Friday, December 30, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter: 15 months

14 month and 15 month picture
Dear Brennan,

You are now 15 months old - I didn't exactly mean to go two months without writing, but it's been hard to find the time (one of these days I'm going to learn I should start writing before the 15th, and then I might actually have it posted on time.

In early November, Daddy described you by writing the following: "Brennan has become Wile E. Coyote: she's able to defy gravity (i.e., stand unaided) just so long as she's not aware that she's doing so. Once she realizes she's standing, she has to either grab on to something for support or else sit down."

Since then, you've spent most of your time cruising around rooms while holding onto tables, furniture, walls, and walkers, but you gradually got more confident at standing on your own. A couple weeks ago, you took your first individual steps for me (I admit I may have gotten close to tears).

And after a week, you were again standing on your own, so I backed away from you and encouraged you to come to me, and you did ever so cautiously. When you reached me, I grabbed you up in a big hug and showered you with kisses. And that set the tone from then on out; you'd walk to us, provided we got super excited and wrapped you in our arms once you arrived (no complaints here!).

Since coming to Iowa for the holidays, it's been very apparent the strides that you've made (literally). Now you are more comfortable on your feet and will toddle around and each day we're seeing less and less crawling.

In a way I'm amused that I'm so taken with these accomplishments. After all, for thousands of years, millions of babies have been popping out new teeth, learning to roll over, sit, stand, and walk, but there's just an awe I experience when I watch you do these things that are so natural and yet extraordinary at the same time.

For Christmas, your daddy decided to upgrade my iPod Touch and even gave it to me early - my old one had trouble holding a charge for an entire day, and, in addition, I had the misfortune of dropping it and cracking the screen this fall. The advantage of this new toy is that this version comes with a camera/video feature (the video quality is great, but the camera images are a bit grainy). I often have it near me, which means when I would have normally missed a shot because the camera was on another floor or in another room, now I have a better chance of capturing it, including this bath shot where you decided you would imagine that the spout protector contained tasty snacks (I love the slurpy bite and your belly laughs!).

You also love mimicking our actions as you will wipe your face and nose with napkins. I've enjoyed introducing you to dried foods to play around in so you could mimic cooking as well.

We gave you a small kitchen for Christmas, and you've enjoyed banging around the toys and serving us your creations.

You spend a lot of time talking on "phones," which are made up of rectangular blocks or the decoy remotes (the remote to the VCR, for instance, that we don't need and whose batteries have been removed). Over the holidays, you've also added the toy loaf of bread and ear of corn as acceptable "phones." I like catching your pretend conversations, especially when you giggle in reaction to the imaginary caller.

At our church, babies only move out of the nursery when they can confidently stand or, preferably, walk. I believe you have been the oldest child in the nursery for a while now, but you seem to enjoy yourself there. The volunteers call you the Little Mother since you are concerned that each baby has a toy to play with and will hand them out. We love hearing the volunteers comment on your "sweet spirit," and I'm grateful you are generous. It sounds like in January you get to move up to the toddler room, joining many friends who have already been there for a time. And I just learned another baby will join you - Ella's mom has held her back in the nursery since you two are good friends, but now she's willing to let her move up with you (Ella is 3 months your junior but has been comfortably walking for at least a couple months already).

Sharing at the library

With your mobility comes a destructive force - you're at that stage where you are immensely curious but don't yet know boundaries. You are quick to find things that catch your eye and you want to examine or manipulate them. Your daddy was home with you one day when he said you were happily playing with your toy train in the hallway outside the bathroom. He stepped in the kitchen to rinse off your breakfast tray, and not 30 seconds later, he found you in the bathroom covered in toilet paper.

You are also very adept at transforming a room. I took a before and after shot recently to show how quickly you can pull out toys and books and toss them everywhere.

Before and after (notice in the background B crawling to destroy another room since her work here is finished

We began weaning you at 12 months, starting with only a morning and evening nursing session and giving you blended bottles at other feedings. After a week or two, we were down to only the morning session, and by 13 months you were entirely weaned. It was pretty anticlimactic - you were apparently ready and didn't make a fuss. We also eliminated bottles at that time and you're none the worse for wear. Until our Christmas trip to Iowa, we still needed to briefly warm your whole milk to take the edge off the cold, but we went cold turkey here, and you seem to have adjusted swimmingly.

