Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School

Addison went back to school today.
And even though she isn't starting anything new (kindergarten is next year) and even though she is well acquainted with her classroom (and begged for her teachers all summer), I always face back to school with mixed feelings.

As her tiny feet padded confidently away from me- her orthotics hidden safely inside her navy blue shoes- I couldn't help but wonder how the big, bad world will treat her while I am away.

Obviously, I know an extremely sheltered preschool classroom isn't a "big, bad world". But the truth is, inside the safety of our house, Addison can be whatever we want her to be. She is a little girl, a princess, the oldest, the one who LOVES chocolate and dolls, the one who sleeps in the pink room, the only daughter. Her life is defined by our terms, shaped by our love.

As soon as she goes off to school, she has things like an IEP, an aide, peers who can perform circles around her, and extra instructions and time for pretty much everything. School emphasizes her difference.

And it's not that she is so special that she deserves special attention or merits. These are just the things that she needs in order to have the same fair chance at learning that everyone else has. She needs extra help to learn.

Today Addison practically ran away from me onto her school playground. Ran. Not even a "goodbye!" or "see ya!" or "bring chocolate when you come pick me up!" Nope. I was ignored completely. Because Addison loves school.

She loves her aide, she loves reading, she loves playing, she loves doing crafts, she loves snack time. And I have seen her grow so much inside the structure of her class- her teachers really do a great job with her.
So I don't let myself stare at the children around her and wonder if one of them might be mean to her, and she can't even tell me about it. I don't think about her oblivious nature and how she might do things like run into walls because she just didn't look up to see that it might be there. I don't worry about whether she'll need to use that extra outfit in her bag (she did today.) I don't ponder ways the day could go wrong and she could possibly have a rough day.

I simply let her go. And then I arrive back with a smile and lunch waiting at home for my big girl who worked so hard at learning that day.

Is school a scary place for a child with a disability? It can be. Especially for one who has limited language skills like Addison. But the truth is- it can also be an amazing place to learn. An amazing place to soak in the skills of her typically developing peers all the while letting them soak in the difference of this cute girl in their class.

Addison had a girl in her class last year (we'll call her Sarah) who was Addison's best friend. Sarah has now moved onto kindergarten, but I was so amazed last year at the kindness and love that she showed to Addison last year. I wonder if Addison looked around for Sarah this morning, wondering where she was. I wonder if Addison will make new friends this year. I wonder if she will start to notice this year that she is different from the others. I wonder so many things about Addison and school, but for now all I need to truly know is that she loves it- my big girl. My 4 1/2 year old. (HOW IS SHE ALREADY FOUR AND A HALF?)

When she walks out of the house and all of a sudden seems more "different", this comes as no shock and surprise to her. This is who she always is. She hasn't changed. When you take a flower out of a greenhouse and plant it in a wide open field against the bluest of skies- it will appear different perhaps too. But it is the same flower. Beautiful, delicate, vibrant.
For now my little flower is back in the greenhouse recovering from her big morning out in the sun. Sleeping in the pink room- exhausted from her big morning. I love the way her schedule is a mix of the two worlds because of her half days. I love that I don't have to share her completely yet. I love that she loves to go to school, and then she loves to come home.

Addison went back to school today.

It was nice to have just the two boys for a morning. It felt so much easier. But at the back of my mind, I constantly thought about my little flower. I can only hope she thought of me occasionally as well.

(picture of a cute baby just because)


Monday, August 18, 2014

Rewriting the Down Syndrome List

Like most new parents who receive a Down syndrome diagnosis for my child, I was given a list. A list of potential features/problems to expert.

This list is cold, emotionless, and almost comes across as grotesque if you are reading it with fear already in your heart. The sharply angled words on this list tore apart my motherhood dream and became almost like a "side effects" commercial gone wrong.

Now the list has become a part of my life, and I think that whoever made these lists didn't capture the spirit of their assignment. Kind of like if someone was told to describe a Christmas celebration and they said only "Might include an evergreen tree and extreme cold" the end.

Down syndrome is no longer just a list- it has become a part of my heart beating outside my body. And  as I was thinking on this list the other day, I decided to rewrite it for myself- with the spirit put back in.

