READ: Our Favorite Children’s Books

My most favorite thing about being a mama–besides snuggles, of course–is reading to my kids. I remember once lamenting to an older, wiser coworker of mine that I was afraid my kids wouldn’t like to read: “I’ve never met a child who didn’t like to cuddle up and be read to,” she said.

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That’s certainly the case in our house. I’m not a crafty mom or an “I know! Let’s do something that’s going to ransack the house I just spent an hour cleaning!” mom (I know, I know…babies don’t keep and the housework can wait. But I like laundry. I really do.) But I am a reading mom. I’ll stop pretty much anything I’m doing to read to Gabby if she asks. I love watching her fall in love with some of the same characters I loved as a kid and I love pulling out the books she loved as a toddler now that Emerson is a little older. I can’t wait for what lies ahead for all of us: Amelia Bedelia, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter (!!!!!).

On any given afternoon, we can knock out 10 books, easy. And although Gabby tends to be open to any book anywhere, she does have those ho-hum favorites that I can recite with my eyes closed (I’m serious about that. It’s a party trick I should really pull out more often.) But there are some books that I don’t mind reading over and over and over and over again and some that she doesn’t mind listening to over and over and over and over again (and yes, there are some that I’ve hidden in the laundry room because I can’t take it anymore. Ahem.) These books are the ones we’ll exclaim over when she’s 16: “Oh man, remember when we read Moo Ba La La La every single night?” (I really did read this to her from memory via Facetime when we were on vacation.)

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Here are some of our favorites! Lots of classics, plus some that we’ve discovered happily by accident. If you have a little one, the English major in me highly suggests a book for the next birthday or just-because gift. The mom in me says do it for the snuggles–no kid has minds being snuggled and read to.

Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

Of course this made our list! We actually don’t own too many Dr. Seuss books, a problem that I would rectify immediately if I loved my children, but Gabby is just getting to the age where she gets the delight and silliness of his books. Green Eggs and Ham is already making her laugh.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

Gabby can pretty much recite this one on her own now. I’m not sure if we read it so much because she loves it or because it was Caleb’s favorite when he was a little boy, but Max now feels like part of our family.

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The Going to Bed Book, Sandra Boyton

We have (and love) lots of Sandra Boynton books, but this one and Moo Baa La La La stand as our tried-and-true favorites. We read this one every single night for at least a year, and now it’s moved to Emerson’s room.

Angelina Ballerina, Katharine Holabird

This was one of the books I used to bring to my mom in the middle of the night to read me back to sleep. I got it for Gabby when she was 3, and we have read it almost every day since. I credit Angelina with Gabby’s intense adoration for all things ballet. I wouldn’t be surprised if Emerson’s first words were, “She worked very hard for many years until at last, she was Mademoiselle Angelina, and people came from far and wide to see her lovely dancing.”

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Olivia, Ian Falconer

Oh, Olivia! She makes us smile. Gabby particularly appreciates the page where she has to go to time-out. We have the original Olivia book, but we’ve lately gotten some of the others at the library, and they’re all fun for all of us. Olivia knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go and get it, and we like that spirit in our house (though she does have to go to time-out, which we understand in our house, too.)

Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson

We loooooove Harold. I never read this one as a child, so I fell in love with how witty it is as an adult. I could (and do) read this one over and over. It’s the perfect length for a before-bed book, when Mama is ready for lights out. (Also, I’ve had my eye on this shirt for Gabby for approximately 12 years but haven’t pulled the trigger.)

Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown

This was the first book Emerson ever heard! (A big deal for his nerdy parents.) I meant to be really specific about which book we chose to be his FIRST EVER, but then I was really tired and he happened to be there when I read this to Gabby before bed one night when he was a few days old. Even though it was an accident, it’s pretty quintessential, so we were happy.

Every kid loves Goodnight Moon. I don’t know why, so don’t send me an email asking me to explain it. And I kind of agree with this assessment that it’s a weird book. Even so, there’s something perfect about ending on “Goodnight noises everywhere” and turning out the light and going to get the ice cream you saved to eat after the kids were in bed.

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The Winnie-the-Pooh Storybook, A.A. Milne

If you’ve never read the original Pooh stories, go ahead and buy this for yourself (actually, I’m pretty sure we did buy this before we had kids.) The stories are achingly sweet and a little bit witty, and they’re the perfect sing-songy beat to help little kids’ eyes get nice and heavy. (She is actually reading Angelina below, of course.)

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Llama Llama Red Pajama, Anna Dewdney

I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Little llama, what a tizzy! Sometimes Mama’s very busy. Please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your mama” to my own little llamas. Enough times that I can quote it off the top of my head and get it right.

We have lots of Llama, Llama books, but this first one is by far our favorite.

On the Night You Were Born, Nancy Tillman

This is more of a Mama favorite than a kid favorite, but I love Nancy Tillman’s precious books. What a joy it is to whisper this over my children as I tuck them in: “On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.'”

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Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book, Richard Scarry

Gabby got this book as a gift and kind of forgot about it for awhile. One day, though, we found it in the back of the book basket, and her love affair with Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm began and the fire has yet to go out. We have a couple Richard Scarry books, which mostly focus on Busytown and the characters who live there, but this one in particular has been a home run.

First 100 Words

Emerson loves looking at this book! And, admittedly, chewing it. But the pictures are so bright that he will flip through for a good 10 minutes (plus there are pictures of many animals, so after we do our calculus lesson for the day, we often look at the pictures and say the animal sounds. You know, if we have time before his French lesson.)

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name and Baby’s Hug-a-Bible, both by Sally Lloyd-Jones

What a gift these books are to our family! The Jesus Storybook Bible is a kids’ Bible, but it ministers to Caleb and I every time we read Gabby a story. And, as the name suggests, each story directly points back to Jesus. Baby’s Hug-A-Bible is much shorter–only eight stories, I believe–and is the sweetest way to introduce your little one to the Word.

