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:

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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!

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

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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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!

Mara at 10.5 months

My little Marabelle (not her real name) is 10 1/2 months old*. My tiny baby girl is no longer tiny, but she is still very babyish to me, or at least she was up until the past several weeks. It seems like right when she hit 10 months, she started to mature at lightning speed with first words, waving, first teeth, rolling around, wanting to crawl… more on all that in a minute.

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But In a nutshell… Laid back. Social. Content. That’s Mara right now (and how she’s always been).

Mara is the happiest baby I’ve ever seen. She is almost always content, whether she’s sitting on the floor with toys in reach or being carried along to the various adventures we head out on with Corban and friends. Nursery volunteers at church comment every week that she’s the easiest baby in the room (she just chills with a few toys in the middle of the floor) and I don’t go anywhere in public with her without being stopped by strangers thrilled that she returns their baby talk with smiles. Whenever Corban is being stubborn or throwing a tantrum (a.k.a. being two years old), I am extra grateful that Mara is calm as ever and not adding to the stress.

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I don’t want to simply compare her to Corban, but they have been so obviously different in the timing of their developmental milestones that it’s hard not to note. Compared to Corban, Mara has been slower with gross motor skills. She didn’t roll over until just the past week or so! I don’t think it was that she couldn’t before (she’s been sitting since around 6 months and that uses the same muscles as rolling) but more that she just didn’t feel the urge to roll. She isn’t crawling yet, but is starting to want to move more. No pulling up on furniture either.

But socially, she has been earlier than Corban for the most part, with early smiles, coos and laughs as a newborn. She started waving right at 10 months, and shocked us a few weeks ago by very clearly starting to say “Mama” in reference to me. Now she sometimes says “bye” (or something vaguely resembling it) when people are waving goodbye. I wasn’t expecting that for a while!

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Teething
Mara was toothless until 10 months. The past week she sprouted two bottom teeth and I think it makes her look much older. She has had a fussy few days — which isn’t saying a whole lot, but she’s been clingy and had a rough morning at the beach last week when I wouldn’t let her stuff handfuls of sand in her mouth. Mean mom am I.

Eating
Mara loves her solids. We has a slow start with baby-led weaning, but at around 8 months she really got the hang of it and has embraced every food we’ve given her. She enjoys beans, eggs, steamed veggies, soft fruit, avocado. Bread is a little more confounding, and perhaps harder to down with essentially no teeth. Next we’ll try plain yogurt and maybe small pieces of meat.

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She’s still breastfeeding and still very efficient and to-the-point with nursing. I am in no rush for Mara to wean and I hope she continues to be interested in nursing for a good while.

Sleeping
Maybe it’s the steady diet of solids, but Mara has started sleeping through the night enough that I’ve lost count of the exact number of times it’s happened (10 or 11 now?). I was astounded and almost didn’t believe it the first time, more than a month ago. But this week it has become normal. Amazing that it just happened naturally! As much as I love getting uninterrupted sleep, it makes me a little wistful thinking she is outgrowing her habit of nursing in the middle of the night. I know that sounds completely crazy.

We finally kicked the swaddle last month when she simultaneously outgrew it and it became too hot to be wrapped in fleece, so now she sleeps with this creepy little torso-less knit clown that was mine as a child, a random stuffed ball and a blanket crocheted by the same friend who made Corban’s favorite blanket. Those items were not chosen intentionally (aside from the blanket) — they just happened to be thrown in her crib at one point and then stayed because they work.

Sibling love
Mara is highly amused by Corban. She loves any attention from him and laughs at his antics. Every night after dinner, she gets in her pjs and I bring her out to say goodnight to Corban and Peter. C says, “Goo-night Mara!” in the sweetest little voice and kisses her on the head, and she just giggles hysterically. The girl loves kisses in general, but especially from her brother.

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Stats:
Weight: 21 pounds 6 ounces
Height: 28.5 inches
Naps: 2 (9 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
Sleep: 6:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Clothes: Size 12 month for pants and onesies, 6- and 9-month still fit in dresses and shorts. Love little summer dresses with cloth diaper bottom!
Hair: Light, light brown, soft and wispy
Eyes: blue/gray on the outside, brownish in the inside (in transition?)
Diapers: Charlie Banana with two inserts during the day, size 4 disposables at night
Words: Mama, bye
Tricks: Rolls her tongue all the time, waves, claps and cheers, high fives
Favorite foods: Steamed zucchini, banana, avocado
Favorite toy: Fischer Price xylophone/piano

*she was 10.5 months when I started writing this, but life is busy and she is now almost 11 months as I hit publish AHH!

Summerfest with kids

Summer is like a highly competitive sport in Milwaukee. The goal of the game is to cram as many festivals and as much outdoor fun as you possibly can into three short months (give or take). It’s fun, but exhausting. I like to think that winter (a.k.a. the season of hibernation) is a necessary break in order for our wild and energetic summer to be possible, but it might be the other way around (likely summer is the necessary break in order to keep us from going insane/moving away during winter).

