Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Little Life Unfolding

Sweetest Sweetest Baby Girl,

I watched you today on the video monitor as you woke from your afternoon nap. You lay there for a moment, groggy and disoriented, sucking your pacifier and listening to the happy noises of your brother playing in his room next door.  

Then you noticed the balloons.  You lifted your tiny finger and pointed, not sure what you were seeing.

You got up slowly on your knees, your hair a mess of bedhead, your big blue eyes full of wonder as you tilted your head upward.  You didn’t reach for them at first, but just looked at them, thoughtful. 

After a minute or so, you stood and reached.  And I felt that familiar ache, that swelling that feels like gratitude and melancholy all at once, at the sight of my tiny human on tippy toes, stretching toward her first birthday balloons.

Brother and I snuck the balloons into your room while you were napping.  He was so excited, and although I knew there was a chance that he would wake you, I let him help me anyway.  He is your best friend, your only real playmate, and you adore him. You don’t say “Mama” yet, but you do say your own version of “Noah.”  Of course that beloved big brother of yours had to be part of the balloon surprise.     

Like the angel that you are, you slept right through our sneaking.  You have turned into a champion napper, and you’ve always been a really content baby.  You have made the last year easy on me, and I love you for it.  Sweetness seems to be an innate part of your disposition.

A year ago today, when you were a tiny, bruised, sleepy newborn, I held you in my arms and wondered what you would be like.  It was hard to imagine how you would fit into our family dynamic, what your temperament would be like, how I would manage with two children at home.  Though I loved you immediately, you didn’t feel familiar yet.  You felt fragile, and I felt fragile in my role as your mother.   

Now everything about you is familiar: the way you wriggle away when I change your diaper, the sound of your giggle as I chase after you on hands and knees; the way you pull at my earrings the moment that I lift you close to my face, or lunge for me when I walk into the room and you are in someone else’s arms.

I know what you will do before you do it.  You have become an extension of me—a living, breathing, bear-crawling piece of my heart.  And though everything about your babyhood is so familiar to me now, I know that in a few years, I won’t be able to remember what you were like as a one-year-old.  I will remember in generalities, but not in all of these specifics.  You will be a little girl to me then, and I will know in perfect clarity everything about you at that stage, but all that will remain of your babyhood will be the photos and videos—and the details that I have captured in writing.  Which is why I do it and always will. 

So tonight I sit down and write you this letter to record the moment when I watched you wake up to balloons overhead on your first birthday—when my heart filled with love for my perfect one-year-old girl with the curls at the back of your head, the one darling snaggle tooth, and the sweetest habit of burying your head against my shoulder when you are sleepy.

You are a perfect fit, not just in that space on my shoulder, cradled between my cheek and my heart, but in this family.  You have made every day since your birth better than the days before it—fuller, more complete—for all of us.  For Daddy, for Noah, and for me.  We could not possibly love you more.

Tonight the four of us played with your birthday balloons out in the backyard and took photos of you climbing on Noah’s red firetruck.  It was windy, and it was past your bedtime. Noah was wired, and Mom and Dad were a little cranky, but we took a few moments to talk about our wishes for you for this next year and to release your balloons one by one into the sky. 

Noah wished that you will have a delicious cake on Saturday at your little family party; Dad wished that you will get more teeth this next year (of course he did); and I wished that even when you are older, you will keep giving me your sweet snuggles—nestling up against my heart when you are tired.

The first couple of balloons blew out of our hands before you even noticed, but as we sent that last purple balloon floating into the sky, you raised your finger to point.  Daddy held you in his arms and pressed his cheek against yours, and we watched that purple speck rise up up up and then disappear—the beauty of this day, this year, lingering.

Thank you for making my heart so buoyant, so full of awe and gratitude when I think about you that it too soars heavenward.  Tonight I thank God that I am your mother, that I get to witness this beautiful little life unfolding.

Happy first birthday, my perfect little love.  Sleep tight.  I can't wait to see you first thing tomorrow morning.

Yours forever and ever and always,


Monday, June 29, 2015

Second Quarter

I remember when I used to write a blog post for every event in our lives, big and small.

As Noah got older, I couldn't keep that up anymore, so I started writing a monthly update featuring the highlights.

Then Sally was born, and with two kids I couldn't even manage a monthly update, so it's now become quarterly.

(I am thinking that if we have a third child, it will become bi-annually--if at all--so hey, quarterly is better than nothing!)

So here's the quick-ish recap of the Nielsons' Second Quarter (April, May, and June):


We had a fun Easter!  I already wrote all about our new spiritual traditions, but here are a few snapshots from that weekend.

Easter jams!  The cutest!
Duck onesie and Bunny shirt from Grandma
She wanted to eat the confetti eggs
Noah wanted to smash them!
Easter Eve lanterns
And sky lanterns!
Happy Easter!
Noah learned how to ride a two-wheeler bike.  He got it on the very first try thanks to his strider bike which taught him how to balance.   (Those things are amazing!)  Ryan didn't even have to break his back by holding on to the bike seat and running behind him--Noah just hopped on and rode.  He's a total dare devil and I fear for his life every time he rides, but we are trying to teach him bike safety and we are enjoying lots of bike rides as a family this summer.  And don't worry: he DEFINITELY wears a helmet!