What Do I Tell My Kids?

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks now. It’s been simmering in my heart, with the words stringing themselves together, as they’ve always done for me, ever since I was little. But mostly I’ve been talking myself out of writing it.

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I handle “politics” the way too many of us probably do. I must admit that I’m ashamed of how often I check out of all of it. Sometimes, I can pass it off as “good for my soul”–you know, the news is all just terrible, and we should turn it off and spend more time with our families. Logging into Facebook has become a harrowing act, so I’ll just scroll past everything that doesn’t strike me as peachy. And I’ll zip up the walls of my bubble super-duper tight until all I worry about is my laundry and my dinner and my husband and my kids…

 

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My kids. What do I say to my kids?

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The other day, as we were driving to school, we pulled off to the side of the road for an ambulance to pass. “Let’s pray for them,” Gabby suggested, and boy did I swell with pride. She knows to do that because I’ve modeled it for her. We hear and see a lot of ambulances because we live close to a hospital, so there have been several times that I’ve suggested just that thing when we let one pass. We pray that God would heal whoever is inside quickly, that He would cover him or her and the family involved with peace, that the person inside would get to return home soon. This day, Gabby said the prayer, and then she asked why we should. She was doing what I’d showed her without even understanding the reason behind it (parenting is just the worst because they tend to watch what you do more than listen to what you say. It’s a terrible/terrific path for growing yourself as well as your children, and it’s why I eat so many stinking cookies.)

Anyway, I answered her with carefully considered words that were in direct contrast to my actions: “Well, we want to always have our eyes open to see when other people need us to pray for them or to love them in some other way. Remember, our number one job on Earth is to make others feel loved so that they might know Jesus.”

This is the kind of thing I tell my kids (Keep in mind that though a brilliant scholar most assuredly, Emerson is 8 months old and not quite taking it all in.)

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But in the same hour, I find myself scrolling past all of it and instead of any of it hitting me, it just bounces off my bubble. These great, big decisions that our country has to make become conversation topics for Caleb and me as we make dinner, and that’s it. I forget that my number one job on Earth is to love people–not just my people–and I go to bed.

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Even if I wanted to make this a political post, I couldn’t. I haven’t the understanding, the wisdom, nor the heart to craft something worthy in this particular political climate (or, if we’re being honest, any political climate. But boy do I know my parentheses, and I’m happy to add to the chatter about them in the world.)

But lately, I’ve felt so heavy. Over and over, as I’m making dinner or running baths or folding laundry, I think, “What can I do?” and “Thank God my children can’t read yet.” How would I explain to them if they could? What would I tell them about the divisiveness and the hate and the fear that is rising up around us? What would I say?

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The other day in the car, we prayed for whoever was in the ambulance, and then I prayed for my own, well, lack of prayer. “This much you can do,” the Holy Spirit reminded me. “This much you must do.”

For the families who are fleeing war and destruction, for the mamas who nuzzle their babies’ heads just as I did my own last night, I can pray. And for those who are living in fear because of their nationalities or skin colors or beliefs any which way they fall, I can pray. And for the babies who have been aborted and for the mothers who have had to make those choices and for the lawmakers who can push change for the babies in the future, I can pray. And for my friends who believe differently than me and for my own heart that so enjoys its comfy bubble and for my children, who will one day learn to read (probably), I can pray.

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What do I tell my children, friends? What do I tell them? I tell them that the world needs more than kindness and compassion–it needs a Savior. I tell them that even more, a Savior it has, and that they should proclaim the good news not with ALL CAPS or damning memes or political party affiliations, but in the way they love the people they encounter. I tell Gabby that before she speaks, she must ask herself, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it respectful?” and I tell you and me that, too. I tell them to stop and pray, to center their hearts back on what is good and true and holy, and to lift the least of these up to Him.

I tell them that they have to go to bed because God created early bedtimes for moms and dads so GO TO SLEEP RIGHT NOW. I tell Gabby that the smoke detector in her room is a camera and I can see when she gets out of bed. Father, forgive me, but I had to tell her something.

When they’re older, I will tell them that the world will prosecute them, but that they must do all they can to further the Gospel with the gifts they have. I will tell them that I don’t have all or even many of the answers, but that I do know that it’s dangerous to lock your doors because you can and forget that the mothers caught in between countries are praying prayers of safety over their babies, just like I do for them each night.

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Here’s what I tell my children: “We want to always have our eyes open to see when people need us to pray for them or to love them in some other way. Remember, our number one job on Earth is to make other people feel loved so that they might know Jesus.” It’s really the same thing I pray for myself, the prayer I’m sometimes afraid to have answered: Eyes that see. Ears that hear. A heart that will stop at nothing. And please, Lord, keep these children safe.

And Father? Tell them to go to sleep.

Top 20 Baby Registry MVPs

I have a confession: My name is Lindsey and I’m a researchaholic.

I guess there are worse things. But I found out I was pregnant around 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and by 9:30 that morning, I was already researching car seats. I kept that up for almost the entire time Emerson cooked, though I did let up around week 39 day 5 because then I just napped. Anyway, we only have the one baby (plus the one kid who is surprisingly low-maintenance gear-wise) and by the time we have another, all my research will be outdated. I have so many friends who are embarking down the motherhood (and fatherhood) path, so here! Take my research! You don’t even have to pay for it.

These are all things we received or bought for Emerson that we’ve used and loved. This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of baby necessities (although you really don’t need as much as you think. Promise!), but I think this list and this one does a good job at that. So, for example, a crib isn’t on this list, but you will need a baby sleeping place of your choice. These are just things that have made our lives way easier for all of or part of Emerson’s life. And that’s no small feat.

Also, new mamas, please, please, please consider consignment! I can count on one hand the number of times we bought something brand-new for baby E and he’s a happy baby nonetheless. Baby items are everywhere and you can save yourself so much money by asking friends, shopping Facebook Marketplace or resale sites, and hitting up consignment sales. Most baby gear is in great shape because the parents only used it for a few months (other than the big-ticket items, that’s usually the shelf life of any particular baby thing.) Plus, the only weapons newborns have against something is poop; they’re not really banging things up.

