The Parental Ideologue

So here is what happens… you find out your pregnant. You start to share this news with the world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has parenting advice. Family, friends, distant relations, people you talked to once in high school, random strangers will stop you on the street, in the middle of the grocery store, to tell you how they parented.

You have the baby, and the advice does not stop. Especially if this is your first baby. Everyone is a parenting expert, and they will have this irrepressible need to tell you the many ways they succeeded, how they did it, and how you should do it.

I would like to note that rarely do these home-grown experts own up to their failures.

Among the advice givers, you’ll find the ideologue. There are roughly as many different theories on parenting as there are lip gloss samples at Ulta. You’ll find parents from many of these groups, and they will tell you how every decision they make fits within the tenements of their parenting philosophy.

It drives me crazy.

I parent to the kid, not to the ideology.

If I had to pin my parenting philosophy down, it falls somewhere around “Get Everyone to 18 Without Losing my Mind.” We do practice quite a bit of attachment parenting, I do consider us gentle parents. But we routinely find ourselves making decisions out of the definitions of those philosophies.

Each kid is different. There are vast differences between Sprout and Pudge. Already, I am seeing that some of the parenting techniques that worked with Sprout are not going to work with Pudge. She is an entirely different child, technical and precise, then her wild big sister. Making decisions just to stay within the parenting tenements I follow, to have more cred as a gentle parent, will hurt my children, rather than help them.

Along with this, comes the books. There are hundreds of books at my local Barnes and Noble on parenting. Many of them proclaim with bold phrases in bright letters that buying this book will solve all your parenting problems. Or the DVDs. For just $59.99 plus shipping and handling, you can buy this series from world renown parenting expert Doctor Clown, who can solve all your parenting problems!!.

No. It just doesn’t work that way.

Parenting is not finding one parenting philosophy or book or technique, that will solve all your problems. Parenting is continuous problem solving. It is tackling the same problem from different directions. It is giving up on a problem and coming back to it.

Let me be honest. There are days when I wish one book, one technique, one anything would solve every parenting problem I face. But that just isn’t true. Some days I have to drink enough coffee to caffeinate a hibernating bear; do as much as I can with the time I’m given, keep the girls fed, clean and get them into bed, and call it a day.

And that’s my parenting ideology. Do the best you can with each day you’ve got.

 

~Jennifer

In Praise of the Older Mom

In March of 2011, I become a Mom for the first time. In July of that year, I turned 31. If you’re doing the math, I will be 37 the end of this week.

I remember my midwife, remarking on what an odd case I was. An Army Wife who hadn’t had babies until her 30s. It was the first, but not the last time someone has remarked on my age.

Many, most of my friends have older children. They are past the diapers and potty training, sippy cups, footed pajama stage. Some of the friends I went to high school with have kids graduating high school soon.

Among the many things people questioned, was whether we had fertility problems. Let me answer that, no. Neither of the girls needed much more planning that tossing the condoms in the trash, and maybe a few games of beer pong.

I didn’t have children in my 30s because I didn’t want to. In fact, I swore for years that I wasn’t going to have kids. I didn’t want them at all. At 25 I seriously considered tying my tubes and just not having kids. I didn’t grow up with the idea of being a mother, rather I grew up running from the idea of it.

And I just had stuff to do.

Sometime before I graduated high school I wrote down what I wanted to do with my life before I turned 30. Some of it was typical teenager fare, get a tattoo, stay out all night long, go to a bonfire at the lake; and some of it was deeper, I wanted to travel, to see the sunrise off the coast of Texas, down by my uncle’s place, go to South by Southwest, take pictures of all the flowers I could find in Texas, read all the historical markers between my house and Austin. I wanted to trace my family’s roots back to Europe, I wanted to rescue animals and rehabilitate them. I wanted to shop, and shop, and shop some more.

Just before my 30th birthday, I checked the last one off my list. I got a tattoo. I still live for a good shopping trip.

I was famous, or rather infamous, for the volatility of my relationships. If it wasn’t passionate, I didn’t want to be in the relationship. But there was never any stability with that passion. It took me until the last years of my 20s to find the right alchemical mix of passion and stability and strength, in a man, to keep me interested.

And Hubs may piss me off. May infuriate me. May send me into fits of anger so bad I send long, ranty messages to my friends and drink too much coffee. But I am never bored.