Kickin' it old school

You're also enjoying scribbling with crayons, so a gift from your great grandmother was a Magna Doodle - it was a big hit.

You love to lean in close to draw and color - very detail-oriented

In an effort to distract your hands during diaper changes, I would sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider with you and help you do the hand motions while Daddy changed you. Now, you will do it yourself, and you'll even initiate it at other times. I haven't been able to catch it on video yet, but here's your beginning climbing-spider motion, your signal that it's time to sing.

You love to sit in various baskets, and after your grandparents brought you a sled and you kept climbing in with books and toys, they asked if you had a tiny seat all your own. You didn't, so they decided that you deserved a little rocker and ottoman like your cousin.

When we arrived at their place, several days before you got to open your chair, you discovered a little wooden rocking chair and enjoyed climbing in and out for the rest of our visit.

You seemed to enjoy your new gift, but you haven't been able to play in it much since it didn't fit in our car - don't worry, as they're going to make a trip out to deliver it soon.

Your hair is slowly growing, and several people have commented on the slight curls in the back, as well as the red tint that's sometimes visible. There are pictures of your Aunt Heather with reddish curly hair as a toddler, and I think there was actually one of my mom I saw the other day, so it looks like it's not very unusual in my family.

You are not picky when it comes to food, and you're getting better at feeding yourself. Food dropping is at a minimum - I think being able to communicate to us via sign language the "All done!" sign has helped us know when you're finished, thus keeping you from thinking you need to throw everything on the floor. Over Christmas you tried black olives for the first time. You showed an interest, so I gave you a small section of one. After shoving it in your mouth, you adamently communicated the "All done!" sign, arms flailing, but in fact you actually wanted me to give you more (this is where you're inconsistent signs for "More", one of which is very similar to "All done!", gets confusing). Your daddy doesn't like black olives, and I only like them as a part of pizza or dip, but I'm glad you're curious and excited to eat various foods.

Sleeping is pretty great right now - bedtime is typically around 7 PM, and you'll quietly put yourself to sleep within 5 - 10 minutes. You will sleep about 12 hours, whereupon you'll happily awaken. You're still taking a morning and an afternoon nap, both around 45 minutes long. Over Christmas, you've been getting to bed a couple hours later at night but waking at the same time in the morning, so your naps have adjusted accordingly, typically in the 90-minute range.

You still have only six teeth, but I can especially feel the bottom one-year molars about to burst out. Babbling has increased, but specific words are doubtful. I think you have said "kitty," and a couple family members heard "hello" while playing on a toy phone. Daddy was feeding you animal crackers when you clearly said "cracker." So they're few so far, but they're increasing. I liken this stage to when I was pregnant and I wasn't sure whether or not I was feeling you move yet. In hindsight, it was clear what had been flutters and movements, but in the moment it's difficult to decipher when it's the first time. This goes for words, too - we think we might be hearing something, but we're not always confident. You certainly have comprehension, though. You can understand what we're talking about - I've asked a couple times if you'd get your shoes, or grab a certain toy, or I'll start reciting words from a book and you'll disappear to retrieve it.

Being your cute self

Motherhood continues to remind me that I still have a ways to go. When I was in college, I thought I was pretty mature and selfless. Then I got married and realized there were areas of my life that I was still selfish over. Give us seven years of marriage, and I think I've reached a self-denying character, and then I have a child. My day is no longer mine. Instead, I'm devoted to you and your needs - diaper changes, meals, water, milk, snacks, books, toys, stimulation, picking up toys, washing, folding laundry, cleaning, sleeping. I am in this place of not knowing exactly what my life holds for me now and I have to submit to these daily tasks. The floor - both upstairs and down - is routinely covered with toys that need to be picked up. And as you're not quite old enough to be responsible for this, I'm faced with tidying messes I didn't cause all day long. I admit my heart isn't always in the right place and I have to remind myself to deny myself and submit to time not being my own. It's one of my absolute favorite times of life, but I still have areas of my character that need to be shaped. So stay patient with me, and I'll keep working at it, too.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter: 13 Months

13 months, or her Serious Phase
Dear Brennan,

Long before you were born, I remember reading how someone secretly wrote annual letters to their daughter, and then when the child graduated high school, presented them all to her. I loved the idea of recording some of the highlights of each year and vowed to do the same for my children.

