, raising up hands, and doing the fish reel move beneath the disco lights. The groom's cousin teaching the bride's side how to do a new group dance. Everyone scoffing when a Taylor Swift song comes on, but no one leaving. And then there's the day-after family brunch for all the out-of-towners. When we all show up with our slept-in wedding hair, the "I stayed up way too late last night" bags under our eyes, and the big "yesterday was awesome" smiles.

It's impossible to walk away from these parties that my family throws and not feel like the world is a wonderful place full of love and joy and beauty. It's impossible to walk away from these parties that my family throws and not feel like I'm an important part of that world. I am very, very blessed.