Our family is growing! Why adoption?

In two weeks, we will legally be a family of five!

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No, I am not pregnant — and this is something we’ve been actively anticipating for much longer than nine months: adoption.

So, first, the exciting details. It’s a boy. He is 2 years, 9 months old. He lives in Harbin, China. His English name will be Haddon, after (or inspired by) the theologian C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon. Peter and I leave in just over a week to bring him home!

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I had intended on documenting the entire process from the start here, but instead found it easier to share this journey via conversations and prayer requests to friends rather than by sitting down and typing it out. At some point I do want to go back and write more about the details that led us to this point, though.

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First, I’ll tackle a question I’ve gotten (not surprisingly) a lot. What made you decide to adopt?

I think if we didn’t have biological kids or were older than we are this question might seem nosy, but for a relatively young couple with a healthy boy and girl, adoption is puzzling, or at least curiosity-inducing, to a lot of people.

I understand why and don’t begrudge anyone for asking. Most people think of adoption as something for people who can’t or don’t want to have biological kids. Adoption is a great choice for those people.

Or they think of adoption as something for very saintly people who want to give unfortunate children a better life. Adoption is the only way millions of kids worldwide have the opportunity to grow up with a family. (Though I would say saintliness is an unhealthy motivation for anything in life, including adoption.)

The reality is adoption fills a need and desire for both parents and children, and I think it’s healthiest to acknowledge both parties’ needs.

So the short answer to “what made you decide to adopt?” is because we want more kids and there are kids out there who need families.

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From the start of our relationship, Peter has talked about wanting to adopt. Before then, I had never really considered it, mainly out of ignorance. It just didn’t cross my mind, but I had no qualms about it. As we talked about it more and because Peter felt strongly about adoption, it quickly became a foregone conclusion as we thought about the future. We are fortunate to have come to know a number of adoptive families over the years and that just encouraged us even more.

So the superficial “why” I sometimes find myself reciting to people quickly when they ask why we are adopting is, “We’ve just always wanted to.”

But there’s more to it than any of that. Why do we feel called to be one of those families when it would be far easier to just have more biological children? Why would we choose to take on the expense—monetary, emotional, mental, physical—of adoption?

Our deeper motivation comes from looking at our status in relationship to God. Through Christ’s redeeming work for us, we “receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) We are born under the law, but through Jesus we are called sons of God, receiving the full inheritance of Christ.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Creator of the universe loved lowly, little me enough to adopt me as his child. Adoption is a beautiful, mysterious picture of our relationship with our Father—not because we were born His, but because he pursued us and made us His own children.

I’m not equipped to explain it all very well in my own words, but John Piper has an excellent exposition on adoption, where he lays out eight similarities between God adopting us and us adopting children.

Number seven is especially moving to me. A snippet: “The distance between what we are, and what God is, is infinitely greater than any distance between us and a child we might adopt. God crossed the greatest cultural barrier to redeem and adopt us.”

Jesus paid the greatest price for our adoption, so any cost we bear in adopting our son is pennies in comparison. We rely on God’s grace for the strength we will need for the job (just as with parenting our biological kids) and rest in His promises.

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Mara at 2 1/2 years old

I wrote this post five months ago, and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder just weighing me down all that time. I think these kid update posts are starting to stress me out—too much pressure to perfectly capture the essence of a changing, growing person. So, I’m just going to get over that for now and post this little imperfect throwback… and in the future hopefully I’ll be in this space more often with shorter, in-the-moment updates on life and family (I do have a lot I’ve been wanting to share!).

So… pretend this is March! (Side note: I can’t believe Mara will turn three in less than a month.)

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Written March 2016: Mara at 2 1/2 years old is feisty, funny, friendly and… I can’t think of another good word that starts with “F.”

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Her personality at this age is a study in extremes, equally adorable and outrageous. I don’t want to forget her little quirks.

Like her alarming consistency in saying “off” when she means “on,” “Basil” when she means “Biggles” (our cats), “black” when she means “white” and “open” when she means “close” (I’m not sure whether we should be concerned about this).

Or her love for her glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas, which we “charge” on the lamp every night before turning off all the lights in her room while she dances around like a crazed set of glowing bones.

Or how if you call her “buddy” or “big girl” she retorts, “I not a buddy; I Mara!”

