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!

 

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Corban at 4 years, 3 months old

Before I let any more time go by I want to capture the fun and ferocity that are Corban and Mara right now. Let’s start with my firstborn.

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It is so much fun to see Corban’s mind at work* as he soaks up new ideas and begins to see how they are applied in real life. I can practically see the lines being drawn as he connects concepts across different experiences—when he learns a new word then hears it used the next day in a different context, puts letter sounds together and sees how they form a word or starts to grasp the connection between the faces on his “Presidents of the United States” placemat and the characters in “Hamilton.”

Speaking of “Hamilton”…

Both kids are obsessed, but we are taking a little break from listening to the cast recording because Corban is starting to pick up a little too much from it. He and Mara both love a few songs enough that Corban has them just about entirely memorized, including phrases like “I’m the ‘damful’ that shot him,” (as he pronounces it) and “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” It makes me so, so happy to share things like brilliant musicals with them (and it is pretty fun that Corban’s starting to learn about our country’s history because of it), but we are switching back to children’s catechism and scripture songs for a while—music with lyrics that are 100% OK (and wonderful) to repeat.

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Corban also is obsessed with his Wildlife Fact File, a.k.a. remember those binders with pages about various animals that would come in the mail? Peter’s mom found one at their house from back in the day, and we read a few pages every day and learn so many interesting facts about animals.

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Photo credit: Wade Tregaskis

Books

He loves to be read to in general, and we all enjoyed intentionally reading through the “Jesus Storybook Bible” start to finish in about three weeks during Advent. Other current favorites are still Beatrix Potter stories, “Where the Wild Things Are” and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from anthologies.

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School

Corban is also very into his Sunday School class and Primary Praise (children’s worship) at church. He often asks when he is going to go to preschool (this is probably partially because adults ask him this ALL the time) and I know he would love it if we decided to send him. But as of right now we have no plans for 4K (for a variety of reasons).

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Perpetual bedhead

Play

While last year was all about pirates, this year is shaping up to be all about super heroes. That’s the favorite game these days. Corban also is a card shark—Go Fish, Uno, War and Slapjack are popular in our house. He plays endlessly with little action figure-type toys, animals and cars, but is also a very physical kid, always climbing on things and jumping off furniture. When he plays outside it’s all bikes and sports. He doesn’t usually opt to color or do art unless we have a specific activity planned.

He and Mara are two peas in a pod, always playing together. They love each other well but do fight over toys like any siblings.

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Learn

Like I mentioned, Corban is starting to understand how letter sounds form words. He sounded out a word almost fully by himself the other day (“Max”) and it felt like one of those special parenting moments like when he took his first steps. He is far from actually reading, but I just recently started working with him a little more intentionally using some Montessori methods for learning letters/words and it’s crazy how even just a tiny bit of that goes a long way when a child is ready for it. He has this letters activity book that he loves, and I’ve noticed recently he seems to be “getting” it and can complete the activities correctly on his own. We are more of a “learning through play” style family, but his brain seems to be ripe for phonics right now.

“Why?”

Corban continues to be very inquisitive and a HUGE fan of the question, “Why?” My response is almost always, “Why do you think?” and I would encourage every person who hears this question from a child to respond that way. Corban almost always has a theory in mind and a lot of the time he’s right, or he’s looking at it in a way that I hadn’t thought about.

I simply relish how uninhibited he is with sharing his heart with me and asking questions about life. This age is also sweet because everywhere we go and everything we do is a learning opportunity. I love how curious he is and it’s fun to explain life to a kid who devours everything you say!

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“Learning” about senses and nature on a hike. Also saw a hawk eating a dead animal–wildlife in action!

Some recent firsts

The other weekend I took Corban to see a musical at FirstStage, “Just a Little Critter Musical.” It was geared at the preschool set but was just as entertaining and thought-provoking for parents. Every kid in the place seemed to be enthralled, including Corban. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next preschool-geared show there.

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We also took both kids to their first movie at the movie theater this past weekend, “Zootopia.” I think Peter and I loved it even more than the kids. Corban enjoyed the whole experience but keeps talking about this one borderline scary scene (which thankfully Mara and I were in the bathroom during). It felt liberating to be able to take the kids with us to the movie theater (Mara was pretty antsy, though).

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Peter bought a used Nintendo 64 late last year and introduced Corban to his first video games (much to my chagrin, though I probably need to lighten up). We will play Mario Kart, Starfox or this WWE wrestling game (which Corban somehow wins at) maybe once a week. Corban is quite into it (that might be an understatement). The nice part is that we play together as a family.