Those "short fingers and small hands" are to me those sweet, warm hands that reach for mine and fold so perfectly into my awkwardly large hands. These tiny hands hold a crayon so perfectly, dress herself with such finesses, and tenderly hold onto her doll babies as she goes throughout her day.
The "simian crease" is the line in the palm of her hands that tells me where to lightly stroke as she lays her head against my shoulder and we watch a movie together.

"Flattened facial features" describes the most delicately beautiful face that fills my entire world with joy. Those cheeks are the ones that curve upward into the most gleeful smile imaginable. The extra flatness across her eyes and nose, adds a sort of exotic beauty- an air of mystery- a unique kind of charm.
"Small nose" the tiny hill in the middle of her face that decorates it perfectly. The exact same nose as both her brothers.

"Gap between her toes" is just a feature of the tiny feet that staccato through my house as if performing a song of victory with every confident step. The feet that run into school full of independence and pride. The feet that walk toward me tired with a "good job well done" theme when school is done. The feet that climb, jump, and run. The feet that keep up with her very active brother every step of the way.
"Short neck"? The back of her neck also includes extra skin- from the cysts that grew there during pregnancy. I have discovered that this is the perfect spot for kisses. A ticklish spot- her neck is guaranteed to get belly laughs that will put a smile on any face. This necks rocks a set of pearls like no one's business. This neck holds high a head full of blonde curls. This neck turns quickly as soon as she hears the smallest sound of chocolate being eaten in the farthest corner of the house.
"Small, abnormally shaped ears" the place where I gently tuck her hair out of her face. Also- these ears are the holders for whatever blingy earring set she is wearing that day. The ears that hear me say "I love you". The ears that take in the world around her- and then she responds accordingly.
"Upward, slanting eyes" are the almond shaped windows into my daughter's soul. The most beautiful soul housed in the most beautiful of eyes- this unique shape only adds to the beauty that is Addison.
"Poor muscle tone" means that when she wraps herself around me for a hug, her entire body melts into mine with a warm grasp that makes all other hugs suddenly seem lacking in comparison. When I pick her up in the morning, there is something very cool about the way she melts into my arms, rag doll fashion. Her arms reach up to hold onto my neck, and her face presses into me. Never do I feel needed and loved more than when she lets me carry and hold her.
"Excessive flexibility" means that she does splits and awesome gymnastics tricks like nobody's business. Someday we will find a place for her to channel this skill. But for now? She wowed the socks off of her swim class teacher last week as she did the splits in the water…while swimming.
(Miss Flexible not a fan of her bike helmet but was a huge fan of family bike ride time)
"Tiny white spots on the colored part of her eyes" describes to me blue eyes flecked with extra goodness and love. It's like she has bits of cloud floating in her blue eye skies.

"Short height" means she stays in each size a little bit longer which makes is so much cheaper to dress her fabulously. Her two year old brother has long passed her up in height. But as she needs more help with certain things, it makes it so much easier that she is smaller and lighter to carry around.
"Extra large, protruding tongue" honestly she has never once had her tongue protrude- but if she did, I'm guessing it would be to stick her tongue out at me with the sass that I have come to associate with her personality. She does struggle with speech, and I think this does go back to having an extra large tongue (with extra small mouth). But she works so hard, and has had huge success in this area. This tongue is the one who says "mommy" and "Carter" and "Ewi" and "Daddy". This tongue is the one who tells us what Addison wants. This tongue is the one that tastes her food and has told her that she definitely likes chocolate the best.
"Intellectual disability, mental retardation" She knows the list says this, and she uses this knowledge to always pretend that she doesn't understand instructions (she does)- while she then does whatever she wants, grinning at pulling yet another fast one over on me. #evilgenius There is a difference between developmental delay and "stupid". Addison is the farthest thing from stupid. In fact, I would venture to say that oftentimes she is way smarter than both of her Master degree holding parents. Oftentimes things take her longer to learn, but she gets there. In her own time, she gets there and then she makes us all wonder why we were in such a hurry.
"Possible heart defects" She has had two heart surgeries but no actual heart defect. Her second surgery, in fact ended up just being an umbrella shaped objet put into her thigh and carried up a vein to her heart. She came away from "surgery" with only a bandaid. A BANDAID. She was the youngest/smallest person to have this particular procedure done at Boston Children's Hospital. Her last heart checkup included perfection and "AHHHHH she's so adorable!" from all involved.