You were born, and I was mentally cataloging the things I wanted to remember to record in your annual letter. There are so many experiences and changes in the first year, though, that once you hit three months, I knew I wanted to begin writing you monthly letters so I had a chance of preserving these memories. I knew I'd do so for your first year, but it was a big question how often I'd continue once you turned one. At the least, I'll continue annual letters, but as you continue to change markedly, I think I may just play this second year by ear - perhaps there will be quarterly or biannual letters.

You have made some leaps in the two weeks since I last wrote, though, so there's going to be this 13th month letter in the mix.

One of my favorite changes has been how quickly you pick up on cause and effect after I show you something. For instance, you've been accustomed to playing with your mailbox toy, but you were unaware that you could drop the letters through the top slot. I showed you, and then you took over from there, dropping letters in, one after another with a fair measure of success. This similar skill has transferred to your ring toy; you love to whip those rings off, but until I showed you and you began to mimic me, it never occurred to you to return them.

In a less glamorous development, you've learned your finger fits perfectly into your nostrils. You might do this once a day, and I haven't yet captured it with a picture. Eric laughed heartily when he saw, but I'm trying to discourage you from this display.

You seem to be drawn to pairs of items. I've long known children hit a stage where they want to hold something in each hand (during eating, for instance). But I've observed that you love to hold two like items: two similar Notre Dame stuffed animals (monkey and bear), two stacking rings, two plastic people, two letters. Sometimes you surprise me by two same-colored items (the orange letter and orange person, for instance), and I'm not sure if you did this deliberately, or whether it's just a coincidence.

Running around with two rings

You're still good at independent play; near your toy box in the basement is a corner of stuffed animals, and sometimes you'll crawl back there to play with them, all the while hugging them, dragging them around, and "talking" to them.

"Why are you invading my space, Mom?! We're having a moment!"

You're getting more vocal with babbling, but I still don't think you've said your first word yet. You soak it all in, though. We frequently have people comment how attentive you are and how nothing gets by you. Some speculate that you'll begin with phrases or sentences and skip the single-word stage, but time will tell. Since I see so much going on in your head, though, I'm not concerned at the delay.

Analyzing a balloon

A week and a half ago, you spent Tuesday being sick - it was quite sad. When you woke up, one of your eyes was pretty red. I had to go to work, but I told Eric he should call the doctor about it. The doctor's office said unless you were showing discomfort or there was discharge, it wouldn't be diagnosed as pink eye; they speculated that it could be a reaction to food or in response to a well-placed bump. As the day progressed, you were exhibiting symptoms of a cold. I took you home at 3, and as you'd only taken two short naps for your dad and were drifting off in the short car ride, I laid you down for an additional nap. About 90 minutes later you woke up with a fever. You felt very hot, and the doctor's office had just closed. I needed to get an accurate temperature reading, and while our thermometer takes all of a second to measure, you often toss your head around and won't let me get in your ear. Knowing that you're observant, I decided I'd let you watch while I took my temperature, and then I pretended to take the temperature of several of your stuffed animals; I'd put it in their ear, say "beep," then remove. After letting you watch me do this to three of your toys, I tried it on you, and I was so grateful you were still.

And then I saw the temp: 103.1.

My mommy heart was pounding. I knew that was high, and I didn't know the cut-off for when I should take you to the hospital. Your daddy was in class, so my first move was to grab a baby-care book from our shelf. It discussed that temps over 103 were worthy of at least discussing with our doctor. I called the doctor's office. Fortunately, they have an urgent-care nurse on duty for a few hours in the evening, so I was able to speak with her.

She said that unless you showed signs of dehydration or your temperature reached 105, we could keep you at home. I gave you some Tylenol and tried to encourage fluids. Eric came home, and we took turns cuddling you and trying to comfort you any way possible.

Snuggling against Daddy during Sesame Street (allowed because you were sick)

We offered you a pureed jar of baby food (chicken noodle, naturally!), figuring that while you do eat table foods now, pureed food would be easy to digest and offered extra fluids. You gobbled it down, but it was within an hour that we encountered another first: your first big-girl vomit. Suffice it to say that we quickly cleaned you (and Daddy, and the other inanimate casualties) up and set you in a bath. After your bath, upon noticing you weren't as hot to the touch, I checked your temperature again, and it had decreased to 99.3. You were splashing around happily with your toys and babbling excitedly, so I think the Tylenol (and vomiting) went a long ways to helping you feel better. We still elevated your mattress and ran the vaporizer to further aid in your recovery, but you were yourself the next day.

