Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sally Grace at 13 Months

This girl.  She is something.  She is as cute as a button, and when she is sweet, she is super sweet--but she’s also turning into a bit of a spit-fire.  If you have to take something away from her (you know, like a permanent marker that she somehow found or a computer charger that she is sucking on), she throws a truly fantastic tantrum.  She screams like you’ve just murdered her best friend, throws her head back like a tomahawk, and crumples to the floor in rage.  That forceful head-throw has nearly broken my nose a couple of times when I’ve been holding her as she’s freaked out.  Ouchie.

Honestly, she has been a little cranky this past month, and for the first time in her life, I've had entire days when I feel very exasperated with her. She wants to be held pretty much constantly when we are home and hangs on my legs whining and crying whenever I set her down.  We've had to resort to the hiking backpack on several occasions so I can simply chop some vegetables.  She's not this way every day, thank goodness, but it seems to be much more often than when she was younger, and it is exhausting!

She seems to be more cheerful when we are out-and-about, but the problem is getting anywhere.  The carseat is her prison, and she starts screaming, kicking, and writhing away the moment that she sees it, even before I buckle her in.  Once she is buckled in, it's often non-stop howling from the moment we leave home until we reach our destination.  This makes long drives (and even short drives to the grocery store) extremely unpleasant for everyone.

Good thing she's so stinkin' cute!!  We will hang on through this cranky phase (and pray it's a phase and not a long-term "pay back" for the fact that she was such an easy infant).

She started walking about a week after her first birthday, and those first few wobbly steps quickly became more stable.  Walking is now her primary way to get around, and we rarely see her signature bear crawl anymore.  Sniff.  But I love seeing such a tiny little human toddling around.  She is still small for her age (17.5 pounds—about 15th percentile for height and weight), so people are always surprised to see her walking.  She has teeny feet (size 3-6 months still!), and they are so narrow that no baby shoes stay on.  I’m not sure what to do about that now that she’s a walker and really does need a decent shoe for her adventures. I am on the hunt for the perfect tiny baby shoes.

Speaking of shoes, one of her favorite things is to try to put them on her feet—whether they are her shoes or Dad’s shoes, she knows they belong on feet and tries diligently to make them fit on hers.  Cutest.  She has good hand-eye coordination and loves to put lids on markers or sippy cups.  She could sit and put a lid on and off a marker for 15 minutes without losing interest.  It always surprises me that she can grasp such tiny objects and even put them together correctly.  Maybe she got this from her dad and will be a pediatric dentist working in tiny mouths someday. ;)

She's a climber.  She loves climbing stairs, and she can climb up onto Noah's bed and even into the minivan somehow.  She will not sit still for even five minutes to watch a Baby Einstein or Sesame Street.  Noah loved Baby Einstein when he was her age, and I sometimes let him watch it when he was grumpy and I needed to make dinner.  No luck for Miss Sal, so hiking backpack it is!

She wiggles away from me when I change her diaper and makes a beeline for the door.  Luckily, she loves the game peekaboo, so if I don't have the energy to chase her, I just put the clean diaper over my face and say "Where's Mommy?"  She can't resist and comes running back to lift the diaper off my face, and then I capture her and strap that diaper on before she can escape again.

She says a couple of words: Noah, Dada, Hi, and Uh oh!  I hear “Uh oh!” all the time when she drops food off of her highchair or drops her cup.  It never fails to delight me to hear her little voice learning to communicate.  She still doesn’t say Mama, the stinker!  (Or as Noah says, “Little Stinkerson!”)

She finally got another tooth shortly after her first birthday, and I miss her darling little snaggle-tooth smile.  But having two teeth has opened up even more possibilities as far as food goes, and she is still an amazing eater.  She will eat anything, including spicy and exotic foods.  I hope she keeps it up!  (And maybe she has a mouthful of teeth coming in?  Could that explain the incessant crankiness?)

Her willingness to eat anything and everything continues to get her into trouble when we are out in nature: when we are camping, spending time at a lake, or even just pulling weeds in the garden, she eats handfuls of dirt, mud, leaves, sand.  It is disgusting!  I have no idea how she can stomach it, let alone go back for more! 

