Loose

A few of Christopher's friends have started to lose their first teeth. Mrs. Vesta, his Kindergarten teacher, has a tooth chart in the classroom on which I assume kids pin some sort of sticker or something when they've lost a tooth. I'm a little fuzzy on most of the goings on in his classroom. The kid isn't really into sharing details, unless we're talking about Minecraft or Snackeeze (don't ask). 

At the boys last dentist appointment Chris was given an oral x-ray. Upon review, the dentist noted that he didn't have any teeth looking anywhere near ready to fall out. This was no big deal to Christopher, but unfortunately Matthew, having not been gently briefed on the anatomical fact that baby teeth do in fact fall out and it's perfectly fine and normal, overheard the dentists' comments and FREAKED OUT.  He's kind of a sensitive kid, and the idea of his teeth falling out of his face had him in absolute shambles. So much so that even after lots of calm conversations about big boy teeth and the tooth fairy (freaked him out more) and growing up, he declared (in panicked tears) in early October that he never wanted to turn 5 years old (the age when teeth can start falling out) and that he wanted dress up as an actual tooth for Halloween. Because if a tooth can fall out of your face, dressing up as one for Halloween would be SUPER scary. Obviously. 

Fast forward several months, and several carefully worded conversations about teeth, to a couple of weeks ago. Chris complained of some pain in his front teeth when eating an apple. I asked him to let me look and jokingly said, "maybe you have a loose tooth". And wouldn't you know it, he does. Two in fact. The bottom ones. All wiggly and jiggly and weirdly moving around in there. He looked slightly panicked for a second when I screamed they were loose, but now he's mostly excited for them to come out.

Despite the face that Niall and I are totally freaked out by the thought of pulling them when they start hanging by a thread and are both actively making pleas not to be the parent in charge that hour, I can't help but be a little wistful about the whole thing. He's grown up so much this year, from 5 to almost 6. And when I see kids with mouths full of holes left by baby teeth sent off with the tooth fairy, I don't look at them as little guys and girls anymore. It's a childhood rite that sort of moves kids swiftly from little ones to big ones in my mind. And while he's always been the big kid in our family, he's not often been a big kid in his wider peer group. 

In order to mark the last few weeks of my little kid just as he is now and before his face turns into a gummy mess of toothless smiles, I thought I steal him away for as long as he'd let me (14 minutes), and try to snag a couple of shots of his sweet 5 year old baby-teeth-still-intact smile. Turns out he doesn't so much like to smile with his mouth open these days.

Even so, here's my little C-Man, teeter-tottering on the edge of big kid land.  He still holds my hand in the grocery store, but won't let me kiss him good-by before a birthday party. He wants to make his breakfast and lunch on his own every day, but insists on sleeping with his beloved stuffed dog every night. He blushes when I mention his "super pretty" school friend Mae yet he's still enamored with Curious George cartoons. Watching him move from here to there, sometimes in teeny tiny baby steps and other times in big giant leaps has been the very, very best. 

My Instagram Life

You know that thing that's always going around the internets about being REAL in our online lives? The stuff about being honest and open and not filtering the bad stuff out of our social media feeds? About not projecting an image of perfection that other people feel they have to live up to? Can we get over that?

It's no secret that I love Instagram. I'm intentional about what I post and am unashamed at the fact that my feed is a carefully curated collection of my life. I DO THAT ON PURPOSE. And here's why. I definitely struggle and have un-pretty moments every single day. Of course I do. Like every other parent out there, I spend my days teaching the same lessons over and over and over. I pick up cereal off the ground. I fold the blankets and rehang them every hour. I wipe bottoms and herd cattle into the car and answer a million questions about giraffes on the Serengeti. Somedays I don't yell, but lots of days I do. This is what my life looks like right now.  