Or how she takes it really seriously if you pretend to take a bite of her cheek, demanding that you put it back.

Mara loves to play mama to her baby doll, stuffed animals and me. It’s sweet to see our own parenting reflected in her play as she bounces her baby, talks to her in my cadence and zooms a spoon into her mouth like a train. She loves to be in charge.

She could stand on her step stool at the kitchen sink for hours playing with the water (I don’t let her waste that much water, though).

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Other favorite activities include putting stickers on everything…

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playing doctor…

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brushing my hair…

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“drawing ‘M’s” (or “the mark of the Mara” as I call it—her signature M-like zig-zag)…

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being chased around, playing with flashlights, jumping off of furniture and going down slides at the park or on our Fischer Price slide in the basement.

“Watch dis! Mama, watch dis!” is a phrase I hear on repeat as she hails her audience before demonstrating a jump or silly face.

When she’s into something, she’s relentless about pursuing it. It’s a huge struggle to tear her away from her favorite activity: looking at photos and videos I’ve taken on my phone. Whether she’s set on collecting every empty communion cup from the pews at church or washing her own hands, stubborn is definitely a word that applies to Mara—so unlike her easygoing infant self.

She’s particular about what she wears and whether her hair is pulled back or in a bow (this is often more about control than it is looks). And speaking of hair, now that she has more of it she definitely looks like a big girl and no longer a baby.

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She picks this outfit out a lot.

My big girl still loves (that’s an understatement) her pacifier, but is now totally potty trained.

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She is getting harder to put to bed at night now that she realizes Corban gets to stay up later than her, and has learned some stall tactics to even out their bedtimes a bit. She is a very good napper and will occasionally nap with Corban on his bunk beds, but usually she’s in her crib in the nursery.

She calls people “‘bodies” (pronounced like “buddies,” but short for “everybody”). Ex: “Are ‘bodies coming over?”

We have a few book obsessions: “Snuggle Puppy” (by Sandra Boynton), “Spot Goes to the Beach” (by Eric Hill), “Mommy Hugs” (by Karen Katz), “Goodnight Moon” and a few others in heavy rotation.

Mara is still big on singing. Her little voice is a precious sound, and yes, she too is obsessed with songs from “Hamilton.”

She fell while playing on a playground about a month ago, badly bruising her cheek and developing a black eye. It looked horrible and you can imagine how many times strangers stopped to comment on it. Mara would just tell them in a no-big-deal tone, “Fell on playground.”

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She waves at and says hi to people everywhere we go, and if they don’t reciprocate she says in a sad little voice, “They didn’t wave to me,” or, “They no say hi to me.”

It warms my heart to see Corban and Mara play together, often making up games to get each other excited. They are best buds and spend just about every waking moment together. It’s hard to even tear them apart to take one along to the store while the other stays home or have one ride with me and the other with Peter if we end up driving home from somewhere in two cars. If Corban is upset about something, sometimes Mara will pat him on the back, cock her head and say in a high pitched voice, “It’s OK, buddy.”

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Their influence on one another is a double-edged sword—they’re either encouraging each other to behave and obey or to misbehave and drive us crazy. But as long as I can get one on board with whatever I’m trying to get them to do, the other usually will follow.

Mara is still snuggly, loving to be held and often kissing us out of the blue and saying, “I love you, Mama,” or “I love you, sweetie pie.”

Here’s a photo dump of highlights from the last few months.

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Sipping great-grandpa’s cider at Thanksgiving.

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Cousins at Thanksgiving.

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Cousins at Christmas.

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Christmas morning.

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Loving the snow…

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…but loving the hot chocolate afterward even more.

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Thankful for thick glass.

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So much love for the baby gorilla statue at the zoo.

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…and for the woman in the medicare ad.

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Blankets, doughnut pillow, purple pacifier and life is good.

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Great-grandparents while visiting Florida.

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Florida vacation… Mara was calling the sand “snow.”

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Cousins in Florida.

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Check out that mug. Mara was not interested in making friends with the lady at the post office who took it. (Passport was for the cruise we went on in April.)

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Madison zoo (it’s free).

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Those sweet little hands!

 

Mara at 2 years old

Mara turned two in September (can’t believe it’s already been more than two months since then),and she is indeed every bit a two-year-old.

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I wrote this post much closer to her actual birthday, but had been putting off going through photos to add. So here’s Mara at age two.