Alright, without further ado and in no particular order, here it is:

The List of Items I Could Live Without But Really Wouldn’t Want To:

  1. The Boppy // Why we love it: It does everything. I’ve heard that other nursing pillows can be better for actual nursing, but I got along with the Boppy just fine after the first few weeks (and before that, I just stacked up extra bed pillows.) But after I stopped using it for nursing, I used it to support Emerson while he was laying down and then learning to sit, which is really helpful since we have hardwood floors.photo-jul-06-6-30-30-am
  2. The Baby K’Tan // Why we love it: There were many days when this is the reason we all survived. It’s a carrier that fits like a wrap, so tiny, snuggly babies are close to mama. There’s no tying, which is a big deal when you’re trying to pin a 2-week-old to your body. I wore Emerson all the time when he was tiny, and even though he wasn’t a great napper, he always fell asleep in the K’Tan. Mamas, there will be a day when the Witching Hour finds you and you don’t want to be caught without this (or some other wrap. Or a margarita.)photo-jun-19-1-06-10-pm
  3. The Halo Swaddle // Why we love it: Pre-baby, I was obsessed with growing our swaddle collection. I’m really glad I was, because Emerson slept swaddled for four months and when we let the swaddles go, we all cried tears of sadness. So we tried several different kinds, and they all swaddled, but this one was my favorite. These are runners-up.photo-jun-07-10-19-51-pm
  4. Aden & Anais Swaddle Blankets // Why we love them: I know, I know. $50 for blankets! That you can get cheaper! They’re just baby blankets! I don’t know what Aden or Anais puts in these things, but it must be magical strands of…magic. They’re so soft. They’re so sweet. They really are breathable, so we felt OK swaddling Emerson in them during the summer. We have six, which felt like too many, but I kind of wish we had six more. (Bonus: All of the Aden & Anais prints work well together–and many of them are gender-neutral–and we actually use their stuff for our nursery as well.)photo-jun-01-11-06-11-am
  5. Cloth Diapers // Why we love them: I made the snap decision to throw these in our Amazon cart a week before Emerson was born and IT WAS MOTHER’S INTUITION. My people, motherhood is like…a swamp. Especially if you’re breastfeeding. There’s milk. There’s spit up. There’s slobber. (Although our pediatrician told me Emerson “drools more than many,” so maybe you’ll get a “drools less than many” or even a “drools on par with many.” May the odds be ever in your favor.) These are cheap, wash well, and soak everything right up. They do kind of disappear on you, so get two packs. Or 17, if you’re a planner.
  6. Zutano Booties //  Why we love them: They stay on!!!!!! You might not yet think that warrants so many exclamation points, but you will see. You will see, my friend. (The best I have is a picture of him wearing one. But they do usually stay on.) img_2064
  7. IKEA ANTILOP High Chair // Why we love it: Let me tell you what happens in a high chair: Humans under the age of 3 eat. It’s not pretty. This high chair is cheap, but mostly because it’s bare bones. It’s like the Aldi of high chairs, and who doesn’t love Aldi? There’s no cover (though I think you can buy one?) but you don’t want one, because your baby has spent months on cushiony surfaces, and it’ll be OK sitting here for mealtimes. Plus, everything WIPES OFF. No need to toss anything in the washing machine (which I would seriously have to do after every meal). It also doesn’t take up a lot of space. It’s not a work of art, but it’s also not the most terribly designed baby thing I’ve ever seen.img_2102
  8. Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller // Why we love it: Listen, treat Caleb and me like your personal baby stroller shoppers. We did buy our stroller brand-new as an investment for the Osborne babies, so we read and read and read and pushed strollers around Buy Buy Baby and opened and folded them and on and on. We actually purchased an UppaBaby (an older version), but I just had a feeling it was too heavy and too hard to fold. I have used the City Mini almost every day since Emerson was a couple of weeks old (we got this car seat and the adapter to make it a travel system.) It was the easiest part of taking a 3-year-old and a newborn to the park. I can open it and fold it with one hand, it maneuvers really well, and is fairly light. img_2089
  9. Fisher Price Rock and Play // Why we love it: I’ve never read a must-have baby items list that didn’t include the rock and play. Ours does not have the automatic rock setting (we bought it used and it is an older model), but I actually liked that, so that Emerson didn’t get used to sleeping while moving constantly. He had terrible acid reflux as a newborn and slept in this until he was around 10 weeks old. When he woke up, one of us would give it a rock and he’d often be lulled back to sleep. Anything that will do that is worth your kidney, but I think you can get them for cheaper than that. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
  10. Gripe Water and/or Gas Drops // Why we love them: Do they work? I don’t know. What I do know is that there will be a moment when your baby is crying and you’ve exhausted all of your options, and it will at least make you feel better to give him or her something if you think the tummy is the problem. Emerson was really into both of these things. I don’t have a picture of them in action, though.
  11. myBaby Sound Machine // Why we love it: In my opinion, this sound machine has the deepest, most well-balanced sounds (meaning they sound like “real” sounds, if that makes sense.) We also have this one and like it a lot, but the noise is just not quite as rich. This sound machine has been a lifesaver–the world is louder than you think! Even if you don’t have a 4-year-old whose only two volumes are mumbling and MOMMY CAN YOU COME HERE, there will be squeaky brakes, UPS men knocking at the door, action movies playing after bedtime, etc. I don’t have a picture of this either, but I can show you what it produces: photo-sep-17-10-06-43-pm
  12.  Skip Hop Bathtub // Why we love it: For some reason, I felt really impassioned about infant bathtubs when I was pregnant and went back and forth 1,000 times on which one for which to register. I chose this one and I’m happy I did. The sling makes it comfy for even tiny babies (not that my 10-pounder ever tested that out), but my favorite part is that it has a hook, so we hang it on our shower bar to drain at night, and it’s (semi) out of the way. Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
  13. Medela Nipple Shield // Why we love it: It saved our breastfeeding. When Emerson was born, he was very reluctant to latch, and the nurse handed me one of these in the delivery room. Admittedly, I was disheartened that we needed it, but looking back, I’m so grateful I had it. We used it for 9 weeks for almost every feeding. (It seemed like SUCH a long time then!) And one day, Emerson latched all on his own and has been a happy milk connoisseur ever since. I’m not necessarily saying you need to go out and buy one if you’re planning on breastfeeding or that you need to jump to these right away if your baby has trouble latching, but I did want to put it on the list in case some people weren’t aware they even existed. (It was the only thing I used out of all of the breastfeeding “supplies” I bought!) Also, mamas–if you’re going to breastfeed, mostly you just need patience, a good friend who breastfed who will answer a lot of questions, and a number for a lactation consultant (just in case).
  14. Halo Sleepsack // Why we love it: We use this now that Emerson has dropped the swaddle. Warm baby toes make babies warm and warm babies sleep well. I can’t find a picture of him in this either, but that’s because we zip him up, give him a kiss, and peace out.
  15. Infant Optics DXR-5 Portable Video Monitor // Why we love it: This is another thing that we researched to death, and in the end, I picked the cheapest one with the best reviews. I’ve used it multiple times a day for almost eight months, and it’s still going strong. Though it’s not fancy, it definitely gets the job done, and I think it’s a terrific product for the price. No picture of this either, which is strange, because I KNOW I’ve texted Caleb pictures of Emerson not napping with the caption, “Please come get your baby.”
  16. Munchkin Changing Pad Liners // Why we love them: If you have a changing pad or table, these guys (or something similar) really are necessary. Remember, newborns’ most powerful weapon is poop, and they know how to sling it. These protect your pretty changing pad cover and you can just drop them in the washing machine. And after approximately 7,395 washes, ours are still holding up pretty well.photo-jun-08-7-01-44-pm
  17. Safe Tech Baby Car Mirror // Why we love it: This revolutionized car rides with our baby, who would get bored and start to scream. Long before he was able to play with toys, he would smile and coo at the cute baby looking back at him. But even more so, I love that I can see him when I’m driving, so I know if he’s asleep/dropped his paci/etc.
  18. MAM Glow-in-the-Dark Pacifiers // Why we love them: We wanted to be those strong parents who didnt give their baby a paci so that he’d learn to soothe himself. And then, our second night in the hospital, we gave it a go, and…yeah, here we are. If you decide to go the paci route, there will be a few months of frantically trying to find it in the middle of the night. (Eventually they learn to find it themselves!) These were recommended by my sister-in-law, and she was right! The pacis are a lot easier to find if they’re glowing.Photo Jul 06, 7 34 45 PM.jpg
  19. Tommee Tipee Easi Roll Bib // Why we love them: I’ve heard rumors that some babies sit in their highchairs, open their mouths, and let you spoon purees into their mouths. My offspring, on the other hand, clamps his mouth shut and/or blows raspberries with his lips until I hand over the spoon/pouch/cup. So we’ve taken more of a Baby Led Weaning route, and these bibs keep me from having to pick up steamed apples off the floor 5,000 times (now I pick them up off the floor 4,000 times and scoop them out of the bib for the other thousand.)
  20. OxiClean // Why we love it: Well…let me just say, Oxiclean you the real MVP. Rest in peace, that white onesie that got washed that time I ran out of OxiClean.13924815_10154465140931079_8524477565241209679_n