Your parents are both avid readers, and so it was only a matter of time before you were bound to follow suit. Your love of books is very evident now. In the mornings, you will happily crawl to one of your baskets of books and pull them out, splitting your time among your favorites. It's not unusual for you to open one and hand it to us, your cue that it's time for us to read aloud. This past week, there have been a handful of days where I've read books with you in the morning for over an hour, and that only satiates you for a time. You're surprisingly gently with lift-the-flap books (and you'll gently press the flap back in place if I lifted it while reading aloud). However, pop-up books do not always fare so well; they've become special books, the ones you "read" while under supervision.

Your favorite book at the moment is Where Is Baby's Mommy?  I find you happily flipping pages and lifting flaps for long stretches of time, until you spot me watching, wherein you hand it over to me to read about a dozen times in a row. But there are a pretty large number that you're drawn to over and over again, and I'm grateful we've been able to pick up nice used copies of books at a Better World Books outlet for $0.49/each. We may be on a tight budget, but we can afford that!

Again with two similar toys

I let you play with a crayon to see what you'd do. There was a lot of hitting it against the paper. You wanted to keep holding the crayon while playing elsewhere and cried when I took it away; sorry, honey, but I could visualize purple streaks on our floors and walls!

You like to dance, so I try to play some dance-worthy music that you can rock to. I don't always know what will catch your fancy, but it's fun to watch you stop everything to bop. Sometimes you'll crawl to the stereo and try to push the buttons (and, um, increase the volume...).

Possible dancing pose (and a frilly skirt to frighten Daddy)

Stranger anxiety has set in full force. Typically Daddy or Mommy is with you most of the time, but when I attend MOPS (a mom's group) or when we're at church, we place you in the nursery. It's gotten to the point where you whimper while we sign you in, but you settle down in the first minute we're gone, and you know some of the other children pretty well and you'll happily seek comfort in playing with them.

Watching Daddy rake

The last time we had a playdate, and this weekend at a birthday party, you sat by yourself or stayed with a parent until you warmed up to the surroundings, and then you were comfortable exploring and interacting. Looks like you might be an introvert after all!

A friend who has a daughter just a little younger than you hopes you will end up being friends with her daughter in the teenage years, since she is sure her daughter needs you to temper her with reminders of, "Ella, I'm not so sure that's a good idea." Already her daughter will shovel fistfuls of food in her mouth, which earned her the nickname of Cookie Monster, and you are still pretty dainty with the finger foods.

So that's where you are at 13 months. You aren't standing unsupported or walking yet, but you navigate around without any trouble. We're migrating more to indoor activities, although we've enjoyed the stretches of warm weather this fall.

I've really enjoyed time with you, especially switching down to only two days in the office instead of three. While I still work 12 hours, it's a huge difference to only have to go in twice a week, and I'm loving your goofy turns. It's fun knowing what will make you laugh: sneaking up on you, "running" away while you chase excitedly, playing peekaboo through the crib slats after you wake up from a nap. You're just a really fun daughter, and I love (nearly) everything about you -- eliminate the food tossing and the finger up the nose, and you'd be perfect!


Friday, September 30, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter: 12 Months


You are now one year old (and, um, a couple's been hard to get away to type this up - probably most of it psychological as it seems pretty big to be writing your one-year-old letter).

Since last month, you now crawl everywhere, including up the stairs. The first time you did this, it was actually after a bag of yarn I'd set halfway up as a reminder to mail to a friend - I was amused (and frightened) that yarn could be an incentive for you.

You pull yourself up on everything and cruise along while holding onto the furniture. This means you sometimes lose your balance, and we're starting to spot some marks and bruises because of it. Mostly, while you cry, it appears to be more from surprise than pain since you quiet quickly with some cuddling. Today, there was a new incident; you were digging toys out of your toy box, piling them up behind you (your typical MO), when next thing we knew, your feet were in the air and you found yourself in the toy box. This was not a happy discovery on your part.