"Possible vision problem or crossed eyes." Whelp she would get vision problems from me and her Grandmas anyway so…. Also, her glasses (which are in the shop right now) turn her into a mini profession/model/intellectual faster than you can say "cute baby". Her othomologist says that because of her flattened features, it makes the eyes look even more crossed than they are. A sort of "crossing mirage" if you will. She has had surgery for crossing. But I will say- these eyes- crossed or not, bespeckled or not- they miss nothing. Her favorite is "reading". She reads all the time. Her eyes manage this particular hobby quite nicely.
"Will most likely resemble one another" While she does have features of Down syndrome, her brothers will never ever be able to deny her. #twinsies #triplets I think she definitely looks like our family first, Down syndrome second.
And nothing on the lists warned me about the long NICU stay when all her ultrasounds looked healthy, the 9 months of oxygen, the g-tube, and the sleep studies. I think because- no one person with Down syndrome speaks for all. The only thing that remains constant? An individual with Down syndrome is a person. A person with many variables that cannot possibly be contained with a list.

So I think when doctors hand over the list to new parents shocked with a new diagnosis, they should include all the facts. Like- this list really means nothing. Except to tell you- you are about to have a baby. A super cute, amazing baby. A baby who will rock your world in unexpected ways. A baby who will have struggles and strengths. A baby who will steal your heart and make you wonder how your life even existed before this baby came into your life. A baby who might have some extra health problems but who was paired perfectly with a fighting spirit to overcome and thrive.

So here you go. My Christmas includes more than a stark evergreen tree and extreme cold. It includes twinkly lights, presents, sugar loaded baked goods, a spirit of happiness, plenty of snow, Christmas movie marathons, a story of hope, and so many more awesome things (second picture down is the children practicing for their Grinch auditions. Carter won.)



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's All About Me

Confession: I really struggle with making this whole motherhood thing all about me.

For example- when I first found out about Addison's diagnosis (I am sorry that I talk about this so much, but it was an impressionable event in my life). I was so angry at all the women around me who were pregnant and having babies who did NOT have a diagnosis or any life threatening health issues. I loathed the fact that they were living the pregnancy/birth that I wanted. It was almost as if they weren't allowed to be happy because I was so miserable. How DARE they post such a HAPPY birth announcement! type of thing. Without realizing it, I was letting their experience be overshadowed by my experience and getting angry that they didn't realize that they should react accordingly. Like my sadness had the right to supersede their happiness. They should be miserable too! There was a long time when I secretly hoped a friend or acquaintance had a secret diagnosis at birth so that I wouldn't be the only new mom that this was happening to. After all- why me? Why didn't I deserve a healthy baby too? What was so special about THEM?

It was all about me.

As motherhood has marched on and I found my peace with Addison's diagnosis, I quickly moved to make other things about me- without even realizing it. The whole breastfeeding thing. When I saw articles and post about other's successes- I felt angry. How DARE they be successful at something that turned out differently for me? It wasn't my fault that my daughter needed 2 heart surgeries and a g-tube! It wasn't my fault that I couldn't keep pumping with her doctor appointment schedule! Since in my mind I had "failed" (ahem see last week's post)- no one else should succeed because clearly- it is ALL ABOUT ME. Every time I whipped out a bottle and was reminded that other people were just lifting their shirts to feed their babies, I felt angry at the reminder. WHY were they FLAUNTING this RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME?