That’s it! Of course, you’ll also need diapers, coffee, and good Chapstick because your lips get dry from kissing cheeks all.day.long. Other mamas and papas: What did I forget?

Onward Bound

Do you smell that?

There’s a hint of victory in the air; ah yes, victory (Roll Tide) mixed with a splash of productivity and a hint of melancholy. It must be January.

I hear lots of people love January. As a self-proclaimed list-maker extraordinaire and lover of productivity and purging, you might think I would, but I missed the fresh-start gene. January is, by far, my least favorite month, because Christmas is gone, it’s grey, and there’s nothing to look forward to.

I’m sorry. I can tell that my cheer is overwhelming you.

Anyway, in a totally out-of-character move, I welcomed the dawn of the new year this year, and not just because 2016 was the year Alan Rickman died (though that did make me cry.) Our 2016 was remarkable–hard but lovely. Joyful but challenging. Probably just as life should be.

The first half was spent preparing: buying little diapers, tying up loose ends at B-Metro, finding Caleb a double-car-seat-friendly car, buying new pants. We grew. And grew. And grew some more. OK, that was just me and Emerson.

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And then, almost smack dab in the middle of the year, around 3:30 in the afternoon, everything changed.

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We embarked on life as a family of four (six! six! Sorry, Scout and Francie) and moved to a new city and waved Caleb off to start a new year of medical school…all in three weeks. It was so much fun!

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It really was. But sometimes–sometimes it was pretty hard. A certain baby I know had a knack for hour-long nursing sessions and a certain now-4-year-old I know had a knack for (understandable) meltdowns and a certain me I know had a knack for forgetting to eat snacks and a certain husband I know had a knack for going to school when he was supposed to and luckily, my sister-in-law is really responsive to her text messages because I needed help.

But, as you do, we survived in a sleep-deprived, love-drunk haze. Eventually, Gabby adjusted to her baby brother and the baby brother started sleeping more. Caleb, of course, Caleb Osborned every rotation. And I adjusted (and am still adjusting) to life as a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom, where the joy is rampant and the pants are yoga.

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Which brings us here. This year, life seems quieter. We have no plans to welcome any babies, make any moves, or even adopt any fish (although we’re aware we’re not fully in control of any of those things, especially fish adoptions.) As January dawns, it feels like our whole house is letting out a sigh of relief: We did it. We made it. Let’s take a nap.