You are still a pretty quiet baby, no surprise when you have two introverts for parents, but there are times we'll catch you in a babbling mood, talking away to one of us, the cats, or your toys. In fact, while you do strings of mamamamama and dadadadada along with some other syllables, I'm not sure you've figured out what they mean. But if you have said a first word - and we're not confident of this yet - it may very well have been "kitty." It seems like you say something like this when one of the cats are around, but perhaps they're just in the proximity during one of your talkative moods. And sometimes you're tickled that you can squeal like a dolphin.

I love seeing you interact with your toys. Furthermore, as you continue to get older, it's fascinating to watch your preferences exhibited. Certain toys you're drawn to and will always go after as soon as you notice Mom has tried to tidy in your wake. For example, there is this giraffe and a lion that you will pull around in tandem, taking turns snuggling - and maybe even kissing - them. And certain books have won your favor, as well as a tea set (with a zillion pieces constantly strewn about the floor).

This month also saw the first overnights I took away from you. Previously, I'd only been gone long enough to work my short days, but after I had an opportunity to surprise my sisters, I begged off for a weekend, and you were well cared for in my absence by your daddy and grandparents.

You are still figuring out food - you'll only feed yourself certain foods (and the spoon is a rare occurrence) - but you're getting more and more interested in what we're eating. If we're trying to feed you something, it better be the only food in sight, or we better be sharing what we're having.

We're happy to see this development. I knew you wouldn't forever be eating pureed foods, but sometimes it felt like you just weren't curious about other foods and weren't in a hurry to figure out chewing. We could do without the food and cups getting deliberately dropped on the floor, but I understand, from accounts from other parents, that this just appears to be a stage.

You're getting better at drinking from sippy cups, and periodically we'll put a splash of water in a cup without a lid and you'll slosh it down.

You're fascinated by all animals. We never see any fear exhibited, no matter the size of the animal. The only thing that seems to hold you back from petting them is the euphoria that you finally got close enough to do so. Anytime we're in your nursery when the neighbor dog is yapping outside, you look up at the window, letting us know it's time to put you on the changing table so you can lean forward and put your hands and face against the glass as you giggle and smile and squeal. The neighbor has gotten used to seeing us there, laughing at your expressions.

I know a year has passed since we welcomed you into our lives, and I know you're no longer a baby (as much as I hate to acknowledge that I may, indeed, now have a toddler), but I look at you sometimes and I wonder where exactly that fragile little infant went and when did this excited, joyous toddler appear.

You are learning everyday. There is a funnel toy with balls; the aim is to drop them (through a funnel top) into the toy, activating the lights and music. I demonstrated this hundreds of times over the months, and while you knew where the balls rolled out from the bottom, you preferred to pick them up from there and shake them since they made a delightful rattling sound. Then one day, I saw you rip the funnel top off and drop the balls repeatedly through the small opening. Whenever I'd try to replace the top to make it easier, you'd give me a look and rip it right back off. Just like that, it was as if you'd been doing that task for weeks.

Sleeping is going well. You had a cold and a couple new teeth that messed up your naps and bedtime for a week or two, but now, you sleep around 13 or so hours a day. When all is going well, after brushing your teeth and reading a few stories, we lay you in bed, turn on the sound machine, and you curl up and pass out. Sometimes you do this before we even finish walking down the stairs - you're still at two naps (around 75 minutes each) and go to bed around 7:45 PM or so.

Your mouth boasts six teeth now (four on top, two on bottom), and I can see evidence of a couple more on bottom wanting to come out before long.

Your birthday was a simple affair - we sang to you, you investigated a cupcake, and we opened presents.

You weigh 23.5 pounds and are off the charts with your height - 32 inches!

Your noggin is pretty large as well at 18.75 inches. You look like you're going to be long and lean.

And that's about where I'd normally end your monthly letters, but it seems that on the occasion of the birthday letter that I should also reflect on what the year has done in your parents. Aside from the amusing observations, like the fact that I was one week away from going a year between haircuts (June to June, baby!), there have been some notable changes.

But first a tangent or two to help set this up. I recently read the preface to Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It, and I think Buchanan accurately compares motherhood to the culture shock that can be experienced when living in a foreign country: the initial charm and quaintness of being there that later transforms to confusion and frustration when you can't understand the language and don't get the customs, only eventually morphing into a confidence as you settle in. I've hurriedly painted a broad picture of her premise, but it resonated with me as she connected it back to motherhood.