When people would post things on social media that their typically developing kids were doing that Addison SHOULD be doing but wouldn't do for a long, long time (if ever), I felt sad. I thought HOW INSENSITIVE! Can't they see that they are bragging about their child being normal? It hurts! Do they know how I FEEL to read that? Why would they say that? Why? #allaboutme

And honestly this moves even past the special needs parts of my parenting. When I heard of a kid Carter's age who already knew things that he didn't, I panicked. WHY were they teaching their kids things that I HADN'T GOTTEN TO YET? Would he ever get into kindergarten or college? I mean, he is already 2 and he doesn't know his multiplication tables yet? FAILURE! How rude that friends are rubbing this in my face on Facebook because their kid DOES know these things! They should be more sensitive! Bragging! Because clearly- what they teach their kids and their child's speed of development is…you got it... ALL ABOUT ME.

When I read about others making different motherhood choices- I waver. Why would they make a different  choice than ME? Where they wrong? Was I wrong? Were we both wrong and the entire civilization will die off in four months because of all of the HORRIBLY WRONG PARENTING CHOICES that that article told us we were making? Why would someone post this article to make me feel GUILTY? Don't they know? Don't they know how I would take this? How insecure it would make me feel? #allaboutme

Do you ever get to the point where you recognize painful truths about yourself and then you are embarrassed, thinking about how you wore this mask for so long without even realizing it? Where you look at your beautiful children one day and realize that this is your story, no one else's. And your story is not written and critiqued on Facebook. Your story isn't lesser because it's different from someone else's. Your worth as a person and as a mother isn't defined by other people failing or winning around you. Your story might include different choices, but never mistakes. Because sometimes its the seeming mistakes that really define our journey.

I have been settling into this motherhood thing with a bit more comfortableness as I ripped away this mask that had been clouding my vision. Squinting into the sunlight, I know now- it's okay to be happy for someone else without it having anything to do with what's going on in my life. I can be secure in who I am as a person, as a mother- without letting the stories of others color whether I am "good" or "bad". My successes have absolutely nothing to do with others' successes.

For example: Addison is extremely delayed in speech. I can watch a video of another 4 1/2 year old chattering away without feeling extreme hurt because of the excellent speech obviously being RUBBED IN MY FACE! No. This isn't about me. This is about that child's video. Their successes. Their moments. When I post a video of Addison saying a new word- everyone celebrates with us about HER victory and her moment. I can afford everyone else the same consideration.

Sometimes the thing in motherhood that I need to do more of is just be still and trust. Not to worry that I'm TEACHING THEM ALL WRONG! Or saving up for their therapy bill to fix their childhood's emotional scars. Or making all the innocent things about me. No, to trust. God chose these children for me. God gave me the specific abilities and talents that I have. These two things were divinely paired together. My ability to mother my children is a God given story that has been written for me. I just have to rest in this story and trust that my best is exactly the right amount of best.

I think that friends at times tiptoe around me. I am a "special" mother. Also- I write a blog and in time past have written long posts about how much "this hurt to hear" or "I can't believe this happened IN MY FACE". And I think that my inability to recognize this in myself has at times hurt my friendships. Because I wear the title "special" maybe they think perhaps this is a normal reaction? Maybe this is a side effect of a child with a disability- an inability to move on in life and view happiness normally?

But today I would like to say- just because I have a child with a disability doesn't give me permission to be a jerk. Having a child with huge delays doesn't automatically mean that ALL PARENTS have to be careful what I might see or hear them post about their kids.

Because you know- it isn't about me. Not even a little bit.

I think we should all celebrate our kids, our decisions, and whatever happiness comes our way. Because life is hard. Cruel, even. And if we spend all our energy worrying about everyone else's stories- we will never get to just settle down and enjoy our own. And these stories are speeding by so quickly- it would just be a crying shame to miss any of this.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Breaking The Funk

Lately I have been in a sort of funk.

Several times over the past few days I have faithfully pulled up my blogger tab, but the words that I labored to type were all wrong. Every single time I pushed delete delete delete and then walked away- empty of words.

Maybe this has something to do with a big weekend. Turning 30, getting lots of breaks from the kids and my regular routine, and perhaps just struggling to adjust back to normal life.

Maybe it has something to do with several things that are weighing heavy on my mind that I can't talk about. And this is more than one thing. Let's say there's Thing A, Thing B, and Thing C- all of them I cannot share on this blog or I am not ready to share them. But these three things are taking up the majority of my thoughts. And I am such a one track (slightly obsessive) person, that it is hard for me to push these heavy thoughts aside and sit down to rock a blog post on a completely different subject.