But I triumph, too. After months and months of practice Christopher has mastered his peanut butter sandwich making. Matthew can buckle his own seat belt, when he feels like it, and climb into the car on his own. Both boys ask me serious and thoughtful questions about Jesus and talk about ways they can be kind to their friends at school. Emily smiles and giggles and blows spit bubbles at me when I change her diaper. We bake scones or decorate cookies and I don't freak out about the mess. These are little tiny moments, yes, but also big giant glimmers of love and light in my everyday.

So I'm always prepared and I readily snap the camera on my phone. When we're bored and have nothing to do and are feeling goofy, when we're working hard on a fun project, when we've mastered a new facial expression, when we're looking calm and cute and peaceful for a nanosecond. I snap the camera on my phone. I take pictures of these little moments, spend a couple seconds making them extra pretty, and I post them to my Instagram account.

So yes, my Instagram feed is filtered and polished and pretty. I make it that way because it helps me single out and remember the really, really good stuff. I don't want to look back at this time and see a running verbal and visual commentary of the hard parts. I hope that rather than dwell on them for years to come, I'll let them shape me today instead. I hope and know that they're already making more more patient and kind and accepting of grace. I hope that in 30 years, when I'm that grandma in the grocery store, I'll stop the young person with all the kids and say, "gosh, it goes so fast" because shoot I'm starting to realize that actually, IT DOES. I'll be the first to tell you that my day often feels about 52, not 24, hours long. But late at night, after I've hashed out the hard parts of the day with Niall and we've made a game plan for whatever trials tomorrow might bring, I'll sometimes grab my phone and scroll through my own Instagram feed. And that visual reminder of my pretty, beautiful, full-of-love life is the best reminder I've got right now of the stuff that really matters. 

From the cutting room floor...a few snaps saved on my phone, and to my Chatbooks account, but not shared on my Instagram feed. 

An Experiment

Niall and I spent months thinking about Christmas presents this year. Typically, the boys have gotten Legos, blocks, or vehicles of some description for every gift giving occasion. We have literally a million Lego pieces in the basement, and two boys who love them, but aren't quite ready to play with them independently for long periods of time yet. 

So we tried to be intentional and thoughtful about their gifts this year. We didn't want to get them junk, but we also knew they'd be bored easily with things not involving screens or batteries (our bad). Late one night in October, I found a list of the top "educational" toys for boys and we wound up picking most of their presents from that list. Lots of neat building stuff, this cool talking microscope for Christopher, and a Curious George matching game for Matthew. We wound up with some pretty cool stuff, I think, and a month after Christmas, they're still playing with most of it daily. Win!

Story Hour

Upon finding the baby Jesus at the end of this book...

This one has the imagination. A Mama can only read so many stories before she's positively out of high-pitched animal voices. When I'm done for the day, he takes over, "reading" to me in his own words. I'm not sure which version of the Christmas story has hot lava and aliens involved, but his face upon discovering the baby Jesus on the last page of this book just about made my December. 

On Early Mornings and Breakfast with Matthew

School starts at 9:15 for both boys right now. Since we're roused from our peaceful slumber hours (several) before then these days, we're left with ample time for lazy mornings every day of the week. I am absolutely a morning person, ready for action as soon as I open my eyes, so this late start and pajamas until 9am drives me crazy most days.

Yesterday though, I needed to make an emergency trip to Walgreens at 6:45am for some infant Tylenol (read, 4 month vaccination fever).  As we drove home, fashionably dressed in pajamas and snow coats, we saw a line of middle schoolers waiting for the bus on a snowy street corner. Christopher commented on how early the big kids have to go to school and it struck me that soon enough, both boys will be off to wait for the school bus and out of the house well before the Today Show starts. First thought: I can't wait for luxurious mornings sipping coffee with Matt and Savannah. Second thought: Man, that's going to get real quiet and lonely after a couple of months. 

This back and forth, willing time to both hurry up and slow down, keeps stopping me in my tracks. I think it has a lot to do with the arrival of Emily. I feel like I've got my left foot in one door, my right foot in a different door, and in the space between the two is a big giant magnification of how quickly time has started to pass.