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Still, this is the first year that I’ve felt the urge to make some sort of plan for my time and energy. In years past, either it was a given that I’d get to do the things I love–read, write, leave the unmatched socks in the laundry basket for months at a time–or, like in 2016, all my energy was focused on L-I-V-I-N and that was enough (see: that day in July when I gave 6-week-old Emerson a cookie for the 15-minute-long nap he took.) This year, the challenge is to be intentional with my time and my energy and my gifts and all of those terrific buzzwords people like to throw around in January.

So far, things are going exceedingly well. We ate at Chick-Fil-A today and I’m halfway through my first book of 2017 (not including the three times I’ve already read Green Eggs and Ham.)

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No real resolutions here, except to send my husband funnier text messages and talk on the phone more with my best friend. I’d also like to spend more time petting my cats and figure out the formula for bottling up a 7-month-old’s giggle. And, of course, I want to write more and love better. More patience, less arm-crossing and huffing while I unload the dishwasher. More gentleness and less eye rolling (I’m looking at you, Emerson.) More phone calls and text messages to say hello and less scrolling through Instagram even though I just checked it six minutes ago.

More coffee? Definitely.

Happy 2017, friends. May the force be with you.

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How We Sleep Trained Our Four-Month-Old

I’m aware that this post pertains to 0.002 % of my readers. However, when we were looking into sleep training Emerson, the thing that helped me most was reading real moms talk about how they got their kids to sleep. We ended up using a controlled comforting method (basically, we let him cry but checked on him to let him know we were still there), and if that’s not your thing, I understand. It worked for us!

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The Background: I realized pretty early on that we’d have to train Emerson to sleep somehow. He was never a “sleepy” newborn. He often fell asleep while I wore him, but even as a 2-week-old, he could sit in his swing, car seat, or stroller for hours without falling asleep. He was a baby who had to be “gotten” to sleep, and by the time he was 3 months old, that process could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. He had periods during his newborn stage when he’d go to sleep more easily, but he turned a corner around 2 months and rarely went down easily after that.

When I was reading up on sleep training, I read an article that said you’re ready to sleep train if you know, deep down, you have to do something. That’s where we were by the time he turned 4 months old. He was requiring a three-ring circus to get to sleep: 20 minutes of bouncing, 20 minutes of rocking, shushing, patting, the works. Every night. And often for naps, too. This meant that one of us was putting him to sleep for an hour every night, and, if Caleb wasn’t home, that Gabby was left watching TV or playing by herself while I rocked Emerson. It was really hard for all of us to ever eat together because someone had to put Emerson to sleep. Every night, that person would ease him down, and he often popped those eyes open as soon as we did. I felt like we couldn’t leave him with a babysitter, because we were the only ones who knew the “secrets” to getting him to sleep (plus I would’ve hated to inflict that on anyone else!)

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How We Decided We Were Ready: Once Emerson was asleep for the night, he usually slept pretty well, but around 4 months, he started waking more and more, for longer and longer periods of time. We saw bad habits forming (“Let me just nurse him back to sleep.”) and wanted to circumvent them if we could. He still ate at least once a night, and we weren’t interested in night-weaning him (he still eats once a night), but we knew he didn’t need to eat at 2, 3, and 4 a.m. Nursing to sleep had never been something he’d done, and we didn’t want to make it one. Also, at this point he was still in our bedroom in his bassinet and we were ready to transition him to his room.

Caleb needs sleep to perform well in medical school, and I need sleep so that I don’t sell the kids on eBay in a moment of weakness. So one night, gearing up for Mom vs. Baby, Episode 89, Caleb said, “Why don’t we give it a shot?” We decided to go for it.

But I had done a lot of research to get us to that point (I had a lot of free time on my hands while I was rocking.) The Internet and baby books are divided as to when a baby is “ready” to sleep train–mostly, I surmised, it depends on when Mom and Dad are ready. I knew that I didn’t want to try until at least 4 months, when Emerson was officially out of the newborn phase. By 3.5 months, he was showing signs of being able to self-soothe, like sucking his hands, rolling on his side, and doing a soft, whiny cry to get himself to sleep. We decided to give it three nights, and if he showed progress, we’d keep going. If not, we’d try again a few weeks later.

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The Method: Like I said, Emerson’s big issue was getting to sleep in the first place. He fought it and fought it and often screamed even as I was rocking him (he just didn’t want to go to sleep. If I took him out of the bedroom , he’d be all smiles again.) So our plan focused around that initial put-down, which for us is around 6 p.m., because he takes shorts naps during the day. Until he stretches those out, he’ll go to bed early to make up for the missed sleep. For middle-of-the-night wake-ups, we let him whine himself back to sleep unless it was after 3:30, and then I’d feed him.

So, the plan. I think the longest Emerson had cried without us before this (exempting times we were in the car and I couldn’t get him out) was around two minutes–I had just lathered up my hair and had to rinse before I could get him. So he was very used to Mom and Dad coming to his rescue–as he should be! I knew it would be tough on everyone to hear him cry, so I wanted to do it right the first time. We did a 30-second check, with touch and soft voices (I sang his bedtime song) after one minute of hysterical crying or three minutes of regular crying (but we did NOT soothe him or give him his paci–we simply let him know we were still there.) Then, we added 30 seconds for hysterical crying and a minute for regular crying. So, for example, if we went in after a minute, we waited 1 minute 30 seconds before we went back in, and then two more minutes after that. If Emerson calmed himself down at any point, we started the timer over.