We weren't naive about what was in store for us when we brought you home - I recall vividly seeing a friend after the birth of her first child looking like a zombie, and I have long told Eric that he needed to be kind after you arrived and if the house was as untidy (or more so) when he returned home as when he'd left, he should not ask what I'd done all day but understand that a little grace might be in order. These tidbits we could pick up after observing friends, but it's hard to be prepared for what's in store. There's so much we don't know, and there's a desire to do things right, even while knowing you're going to mess up and make mistakes.

In our case, I remember on one of the first days home, you started wailing in the evening. We were so sure it was due to gas, so we were reading in all the books about ways to help relieve it: pumping your legs bicycle-style, making sure we did a more thorough job burping you during and after feedings, etc. This continued until the second or third day in a row of you crying at the same time. Then we realized it was just the oft-known "witching hour" for babies - a time of day (right around 9:23 PM) when you just need to cry to let it all out. Nothing was wrong, you were fed, clean, and being comforted, but you just needed to wail for 20 minutes, and then you'd abruptly stop. This only continued until you hit three weeks, and then it magically disappeared when that growth spurt hit.

I could list more instances of adjusting to figuring out what we were doing, but I'll focus on broader strokes. I went from working full time, very well knowing the expectations set out for me, to suddenly working only 12 hours a week and spending the rest of my time caring for you. Because you are around all the time, it was an adjustment trying to figure out how our lives embraced yours. When would I get time to be myself? How did Eric and I balance caring for you as well as caring for ourselves?

You have always been an easy child to care for, so most of the tension was figuring out how we adjusted our lives with you here. I absorbed many of the household tasks because I was home more, and that freed up your dad to focus on you and his own work while he was home. We have a better understanding of when one parent needs some free time - not that you have exhausted us, but just as a way to remember who we are outside of caring for you.

Now that you typically put yourself down for naps and bedtime, this has alleviated some of the pressure - there are suddenly pockets in the day to do housework and an evening free to fill as we choose. But I understand how the first child can cause a lot of change in a marriage as we try to find a routine, all while sleep deprived early on.

I remember watching friends and family enter parenthood. There's the type that has their lives revolve around the children, and the type that includes their children into their existing activities. I much preferred the latter; after all, one day you're going to up and leave us, but until then, it's our job to demonstrate to you what a healthy marriage should look like, model positive friendships, show you how to volunteer your time to serve others less fortunate, and so on. I'm glad that, while you are so important to us and loved beyond description, we've welcomed you into our routines - you were fawned over by the high-school students at the church youth group, you've tagged along to countless knitting outings. This is not to say that you haven't changed us, or our choices of activities, but we wanted you to come alongside us in some of these things instead of leaving them entirely. It meant some aspects changed: your dad changed your diaper on the floors of many venues, I'd put on the baby carrier and rock you to sleep during the message or worship at youth group, and sometimes I wouldn't get my knitting even pulled out of my bag, but it meant much for me to bring you to these places that held meaning for us and had an air of familiarity.

We've grown a lot as parents, just as you have grown; for the first few weeks, we kept a small lamp on in the bedroom, both to aid us in waking during the frequent nighttime feeding sessions, as well as to allow us a peek at you when we needed that affirmation that all was well. I used to know when the DVR did its cycle in the middle of the night, and I streamed several movies in 30-minute stretches in order to keep me awake when you were nursing. You started out taking 25-30 minutes to nurse every three hours, then you increased efficiency and brought that down to 10 minutes a feeding.

Brennan by month

So here we are, you a year old and every day learning new things and continually bringing us joy. It's been a blessed year. There was the stretch where every time I washed you after feeding you at the table, you would dissolve into giggles whenever I washed your left hand; that meant the left hand got washed beyond the point of being clean just because I was so enamored with your laughing. Or when you mimic our actions, dance to music, or laugh as you try to keep us in your eyesight while we try to hide around the couch or into the next room, you continually on our trail. The way you have to peek at yourself in a mirror once we put a hat on your head. How a bump can be forgotten if Mommy will hold you close. The fascination you have with the simplest of objects, like ROTC brochures. How you pause your play to lean down and lick the floors in our house as I look on in confusion (and a little disgust) and you grin widely in response.