Independent (yet still my shadow), stubborn (but if you wait long enough she might change her mind), chatty (unless she’s not sure about you) and full of energy.

I love this girl so much.

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Mara has always been easygoing, and although the two-year mark has given her a new air of toddler feistiness, she still is a go-anywhere gal. We took three major road trips this summer (plus a bunch of small ones), and even a terrible, horrible viral rash she suffered on our 16-hour drive to Colorado didn’t slow us down too much. It helps that she’s still snuggly and loves to be held and worn, so our Ergo is our secret weapon.

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Asleep while hiking.

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Poor sicky while on vacation, and just before her birthday.

Despite having an older brother, Mara has some girliness in her that I didn’t expect. She has been telling me from a very young age that she wants earrings in her ears, and loves to pick out her clothes and shoes and wear purses around.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

She loves caring for baby dolls and stuffed animals. She enjoys coloring and can’t be trusted with a writing utensil (doors, wood floors, newly painted cabinets and tables in our house have all gotten the Mara treatment). Her favorite books mostly include fuzzy animals that she can pet—she often points to cute animals in books and says longingly, “I want hold it.”

At the zoo she gets to pet a live animal.

Mara is not shy (usually) about singing or dancing, and she’s great at both. I’m amazed at how quickly she learns the words to songs.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Her latest dance move (and general mode of transportation) is jumping. Just call her Jumping June.

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You can often hear her singing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” to herself (she actually is right now, ha!), but she also has a huge thing for a song from Vacation Bible School this summer. It involves sign language hand movements and a lot of excitement.

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Duck face with cousin Delaney.

Mara loves to be around other kids, and gets really giggly and huggy when she’s with her friends. She’s also a big fan of Corban (most of the time) and they can be absolutely precious and sweet when they play together.

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She seems to be nearly fluent in spoken English, though I sometimes have to ask Corban to act as interpreter. He can usually figure out what she’s saying faster than anyone else. It’s hilarious when she strings together long sentences to people who don’t know her well and can’t fully understand her dialect. They just smile and nod.

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People often think Mara is younger than she is, probably because she still has wispy baby hair and likes to be held. While her hair is long enough for barrettes or tiny pigtails, she usually rips them out promptly, much to my chagrin.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Parenting a second child is way different than a firstborn, and that has become much more evident over these past months. When you’re sibling is older and bigger than you, you learn to assert yourself earlier. And it just seems like Mara has jumped right into some older toddler (mis)behaviors that Corban didn’t learn until he was a little older.

It is strange, though, the juxtaposition between Mara being the baby and also growing and advancing so quickly. She’s in my arms cuddling one minute, then running around and singing all the words to a song or acting like a moody teenager the next. I’ll take all the snuggles I can get, though!

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I am so incredibly thankful for this dear little girl God has placed in my care.

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Mara’s many birthday celebrations included…

Cake (failed altitude baking) with friends on her birthday eve at the house we rented in Colorado:

Still not 100% after being sick :(

Still not 100% after being sick 😦

Birthday morning balloons:

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Opening a gift from grandparents (clearly Corban was more into it…still not quite herself after sickness):

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On her birthday, we went to Breckenridge and rode the gondola up the ski mountain:

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At the top, we played her brother’s favorite game:

In Missouri, we had pie to celebrate both Mara’s and Peter’s Mom’s birthdays:

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And in Illinois, doughnuts (her favorite treat) to celebrate with my siblings and grandparents:

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She certainly is loved!

Learning through food: Resurrection/Easter Story Cookies

Throughout history, food has served as much more than physical nourishment for mankind. Sharing a meal with others is a bonding experience, a sign of hospitality and respect and a way to show love. Cuisine is a huge part of every culture, and one that many people take pleasure in.

No matter how much we eat, within hours our hunger returns. As one of the essential needs shared by every person on earth, food is powerful. We celebrate with food. We mourn with food. We worship with food. It connects us to one another and to the past.

We see that especially this time of year—those who are Jewish honor Passover by eating unleavened bread as their ancestors did in their hasty flee from slavery in Egypt; the lamb shankbone on the seder plate commemorates the sacrificial lamb God required of his people that night he freed them (and for Christians this symbolism goes further to represent Christ’s sacrifice in order to free us from the bondage of sin); eggs represent new life, in the most basic springtime sense and also in the context of Jesus rising from the dead; empty eggshells remind us of the empty tomb Jesus’ loved ones found the morning he was risen; and the Lord’s supper, first celebrated just before Jesus’ death, is a sacrament that has brought Christians together in worship for millennia.