I didn’t keep exact notes, but we did go in several times in the first 10 minutes. Emerson wasn’t self-soothing (he was crying like “WHERE ARE YOU PEOPLE?” and we were counting down the minutes until we could go in and reassure him. But I realized after about 15 minutes that we weren’t giving him enough time to flex those self-soothing muscles, so we decided to stay out completely for 10 minutes. And what do you know! He started sucking his fists and rolling over. We were watching the monitor and let out a big cheer–he was figuring it out! (I stayed glued to the monitor the entire first night 🙂 Emerson cried for the first 20 or so minutes straight, and then intermittently for next 45. After about an hour, he was asleep.

The next night, it took 45 minutes for him to get to sleep, but we only had to go in and check on him two or three times. By night three, he only needed one check, and I think we’ve only gone in once or twice since then.

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What It’s Like Now: Each night, we begin Emerson’s bedtime routine around 5:30 or 5:45, depending on when he woke up from his last nap (usually between 3 and 4). He gets a bath (his favorite!), lotion, pajamas, a book, a prayer, nursing, and a few renditions of his nighttime song. We work really hard to keep his routine consistent so that he knows bedtime is on its way. Then I plop him into his crib, tell him I love him, and leave. He goes to sleep with no crying or whining about 80 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he will whine for five or 10 minutes before he settles in. We wake him up around 9 or 9:30 for his dreamfeed bottle, and then he usually sleeps until around 4:45 or 5 before eating and going back to sleep for a couple of hours. He’s usually up for the day between 6:45 and 7:15.

A few notes: I still nurse Emerson right before bed because it very rarely puts him to sleep. If he had a sleep association with nursing, I would have moved this up in his bedtime routine.

Also, Emerson is not nap-trained; based on all of my reading, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that until closer to 6 months (when babies tend to naturally consolidate their daytime sleep). However, sleep training at night helped his naps a lot–he goes down much easier for the most part and generally sleeps in his crib for a full sleep cycle (though that depends on the day).

He also does still wake up in the night, but he rarely cries. He will whine, sometimes for five minutes and sometimes for 20, and almost always put himself back to sleep. Occasionally, Caleb will go back in and put his paci back in for him (though that’s against the rules during sleep training 🙂 And the early morning hours–between 5 and 7–he usually has a lot of wake-ups and he sometimes ends up in my bed for his last sleep cycle (around 6 or 6:30). We’re OK with this.

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All in all, I am SO glad we did this. It’s made everyone’s lives happier, including Emerson’s. He’s learned a new skill that really aids in his well being; for example, he can fall asleep in the car now, whereas before, he would just cry and cry until we got home. Gabby gets a full hour (including dinner) with her parents with no baby brother, which does lots for her. And Caleb and I no longer have to fight Emerson to get him to sleep every night.

Rockabye, sweet baby Emerson James!

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These Are the Days

Let me tell you guys what I’ll never be in the Olympics for: sports.

It’s problematic…or it would be if my dream was to be in the Olympics. But if–this is understandably kind of a big “if”–coffee drinking was a sport, I would so be there.

Yes. I, my friends, am the Usain Bolt of coffee dates. The Michelle Kwan of extra foamy lattes. The Michael Jordan of pouring my heart out even if I’ve just met you, so long as we have a scone and a comfy couch.

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Good were the days when I would spend hours at the coffee shops, friends. Good were the days. I’d get there early to do some writing, meet a friend for a heart-to-heart, and then stay late to shop online do more writing. I’m not sure what I was doing with my life, but I was caffeinated and happy. Those were good days.

The days have changed, as days are wont to do, and these days, it usually takes me six hours to get a cup of coffee down the hatch. I give myself bonus points if I finish having microwaved it less than three times. (My favorite trick is to take it in the shower with me. Try it! A spa experience!) Occasionally, I’ll have “coffee dates” at the park, where little feet can run until little bodies are ready for not-so-little nap times (long naps are my secret to sanity.) There is heart-to-hearting, but it’s interrupted by “You can do it!” and “Please stop interrupting me” and “Look at that geyser of a baby I have! I hope I remembered a burp cloth…”

So, indulge me if you will. Let us have a coffee date.

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Last week was a tough one for us. Caleb started a new med school rotation, which means new hours. We were particularly spoiled by his last rotation and so while these hours aren’t the worst ever, they’re making for long days for both of us. By 4 p.m., I’m needing approximately six more cups of coffee to make it to bedtime and I can’t tell you how much Clifford the Big Red Dog has been watched the past week. Let’s just say that we don’t technically have a family dog, but…we kind of do. He’s big. And red. And I’m thankful for him.

We’ve also begun to suspect that Emerson has some sort of intolerance to something I’m eating, because–and I’m really, really sorry about this; I promise to never talk about this again–he’s been having green poop. At first it was kind of a cool party trick, but then we got worried. His pediatrician told me to stop drinking milk, but when that didn’t do the trick, I went ahead and cut out all dairy everywhere. It was all fun and games until I looked on the back of my beloved three-pound bag of Costco chocolate chips and read (in big, bold letters, no less): CONTAINS MILK. Also, this past week I indulged in our weekly pizza night ritual after I scraped off the cheese. (So I had “crust night.”) All this to say that if you find me in Target weeping near the chocolate chip cookies, do a girl a favor and bring me a latte. Better make it an almond milk latte.

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To add more fun to the mix, we also decided to sleep train Emerson this week. As you guys well know, the kid would rather have his nose sucked out with a bulb syringe than go to sleep (if you don’t have a baby, trust me when I say THAT’S A BIG DEAL.) If you don’t have a baby, actually, you may be tilting your head. “Sleep training?” you ask. “How does one…sleep train?” One does it lots of different ways, but we bit the bullet and let him cry (with lots of checks from Mom and Dad). He cried. I cried. The cats cried. It was tough for two nights. But then it got better. And now? Now he goes to sleep much more quickly than he used to when I fought him and rocked him and cajoled him and bounced him and shushed him and geeeeeeeently laid him down only to walk out and hear, “Wah!” as soon as I shut the door.

And sleep training is where we’ll end, but that and the rest (re)taught me perhaps the most beautiful cliche in all of parenting: This, too, shall pass.