We are stable. Bills are paid, house is cleaned, laundry done, all that domestic stuff. Last night we cruised around town looking at houses and talking about grass versus gravel, plants to put in flower beds. We are not lacking for stability. I’m not bored though. I’ve discovered that a stable relationship is more encouraging for creativity, gives me more opportunities to create and play music, than the wild affairs I found myself in.

I am a better person than I was. I was not in the right place to have babies in my 20s. I was struggling from the pain of an unhappy childhood, cutting myself free of a toxic extended family that has poisoned me for most of my life. I would not have been able to dedicate myself to my kids the way I needed to. Motherhood is one sacrifice after another, and in my 20s, I was too selfish to do that.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a little selfish. It gave me the freedom to chase my dreams.

I had a second adolescence in my mid-20s. It was less about my body changing, and more about my brain changing. I was settling into life as a grown up, and realizing I had responsibilities. I was learning how to balance a checkbook, pay my bills on time, do my own laundry, and cook my own meals. It would have been so hard to have a baby in that time of my life, before everything settled into place.

I’ve heard the phrase “I grew up with my children.” And while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. The first time I held each of my girls, and looked them in the eyes, I met them not as a half-formed girl, unsure of herself. But as a grown up, as a woman. Confident in herself, in her abilities to raise a child, secure in a stable relationship, sure of herself as a person.

I am a better mother for having waited. And my children deserve the best of me.

 

~Jennifer

 

Here We Are

I wasn’t planning on writing this post anytime soon. I have a couple I’ve been working on, writing and saving as I come up with ideas. But like most of my life, plans changed.

On June 6, 2017, I washed the last load of cloth diapers for my kids. A little over a month before my 37th birthday, and we are done.

Tonight, the 11th, Pudge fell asleep without her milkies. She asked, but this time when I told her that bottles were gone and I would be happy to get her a cup of milk, she whined, and then fell asleep. It probably helps that she was up almost 2 hours past bedtime.

I am sitting here, drowning my sorrows in hummus, tortilla chips and Dr. Pepper.

The long, sleep-deprived trek of my life that has involved babies is over. My youngest is 2. My oldest is 6. And the days of rocking a sweet-smelling infant to sleep have slipped through my fingers.

I am at turns unsettled and comfortable with this.

On one hand, both girls are sleeping better lately.

On the other hand… footed pajamas. Neither girl liked them much past when they started walking. So they have come to symbolize babyhood for me.

The Jennifer of Before Kids is not back. And honestly, she may never back as she was, so much has changed. But the Jennifer as I Am, the who I am beneath Mom, I can see her now. There is still so much I want to do, things I want to accomplish. I finished up my Bucket List, the one I wrote a week before high school graduation, before 30. In between 30 and 37, I have been Mom. And The Mrs. There hasn’t been much time for a new Bucket List, I’ve been too busy washing bottles and diapers, wiping faces and butts, rocking babies, folding clothes, pumping gas, carrying children.

To go back to those times of babies will be to give up what little Me I have rewritten. There is so much story still left to write, so many pictures to take and songs to learn, and tattoos to get. There is so much to do still.

But…

They were my babies. Long before they started claiming their independence, long before they started snipping apron strings, they were babies. They were my fiercely guarded lion cubs. They were mine. And I will have to give them up, to their own lives, far sooner than I realized.

I would stay longer in the Land of Babies, if I could. I would linger here, with tiny clothes, tiny fingers to curl around mine, and a tiny head propped on my shoulder. But the girls will not let me. They didn’t linger here any longer than they needed to, and now they are pulling me through their childhood.

We have tea parties to play, and dolls to dress up, sidewalk chalk to color with, and bubbles to blow. We have toes to paint, and lip gloss to use up. We have childhood to get to.

While I will throw myself into their childhood, just like I did their baby years… I may stop to look back. A few times.

~Jennifer

A Story

I want to tell you a story.

It is about a girl.

She was Rapunzel in a tower, except it wasn’t Mother Gothel keeping her there, but the weight of her family’s expectations. The goals they had set for her, the standards she was expected to meet.

There were times, when the wild spirit showed through. When she would disappear for a weekend and come home with memorabilia from artists in Austin. When she took off chasing thunderstorms across the Texas plains, and spent the night watching lighting storms in Oklahoma. When she went wandering into a club in Dallas, and learned that whips and chains were used for an entirely different purpose than what she had believed.

She dreamed dreams and made plans, different dreams and different plans than her family wanted. She slipped out from their thumbs to take pictures and pick flowers and watch movies and eat too much candy.