A few words I’d use to describe Corban:

Observant, social, silly, curious, loving, cautious.

Up next: Mara update (and more posts that have been sitting in drafts, hopefully soon!)

*work, work.

Summer to do list: 50 things to do in Milwaukee

Summer is perfect and yet so fleeting here in Wisconsin. So we try to stuff as much outdoor fun as possible into three months. I’m sure this will be even more intense once the kids are in school.

I’ve realized in the past year that it’s not only OK but good not to plan something for every day of the week. Our schedule fills up without a whole lot of effort, and on days when we have nothing planned I’m either relieved to have no pressure or appreciative of the opportunity for spontaneity.

On the flip side, it’s frustrating when activities we’ve been wanting to do slip off our radar because of lack of planning.

So this summer, I want to strike a balance between filling our days with friends and fun and taking a break to relax in our backyard. I want to be intentional about hitting up certain places and activities, and also leave room for impromptu whimsy. So I’m creating a list to help guide my planning in both areas, as well as a few other categories.

Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.

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Kidventures

Weekday (non-workday) adventures with the kids and friends.

1. Milwaukee County Zoo. We got a zoo pass a few weeks ago and have used it three times already. I love our zoo as much as the kids do, and many of our friends do too, so I foresee this as a default activity on nice days.

2. Imagination Station. This fully accessible playground in Oconomowoc looks rockin’.

3. Farmers markets. Corban and I had a lovely date at the Tosa market one Saturday morning last fall, making me realize farmers markets are excellent spots for one-on-one kid time. This season I’d like to hit up Tosa again (live music, and it’s near train tracks), plus New Berlin (near a playground), Waukesha (on a river) and West Allis (huge). Here’s a map of all the markets in southeastern Wisconsin.

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4. Urban Ecology Center. Playground, nature center with turtles and snakes, trails and public art. Sounds perfect (minus the snakes, but Corban will love that).

5. Fox Brook Park. This Waukesha County Park has a lovely little beach and playground.

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6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.

7. Walk the Milwaukee Riverwalk and meet Peter for lunch at Bartolotta’s Downtown Kitchen.

8. Fox and Branch concert. This kid-centric music duo has a regular lineup of free concerts.

9. Wehr Nature Center. Hiked there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it is an oasis.

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10. Splash pads/pools. There are a bunch of options (this map isn’t even up to date), but I’d like to try tot time at David F. Schulz Aquatic Center, Cool Waters Family Aquatic Center (they open at 10 a.m., earlier than many pools) and any splash pad in our vicinity. We just finished a much-needed session of swim lessons for Corban so I want to keep him in the water this summer.

Activities at home

Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.

11. Backyard camping. Complete with campfire and s’mores. The sleeping part could very well be disastrous, but in that case we’re only a few feet from our beds.

12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?

13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.

14. Balloon ping pong.

15. Marble race track. Judging by how much they love the golf ball tracks at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, both kids would go crazy for this.

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16. Treasure hunt. Need to figure out the details of this.

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.

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19. Yoga. Or at least play around with some kid-friendly poses.

20. Neighborhood bonfire.

21. Outdoor movie night. After the kids go to bed.

Weeknight fun

Forget bedtime. It’s hard to resist all these fun summer weeknight activities.

22. Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club show. Every Thursday night. Waukesha has a water ski club, too.

23. Cheer on our church’s softball team, of which Peter is a member.

24. New Berlin Concerts at City Center. Haven’t made it to one of these free summer Wednesday night concerts yet.

25. NEWaukee Night Market. Music, art, food, etc. in the streets of downtown Milwaukee, four Wednesdays this summer.

26. River Rhythms. Free Wednesday night concerts at Pere Marquette Park. Somehow, I’ve never been to this. The lineup is excellent. (Side note, why is everything on Wednesday night?!)

Fam-ventures

Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.

27. Pewaukee Beach. Do some late afternoon beach bumming then grab dinner by the water.

28. John’s Drive-In. Just heard about this place, but a throwback spot with root beer floats sounds right up our alley!

29. Fishing at Greenfield Park.

30. Old World Wisconsin. We have never been to this step back in time. Might as well go while both kids are still under 4 (a.k.a. free).

31. Canoe the Milwaukee River. It’s worth it to join the Urban Ecology Center simply for the benefit of free canoe, kayak, bike (and more) rentals.

32. Green Meadows Petting Farm. A preschooler’s paradise.

33. Berry picking. We still have strawberries in the freezer from Barthel Fruit Farm last June. Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t mind going back this year, or heading up north a bit to pick blueberries.