Food as a metaphor is a beautiful thing.

This weekend I decided to use baking cookies as a hands-on storytelling device with Corban and Mara. At age 3, Corban’s eager little heart is soaking in the Easter story, and I hoped to use this as another way to help it take root. At age 18 months, Mara just was excited to be helping in the kitchen with us, and that’s good too.

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These Resurrection Cookies or Easter Story Cookies can be found all over the Internet. Each ingredient and step tells a part of the Easter story with scripture and symbolism. I used this handy printable sheet to guide us, along with our shiny new Reformation Study Bible, but halfway through it was getting too chaotic to flip through the pages so I just stuck to reading the scripture verses off the recipe.

The ingredients are simple—all things we already had on hand.

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1 cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pecans in a plastic freezer bag and have your child break them into small pieces by beating them with a wooden spoon. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.

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Have your child smell and taste the vinegar before adding it to a mixing bowl.

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Explain that Jesus was offered sour wine/vinegar to drink while He hung on the cross. Read John 19:28-30.

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Add the egg whites to the bowl, explaining that eggs represent life and Jesus loves us so much He gave His life in order to give us life. Read John 10:10-11.

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For some reason they were blowing in the bowl.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt into your child’s hand and have him taste a bit before shaking the rest into the bowl. Explain that Jesus’ friends and followers cried salty tears when He died. Read Luke 23:27.

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Of course, after tasting the salt, you have to let them taste the sugar. This was by far Corban and Mara’s favorite part. Let’s just pause and observe.

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Yes, I let that happen.

Gradually add the sugar to the bowl while beating the egg whites on high with a whisk attachment. A stand mixer helps tremendously for this recipe. As you add the sugar, and your kids lick the spilled granules off the counter, explain that even though Jesus died, the story is sweet because He did it because He loves us. He wants us to know we belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.

Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy and stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight up when whisk is removed). This will take a while—10 to 15 minutes.

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While you beat the egg whites, have your child observe how white the mixture is and explain that white represents purity and Jesus cleansing us of our sins. Read Isaiah 1:18.

I’ll be honest, I had to be somewhere so I rushed it and didn’t quite let the egg whites get to stiff peaks. This was a big mistake—make sure you keep beating until the peaks stand straight up and don’t fold over when you lift the whisk out!

Gently fold in the pecans.

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Drop the mixture by spoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Explain that these mounds represent the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

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Can’t resist a little taste.

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By this point the scripture passages were background noise, but I still was able to have meaningful discussions with Corban about the symbolism. Since this wasn’t his first (or last) time hearing about these concepts, it was fruitful as another way to let the story sink in.

Now it’s time to put the cookies in the oven. Close the door and turn off the oven immediately. Have our child put a piece of tape over the door and explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and secure. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

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Now go to bed. Ask how your child feels to leave the cookies until tomorrow, and explain that Jesus’ friends were very sad when He died and was placed in the tomb. Read John 16:20, 22.

Leave the oven closed until the next morning. Then remove the cookies and have your child examine them.

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The sides of the cookies will be cracked. When they taste them, they will find that they are hollow. Explain that on Easter morning, Jesus’ friends were surprised to find the tomb empty. Jesus was alive! Read Matthew 28:1-9.

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Now I have to confess that our cookies were not hollow. (Womp womp.) I believe it’s because the egg whites were still at soft peaks rather than stiff peaks when I stopped beating them.

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But do you see these faces? Do they care?

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We pretended they were hollow. The kids were still excited Jesus was raised from the dead. And mostly just thrilled to be eating cookies at 8 a.m.

I’m sure this activity will bear more spiritual fruit as they grow older, but I think baking is a wonderful teaching tool even at this age—or maybe especially at this age. Food has that way of connecting with us all.

Mara at 18 months

At some point while I was busy playing silly games, wiping away tears, dancing around like a crazy person and kissing her soft head, Mara became a full-blown toddler. It hits me over and over again, but it did again last night as she walked over to the step stool to wash her hands after dinner, chatting to herself and needing very little help from me: she’s not a baby anymore. (Cue the waterworks.)