My saving grace on her fussy days is that she has turned into a great napper.  She takes two long naps a day, and when she wakes up, she often just plays in there for a while until I go to get her.  It's a dream.

I think part of the reason that she loves naptime is that she is only allowed to have her pacifier in her crib.  Ryan the pediatric dentist says that pacifiers are bad for kids’ teeth and mouth development, and he would prefer that she never use it—but we compromised and decided that she can have it in her crib.  (Maybe we didn’t compromise; maybe I told him that when he is the stay-at-home parent, he can choose to hear his baby cry when she is trying to fall asleep, but I am going to give her the darn paci!)  The pacifier is a tough one because I don’t want her dependent on an outside object to soothe and I don’t want to face huge battles in the future when we take it away, but she is still so young—I really don’t think it’s a big deal.  Maybe I should defer to Dr. Dad, but I'm not going to.  It’s so crazy to me that she didn’t even start taking a paci until 11 months old because now she loves it.

She will not—will NOT—keep a bow in her hair.  I have tried all sorts of tiny clips, non-budge headbands, everything I can think of.  Nope.  And unfortunately, she’s got a bad case of “helmet hair” going on, so she looks a little urchiny much of the time.  She has cute curls in the back but stick straight bangs in the front.  We’ve been trying some tiny pigtails this month, and they are super cute and she will actually leave them in, but she’s such a mover that it’s nearly impossible to pin her down and get the pigtails in!  Honestly, I’m too tired to fight the fight most of the time, so helmet hair it is.

She enjoys grocery shopping with me and chomps on a green pepper while we shop (not kidding).   She’s a curious little people-watcher.  I should get her out of the house more often, but I dread the drives. 

She especially loves other tiny people, and when she sees babies about her age, she often walks right up to them and wraps her arms around them.  It's so funny because she's not really a snuggly baby (she's too busy) but when she spots other toddlers, she just wants to cuddle them.  She is especially obsessed with her cousin Lucy who is just six-weeks younger than she is.  Those two are always hugging, wrestling, or trying to suck on each other's noses.  The last time we were with them, Sally walked up behind Lucy, wrapped her arms around her waist, and laid her head on her shoulder.  Ummm, sweetest!  

She loves little chairs.  If there is a kid-sized chair anywhere in the vicinity, she is the first to run and plop down on it.  We went to a church activity at a local lake last weekend, and as we were all cleaning up at the end of the night, I looked over and saw her just chillin' in a kid-sized lawnchair, taking in the scene.  She had her pacifier because I was tired of her eating mud, so she was in heaven!  She sat in that chair surrounded by the bustle of people for almost thirty minutes.

She loves soft things like her linen blankies and the doll Grandma gave her for her first birthday.  She loves the bath--the warm sudsy bubbles, the splashing, the pouring water out of a cup. (Don't take her out of the bath before she is ready or the tomahawk head-throw will commence!)  She loves bottles of warm milk, stacking plastic rings, and her rambunctious older brother.

She also seems to enjoy slap-stick style humor: she bursts out laughing when anyone trips or accidentally whacks their head on a cupboard in the kitchen.  It's so unexpected to hear her guttural chuckle come out of nowhere, especially when you know it's at your expense. So hilarious.  She has a contagious laugh--it is really low and gremlin-like, and it is so surprising coming out of such a dainty little girl.

Just this week, she started giving kisses.  I have always said things like, "Can Mama have a kiss?" or "Give me a kiss!" before I smooch her.  This week as we were walking out of the grocery store, she was sitting in the front of the cart facing me, and I said, "Can I have a kiss?" and leaned forward to peck her soft cheek, and she surprised me by leaning forward and gently kissing me first.  Insert heart bursting!!!  Then today, I was sitting on the carpet with Noah helping him try on his new winter coat, and he said thank you and leaned over to kiss me (sweet boy), and Sally was walking by and saw him do that, and she stopped in her tracks and looked concerned, like, "What am I missing here?" Then she ran over to me and gave me a smacker on the lips!  Totally made my day!