Wild Child
We spent much of the month of April creatively figuring out how to do our laundry because our dryer was broken, and the new one kept getting backordered.  I think we went about six weeks without a dryer, and with two kids (one of whom occasionally wets the bed and one of whom occasionally spits up all over the bed), that was not easy.  In addition to having clothes scattered all over our house air-drying, I hauled our clothes all over town, to laundromats and to friends' houses, to sneak loads in the dryer.  I showed up to Book Club one night with a huge basket of laundry to dry. ;)  We were so happy when the new dryer arrived, and I celebrated by washing every article of clothing, every towel, and every bed sheet in the house! (I'd been doing the bare minimum for six weeks.)

The new dryer!  So happy! 
Piles and piles of clean laundry to fold


Noah finished up his first year of preschool with a Mother's Day Spring Sing. He loved preschool.  I'm so glad I stuck with it even though he cried and was resistant for the first few weeks of the year.  I really respect his teachers and love their methods, and he learned so much--letters, patriotic songs, manners, information about the solar system, dinosaurs, animals, and of course social skills.

So proud at the Spring Sing
Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Sanger
He is the most outgoing little bug, and he was so sad when his school year was over.  One day when we were driving, he said out of the blue, "I miss my preschool.  Why won't they let me come back in the summer?"  I explained to him that no one is there in the summer, not even the teachers.  (I think he thought he was the only one??)

He can't wait for the school year to start again, and I am actually going to put him in five-days-a-week preschool next year.  He will go three mornings a week at his current preschool and two afternoons a week at a small in-home preschool run by a friend.  When I first decided to do this, I felt a little guilty--like, am I a bad mom for sending my four-year-old to five days of preschool?  But Noah is so very social, and since he doesn't have any siblings who can play with him yet, he wants me to play with him all day.  I love to play with him, but I also want to get some other things done during the day.  A two-hour break every day will be good for both of us, and it means less screen time for him as well.  So I'd say win-win, and I am not going to feel guilty about it.

One of my dearest friends Nelda got married in Logan, Utah, and Ryan and I took the kids for the event.  I have known Nelda for ten years (she was in my study abroad group in El Salvador), and she is the truest of true friends.  It was so wonderful to celebrate her big day with her.

I love this hermana
I love the look in Nelda's eyes here as my kids go crazy at her reception.  Like, "Is this really what my future holds??"  

Noah got to go to the Pocatello Train Museum with his dad and grandpa during one of the many weekends that I was out of town.  He was in heaven!

We spent much of the month of May observing the birds' nest in our barbecue.  We discovered it there one day when we were about to start it up, and thank goodness we didn't because it was so fascinating to watch the baby birds grow.  Noah and I would peek at the eggs and then the birds every day, and lots of the neighborhood kids came by to check them out as well.  This experience also inspired a game called "Baby Bird, Mama Bird."  Noah would make "nests" out of blankets, and then he would chirp for me to come and feed him.  I would throw mini-marshmallows into his mouth. ;)

With a scab on his nose from falling off his bike, obv


I am determined to enjoy being a stay-at-home mom more, so I've been searching out ideas for day-trips and outings.  I've compiled a big list, and we try to do at least one outing per week.  I am only brave enough to attempt these outings on Ryan's day off so he can come with us.  (I can barely handle two children by myself at home, let alone on an epic adventure--and by "epic adventure," I mean a 45-minute drive.)  From this list of outings, we have found some real gems and some real duds.  And we almost always get lost searching for these little-known places, but hey, it makes the stories so much better--in retrospect!

This is how Noah felt about getting lost for an hour as we searched for this humming bird sanctuary--I felt the same way!

It was pretty cool to watch the hummingbirds once we got there
Some of our adventures end up like this
Cauldron Linn for date-night because it's too dangerous for the kiddos--no railings
Twin Falls Museum
Cool old merry-go-round
We love hiking!
Canyon bottom--we saw about 10 base jumpers jumping off the bridge with their colorful parachutes
Tired happy girl
Relaxing in the hammock after a long day of adventuring
Ryan bought me a ginormous tent for Mother's Day to make more of these adventures possible.  We call this baby Hotel Nielson.  We haven't actually used it to camp yet, but we plan to later this summer.  I asked him if this is a hint that he wants a bunch more kids?  ;)

And a quick shout-out to my little Noah for being the world's best traveler.  He is so good in the car on these outings.  I have no idea why because he's not usually the calm type, but he just looks out the window and sometimes plays "I-Spy" with us.  We don't give him the iPad and he doesn't know that the DVD player in the van works, and somehow, he is happy.  It is truly bewildering. When I thanked him recently for being so good in the car, he said, "Well, Mom, I just love looking at the scenery." ???  :) :) :)

In addition to outings, I've really put forth effort to make my time at home with Noah more fun.  A friend of mine gave me the suggestion to "lean in" to motherhood when I recently confided in her that I was feeling burned out.  She told me that she feels less burned out as a mother when she truly invests in a way that is meaningful to her and uses her unique talents with her kids.  This rang true to me, so I started thinking about what I could do to make stay-at-home motherhood more suited to my personality.