Yesterday, an hour after breakfast was over, I found Matthew like this on the kitchen table. Inappropriate when the Grandparents are around? Probably. Something I'll miss like crazy in 10 years when he's already in second period by 9am and I'm home alone with my coffee and an elderly Matt Lauer? Without a doubt.

An Ordinary Monday

At around 2:30 this afternoon, Emily woke up from one of her afternoon naps. After having spent the previous hour scrolling through my usual photog inspiration blogs, and with absolutely nothing on our afternoon agenda, I decided I'd just pull out my camera and shoot a little around the house.

What's important to note is that I didn't pick up all the blankets littering the floor before I started. I didn't change any outfits. I didn't pose anyone. I just shot what was going on. It was kind of a radical change of pace for me.

If I'm being honest, it's taken me a minute to connect with these images. They don't tell the story of an event. They're not a lifestyle set of our family baking cookies or of our weekend trip to the zoo or of us reading stories in the middle of the afternoon (though that post is in the works). Instead they are a perfect portrait of a typical slice of an actual day in our life. They are the un-orchestrated documentation of 30 minutes on Monday afternoon.

There are words that belong with this set of photos. Words about my everyday life and how lately the days and hours and minutes and seconds, when I really pause to consider them, have begun to feel a lovely shade of perfectly ordinary. The words have been swimming around in my heart for the past several months and I hope that as I continue to write and shoot, our story, as it is just now, emerges on these pages.  

A New Toy

I'm in a rut friends. A serious photography rut. The kind that comes from lack of doing. 

The first thing I did when I realized I was in the rut, was the same thing I do whenever something isn't quite right in my life. I asked Google. 

So, "how to get out of photography rut", was the search phrase. The suggestions varied; get a change of scenery (it's cold and winter), get a new subject (uh, I don't need anymore kids right now, thank you),  get creative with your angles (Check. I bought myself a 2 step ladder and it was on my doorstep in less than 48 hours. Thank you Amazon Prime), look for interesting lines and repetition (blah, blah, blah). 

The truth of it is, I want the results but I don't really want to put in the work. How can I expect magic to happen when I only pick up the camera once a week? How will I grow and and learn, if I don't spend time growing and learning? 

Sweet Niall, sensing my creative angst, surprised me with a new camera lens for Christmas. It's a 35mm, the one I've been swooning after since we moved into this non-open floor plan house, and it's like magic. I'm not backing up into walls anymore or balancing my camera in odd locations to get shots that show the scene. I mean, I can take a picture of my toes for goodness sake..and my shins too. Priorities!  

On especially dreary days, when we've totally exhausted all possible playtime scenarios, I'll sometimes let this one play in the sink with a bunch of plastic dishes (sorry California). This time he just let the warm water run over his little toes, and watched a few dogs walk by on the sidewalk. The life.

I'm still getting a feel for my new lens friend and I'm still trying to figure out which stories I want to tell with the freedom of wider angles. As always, I hope to tend to this space a little more frequently than I did last year. Perhaps my sparse posting is like my photography rut; a result of just not putting in the effort. 

Middle and Little

These two. Matthew has probably had the biggest adjustment to life with Emily of anyone around here. Throughout my pregnancy, he loved to hug and kiss my growing belly and as we got closer to the end, he'd ask daily if the baby was coming out yet. Where Christopher was rather apathetic about the whole thing, Matthew was supremely interested. He was constantly touching my bump and asking what kind of baby we were having. 

When Emily arrived, he was like a wrecking ball. Or perhaps his rambunctious nature was just magnified with a very delicate newborn around. Either way, he was rough. Before we'd even left the hospital I caught him jumping over Emily on the couch like an olympic hurdler. Yikes! More than a few times, in an effort to be helpful (I think), he's jammed her pacifier into her mouth quite fiercely. And don't even get me started on his "gentle" pushing of her in her swing. But aside from being a maniac around her a few times a day, he mostly ignored her. 