 Oh I love her.  In spite of her fussing lately, I just want to eat her up every day, and I can’t imagine life without her.  As I was rocking her before bed the other night, I told her that I can remember when, just over a year ago, she was kicking around in my belly.  I was so sick, and it was so miserable, and she was so worth it.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

48 Months, 1460 Days

Dear Noah,

I examined your face at breakfast this morning, your almond-shaped blue eyes still a little crusted with sleep.  You were talking a mile-a-minute, I’m not sure about what.  You talk so much that it’s easy to tune you out—not in a mean way, just because I’m used to your chatter being the soundtrack of our home.  As you jabbered, I looked closely at your face, and it struck me that even though you are getting so big, so grown up, I can still see my little baby boy in those blue eyes.  You look the same—you are the same—even though you grow smarter, more independent, and older by the day.

You are four now.  It’s so hard to believe.  We have spent 48 months together—1460 days.  Through it all, you’ve become my buddy.  I know you, heart and soul. 

You live life BIG.  Big voice, big expressions, big laughter, big emotions. When you are happy, you are elated.  When you are mad, you are raging.  You aren’t sure what to do with all of that energy, and neither am I, but we are working on it every day, and I feel like we are learning.  I feel like we get each other, and even when you drive me absolutely bonkers (which you do on a regular basis), I still feel like we are the best of friends.

You are perceptive.  You can read me, and you can read your environment.  You ask me questions about life that surprise me for a four-year-old, but I answer them straight.  There’s nothing that I want more as a mother than to teach you.

You love to dance to Justin Bieber's "Baby" when you unload the dishwasher, and your favorite part is when "that funny guy" (AKA Ludacris ) starts rapping in the middle of it.  We listen to it on repeat. 

You are smart and insightful and you love books.  I hope you are this way forever.  On library days, I read you all six of your books in the hammock for bedtime, and it is a treat for both of us.

You are loving and good, and you are very willing to give me kisses and snuggles on demand.  You call me “Mother” which always makes me smile. (I think you got it from watching Peter Pan, one of your current favorites.)

You are certainly a firecracker.  You are feisty and strong-willed.  But you also make me laugh every day—admittedly it’s sometimes just in retrospect, after the moment of frustration has passed, but you really are hilarious.  I keep a note in my phone of the funny and frustrating things that you say, and here is just a sampling from the last few months:

When approaching some older kids at the park, you said, “Excuse me!  I’d like to be your friend, and that means you have to listen to me!”

When we took our bikes to be serviced, you were amazed by the repair guy and all his tools.  You sat and watched him while he worked (meaning you sat and jabbered at him and asked him a million questions that he wasn't able to answer because you just kept talking), and I went up to the front of the store to pay.   Over the din of the shop, I heard you stop with your questions for a moment and then ask in an awestruck tone, “Excuse me, sir.  Are you called a bike expert?”

When we were telling you a story about Jesus at family night, Dad said, “Jesus had some friends who traveled with him and helped him teach.” You interjected and said, “Dad, they’re called disciples!!”  Surprised that you knew that word, and wanting to test your knowledge a little, I asked, “And what did the disciples do for work, before they started traveling with Jesus?” You paused to think and then answered confidently, “Mom, they were fishermen!” Well alright then.  I guess someone has been listening when we read to you from your illustrated Bible at bedtime. 

When we went to a local candy shop, the elderly store owner told us that his wife makes all of the caramels.  A few minutes later, a white-haired lady appeared from the back of the store, and you said matter-of-factly, “She’s about to die.”  Hahaha!  I don’t think she heard you, and maybe it’s a good thing!

When your electric train developed a short a few months ago, you were devastated, but then Grandpa saved the day by fixing it.  I heard you telling the story to your babysitter, Baylee, and you told it just like one of the storybooks that we read to you: “Once upon a time, a long long time ago, this train that you see right here stopped working.  But then Grandpa came from Pocatello and took it back to his workshop…” It was a very dramatic tale!

When we were looking through my wedding album recently, I said, “Noah, I’m so glad I married your dad.”  “Why?” you asked.  “Because he is my best friend,” I responded.  You thought about it for a moment and then said, “Okay, I will marry Callum then.”

When you were talking to a friend about this beloved older cousin, you admitted, “Callum is better than Noah—but no one else is!”