Since writing is my outlet- since this blog is such a big part of my process to make it through motherhood- my mind has felt wildly tangled up with words that I can't process.

This afternoon as I sat on a rug with a large empty orange bowl, I stared out at a sea of crushed popcorn covering every available surface in the living room. I had given Addison the whole bowl because normally she does so well with it. But this time Carter yanked it from her and dumped it. Everywhere. Eli then took the opportunity to crush it into even tinier pieces with his walker and his super fast walk over and over in the space where the popcorn had taken over.

Do you know how many kernels of popcorn come in a regular popcorn bag? Twenty Bazillion. That's right. I counted.

And as I sat there, I considered just lying down on top of the kernels and waiting for an earthquake or something to take us all. But instead, I instructed the children- "you make a mess- you clean it up!"

So I sat there and helped for the forty hours that it took them to pick up the popcorn piece by piece and put it in the bowl. I set Carter up with the vacuum and told him he needed to finish the job. (he did)

I then tried to turn the afternoon around. Fort time! I set up a fort involving a large comforter, two Dining Room chairs, the recliner, and the couch. It was awesome. For two minutes. Then Carter jumped on top of the comforter and collapsed it all just as Addison fell from the Dining Room chair onto her head.

Lovely.

While I made dinner, they emptied every storage bin ever created. I wanted to stop them but they were playing so nicely together and they were only dumping toys, so I let them go.

By the time dinner was ready, they had used up all their niceness.

"ADDISON TOOK MY FORK!"

sob sob SCREAM "AND MY TRACTOR!"

"Addison, please give Carter back his fork."

"Addison?"

"Addison."

"no." giggle.

Move to physically help her give his fork back.

"AND MY TRACTOR!!!!!"

"You can share your tractor. You have twenty cars surrounding your plate."

"NO! NO, SHARE! MY TRACTOR!"

and so on and so forth.

By the time they were finally in their rooms for bed, I looked around the house and wanted to crawl into a little ball and stay there for at least ten years.

Toys covered all the floors, bits of popcorn still clung to random surfaces like a surprise just waiting to happen, dinner was half eaten, the kitchen was a disaster from quick dinner preparations, my soul felt like two toddlers just had a battering contest with it- and won.

But there was this baby shower I was supposed to go to. I was supposed to share a few comments on going from 1 child to 2. My mind was a blank, and I didn't want to talk to PEOPLE or have to pretend to be HAPPY. But I made a commitment so I was going.

So I put on Real Clothes, grabbed my car keys, and left as soon as husband walked in the door (with a slightly shell shocked expression on his face as he surveyed what used to be a functioning house just 12 hours earlier)

I took my "funk" with me.

It's amazing that I forget this tiny little thing. This happens to me over and over again and I act surprised every time.

I went to the baby shower. I laughed. I talked. I listened to other people talk. I set aside my funk and rejoined Civilization for a few hours.

What is the thing that I often forget? As a stay at home mom with sometimes little contact with the outside world- it is IMPORTANT that I get OUT of the house when I get in this sort of funk. It is imperative that I set aside my petty problems and just GO. Breath in air that hasn't been snorted out through tiny nostrils. See sights that I don't have to clean. Talk to people who I don't have to parent.

I panicked for a minute before my comments about transitioning to 2 kids when I realized that the other commenters had printed outlines and such, but I led with the horror that was the popcorn story and somehow danced my way through it. (I ended up not using my original plan of "DON'T DO IT!" or "CUT IT OFF!" that I devised during popcorn time.

And when I arrived home, Prince Charming had picked up all the toys, cleared away dinner, and mostly cleaned the kitchen. (Aaron was there too. hehe just kidding.)

All that to say- I am feeling much better. Refreshed. Ready for another day.

Someone once said to me that God gives us the breaks that we really need. This is so true. Tonight I desperately needed this break even though I was convinced a nice little pity party would do the trick nicely. I am thankful. And hoping for no popcorn wars tomorrow.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Breastfeeding Articles Comment Sections

So according to my Facebook stream, this week is Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

Now in the past 4.5 years I have been a mother, I have noticed something strange in the articles posted on Facebook about breastfeeding awareness.