It's been a learning process around here, for sure, but I think we're starting to see some progress. He's much gentler with his sister now, and she's quite a bit sturdier, so we don't worry so much about him breaking her. And though his actions may look totally manic and insane, the kid is incredibly agile and coordinated. So many times I've been sure he was about to plow into a kid at the playground or fall off the top of a play set, only to see him smoothly and swiftly change positions or directions at the last second and avoid catastrophe. It's amazing really. He now wants to sit next to Emily all the time, check if her eyes are open or shut (manually), and he calls her his pretty pretty princess. He obviously adores her. And though he can still be a bit crazy around her, I can't wait to watch their relationship grow.

Scratch

It snowed over the weekend. A whopping 6 or 7 or 8 inches. Not to be a downer, but I really don't like the white stuff. I declared very honestly last March that I honestly wouldn't mind even a little bit if I never saw another snowflake in my life. The sentiment stands. 

But it's just so magical for the kids. They went to bed Friday night all hyped up on the prospect snowmen and snow forts and snow ball fights. They awoke at first light and dashed to the little bench in our bedroom that sits below the magical east facing window and gasped at their first look at snow this season. The morning light in the backyard didn't disappoint. The scene was pretty magical.

I always seem to get a little creative itch this time of year. I'm not sure why. It's challenging for me to shoot during the winter months, the bright snowy white outside and the frigid temperatures aren't my preferred conditions. Our small house starts to feel even smaller than it actually is with days upon weeks spent indoors. All signs point to me boxing up the camera for the winter. 

I snapped this in a teeny tiny pocket of window light in our living room this morning just as I told Christopher that maybe, if he was quiet during Emily's morning nap, we'd pop out for bagels at lunchtime. The shot is nothing magic, but it feels warm and cozy to me like our little house these days, and I suppose that's a good enough subject as any for me to photograph.

Emily's been up in her crib, asleep, for 2.5 hours and I've managed to edit a couple photos and write this blog post so I suppose I'll need to make good on that bagel promise. Here's to me scratching that creative itch. Even without perfect light and a gorgeous setting. 

Frosty Fall Morning

Our backyard and master bedroom windows face due east. Tall mature trees dot the properties backing up to our own in a natural organic rhythm, without thought to fancy landscaping or the careful design of a neighborhood council. As the seasons change, so do the patterns of light that stream through those trees into our backyard after sunrise. During the summer months, glaring bright sunshine invades our mornings at an early hour, rousing us from our sleep after we've kicked off all the covers and we're too warm to comfortably lay in bed. By the time we've had our coffee, not a speck of shade can be found out back, and sunglasses are necessary for sandbox play. As the summer fades to fall and the dark minutes of the early mornings stretch longer and longer with each passing day, the sun shifts too, slightly to the south, fractions of a degree each week. By mid October it's still dark at 7am, an omen of winter days looming on the horizon.  But then like a little consolation prize, daylight savings arrives giving us just one last push of early morning brightness before the sun starts its real and more rapid departure for the southern hemisphere. 

The days following that last little glimmering gift of a few more early morning sunrises, are my favorite in our backyard. The way the world looks during that magical hour just after sunrise, if I allow it to catch me, always stops me in my tracks and forces me to recognize the season we're in. The light is soft and glowy in a special and fresh way. As I notice the way it dances through the trees and how it has changed since the last time I stopped to look, I'm suddenly aware that the seasons are changing. 

Last week, while our daytime temperatures were still quite pleasant and mild, the air chilled significantly overnight and frost found its way back into our yard in the early mornings. Fall is most certainly slipping into winter.  And we're slipping into a new season as a family as well. The transition from summer to fall collided with significant transition for us too, a new school and routine for our kindergartner, a major maturity leap for our 3 who turned 4 year old boy, a new baby sister. The transitions have shaped us and changed us; they've made their initial impact. We've adjusted our routines and they feel like old news now. Already the light in the backyard is changing again, and new opportunities and adventures and challenges will work their way into our lives. A new season is upon us. 