When you pray, you almost always end by saying, “And bless me, Noah.”  I’m so glad you clarify who you are, just in case God isn’t sure. ;)

When you were recently stalling on the way to Quiet Time, you insisted, "But Mom, I'm hungry!" I asked, "How can you be hungry when you just ate lunch?"  You thought about it for a moment and then replied, "I don't think the food is in my stomach anymore; I think it's probably in my large intestine by now!" (Thanks to your Usborne See Inside My Body book for teaching you all about the digestive system!)

When I ask you not to do something dangerous, such as grab sharp steak knives out of the cupboard or climb onto the top of the minivan, you often say things like, “Mom, I know what I’m doing.”  You even said this when you went flying with Grandpa and he wouldn’t let you land his plane!

When we went to the Farmer’s Market, you asked me if we could pause and look at a little irrigation pool nearby.  I said of course, and as you looked at that muddy puddle of water in the middle of a field, you sighed and said, “I just feel joy when I look at this.” 

When you are telling me a long story or making a point, you often smack your lips between words for some sort of dramatic emphasis.  I think you listen to the subtleties of the ways that adults talk and you mimic it.

When you are frustrated and want to hit or yell, you suck your lips in and subconsciously start making a machine gun type of noise.  You have no idea that you do it, but it’s a good warning sign for me because I know I need to grab Sally out of your line of fire before you lash out. 

When I wouldn’t buy you a donut at the grocery store recently, you were so angry and started shouting things like, “Now I will never know what that donut tastes like—not ever, until I die!” 

When you’re mad at me and I ask you to do something, you often say in a sassy, dismissive voice, “Whoever cares!”  Oh my--it’s like you are fourteen, not four.  

When I have to haul you out of church because you are being rambunctious or into your bedroom because you are wailing during family dinner, you are full of threats like, “You’re not my mom anymore!  I’m not going to do anything you say, not ever! Even for your whole life!”

And yet even though you can be sassy, when I sneak into your room and kiss you goodnight before I head to bed myself, you sometimes mutter something absurdly sweet like, “I love you more than anything in this whole world.”  (I think you’ve heard your mama say similar things to you!)

When we play your favorite game “Chest” (Chess), you tell me, “This is a killing game.”  Haha!  Whoever thought that the quintessential nerd game could be seen as a killing game?  But you simply love taking out my pawns and bishops.  The other day while we were playing you told me, “I killed him because he killed my brother.” I laughed aloud, thinking of our chess pieces challenging each other to duels like a scene from my favorite 80s movie: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya—you killed my father. Prepare to die.”

When you recently stole a plate of brownies off the counter and hid in your room to eat them all (you have an insane sweet tooth), I demanded angrily, “Noah, what were you thinking??”  Obviously this was a rhetorical question, but you looked at me so seriously and said, “Mom, I don’t know what I was thinking!  My brain got all zig-zaggy!”  I had to hold back a little giggle at that explanation—it’s actually pretty accurate and profound!

Oh, my boy—you make me laugh.  You make me smile and shake my head in amazement.  But you also make me feel frustrated and inadequate at times, with your huge emotions.  I’ve started being more diligent about planning a weekly Family Home Evening, now that you are old enough to learn and understand.  I love having a weekly opportunity to teach you, in an environment that isn’t heated.

Last week I cut out two pictures that I printed from the Internet: a knife and a Band-aid.  We talked about the difference between “cutting words” and “healing words.”  You certainly have the ability to do either with your big vocabulary.  You have fixated on the words “hate” and “stupid” lately, and though I know that’s a normal phase for kids who are testing their limits, I never like to hear you say that you hate me or that I am a stupid mommy.  Both of those insults have been hurled at me occasionally, such as during the grocery store incident when I wouldn’t buy you the donut, and they have been hurled at your dad and your sister as well.  It makes my blood boil to hear those words used at the ones who love you the most—but I also know the anger that you are feeling when you lash out, the unthinking "zig-zaggy" anger.  I have felt that before, and I have learned to do other things with my anger than yell mean words.  You will learn too.  

These are laminated pictures.  My son is not wielding a huge sharp knife.