Someone asked me recently, after I mentioned your great sleeping habits, if I missed the times of rocking you to sleep, and, without hesitation, I said no. My favorite time with you is whatever stage you're currently at. True, when you were young you were often being carried around in my arms or a baby wrap, and those were enjoyable moments as I watched you alternate between sleeping and watching everything around you. But now, you will sidle up to me and rest your head on my leg, or give me a hug or a sloppy kiss. Why would I trade that? Now, instead of me giving one-sided kisses to a sleeping babe, you demonstrate your love by affectionate kisses and big smiles. Now you reward my silly antics with laughs, and I'm continually entertained with discovering what warrants a big guffaw from you. Certain words during normal conversation will elicit hysterical laughter - yesterday, okey-dokey was the winner. You loved controlling our singing as you kept opening and closing your musical birthday card at arbitrary points. Why would I want to miss out on these discoveries to settle for what was known and comfortable?

While I will miss aspects of each age as you grow older, I embrace learning more about your personality and the person you're becoming. I don't wish to turn back time, and I'm in no hurry to rush things along.

You are beautiful and bring us so much joy, and I am so honored to be your mother.


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Weekend to Remember

I have three spectacular sisters, beautiful both inside and out. And they all reside pretty near each other in Iowa (one has bounced between Iowa and Minnesota, but she's still closer to them than I am). I'm grateful for things like email and cell phones and the periodic Skype date that allows me to keep in touch. But I admit I get a little bummed when I notice they have a sister date, and given my distance, I can't participate. Going home only twice a year makes it difficult to live daily life together, grab a coffee, enjoy the mundane as well as the festivities.

The youngest, Charity, recently went abroad for a year on a Fulbright Fellowship. Before she left, my older sister and her husband were throwing her a going-away party. Unfortunately, it was being held at a time this Indiana contingent couldn't attend - we'd already made our summer trip back home, classes were getting ready to start, and there just wasn't any way I could justify driving my daughter all that way on my own for an evening party. I was trying to console myself in the fact that Charity had spent a week at my place this summer, and it's not like I'd never get to see her pretty face via Skype once she was gone. But there was a little bit of me that was disappointed. After all, we're all four of us close friends, and I was envious of the others all being able to get together when I was over seven hours away. Nevertheless, I put it from my mind. It's not like Charity would think I loved her any less because of my absence. In fact, she wouldn't expect me to be there because of the above points. So that's the way things stood.

Until the Saturday a week before her party.

That evening, I got a string of text messages from my brother-in-law. He wondered if, perchance, I would allow him to purchase an airline ticket for me to come home for the weekend as a surprise. He understood that we are all close and that this was the last opportunity to spend quality time together before Charity left, and was there any chance I could fly back? He'd even looked into potential flights and was tossing out times. If I would allow it, he really wanted to do this for us.

I was super excited. Eric, sitting next to me, was oblivious, so I started filling him in. I tried not to let my mind run away without first weighing whether or not this could happen. Since I'm still nursing, I needed to consider my options. It seemed like I ought to bring her along so that Eric could focus on his studies without distractions. I could certainly have Brennan fly on my lap, but would Chad be able to come into possession of a pack-and-play and convertible carseat? Those items would be too large for me to bring along solo. Plus, there were all the accoutrements that go along with traveling with a baby - toys, clothing backups, diapers, possibly the baby monitor. Add schlepping suitcases and a stroller, going through security and the like: was it crazy to even consider this trip? Then there are the logistics: could I be so lucky to have her nap in the baby carrier again, or had she outgrown that? Would she stand to be confined during the flights? She's pretty mellow, but she does have a will that she sees fit to exercise now and again.

Then Eric reminded me his parents were coming in town that same weekend for a baby fix. After Eric gave his blessing for me to go on a solo trip while leaving him and his parents with care of Brennan for the weekend, I booked my ticket before my brother-in-law could rescind his offer. I sent him the itinerary, which had me flying in Friday about when he would get off work.

Then Sunday morning, I get an email from my brother-in-law. In addition to flying me in, he was offering me a stipend to plan some sister activities for Saturday morning. As he suggested, manis/pedis, or whatever girls like to do; it was up to me to plan. He was offering a budget, and it was up to me to create some memories.