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I struggled to differentiate personality traits between Corban and Mara when she was an infant, but over the past six months or so Mara’s distinct personality has emerged loud and clear. Key Mara-isms:

She loves dancing and has impressive rhythm (no idea where that came from) that gets put to use when she hears any music, including random background songs, tunes from musical toys or the singing of her family members.

She loves to talk, and is picking up new phrases right and left. Last night it was, “Where’s my purple?” (Her purple pacifier… a.k.a. the glow-in-the-dark one–genius invention.) She went through a recent phase where she very clearly let us know everything she wanted (“I want milk!” “I want ‘fier!” (pacifier) “I want baby!”).

Speaking of wants, Mara certainly is persistent. I never would have guessed that the laid back baby who snoozed and smiled through her first 10 months of life with nary a whimper would stand up to her brother so fiercely when he takes a toy from her, or slam her body to the floor, flailing her limbs in defiance,  when she’s forbidden from playing in the cleaning supply cabinet. Yes, she’s really a toddler now.

No, Brother, you may not usurp my lawnmower.

No, Brother, you may not usurp my lawnmower.

Speaking of pacifiers, while going through pictures from the last few months, the obvious has become even more obvious: she almost always has a pacifier in her mouth. She loves that thing, and her pink crochet blanket. Time to start cutting back on the daytime paci usage.

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Mara has always been snuggly and, to my delight, still loves to cuddle. She’s still a mama’s girl and we enjoy lots of affection (as do her friends).

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My theory is that because she was so happy to be held and carried, she didn’t crawl until her first birthday, and then didn’t walk until shortly before 15 months (which I realize is not abnormal, but seemed late compared to her peers). But before long she was running, and now she keeps pace with Corban and all his shenanigans.

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She still is cool with being worn in the Ergo carrier, which was very handy when we went on vacation to Hawaii in January. She got to ride along on many hikes and walks and see some pretty spectacular sights.

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She even snoozed on Peter’s back while he skiied (at home–not in Hawaii).

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When she’s tired, she’ll just lie down on the floor or ground with no regard for her surroundings.

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Mara loves to get dressed, get her socks and shoes on and wear random items. Her most ridiculous quirk: wearing my underwear around her neck like a necklace. She does this all the time. I’ll spare you a photo.

Mara can be quite fearless and independent in certain situations. For example, she sees a slide and she goes for it. Sometimes 10 times in a row.

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Nice hair.

She loves to sing and amazes me with how quickly she picks up on songs — both melody and lyrics. “Let It Go” (of course) was the first song we recognized her singing many months ago. Her theme song, “Miss ‘Mara’ Mack,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are other popular ones. I did a double take when she started singing (without lyrics) “Into the Woods” the other week (Corban and I sing, “The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood,” and she picked up that tune). And yesterday it was “This Little Light of Mine.”

Since I already sound like a gushing mom, I might as well continue. I am thoroughly delighted by Mara’s artwork. We color and paint with watercolors regularly, and I want to frame all of her work as serious abstract pieces. It must be that 18-month-old lack of inhibitions that makes it seem so not contrived. (Feel free to smack me next time you see me for making serious comments about a one-year-old’s artwork.)

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Although she’s not small (by any means) for her age (around 80th percentile for height and weight), people often think Mara is younger than she is. Chalk it up to the hair–or lack thereof. She’s got the baby mullet in full force. Those wisps are so soft, though!

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Some highlights over the past few months…

Flower girl in Uncle Noah and Aunt Lindsay’s wedding.

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Enjoying some nice, spring weather (today it’s snowing, though…).

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Hawaii fun (separate post to come on that).

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Serving as Corban’s watercolor canvas.

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Fun with friends visiting a couple weekends ago.

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Winter hiking (more babywearing for the win).

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Favorites:

  • “Where is Baby’s Bellybutton?” book
  • Pointing out and naming body parts
  • “The running game” (she and Corban start by the front door and race into Peter’s outstretched arms in the family room)
  • Showers/baths
  • Sitting on the potty
  • Snuggling “babies” (stuffed animals)
  • Drawing/painting
  • Milk
  • Duck, duck, goose
  • Ring around the rosie
  • Dancing!
  • Playing “show” (singing/dancing with a toy microphone behind our puppet show curtains while we watch)
  • Playing outside

Stats:

  • 25 pounds, 5 ounces
  • 33 inches
  • Size 4 diapers (cloth diapers during the day)
  • Size 18- or 24-month clothes
  • Size 5 shoes
  • 1 afternoon nap
  • 7 p.m. bedtime and 6:30 a.m. wakeup

A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. 🙂

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.