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Long days? Short years.

Sometimes, when I’m crouched in the pantry, praying that the chocolate chips would become milkless so I could eat my usual six handfuls, I picture their tiny little faces as bigger, wiser, older faces. At night, after they’re asleep, I scroll through the pictures I took of them two weeks, a month, six months ago. “They’re so big!” I whine to Caleb. Sometimes, when the day could not possibly get aaaaaany longer, I imagine them all grown up, in their own lives. My breath catches–how I long to know the people they will be; how I long to keep them just as they are.

Those days, I’ll drink my hot coffee in peace. Those will be the days, my friends.

But so are these. So are these.

Little Victories

You guys, my baby hates to sleep.

Wait, that’s not exactly true. He hates going to sleep.

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You know how you see people post those truly adorable photos of their babies conked out on playmats or in highchairs or on their mamas’ chests? Every time I see one of those, my heart kind of feels how it felt when Dobby died. If I looked over and saw my baby asleep on his playmat, I would probably rush him to the ER. No, this baby has to be gotten to sleep. In fact, Caleb and I have spent full days of our lives bouncing, shushing, patting, stroking, singing, rocking, cuddling, and praying fervently. Our baby has spent whole days of his life wide awake. There’s just too many ceiling fans to examine and far too much of the world he hasn’t yet drooled on to go to sleep. He communicates this by screaming any time you make the slightest motion that might suggest you’re thinking about beginning Nap Time.

To “fix” the problem, I’ve read the baby sleep books. I’ve read the blog posts and Instagram posts and Facebook posts. My major takeaway was that we needed to create a nap time routine so that Emerson would understand when it’s time to sleep (they call these “sleep cues.”) So we hung blackout curtains, put a fan and a sound machine in our bedroom, gave him a soft blankie to snuggle, bought a rocking chair, and started swaddling him at nap time so that he would get it. And boy does he get it. Every time we even get near my bedroom (where he still sleeps), he starts to whimper. The great news is that it worked; that is, he won’t go to sleep at all now unless his routine is followed carefully, especially the fervent prayers part. Also, it’s important to note that our offspring gets reeeeally cranky when he doesn’t nap.

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All this is to say (believe it or not) that a whole lot of my life revolves around getting a little baby to sleep. As primary baby holder, I’m the one who spends the most time bouncing and shushing and swaying (this is stage one.) Once Emerson realizes I mean ball and he has to nap, the crying will (usually) stop. Those little eyes will grow heavy. Then I ease my way into the rocking chair. I rock. And I rock. I watch the little eyes fight and fight. I rock some more (this is stage two.) Occasionally, he’ll get a burst of energy and start to cry again, so I rock faster. Eventually, most of the time, it ends with me halting my breathing, tiptoing to the bassinet, laying him down ever so–the ever so is really important here–gently, and then spending a good 10 minutes staring at the monitor, disbelieving that he is truly asleep (this is stage three.)

Sometimes he’s not. Sometimes, I ease the door closed, tiptoe into the living room, and pick up the baby monitor to see wide, bright eyes staring at me. I won’t lie–this has made me cry more times than I care to admit. I’ve sobbed as I tiptoed back in, picked him up, and started the process over.

But all that rocking gives time for reflection. And one day, after whining to Caleb about how many hours per day I spend trying to get Emerson to sleep, I had myself a good old rocking chair revelation. (Those probably only exist south of the Mason-Dixon): I could hate this season of rocking. Or I could embrace it.

I’m trying–hard–to embrace it.

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For me, embracing it doesn’t mean sitting, staring, soaking up the joy of rocking my baby. (I love to rock my baby, but trust me, I’ve spent lots of time staring at his sweet little face. I know, I know. They grow so fast.) For me, it’s more about not letting my day get shoved in the dumpster if he decides to wake up 10 minutes after I put him down; even more than that, it’s about celebrating when he takes a nap.

Before this season of my life, I was in one of big victories. Over the course of a few years, I graduated college, moved to a new city, found an awesome job, got married, added two cats and a couple humans to the mix, moved again. It was chock full of stuff happening, of meeting deadlines and making decisions. But now, I’m spending three hours a day sitting, rocking. It’s easy to feel defeated when you don’t even get a sleeping baby out of that. It’s even easier to forget to rejoice when you do.

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I’m finding more and more that this is the season of the little victory. These are the days of high-fiving myself because I found time to write a blog post or patting myself on the back because I made the bed (OK, sometimes they’re tiny victories…minuscule even.) I count it as a win if I make it through the day tantrum-free (bonus points if the 3-year-old does, too) and I thank God for every hot shower I take and hot cup of coffee I drink, because neither of those things are givens these days. Like my dear friend (OK, I’ve never met him but he wrote my favorite book) Jon McGregor says, “There are remarkable things all the time, right in front of us, but our eyes have like the clouds over the sun and our lives are paler and poorer if we do not see them for what they are. If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?”

One day soon, we’re going to have to teach Emerson how to go to sleep by himself. We know that’s the right decision for everyone in the house. But today, I’m rocking, counting up every single remarkable thing I can think of and that–that is making all the difference.

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Say It New

As we were driving to preschool the other day, Gabby asked me what “going to town” meant. Have you ever tried explaining a cliche to a 3-year-old? It’s like nailing jello to a tree. “So…Huntsville?” she asked.

“No, it’s a metaphorical town.”

“So…Birmingham?”

“Birmingham’s not a metaphor.”

“Yes it is.”

“OK.” Pick your battles, friends.

Anyway, this conversation hearkened me back to my college days. I was a journalism/English major, but I occasionally took some creative writing classes because that’s my idea of fun. One in particular changed the way I saw, and thus wrote about, the world. I don’t remember the professor’s name, but I still have a folder somewhere full of photocopies of poems that he passed out in class (like this).He also liked to tell us every 17 seconds to “Say it new.” (He also once circled a word in one of my poems and told me it didn’t belong there, to which I took offense, you know, as the poet of the poem. Not over it yet.)