At first I noticed just a ton of BREAST IS BEST articles with formula shaming flowing rampant in the comment section. Then as time went on, there was a huge movement of women who made a BIG deal of saying that it doesn't matter how you feed your baby- as long as you feed it (also probably not good to call your baby an "it"). Then in the comment section- a giant war of Fomula Users vs Breastfeeding-Is-Super-Easy-What's-Wrong-With-You people.

Now when I see one of these articles posted I grab a bowl of popcorn and click through the comments to be entertained. Seriously it gets so ridiculous. Anyone else know what I'm talking about?

Post: We all love our babies! Good job, Mamas!

Comment 1: How DARE you say we don't love our babies if we use FORMULA!

Comment 2: Why did you say formula is okay? We all know that BREAST IS BEST!

Comment 3: Hey @Comment1 wake up and smell the bottle warmer.

Comment 4: MY NIPPLES ARE BLEEDING

Comment 5: Please stop fighting. Did anyone even read the article?

Comment 6: Do you want to work from home? I have a great plan that will work for you!

Comment 7: I am SO OFFENDED by this. UNLIKE.

Comment 8: Nipples? Who has nipples? I thought that there was a five course meal hidden under that nursing cover?!

Comment 9: This was so encouraging. Thank you.

Comment 10: @Comment9 HOW DARE YOU support the Nippleless Formula Pushers. How.dare.you.

Comment 11: I love the bond that breastfeeding has given me and my baby!

Comment 12: SELFISH! What about your husband's bond with the baby! @Comment11 FOR SHAME.

Comment 13: Why is the baby in the picture not latching correctly? WHY WOULD YOU POST A PICTURE THAT IS SO INCORRECT AND DANGEROUS?

Comment 14: Breastfeeding moms unite! Way to be the BEST!

Comment 15: @Comment14 I have tracked your IEP and if I were you I would sleep with one eye open tonight. #formularocks

Anyone else notice this comment trend (okay maybe I got a touch carried away on some of them)

Two years ago when I saw these articles- no matter how positive the angle, they made me sad thinking about how I wanted to be on one side of the discussion but instead I was on the other. When I read the comments, they made me feel like a ginormous failure. Breastfeeding was always my dream. And for Addison and Carter, for various reasons, I had to switch them to formula after a few months.

I always felt so much stress about this. I felt like I hadn't made it into some sort of elite club. The "good mom" club. The club where they did the BEST for their babies.

But now we are on eight months (with no end in sight) of breastfeeding with Eli, and I have realized something.

I am not a better mom because I am finally breastfeeding. I am not doing a better BEST for Eli than I did for the other two. My motherhood hasn't exploded into sainthood because I pushed through the rough first few weeks and made a go out of this. There is no club. And there is no point of arrival.

I am still just the same mother I ever was- imperfectly fighting to do her best for her babies. I have not failed any of my babies. The method I fed my babies did not make me into a greater or less version of motherhood. It just was.

Tonight when I got a chance to get out running, I got to the point where I wanted to stop- wanted to sit on the side of the road and just relax. But I pushed through- one foot in front of the other even though it wasn't pretty. And I thought how much motherhood is like that. Yes, breastfeeding can be hard. But so is formula feeding. They both have their unique challenges- their points of "hardness" that require pushing through to that next step. And just because the hills fall at different points- doesn't mean that one runner is running a better race than the other.

I am thankful that I am able to breastfeed Eli. I am thankful that I was able to bottle feed Addison and Carter. Because all three of stories ended with me having healthy babies with full, satisfied bellies. That's all that matters.

I wish I could go back to myself two years ago that felt ashamed of the path I was running. I wish I could tell myself to put my chin up. That I was doing an awesome job. That there was no shame in using formula. That someday that baby would be a bright, awesome, healthy, athletically talented little boy (and little girl) who would be no worse for the wear and I wouldn't even care about the formula issue that plagued me so long ago.  That I needed to look around and enjoy the scenery instead of focusing only on the rocks at my feet.