On Saturday, after our morning coffee and oatmeal, the boys and I headed down to the depths of the basement to dig our favorite brown bear hats, a gift from Pop Pop before we moved to the Chicago tundra, out of the giant winter storage boxes. I'm not ready to bring all that winter gear up just yet, the boots and scarves and hats and gloves, but we took those brown bear hats for a little test run in the glowy morning light. 

The hats still fit, a bit more snugly than last winter for sure, and as the boys got goofy trying them on and running around, I snapped these pictures of that soft light and their 4 and 5 year old smiles. They're the first snapshots of this new season and a reminder for me to keep chasing that light. 

Emily Jane

Emily Jane has arrived! Goodness gracious! In so many ways she's been the biggest surprise of my entire life. From the day we, unexpectedly, found out I was pregnant, to the day she was born a girl (!), to the 8 weeks of baby bliss since her birthday she's completely stolen our hearts. 

It's kind of totally impossible to put in to words what life has been like since Emily arrived. It's been sappy and blissful, and tiring and short-fused, and totally calm yet utterly chaotic. This third time around motherhood thing, especially with the long baby-stage break, has been the best gift. It's shifted my perspective and made me reevaluate life in a million ways. It's totally different this time around and also exactly the same. Where once I admittedly and vocally "hated" the newborn stage, I find I'm soaking up every second this time. Where I used to be so confused about people mourning their kids passing ages and stages (I mostly rejoiced), I nearly cried when I packed away the newborn and 3 month (yes, you read that right) clothing last week. We spend hours laying on the carpet in the afternoon staring at our sister and showing her our favorite iPad games and making ridiculous faces to get her to smile and taking a million selfies. I've found myself thinking this, THIS, is what having a baby is like. After the boys were born so close together and the helplessness and hopelessness that seemed to follow in that season, I'm just so grateful I get to have this experience again with newfound perspective and grace. 

So, Emily. She's just a dreamy little thing. She's mostly quiet and so much more calm than the boys ever were as babies. She'll lay content for long periods of time gazing at the crazy around her. She saves her best smiles for her Daddy and big brother Christopher. She's a great nurser (yay!) and though she doesn't seem to want to sleep very long stretches at night, she loves a good carseat nap. She's starting to make those sweet baby coos and every time she does everyone in the room erupts in squeals and applause. In short, we're just enjoying every moment with her. I snapped these photos out of pure guilt last weekend in about 10 minutes. It's the first time I've really put my good camera in her face, and I just giggle when I look at these shots. She's such a little turkey and she's her big brother Matthew's little twin.

Oh, and the girl clothing section? It's just as fun as I always hoped it would be. Here is Emily Jane at 7 weeks.

Matthew is 4!

Our little, soon to be middle, man turns 4 years old tomorrow. For a little over a year now Niall and I have been saying that Matthew seems to be our kid with the biggest personality. He's just a total goofball. He's wild and manic, soft and sweet and very cuddly, and a total tornado. All within the space of a half an hour. Zooming down the zipline, building Lego creations, and snuggling in with a fort of blankets for an episode of Curious George are his main goals in life at the moment, and his smile and joy during those times is incredibly contagious. Where once we worried about his speech development, we now worry he'll never stop talking and telling the same stories (and asking the same questions) over and over and over. 

That first set of pictures is sweet and cute and not totally accurate. They're portraits. Posed and perfectly tucked and very handsome, but very staged. The shot below was taken on Christopher's first day of Kindergarten, while I was snapping away before we left for school. Always eager to get in on the action,  Matthew begged for me to take a picture of him too. It was one of the those shots that I snapped just to appease him, barely framing it (missing his little toes), and without any "1-2-3" warning. And it's totally him. Thumbs up and a perfectly accurate "Matthew" pose. I love it. 

Niall and I are learning how important it is to make time for this little guy. For so long he's been Christopher's little sidekick, sort of swept along (happily) with whatever his big brother is doing. But we're realizing how different the kids actually are these days. Matthew is his own wacky and weird dude, and we're feeling pretty lucky he's ours. Happy Birthday crazy man!