Did you know that I was a camp counselor every summer all through high school and college?  I planned tons of activities for my campers, and then I went to El Salvador and volunteered in an orphanage and did the same thing for all the kids there.  As I thought about what I could do to breathe more life into my days at home with the kids, I realized that I could use some of the creativity that I employed as a camp counselor.  Duh, right?  But it's so easy to get caught up in the "to-dos" of motherhood and forget about the fun.

We've done lots of little things, like making a hat out of pipe cleaners, flying kites one afternoon when it was windy, and going for impromptu bike rides to get snow cones.  We've also done some "bigger" things that took more effort, such as making a fire station out of a huge box and hosting a Fire Academy with Noah's friends where they "trained" as firefighters by going through an obstacle course. They had to bust out of the fire station on a truck, crawl under the "smoke" (a table), climb a ladder to rescue a cat from a tree, stop drop and roll, and spray down "fire" (cones) with a hose.  Ryan helped me come up with the tasks, and it turned out really cute and fun.

But let me assure you that everything with these activities is not picture-perfect.  In the days leading up to "Fire Ac-ah-demy" (as Noah called it), he was so excited; but he spent much of the afternoon of the big event wailing when things didn't go his way. (So infuriating for a mother who just wanted to plan something fun for him!!!)  I learned from that experience that I should probably limit the number of kids that I invite over for things like that because Noah wants to be the leader, and when no one is listening to him and bigger kids are taking his things, he gets very angry.  (He shouted at one of his guests who was being a bit of a bully to "Go home!"  So embarrassing!!  But after the fact I thought about it and realized that maybe it's a good thing that Noah will never be a doormat.  I kind of love that kid's spunk.)  It was a chaotic afternoon, and I think Noah and I will both remember it with mixed feelings, but it was worth doing--if only to learn more about my son's personality and how to help him have a better experience at social events in the future.

We actually did the Fire Academy again a few weeks later and just invited two friends--this went much better!
All in all, I think my friend was right.  I do enjoy being a stay-at-home mother more when I do stuff like this with Noah.  It's not so much for him as it is for me.  It gives me more opportunities to use my talents, to connect with him, and to feel like I am making a difference to my kids by being home with them.  I am going to try to keep it up!

And finally, in the month of June, at the encouragement of my hormone doctor, I completed a Whole 30.  This is thirty days of basically eating only vegetables, meat, eggs, fruit, and nuts (no sugar, no grains, no dairy, no legumes).  It's a month of Paleo, but even more strict because you can't have honey or any sort of "treat," even if it doesn't include grains or sugar.

My doctor was hopeful that this "nutritional reset" would help with my on-going hormone issues, and I think it helped a little, but it didn't solve all of my problems completely.  I still feel like it was worth doing because I learned so much about nutrition.  I read and researched, I scoured every label in the grocery store, I recipe-searched, meal-planned, chopped vegetables, chopped more vegetables, and chopped more vegetables.  I cooked and cleaned and made my own barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and clarified butter.  I didn't eat one speck of sugar for thirty days.  (!!!!)  It was so much work--pretty much all-consuming--and there were days when I was unbelievably grumpy because I just wanted a slice of pizza or a brownie, but I did it.  I completed a Whole 30.  For a girl who hates cooking, washing dishes, and most vegetables (and who doesn't have any sort of healthy store like Sprouts or Whole Foods nearby), I'd say this is quite a feat!

Thankfully, my little sister did it with me (she was hoping to find a miracle cure for her debilitating eczema--no such luck) and Ryan did it with me (he was hoping to lose twenty pounds--totally kidding! that man cannot afford to lose an ounce!), and I couldn't have done it without their support.  Ryan actually loves eating this way and says he could do it forever.  I hope to continue eating mostly this way, because I like the way it makes my body feel and it has helped me lose weight, but I cannot maintain the strictness of this diet forever.  It's all about balance in life, and I don't plan to freak out if I occasionally want to eat a cookie or a piece of pizza--or if I want to use store-bought BBQ sauce instead of making my own!  (I am SO over cooking!!)

Now I am in the "reintroduction" phase where I introduce each food group back slowly and see how my body reacts.  It has been quite an experience, and I'm glad I did it, even though it was super hard.

Three cheers for yellow peppers and red cherries!
My cute friend Taryn gave me cubed sweet potatoes for my birthday.  I loved it!
My birthday "cake"
So as you can see, it was a whirlwind quarter, as always.  It's been a good few months.  I feel like I have worked hard on a few of my goals related to motherhood and health, and it feels so great to be moving forward.

It's a busy, happy life.