So that's my tribute to Breastfeeding Awareness Week. (Well, that and the comments on the comments)

Yes- it is a beautiful thing. But so is formula feeding- because both involve beautiful babies getting the nutrition they need. We are all doing our best for our babies. Having travelled the g-tube, bottle, and breast path with different circumstances leading to each of these choices- I can say with confidence that at the end of the day it's about our babies' needs- not our hopes and dreams.

I wish everyone would just relax on this issue, do their best with their babies, and not worry about labels and comparisons. But just in case- I buy popcorn in bulk from Costco. Because you never know when one of these comments sections will suck you in and hold you captive in its bottle prison.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I will never get this summer back

Sticky fingers, sweaty foreheads, bare feet dirty from outside play- I only get to live this summer once.

Wiggling children piling high on my still form as their idea of a nap and mine are radically different. Giggles, twinkling eyes, baby thigh pudge. Next summer they will all be a year older.

Long walks in the wagon, swims at the beach, bike rides through the countryside- something about having children at this stage makes everything so much harder to do. Living, breathing- getting out of the house. Everything takes more effort because it is squeezed in around diaper changes, breastfeeding, toddler tantrums times 2, and willful disobedience.

I think to myself about next year's change- hope that perhaps a year of growth might bring with it a slightly easier crew to juggle. That maybe we can soak in the golden summer moments as they were meant to be enjoyed instead of this constant exhaustion and the keeping-them-safe fear. And yet as I think about not getting this exact summer back again, I am sad.

I am sad of the thought of Eli no longer being a baby. Of Addison next fall prepping for kindergarten. Of Carter growing that much bigger and stronger. Of new words being said, new skills obtained, new heights crossed of on the growth chart.

So I struggle between holding tight to each day- enjoying them for the flawed jewels that they are- and wishing them away to a time when walking to the car from the house doesn't include an escape plan and a three tiered plan of attack.

Today's schedule included swim lessons, nap, and Costco. Three things. THREE. And yet, I sit here at the end of the day, exhausted and swatting away flies on the deck while they all sleep inside because I need space from this never ending day.

I long for them to cling to me, and yet when they cling too long my introverted self starts getting twitchy. I wish they would stare deep into my eyes and tell me all about their world, and yet after an afternoon of toddler babbles, I just really want some good old fashioned silence. I want to be involved in their lives- to care about every single thing that they care about, but sometimes I find myself detaching. Finding some distance. Seeking to refuel while still barreling down the highway.

I think perhaps summer is my most difficult parenting season because I have to do it mostly alone. In the last month I can count two weeknights that Aaron was actually home when the kids were awake. Two. I hold no ill will toward my husband for this. He is working so hard for us. There is sacrifice that is wed to ambition that is wed to providing for a family. He is very good at this, and I am so proud of him.

And speaking of wed- tomorrow marks 8 years. 8 years since a very naive 21 year old said "I do". Now I have 3 kids, a marriage that is halfway through grade school, and just enough knowledge to know that I don't know what the heck I'm doing.

As the children peacefully snore and I wait for hubs to get home, I think of tomorrow. Another day. Exactly like today.

My adventurous side cringes at the stability of my hours. And my comfortable homebody self tells the adventurous side to go talk a hike- this is amazing.

But then I remember that tomorrow is not just another day. It is an anniversary of one of the best decisions I ever made. It is the anniversary of two kids promising something to each other and then fighting like anything to keep that promise even when it is hard. Even when life sucks. Even when we get knocked down and then kicked while we are down.

8 years. 8 years of fighting for something that I believe in. 8 years of choosing love. 8 years of keeping a promise. It has been 8 years well spent.

I will never get this summer back.

Next year it will be 9 years. And each child will be a year older. And our family will graduate one step closer to…I don't even know what.

Tiny hands holding mine, baths full of splashing, meals that hit the triumph of being eaten by toddlers, soft hugs that are too short, the whisper of tiny snores, the lilt of new voices finding their stride, laughter that is infectious in a way I've never experienced before, seeing life through 3 sets of eyes experiencing all things for the first time.

Now that I think of it, this phase is pretty amazing. It is after all…bedtime (-;