Her heart was broken. Her skin was bruised by a fist. She survived, and she was still wild.

But then, she met a soldier. She fell in love, into a safe, warm love, and suddenly found herself wanting all that she had said she did not.

She got married. They got pregnant.

And she settled down to a life of expectations. New expectations.

Good mothers do not go sky diving. Good mothers do not dye their hair pink, or blue.

A good soldier’s wife wears a dress without wrinkles. Her hair is perfect. She doesn’t have a pink stud in her nose.

Good mothers keep their house spotless, their children in perfect clothes. They put on makeup every day.

She smothered her dreams and hopes and wants in a layer of respectability. She learned to act the part, dress the part, almost be the part. But she was not a hot house orchid, carefully cultured and cultivated. She wilted like a wild flower in winter.

Listening to the opinions of others, she slid into roles she did not want. Said things she did not believe. She forgot the person she was, before, when she was new. She separated the part of her that created; that made blankets, took pictures, played music, from the rest of her. She surrendered to someone else’s idea of what a mother should be.

She locked herself back into a tower, this time of expectations of what she should be now. It was safe in the tower, it was what she knew. But it was stifling. She crumbled.

Her life came back to her in small pieces. Glimpses of the force of nature she had been. She picked up a camera again, dyed her hair pink, learned to play princess songs on her guitar.

And then… one night… in a shower so hot it turned her skin red and made her dizzy, she made a decision. It is better to be the person she is, than a Mother she is not. It is better to let her children run as wild as she did, without the weight of family. She could be the mother that let her children stay up late looking at stars, and still be a good mother.

She could have tattoos. She could have piercings. She could take too many pictures, play guitar too long, she did not have to do dishes before she went to bed. There was no harm in not folding the blankets perfect on the couch before she turned out the lights. It was more important to spend time with her family, than worrying about the cares of others.

To ignore the person she was, who she really was, when all the labels were stripped away, was doing her harm. And in doing herself harm, she was doing her family harm.

How does this story end??

I don’t know. Rapunzel came out of her tower and had a grand adventure with Flynn Rider.

It is time for me to come out of mine.

~Jennifer

Room for Me??

I have written, and re-written, and re-written this. The previous incantations are all in the trash, sitting there on my desktop, mocking me. Mocking my fear.

I am afraid to write this. I am afraid to post it. I am afraid to even say it out loud.

Here goes…

There isn’t a place in Feminism (the movement, not the people within it) for me. That is remarkably hard to type.

I am a stay at home mother. I spend my days in yoga pants, homeschooling two small children. I rely on my spouse, a man, for income. I go to Starbucks in flip flops. A trip to the grocery store alone is a small vacation.

Feminism is all about Leaning In now. A woman’s place is in the boardroom. And I am not living up to that goal right now. I traded in a job, a career, for late night diaper changes and singing the ABC song during circle time.

And Feminism is leaving me behind.

Often I see posts and comments online deriding stay at home mothers. I see things talking about how boring it must be, and how women who are at home can not be fulfilled with those choices, and we are part of the problem.

But I thought Feminism was about me having a choice. I thought the goal of the movement was to allow women to make their own choices for their lives, from pregnancy to careers, to where to live, to who to bank with, all the choices we get to make. I’m not home because I am forced to be. I am at home by choice.

Let me say that again.

I. Am. At. Home. By. Choice.

I needed a break from the rat race that is working. I needed time to breathe and be in this season of my life. I was tired and emotionally wrung out, and I wanted some peace in my life. I found that, at home. I am happier at home. I like being at home.

I had plans to go back to work. I had plans to put Sprout into kindergarten, and go to work. I stumbled onto homeschooling, and then I had Pudge, and I realized that there is, right now, no other place I would rather be.

Yeah, some days I get bored. Somedays I am so tired of The Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider. BUT.

The good days outnumber the bad. The moments in the sunshine, playing in the grass, the moments in the rain, jumping in puddles, the lazy warmth of afternoon when we put a movie on and snuggle on the couch, those moments all outweigh the bad tenfold.

I thought Feminism was about choices. I thought it was about letting each woman make her own choices for her own life without interference from anyone.

So why then, is the focus on pushing me to work? Why is the focus on putting me back into a career and a job and a life I do not want? Why can’t I be at Feminist and be at home? Why can’t I be a Feminist and homeschool? Why must I Lean In, when all I want to do is Slow Down?

Is there room for me within Feminism?