Happy 3rd birthday, my favorite little boy

Three years ago today, my favorite little boy came into the world.

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On Corban’s third birthday, the biggest thing on my heart is overwhelming appreciation.

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Appreciation for God’s loving creation. For the incomprehensible detail of our bodies, minds and hearts. For the privilege of witnessing this little boy’s healthy growth. For Corban’s curiosity and sense of humor, his funny phraseology and lack of self-consciousness. For his abiding love for his family and friends. For the luxury of spending time with him (even if every minute isn’t easy — sometimes far from it). For the gift of being a mom — his mom — and the growth that it has brought to me as a person and a Christian.

Corban’s first two birthdays made me reflect a lot on his birth and newborn days, but this year I’ve had to consciously bring back those memories. No, at age three Corban’s birthday is all about Corban at age three. He has been eagerly anticipating it for months (ever since Mara’s birthday in September) and has reveled in the rituals of songs, gifts, family visits and cake. He also knows that December 8th = his birthday, so while there has been some confusion between what was his birthday party (Saturday) and his actual birthday, all I had to tell him was that today is December 8th and he understood that it’s “still” his birthday.

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It worked out for me to take the day off work today, so we’re headed to the children’s museum and out to lunch with Peter. I considered setting up a play date with his friends today, but that would distract me from spending time focused on him, so we’re keeping it low key. We celebrated formally with family on Saturday, and I’ll share the details of the Peter Rabbit-themed party soon.

I just can’t overstate how thankful I am to be entrusted with this little life — and to be able to celebrate a happy, healthy “big boy” today. I don’t want to take for granted what a blessing this moment in time is.

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Golden first birthday party

Mara turned one on September 1, so from the day she was born I knew her first birthday party theme would be easy: golden birthday!

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I made the poor girl a gigantic, glittery, gold tutu (just tied strips of tulle to a circle of elastic) and a “one” onesie (just like Corban’s one shirttutorial here — except vastly more frustrating because I had to use several layers of tulle for the letters). She also got a gold flower headband (made the fabric rose from the tulle and hot glued it to gold elastic).

In the end she was a gold, glittery mess, and had an overwhelmed blank stare on her face for the first 30 minutes of the party.

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Eventually she warmed up and forgot about the huge nest around her waist.

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The baby shower I threw for my sister back in February was gold-themed, so I was able to re-use a lot of the decorations (that may or may not have been in the back of my mind when planning her shower… nothing wrong with that, right?) including this wreath, which originally was a table decoration.

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(Re-purposed the chalkboard idea from an Oscars party story I wrote earlier this year!)

I gave myself some grace and didn’t finish (or even seriously start) a year recap photo album for Mara in time for the party. I intend to do one (since Corban has not only a first year album but a second year album, too)… but let’s be honest, I still haven’t done it. The first birthday is such a sweet time to look back on all the many milestones of the first year, though, so I still incorporated many photos into the party.

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I bought a bunch of gold frames at Goodwill and was going to display them on tables outside, but it was raining right up until the party started. Thankfully the sun came out just in time so we could be outside, but all the frames ended up on one table, like a little Mara shrine. (Complete with tea light candles that were also supposed to be outside.)

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I did a monthly photo of Mara on our tan bed sheet, which ended up looking like a gold backdrop — not planned, but worked out well for this little photo project.

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Here’s the similar monthly photo display I had at Corban’s first birthday:

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I busted out this digital photo frame Peter and I got as a wedding gift (just took six years to open it) and let it scroll through a memory card of first-year photos.

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Oh yeah… the cake! My friend Rebecca, who is a professional pastry chef and cake artist, made this beauty for us. It tasted just as good as it looked!

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I made a small chocolate smash cake (using Pyrex containers to bake the layers) and decorated it with edible gold spray paint (found at JoAnn Fabrics) and edible gold pearls.

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One of my favorite details was the flowers I picked up last minute at the grocery store. Goldenrod was in full bloom.