After warning you that if it happened again I would wash your mouth with soap, you told Dad that you hated him a few days ago, so I had to follow through.  I put a tiny bit of soapy water on my hand and wiped it in your mouth.  Even though it was almost no soap, you were furious.  You told me, "That consequence needs to be thrown out the window!"  Hahaha!  You went on to say angrily, "Mom, that doesn't make me want to say healing words!  It makes me want to say more cutting words at you!!"

Again I was shaking my head at how well you express some pretty complex emotions.  Maybe you're right: maybe putting soapy water in your mouth invites a power struggle more than it invites learning--I don't know.  (But in my defense, you haven't said "I hate you!" again since receiving that consequence.)  As I told a friend recently, "I have no idea what I'm doing in this parenting gig!"  But I am sure trying, and I know that you are too.  We will just keep teaching and growing and loving and learning—all of us.

I recently went to a religious class where the teacher talked about God’s tender mercies.  She asked us if we’d ever experienced miracles in our lives, and the very first thing I thought of was you.  Tears sprang to my eyes and an awe settled over me, a deep and internal acknowledgement of what a gift it is to be your mother.

You were my first miracle, Noah Atticus Nielson, and you continue to be my miracle every day. 

I love you, and I love mothering you.  You teach me so much, and I am growing just as much as you are as we spend these days together.  Here’s to another year of months and moments spent learning from each other.

As I tell you often, and as you sometimes tell me in your sleep, I love you more than anything in this whole world.  I truly do.

Hugs and Kisses,

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Magic Moments in the Magic Kingdom

Not many days in life are perfect, but I lived one last month when Ryan and I took Noah on a date to Disneyland.  It has got to be in my top-five parenting days of all time. Truly.

When I realized that we were already going to be in southern California for our family reunion, and that my little sister would be an eager and free babysitter for Sally (more on that later), I jumped at the chance for us to take Noah to Disney.  We’ve never been as a family, and Laura might move away from San Diego next year, so it was now or never.

We went up to Anaheim the night before so we could head into the park as early as possible.  When we got to the hotel, Noah was literally bouncing off the walls because he was so excited.  He started sprinting up and down the hallway saying he needed some “exercise.”  I wasn’t about to argue with that!  Burn off some of that energy, kid!

We had purposely gotten a room with only one king-sized bed because we thought it would be fun to snuggle—and it was.  We are a family of cuddlers.  After the boys fell asleep, I stayed up late looking at the map and texting my sister for tips on making the most of our Disney Day. 

After this little planning session, I gave myself a mental pep talk, reminding myself that the goal for the day was simply to bond with Noah.  It didn’t matter if we didn’t hit all of the “best” rides, or if we ended up in a few long lines, or if Noah got whiny at times or melted down when he was overstimulated, exhausted, or overheated—COME WHAT MAY, I WOULD NOT GET FRUSTRATED WITH HIM. Period.  The end. 

I’m so glad that I went into it with this attitude because it was truly so fun to allow Noah to be the “boss for the day” (yes, I called him that, and he certainly loved the title).  And he exceeded all of my expectations and hardly whined or melted down at all—even though we entered the park when the doors opened at 8 a.m. and left around 11 p.m.!  I was amazed by how well he did.  And I was amazed by how much fun we had.

A few moments from the day that I will never forget:

-Watching his facial expression on Big Thundermountain Railroad, his first rollarcoaster.  He was terrified and made the craziest faces.  I’m so glad that I got a video!  He was crying by the end, but when I asked him if he liked it, he said, “I think…I think…I think I kind of did.”  Hahaha!  He asked to go on it again, so we braved the line a few hours later, and the second time around there were no tears.  I’m glad he conquered his fears!

-Snuggling between my two boys on all of the rides.  I was expecting to be split-up all day, but most rides will allow three passengers in a row if one of them is a small child.  I loved smashing Noah between us and witnessing his eyes light up with each new adventure. 

-Eating melting chocolate covered pretzels together in the lines.  I had a backpack stashed with snacks, and we made the most of those long waits. Mmmmm.