The festival of all festivals is, arguably, Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, held on the shore of Lake Michigan for 11 sacred days each June and July. It’s 12 hours a day of live music on 10 stages, with acts covering every genre. I’ve enjoyed Summerfest as a high schooler (road tripping up from Chicago with friends several summers to see the likes of Guster and Ben Folds), a newcomer to the city (busing in from bars, popping over on your lunch break, just wandering with no particular act in mind to hear… these are things locals do) and as a journalist (this is the first summer in six years I’m not shooting videos, meeting bands and running around like a madwoman covering the Big Gig — kind of sad!).

But this year, I decided to experience Summerfest as a parent. There are plenty of folks who I’m sure would not dare to bring their kids near the world’s largest music festival, and I don’t really blame them. But I’m crazy, so even after the friends I invited couldn’t make it, I hit up Summerfest with the kids Friday afternoon (yes, solo). It was a blast.

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The logistics (perhaps this is helpful for others thinking of taking little ones to Summerfest):

Timing: Morning is prime time for kids, but, unfortunately, Summerfest doesn’t open till noon. So my plan was to get Corban to nap earlier than usual and arrive mid-afternoon, hopefully when crowds were still smaller. We arrived at 3 p.m., which, on a Friday, was starting to get pretty crowded, but on another weekday probably wouldn’t have been as packed.

Parking: I wasn’t about to pay $20 for parking, so I found a metered spot on Water Street in the Third Ward. It was about a 10-minute walk to the gates, but only cost $3 for two hours. The downside was I had to be back by 5 p.m. sharp, because Milwaukee parking folks don’t mess around. I once watched a meter lady write me a ticket literally the second my meter expired as I was racing to my car.

 

Tickets: Kids under 3 years old are free (yay!) and I had a free ticket from work (woo hoo!) but normally weekdays before 4 p.m. are $11. Good deal.

Stroller: I opted for the single stroller (City Mini), with Mara (10 months old) in the Ergo, figuring once we got to the grounds Corban (2.5 years old) might want to walk, so I could switch Mara to the stroller. I am so glad I didn’t bring our double stroller. It was difficult enough navigating the crowds with the single stroller. There was also no way Corban would be walking any distance on his own – he stayed safely in the stroller most of the time, and I was perfectly fine keeping Mara snuggled on me (it’s fun to dance with a baby strapped to you!)

Activities: There are quite a few kid-friendly activities. Corban would have spent our entire time there at the splash pad by the mid-gate. There’s also a playground area and a few designated stages with kid shows. They have paddle boats, a skyglider and a (new this year) Ferris wheel. Here is more info on all the kids activities. During the day, I like to just wander up to stages and check out bands I’ve never heard of, so I tried to get the kids on board with that. They’re young enough that they didn’t know any better (for the most part).

Our adventures:

We walked right in the gate to the tail end of the Summerfest parade – cute, but massive crowds. After popping by the Johnson Controls World Sounds Stage (one of the few spots under a roof – good to know in case of rain), we headed over to the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage and sat down to listen to a band called Friendly People.

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Corban was more interested in people watching (can’t blame him). He was still coming to life after being woken up early from his nap.

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Mara might have been the only one in the audience dancing (although you wouldn’t guess from this pic).

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Friendly People were near the end of their set, and Corban actually climbed back in the stroller – a definite sign it was time to move on. I consulted my Best of Brew City app and saw that Kohl’s Wild Theater was happening (an animal-themed show), so headed toward the opposite side of the grounds. After passing the splash pad, though, Corban started freaking out and attempting to escape from the stroller, asking to go to the fountain, so I complied.

He stood on the edge of the splash pad for probably 10 minutes just watching the other kids run around while I small talked with another mom.

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Finally, he dipped his toes in, and I began to worry I’d never be able to pry him away from the water.

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The promise of a “special treat” finally, miraculously got him back into the stroller, and we walked over to the KNE New Music stage (a small stage showcasing mostly local music) where the Land the Big Gig contest 2nd place winner, Doozey, was playing.

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(The guy in the yellow is this amazingly ridiculous man whom I see EVERY year dancing his heart out at different shows. I swear, he’s everywhere at Summerfest. It was good to see him still doin’ his thing.)

Doozey was so much fun! I loved their music and they knew how to work the crowd. Corban wasn’t going to forget his promised special treat so easily, though. Sil’s Mini Donuts was nearby, so we split a small order fresh out of the fryer while watching the show. The best.

Eventually, Corban noticed the Ferris wheel behind us and asked to go up in it. Sure, why not?!

I thought he might be scared, but he loved it. We both did, actually.

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The views from the top were gorgeous.

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Scary selfie, but Corban looks too cute not to share.

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After that, our time was up, and I had to race as fast as I could back to the car before the meter expired. Corban wasn’t happy about leaving, and, frankly, neither was I. I debated just feeding the meter, but once we were at the car I was too exhausted to push my luck and head back in. Better to end on a high (literally) note.