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Cake time!

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She ever-so-daintily dipped one finger in, licked it and repeated while we all stared and commentated.

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Big brother waited eagerly for the green light to pounce.

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We eventually had to extricate the destroyed cake from her frosting-covered hands. She wasn’t happy with that.

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Gold decorations, photos, cakes… those were the facts of the party, and they were good.

But the truth of it was even sweeter: Loved ones gathered to celebrate the first year of a sweet, sweet girl who has brought such joy to our lives. I’m still in denial that Mara is every day less and less a baby, but I really can’t be anything but grateful for the privilege it’s been to hold her close and kiss her soft head incessantly for the first 365 days (and counting) of her life. That is to say, I love being her mom.

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Her birthday celebration was also a time to reflect on how wonderful it is to have the support of loved ones in this adventure of parenthood. It’s a blessing to watch those around us love our daughter.

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(Even when she’s partied out and crabtastic.)

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(By the way, that vinyl banner is so coming out at all of Mara’s birthdays to come!)

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Lamb-themed baby shower (and my new etsy shop!)

Corban and Mara got their first cousin this April when my sister had a baby. In October they’ll welcome another! Peter’s eldest brother and his wife are expecting and we are thrilled to see our family grow.

I had the privilege of co-hosting a baby shower for my sister-in-law the other weekend in St. Louis. Planning from afar was low-stress since my co-hostesses took care of the food and venue. I was in charge of invitations, games and some of the decorations (a.k.a. my favorite parts!)

Since the mom-to-be, Jenny, is planning a lamb theme for their gender-neutral nursery, we ran with that as the theme for the shower. It was a lot of fun incorporating sheep into every aspect of the shower — I was especially excited to come up with some puns.

I’ll share details from the baby shower, but first I have some exciting news: I opened up an etsy shop! After planning several showers and themed parties over the past few years, I’ve designed a small collection of printable items — games, favor tags, invitations and the like. I definitely would have paid a few bucks to have modern designs for printable baby shower games at my fingertips when I was in planning mode, so there have got to be some people out there who would appreciate having these designs available, right?

I guess we’ll find out. I’ve listed a handful of instant download baby shower games (two of which you’ll see below) and plan to add a couple more listings, including one for the gold confetti themed invitations I designed for my sister’s baby shower and some lobster/sea creature art I designed for Corban’s room. I’m excited to see where (if anywhere) this goes — right now it’s just fun to see my work listed on the site!

On to the lamb-themed baby shower details. First, the invitations (from zazzle):

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front and back.

Now, the party itself!

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Table decorations were fun and simple to make. Jenny made an impressive diaper cake for my baby shower (here it is) so in a nod to her diaper artistry I made very unimpressive diaper circles wrapped in burlap.

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To keep with the lamb theme, and the sub-theme of books (the invitation suggests — not demands! — that guests write a note in a baby book instead of a card) I topped the diapers with a lamb book. There are quite a few cute options out there.

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Here is what the tables looked like in action:

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Love this book!

Also seen on the tables: games! And glittery pencils from Michael’s, and favors (which I’ll get to in a minute).

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These are my lovingly designed table games, some of which you can purchase for a few bucks in my new etsy shop!

Name the baby animals (buy here). Harder than you may think! My mother-in-law won this one.

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Name the children’s book (buy here). I thought this one was going to be too easy, but everyone was sufficiently challenged by it.

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Gift BINGO (guests fill out a BINGO card with items they think she will open). I downloaded it for free from here and customized it a tad using Photoshop.

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We also played “Don’t Say Baby,” where everyone starts with a bracelet, and if you get caught saying the word “baby” you have to give your bracelet to the person who catches you. At the end, the person with the most bracelets wins. It was a hoot seeing some of the ladies get into it.

My favorite games are the ones that involve the dad, so we played one called “Dad Knows Best.” I had my brother-in-law James answer some questions about the baby in advance and we all had to guess his answers. The questions I asked:

Will the baby be a boy or a girl?
Do you want the baby to be a boy or a girl?
Will the baby be born with a lot of hair?
If Jenny had no say, what would you name the baby?
If you had no say, what would Jenny name the baby?
Will you or Jenny be the disciplinarian?
Will you or Jenny be the first one to hear the baby cry at night?
Out of every 10 diapers, how many will you change?
What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from Jenny?What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from you?
Bonus: What sport will the baby play in high school?