Baby David

We had two very special visitors come to town last week. My sister and her sweet, sweet baby David. The week was wonderfully full of doing mostly nothing and we daydreamed about living in the same neighborhood or even city so we could split the 20 pack of bagels from Costco or meet at the playground whenever we wanted. 

Sharing pregnancy with and now watching Katie start her journey into motherhood has been better than I could have ever imagined. She's teaching me so many things about patience and positivity and letting go. Already I admire her as a mother and I feel so lucky I'll get to share this path again with her. 

We got to take some time last week to snap a few photos of sweet baby David. I'm just going to continue to use the word sweet whenever I describe him, because there's not a better descriptor. The kid is a dream. So many times I was amazed at how content he is, happy to kick around on the floor, be held in a lap, or bop about in the swing. He kicks his arms and legs like a madman for a while, and then gets still and quiet and just observes. He's really the sweetest baby I've ever met and I can't wait to watch him grow. 

So, until the next time I can get my camera on him, here's sweet baby David at 7 weeks old. 

Kindergarten

Christopher starts Kindergarten next week. In 9 days, he'll hold my hand and we'll walk with all the neighborhood kids about a half mile up the road to the elementary school.  As soon as we get within a few feet of the crossing guard, he'll drop my hand, grasp the straps of his backpack, and pick up his pace. By the time he arrives at the front door, Number 1, he'll be trying to strike up conversation with the oldest and tallest boy he can find. When that older and cooler kid inevitably dismisses my new Kindergartener, he'll scan the crowd until he finds someone who looks more his size, perhaps a kid with a cool snake backpack, and stand as close to him as he can. Only then will he glance over his shoulder to check my status and position. 

I'd be lying if I said that in the past year I thought this day would never come. Sure, Kindergarten felt all sorts of far away when we were struggling through the tantrums of two and the throwdowns of three and the constant negotiations of four. It's even felt far away for most of the summer as we've gone a little stir crazy with the slowed down pace and Matthew has become a somewhat annoying playmate. But even as far away as the first day of "real school" has seemed at times, I can absolutely believe that my kid is starting Kindergarten next week. 

I know exactly how that first morning next Thursday is going to go because we've lived that same morning so many times over the past couple of months and even years. It happens every time we hit the playground, each time he gets dropped off in the gym childcare, whenever we arrive at a party or event where a gaggle of kids are running amuck. He's my independent one. Up for anything and ready for adventure. And even though I'm concerned we didn't get through the bucket list of summer learning I planned for us (learning to read, knowing how to spell and write his last name, and forming his letters perfectly from top to bottom) I know he's ready for Kindergarten. Let's just hope he can sit still for a couple of minutes. 

Katie & Patrick - Maternity Session

My sweet sister and her handsome husband are pregnant! In fact, Katie is due in just a month, and I couldn't be more excited for her. Early one morning 8 months ago my phone binged with an email (yes email, she discovered the news while abroad), from Katie with just an "OMG" and an attempted picture attachment that failed to upload. I knew immediately what the cryptic message meant, even though I couldn't see the photo, and frantically calculated time zones while I waited impatiently for a live update.  When we finally connected later that day, she confirmed the news and I spent the next weeks in such a state excitement for two of them. 

About two months later, we were shocked with our own news, and to say that experiencing my third pregnancy alongside my sisters first has been a blessing, would be an enormous understatement. The daily texts and phone calls, the planning and sharing, and the weekend spent together talking all things baby (and pregnancy) have been such beautiful gift. I'm just so eager for her sweet boy to arrive.

Two weeks ago I was able to spend a long weekend in San Diego with Katie to celebrate her 30th birthday and her baby shower. On my last evening, we took 20 minutes to stroll along the bluff across the street from their house, and snap a few photographs of this sweet time. A few of favorites of the two of them are below. 

Love you Kiki and Pat and Little Man! I'm so excited for the three of you!