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34. Bastille Days. In the city of festivals, I love that this one is a true street festival, with free entertainment and a mini-Eiffel Tower. And beignets.

35. Brewers game. Would love to take the kids now that they’re old enough to get excited about it. Corban went to one (vs. Cardinals) game so far this year and loved it.

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36. Wisconsin State Fair. I love everything about it.

37. Milwaukee Parks Traveling Beer Garden. Sip a pint of Sprecher while the kids play on the playground. Looks like it’s coming to Greenfield Park this year, yay!

Dates

Adult time, just the two of us or with friends.

38. SummerStage at Lapham Peak. The outdoor theater has several plays and concerts this summer. Looks like a good lineup to choose from.

39. Brenner Brewing Co. tour. I bought a Groupon for this, so we definitely need to check out this new-ish art-centric brewery.

40. Art Bus. Never done this, but have heard it’s a good time.

41. Biloba Brewing Co. Family-owned craft brewery in Brookfield.

42. Escape MKE. Another Groupon purchase. This is a timed mission where you’re locked in a room with a challenge to accomplish. Teamwork!

43. Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. We have tickets so need to go to a performance in June.

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Me time

Because there are things I like to do that Peter doesn’t.

44. Summerfest. We’ll be out of town for more than half the festival this year, but there are bands I wouldn’t mind seeing every night that we will be in town (not that that’s feasible…). Let me know if you’re game for some music!

45. Massage. I now have two gift certificates for massages, and I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to carve out time for myself to use them. So it’s on the list.

46. Bike the New Berlin Trail. It’s been a long time since I’ve biked, but I’m itching to get out there once again.

Road trips

Our kids are not at great ages to travel, but we’re doing it anyway.

47. Door County. Booked! Peter and I have our first solo getaway planned since we became parents. Can. Not. Wait. We are staying at an adults-only B&B/lodge in Ephraim, Wis.

48. Camping. Ideally, this will happen twice: mid-summer via a canoe trip on the Lower Wisconsin River (a.k.a. paradise. It is beautiful.) and early fall with a group from church.

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49. Branson, Mo. Family reunion time. Waterpark. Theme park. Hiking. Cousins karaoke night. Etc.

50. Colorado. A house rental impulse buy with friends at a live auction, but I don’t think we’ll regret it.

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Would you look at that, an even 50!

I know that’s a lot, and I don’t expect to do it all. I’d just like to consult this list as we plan out our summer and as we find ourselves with free days. Nothing wrong with plain old playing with toys at home or walking to the neighborhood parks, but Corban and Mara do a LOT of that, especially when I’m at work, so this is my counter to that.

Bonus: I didn’t put this on the list because we’re doing it today, but hiking and picnicking at Minooka Park is also a great summer activity!

More resources: 50 things to do in Lake Country this summer | 100 things to do in Wisconsin this summer | Things to do for free or under $5 with kids in Milwaukee | 50 family fun spring break ideas13 rooftop spots to check out

What’s on your summer to do list? What else should I add to mine?

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

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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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!

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.

The border of crazytown

After Mara was born, I just knew that working full time was not what I wanted for my family at this precious stage. I am grateful that my employer was supportive of my request to switch to part time and feel so thankful that I am able to continue with the job I love and still be home with my kids two days a week. It’s close to a perfect situation for me.

But it’s still really hard. It’s hard to leave them when I go to work… it’s hard to leave my work when I go home… and on days like today it’s hard just making it through the morning with a disobedient two-year-old.

If you want to drive yourself to the border of crazytown, try getting a toddler who doesn’t want to listen/obey/leave strapped into a car seat. Then try doing it again when you leave your destination. If you’re feeling really masochistic, then follow through with your desperate promise to stop for a treat (snack/coffee for mom at Starbucks) and go through it all again when it’s time to head home.

So many tears. From both of us (almost… I didn’t actually cry but I wanted to).

It’s enough to make me question whether I really want to be home instead of at work.

OK, I know I do want to be home and it is a huge blessing…

But some days are just a struggle. I guess that’s just parenthood/life in general.

It would be hard if I were working full time. It would be hard if I were home full time. It’s hard when I’m somewhere in the middle.

It’s all a reminder to rely on God. In my frustration I forget that He’s in control, that He’s bigger than me and that these two are His beautiful creation. And we have so many more lovely moments than tough ones!

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Being a mom is a humbling experience.

On a practical note, though, anyone have advice for getting kids to cooperate when getting in the car? Is this a universal two-year-old thing or am I just lucky?