-Experiencing Cars Land with Noah.  Admittedly he would have enjoyed this even more a year or two ago when he was crazy obsessed with Lightening McQueen, but he still loved it.  The Radiator Racers ride was awesome, and walking into Cars Land was just like walking into the movie, with all of the perfect details of the buildings and scenery.  My favorite part was strolling under the “neon” lights at night.  That was actually our last stop of the day because Noah wanted to ride Mater’s tractors just one more time, and he was doing so well that we decided, “What the heck?” even though it was 10 p.m.

-Watching the World of Color fountain show.  It’s just amazing and makes me feel so touched and nostalgic for some reason (awesome childhood memories of watching Disney movies with my sisters?).  If I had it to do over, though, I would definitely get a Fast Pass for the show so we could be a little closer.  As it was, I had Noah on my shoulders for most of it, and he insisted on telling me everything that was going on. Despite my urging for him to whisper so others around us could enjoy the ambience of the show, he shouted out the title of each movie when the clip showed up on the water. Fortunately, everyone around us seemed amused instead of annoyed.  Somehow that boy makes friends and fans wherever he goes.

He did not want to take a photo right then

-The highlight highlight of the day for me was eating a Ghiradelli brownie sundae while watching the fireworks at the end of the night.  The weather was perfect, the sundae was delicious, Noah was jabbering excitedly about the day, and I just sat there thinking, “How was this day so perfect?  How do I have such a beautiful life??”

It was a magical day from start to finish.  And I am so grateful to my sister Laura for keeping Sally so we could have that bonding time with Noah.  (And as a sidenote, Laura got the stomach flu while we were gone, and Sally wasn't feeling so good herself and refused to be put down, so Laura snuggled her in between bouts of nausea and vomiting.  And did I mention that Laura has her own 20-month-old?  Yeah, good sister, right there.)  

Thanks, Aunt Laura, and thanks, Walt Disney, for an absolutely perfect day with my two favorite boys in all the world!

Friday, August 21, 2015

California Dreamin'

To celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, the family came together in California in July for a week of fun.  My dad rented a big, beautiful home in La Jolla, and we spent a fabulous week together.

The weather wasn’t as warm as we'd hoped, but we had a few afternoons of sunshine when we were able to hit the beach and the pool.  We also explored the tide pools, visited the San Diego Safari Park, and went to a great park downtown.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter what we do; we always have an awesome time when we are all together.

It is so fun to see all of our kiddos playing together.  They are good little buddies, and I especially love how much Noah adores Callum.  Cal is a pretty remarkable little boy (kind, curious, creative, independent), and I couldn’t think of anyone better for my son to look up to.  I hope he follows Callum’s example forever, and I hope as the rest of the cousins get older, they will all love, support, lead, and help each other. 

Since it’s a rare occasion for us to be all in one place at the same time, we also had some professional photos taken on the beach, and amazingly, they turned out pretty good.  You just never know how things will go with that many little kiddos!

After the photos were done,  Noah stripped off his pants and waded into the ocean and Ryan and Sally checked out the seagulls overhead.  I love moments like this: being on the beach at dusk with my family, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore, the wind whipping through my hair, my son's maniacal giggles as he raced the surf...perfection.

My favorite photo of all is my dad with his five grandkids.  I love it because the joy is so obvious on his face; he looks so happy to be surrounded by his little people.

My dad has endured some tough trials in his life—his wife fought breast cancer for 13 years, he lost her at age 48, and he has been a widowerer ever since—but he never ceases to amaze me with his gratitude and optimism.  He is truly grateful for all of the abundance in his life, I think particularly for his children and grandchildren.  During one of our nightly family devotionals in San Diego, my dad quoted a favorite scripture from Isaiah: “Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things.”  He said this is one of the mottos because he has been so richly blessed, and he thanks the Lord daily for all of the excellent things in his life.

I wish that my mom were physically by my dad’s side in that photo of him with his grandchildren, but I know, without a doubt, that she is amazingly proud of him and the way that he has carried on without her.  And I have a feeling that she is by his side more often than we realize, observing the chaos and fun of our growing clan.  

I love my family, and I love the opportunities that I have to spend time with them.  I am grateful to my dad for making trips like this reunion in La Jolla possible, so that we can grow closer and continue to cherish each other.