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Anyway, he insisted that everything we wrote should “say it new.” If you disregarded that advice, he would circle all the cliches in your work and write in big, red letters, “SAY IT NEW.” Meanwhile, in the journalism department, they were constantly telling us to “show, don’t tell.” Do you know how hard it is to paint vivid imagery (“Show, don’t tell!”) without using cliches (“SAY IT NEW.”)? Hard. This is the kind of stuff that separates the men from the boys.

That year, I learned to loathe the cliche. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to say it new. I would stun my readers with the way I perceived the world. I would uncover metaphors in Ulysses that had never been uncovered before and I’d write 20 pages about it without using a single cliche (I did get a 98 on that paper. If you’ve never read Ulysses, don’t, but do trust me that it’s not overkill that I still display that paper on my mantle.) This is how I would “win”; this is who I would be. I would be a writer. A really, really good writer. I wouldn’t dare use cliches. And I certainly would never become a cliche.

But never say never, they say. After all, there is nothing new under the sun.

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On the way to preschool the other day, as I explained metaphor (#Englishmajorforever), I took stock of the scene: I was wearing yoga pants, though I haven’t done a single Warrior pose in at least a year. My wet hair was thrown up in a topknot. I was, literally, semi-covered in spit up. I was calculating nap times and laundry piles in my head. I was considering a Target run in the afternoon as a treat. For a moment, I felt all of the other mes I’d ever been shaking their heads at the me I’d become: a big, fat cliche. The stay-at-home mom who never really gets dressed and takes her kids to Target just to wander the aisles (though I never take my kids. I’m not crazy.) Some days, I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth and I find my coffee in the microwave at dinnertime. And yes, you’ve heard this all before.

But there in the car, somewhere between explaining metaphor and confronting cliche, I heard the voice of the Lord whispering an invitation to take a deep breath and a different kind of look. An invitation to see it new: My cliche isn’t a cliche at all. Nor is it a grand calling. It’s a choice. My children don’t me more like Christ, but the choices they challenge me to make sure do, so long as I get out of the way.

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Target trips and laundry bins may be the mom cliche, but learning the art of thankless sacrifice isn’t. It’s hard, sanctifying work, work that leaves me in tears many days (and this isn’t just for stay-at-home moms.) Nothing about this work is trivial and nothing about it can be summed up in a cute phrase or meme. I’m doing this work right now because this is how I’m becoming the next version of myself, the one that looks more like Christ. And this work is how I’m coming to admire the cliche.

Besides, the yoga pants are really comfortable.

Catching Up

Have you ever run into an old friend in Target and had to go about the gargantuan task of “catching up”? I’m not talking about an old acquaintance that you can appease by saying, “Wow, it’s been so long! You look great. I’ve been busy. Oh, gee, that’s my mom calling. Tell Delores I said hello!”

I’m talking about an old friend who used to know how you took your coffee and ham sandwiches but has no idea now that you’ve been gluten- and dairy-free for two years. Nonetheless, you have to catch up, so you invite her out to lunch at your old favorite spot (it’s probably Panera.) It’s kind of awkward when you order a turkey sandwich without the bread and broccoli cheese soup without the cheese (she’s all like, “Whaaa?”) You have to turn and explain that you tried a new diet that worked/read a new book that won you over/had terrible farts for 10 years before you realized lactose was the problem. And there, at the cash register, you realize you and your friend don’t know each other anymore.

This is kind of like that. The last time I wrote a blog post, Caleb and I were hot-off-the-griddle newlyweds living in a one-bedroom apartment. It had no central cooling or heating. We had cold feet and a really splendid big old bathtub and apparently a lot of money and free time, though I don’t remember it seeming that way at the time. He was in med school and I was a full-time magazine editor, which I liked to refer to as “working.” Life was tiny but grand. But as life tends to do (if you let it), it got bigger and more complicated and altogether brighter really quickly. 11146518_10205827696704124_3465814790563810245_n

After about four months of boring wedded bliss (except not that boring because we watched three episodes of 24 every night), we were afforded the magical opportunity to become guardians to my niece, Gabby, who was 2. When I got the call–and I hope you’ll understand that this part is vague on purpose, since this is Gabby’s story, not ours–I was sitting at my desk at work. Since Caleb was in a lab, I knew he wouldn’t be available for a few hours, so I shared the news with my coworkers and my small group and asked them to pray for us. When Caleb returned my call(s), I was standing in the cookie dough aisle at the Piggly Wiggly, surprising no one. He interrupted me midway through my explanation: “Let’s do it.”

So we did.

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We’d planned to wait until second year of residency for kids, so this was only four years ahead of schedule. She was much closer to potty training than your average newborn, which was nice once we actually made it through Potty Training (also known as the period in my life when the thought of just letting someone wear diapers until college actually sounded really, really good.) Somewhere before Potty Training, probably after Gabby said something cute, I said (to Caleb), “You know what’s better than a toddler and two cats? A toddler, two cats, and a baby.”

That’s how this happened. (it took some convincing at first–something about sleep–but once I showed him my baby pictures, he was in, and luckily, Emerson delivered on the cuteness.)

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And honestly, the sleep hasn’t been that bad*.

Three weeks after this guy joined the world, we packed up and headed to north Alabama, where Caleb will finish his last two years of medical school. I stay home with the kids and the cats, and let me tell you, those cats are no walk in the park.

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Oh, life. How big and wide and deep and exhausting it can be. How wonderfully and terrifyingly surprising. How mundane and extraordinary, all on the same day. How glad we are that the Father had these bigger, heavier, more joyful plans for us than the ones we had for ourselves (though we [obviously figuratively] kick ourselves for not enjoying all that free time.)

I feel like I’ve been talking this whole time! What’s new with you?

*Emerson sleeps on Caleb’s side of the bed, so I’m really not sure if he sleeps.