Jenny did impressively well; the rest of us did not. Here is the little prize stash I picked out from the dollar bins at Michael’s.

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I also made a burlap bunting that Jenny can now hang in the nursery — “baaaby sherwood,” get it?

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The food was simple — chicken salad sandwiches, fruit salad, veggies and spinach dip.

Lamb detail on the bunting was my favorite. It’s just cut out of paper and hot-glued on, as are the letters.

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Lamb cupcakes were homemade by a friend of one of the co-hostesses, and they were divine.

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My mother-in-law found two lamb vases that she received — get this — when James (the dad-to-be) was born(!) and had them filled with beautiful flower arrangements.

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The guest book was fun to work on. I bought a burlap canvas, punched a bunch of circles from three different patterned sheets of scrapbook paper and hot-glued the dots (and some black legs and a head) into a lamb. Nursery art?

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Yes, but also a guest book! Everyone signed their name on a circle to be glued onto the canvas (either on the lamb itself or across the bottom).

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My co-hostess/partner in crime made these cute diaper decorations.

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And one last lamb pun: “Thank Ewe” tags (designed in Photoshop) for the favors, yogurt-covered pretzels tied with burlap strings in these bags.

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The mom-to-be (pictured with my co-hostess) had lots of laughs and (hopefully) felt very loved by the lovely group of ladies who attended.

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Meanwhile, these ruffians had fun at home with the men.

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It was a fun weekend overall, with the shower being the centerpiece. I’ve got a few more party recaps to share with you soon, so look forward to some more fun details!

Bye bye, pacifier!

After months of thinking about it, talking about it but ultimately putting it off due to one thing after another, we finally (finally!) said bye bye, pacifier. For Corban, mind you. Mara is still more than welcome to soothe herself through the long night with hers.

Ultimately it came down to the fact that I discovered dirt/mold inside Corban’s one remaining pacifier and I just couldn’t stomach giving it to him anymore. There’s no easy time to go through this transition, but with four weekends of travel in the past month behind us and another three weeks until we go camping, we had a window to take advantage of.

So last night we pulled up some youtube videos. First, the brilliant “Bye Bye Binky” song by Elmo (thank you, Elmo, for using your influential position among toddlers to make the world a better place for parents).

Then we trolled around for videos of other little kids saying bye bye to their pacifiers. This was enlightening. Apparently many parents tie them to balloons and send them off into the sky “for other babies who need them.” Some put them in a box and leave them overnight for the Binky Fairy to replace with a toy. Corban was enthralled by all this, but thankfully the video that resonated the most with him was one of a little boy simply throwing his pacifiers into a large garbage can in the garage.

We had been talking with him for months about someday throwing his pacifier away, and about how he doesn’t need it and he’s becoming a big boy, so this wasn’t a novel concept for him. We had even attempted a paci-trashing session a few months ago, but he genuinely seemed so disappointed to say goodbye to it that I relented and backpedaled. Maybe it’s my own memories of pacifier-sucking bliss as a child or just my reluctance to admit Corban is growing up, but even watching the darn youtube videos of kids saying bye to their pacifiers had me misty-eyed with compassion.

But this time it was happening. After all the video motivation, he was excited about getting in on the action (and possibly even more excited about watching the garbage truck come and take it away, which is a weekly highlight we enjoy together).

So we pulled out the big garbage can, let Corban sing Elmo’s binky song, and without so much as a second of hesitation he tossed the thing in. Bye bye, pacifier.

I did my part and posted the video on youtube to motivate other little ones who may be headed for Pacifier-holics Anonymous.

Of course, come bed time (a few minutes later) he was like an addict in withdrawal. Seriously. Kicking, fidgeting, crying, rolling around in bed. He begged to “put Mara’s pacifier in my mouth.” Sorry, sir. Our bedtime routine distracted him for a while, but when we left his room he would not stay in bed. After nearly an hour of whining and crying in the Pack N Play, I lay down with him in bed for about 5 minutes before he passed out.

Thankfully, he napped perfectly for our nanny today and tonight was better than last night. He only brought up the pacifier once and instead of crying he just lay awake singing and talking to himself in the Pack N Play, and eventually fell asleep on his own.

No matter what the next few nights hold, I’m glad to finally have the pacifier gone!