Though not for the faint of heart, Summerfest is definitely doable with kids. Earlier in the day is better and going with your spouse or a second pair of hands is preferable, but I would totally go back even alone with the kids. I’m hoping my next visit is with adults though!

 

 

Snapshot of right now

I didn’t intend to let this blog sit on a negative note for so long, but somehow days, weeks, months pass and I just don’t get around to posting all that I would like to write about.

Right now I have a few minutes (hopefully a bit longer than that) while both kids nap. This morning we woke up early – 6:30 a.m. is the norm these days, especially for early bird Mara – and read and played in the nursery for a while before breakfast. I’m off work on Wednesdays, and while typically we head to a 9 a.m. women’s Bible study at church, today the study is on “spring break” so we had the morning to ourselves.

After early bird Mara went down for her first nap at 8:30 a.m., Corban and I washed dishes (he could stand on his step stool at the sink all day rinsing things) and made a broccoli salad to bring to a playdate set for later in the morning. He played independently in the sunroom while I blow dried my hair, then we got to work “training” for the Easter egg hunt our nanny is taking him to tomorrow morning. I showed him the concept, then hid some empty eggs around the sunroom and had him search for them while toting around his cloth Easter basket. Instant success in the fun department.

Mara didn’t wake up from her nap until 10:15, so as soon as she woke up I quickly fed her and got us packed up and out the door to our playdate. I’ve been part of a really fun, active moms Meetup group since Corban was 9 months old, and while my schedule doesn’t allow me to make it to a ton of playdates, there’s almost always something planned for the days I’m looking to get out with the kids. This morning it was an Easter party at a fellow mom’s house. The Easter egg hunt tomorrow is organized by a few of the moms in the group, and Friday (my other day off work) we may head to a meetup at a bounce place. Most weeks we are not nearly this active with the group!

The playdate was a hit – there were tons of toys, kids from 6 months to 3.5 years old, brunch food, a craft (which Corban lost interest in after 2.5 seconds so I meticulously finished). I got to catch up with some of the moms I hadn’t seen in a while (I can’t remember the last time we were able to make it to a meetup!). Mara just chilled (as usual) and ate a few bites of egg yolk (the one food besides milk in her diet at this point). It was a really fun morning.

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We didn’t leave till close to 1 p.m., which is Corban’s usual nap time, so I was faced with a dilemma. I needed to stop at the dollar store to pick up a few larger Easter eggs and then drop the eggs off at another mom’s house for the hunt tomorrow. I debated, do I push my luck and get this over with while we’re already in the car, or wait till after Corban’s nap? I pushed my luck, and Corban was overtired and crying by the time we got home at 2 p.m.

Thankfully sweet Mara was (barely) OK with hanging out in the jumperoo while I put out the Corban fire and finally got him to sleep. Next was Mara’s turn to eat and go down. She fell asleep rocking in my arms and I held her longer than I needed to after she was out, just to relax and enjoy her snuggled up there.

Since my last post, I’ve really tried to avoid being out of the house by myself with the kids anytime close to Corban’s naptime. It’s the easiest way to avoid meltdowns and it works – no surprise – because crabby goes hand in hand with exhausted. Today clearly I failed at that (sorry, Corban) but thankfully it wasn’t too bad.

Corban is at such a fun age – he loves to sing, read (by himself and with us), play boat (on any piece of furniture) and airplane (in any small space), wrestle, help me in the kitchen, spot animals in our backyard. He picks up on new phrases and concepts all the time. He loves being outside (spring, we are so ready for you!), stuffed animals, playing with his friends from church and being around people. He’s also able to play independently more and more, which is so sweet to watch. He calls lemons “lemonades” and requests the “teacher song” every time we’re in the car (it’s a song about the 10 commandments on a children’s catechism CD). When I close my eyes and picture him I see his little eyebrows raised in surprise and delight as he gasps, “oh!” at an exciting discovery. Everything is exciting.

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Mara is amazing. She’s along for the ride, whatever it may be on any given day. Her legs are epic-ly chubby and her cheeks are just so kissable. Most people comment on her eyes, which are a striking gray-blue-turning-brown color. She is a happy girl and laughs a lot. She loves shaking rattles and toys, grabbing books and stuffed animals (really, anything), practicing sitting (still wobbly and will occasionally face-plant and make me feel horrible for not catching her) and “flying” up and down in my hands – an excellent arm workout since she weighs probably close to 20 pounds.

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Other notable items in this snapshot of right now: We are now aunt/uncle/cousins thanks to the birth of my sister’s little girl last week, Peter started a new job this week and I got my first Stitchfix in the mail yesterday (I know that absolutely pales in comparison to the first two items, but it made me giddy and if I had more time right now I would blog about it. Maybe later.)

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Hope you’re having a good week and can stop to capture the “right now”… in words, a photo or just in your memory.