This was an attractive proposition. What should we do together? Sure, manicures and pedicures are decadent and relaxing, but we technically could pamper ourselves in our respective towns; we didn't all have to be together to indulge in nail care. I remembered some friends of mine who had gotten a sister photoshoot as a gift for their parents, and I dared to hope I could arrange something similar.

I wrote my favorite photographer, a friend from college who does it professionally on the side. She is based out of Iowa City (a couple hours from where I'd be staying), but she happened to be in the area for a wedding in the fall when we had her take Brennan's pictures for her birth announcement, so I thought it was worth a shot.

I was anxious as I waited for her response. What were the odds she was free? And if she was, would she even want to travel all that way for a photoshoot? If she was busy, I knew my chances were pretty slim that I could find: 1) a photographer that wasn't already booked at such late notice on a Saturday in August, and 2) someone that would fit in our budget.

Fortunately, she had plans to attend the Iowa State Fair that Saturday, and she was free that morning and more than happy to play a role in this weekend. I was ecstatic.

Chad and I were sending rapid-fire texts and emails as plans fell into place over the coming days (we tallied nearly 50 texts and maybe a dozen emails in under a week). He worked with Hope's fiance to make sure Hope would show up Saturday morning with the clothes she'd need (she works overnights and wouldn't have a chance to head home before our shoot). There was a chance of rain Saturday, so he let me know he had a key to his friend's photography studio. We were trying to manage every contingency.

I was anticipating my departure on Friday afternoon, and my co-workers and friends were anticipating the surprise with me. I even had trouble sleeping a couple nights as I was thinking about the surprise and how much I was looking forward to this time. I was like a little kid, getting impatient and hardly able to wait until the day came. Chad shared that he even made a secretary at work cry after he told her what he was planning. He, also, was getting excited for Heather's reaction.

Finally Friday came: I worked a partial day, and then Eric whisked me to the airport. I was getting a little emotional as I said goodbye to Brennan. This would be the longest I'd ever been away from her. I'd never been gone even six hours, and suddenly I was planning to be absent two nights.

If we ever form a band, this is part of the cover art

Flights were uneventful, Chad picked me up, and we were just waiting for Heather and Charity to return home (Charity stays with them when she is in town). Heather had an art opening at work that would keep her away until around 7 PM, and Chad had hinted to Charity that it had been a long week and he might like the house to himself when he got home from work so he could decompress (clever cover to get me inside unnoticed, no?).

The girls knew something was up (Chad was having trouble hiding his enthusiasm), but he tried to throw them off the track. He kept saying that he couldn't wait until Saturday, and that Heather's birthday gift was ordered and it looked like it would arrive in time for the weekend. As it was something he thought she would enjoy while Charity was still around, he was going to give it to her early.

Our plan was to have them open a card. Inside would be a picture of the gift - me!  I would hide out in the loft until the appropriate time. My Kindle kept me company until Charity arrived home. I eavesdropped on her conversation with Chad (kind of a surreal experience), and then Heather arrived home.  I took a video of the exchange - it's nothing special since I was trying to keep my cover, but I think it should get to play a part telling this story.

They were happily (and completely) surprised, and later Hope joined us for dinner.  I announced our Saturday plans: a photoshoot followed by pedicures.

Saturday was amazing. It has been a long time since we four have been together with no other family around. We're talking years. As in I don't even remember when. Usually we can only swing three sisters together, and if all four are present, so are many other bodies.

There were so many stories and laughs and hilarious revelations. As you can see from all these pictures, we were smiling and laughing pretty much nonstop. I just got these proofs a couple days ago, and I've picked a number of my favorites from the 78 (!) images. I tend to be drawn to black and white shots, but I noticed I'm especially favoring the candid shots Mandy caught of us. It captures how we act when we get together and how much love we have for each other. I love that this goofiness and hilarity is memorialized in film.

The weekend passed in a whirlwind. Three weeks later, and I'm still so thankful I got to have such an experience. It was so much more than the price of a plane ticket and a photoshoot, and I trust that was apparent to anyone who saw us together. It was beyond special, and I'm still so amazed that Chad stumbled upon the idea at the last minute and decided to act on it. I'm also humbled that my visit was Heather's birthday present (and that she didn't find that wanting). I hope their souls were fed as much as mine was.