~Jennifer

How Far She’ll Go

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Right now, Sprout tells me she isn’t going to move out. When you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she says nothing, she wants to stay at home with me. “I’m not leaving my Mama”, she says, with a stubbornness that is genetic.

Every time she says it, I get a pang in my chest, my heart squeezing painfully against my ribs. Despite her insistence that she is not going to leave, I know she is. Her time will come, and she will want her independence. Already she is stretching the bond between us, spending more time without me, playing by herself, or with her sister, wanting Daddy for more and more, letting go of my hand when we’re at the grocery store, and skipping ahead down the aisle. She jumps from one brown tile to another, skipping the white ones, on the floor, until she is at the end of the aisle, and I have to call her back.

The knowledge that she will spread her wings and fly shows itself in her taste in music. She loves the Moana soundtrack, and she loves How Far I’ll Go, the most. One day, after she sat and sang the entire song from her car seat, I asked her why she liked the song so much. Because Mama, Moana is going on an adventure, and she sees all kinds of things on her adventure, she meets Maui, and the sparkly crab and whales, and she learns to steer the canoe by the stars.

She is attracted to stories and songs about adventures. For a year it was Tangled, and the adventures of Rapunzel. Then it was Frozen. Now it’s Moana.

The stories about princesses who wait for the prince to come? They aren’t for her. She’ll watch Snow White warble on about her prince, or Sleeping Beauty sing about her dream of a prince, but given her choice, she picks adventures. She watches Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, she has dived headlong into the Emily Windsnap series, this morning at 5 am she was up reading. She wants adventure in the great wide somewhere, and just like Belle, she isn’t afraid of monsters.

My oldest child is going places. She feels the same attachment to home I have, and I know when she leaves it will be with tears in her eyes. But she will leave.

She is my child. The call to the road and adventures is genetic too.

~Jennifer

Sick Day

It is not easy for me to take a day off.

My honeymoon, that first year of marriage where everything is sunshine and roses… wasn’t. Within months of getting married, Hubs was overseas on a deployment, and I was pregnant. Everything, every single detail of daily life, mundane or not, fell on my shoulders. To complicate matters, when we tossed out birth control, I did not think it would take us just a few weeks to get pregnant. But five days after I said goodbye, the lines on a pregnancy test turned pink.

Life has not slowed down since. I have lost two siblings to cancer, and taken on the care of my Mom, whose health has declined.

When the pregnancy test turned positive a second time, Hubs was finishing up his career in the Army, and we were planning a cross-country move. After we settled in the desert, I found myself homeschooling, making my own baby food, washing cloth diapers, doing it all again.

And then my health started to decline. Mood swings I could not explain, hot flashes, joint pain, and overwhelming fatigue. Nothing I tried made me feel better. I could not get enough sleep, could not get the house cool enough to be comfortable, even when my family shivered and ran for blankets in the middle of a hot summer.

All my passions, writing, photography, music, fell by the wayside. Weeks went by without me picking up my camera, I could not write even the simplest short story. My guitar sat alone in its case.

The doctor put everything together, and told me that I have Grave’s Disease. At first I was dumbfounded; I am never sick. The health problems that have plagued my family seemed to pass me by. It took days for me to really wrap my head around the idea that I was sick. And that no matter what treatment works, it will likely mean a lifetime of medicine.

But it meant something bigger than even medicine. It meant I had limits, and my body was at them. It meant that I could not stay up all night long, and then spend the day teaching Sprout, playing with Pudge, cleaning my house. It meant I needed to pay attention to my diet, lay off the caffeine, get more sleep.

I took some time to look for the lesson in this, what life is trying to teach me. It was a painful lesson, but one I needed to learn. I need to learn to take a sick day.

Sisters

I broke the rules. When you are pregnant, you are supposed to want a happy healthy baby. You’re not supposed to want a boy or girl. Just healthy. At least that is what everyone told me. With Sprout, I did just want happy and healthy. I was excited to see a little girl on the sonogram, but I would have been just as excited to see a little born.

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Just a few months before Sprout turned one, my sister lost her battle with cancer. I had been there with her, at the end. Through the nights when the pain would not cease, when we gave her as much pain medication as we dared. I was there, the night she begged me to give her enough morphine to end it all. I can say, I was one of the few that were there.

Her death changed everything. I know that seems cliché, but words fail me when it comes to describing what her death did to me. It felt like a meteor had slammed into the world, and everything was in chaos. Nothing was the same.

When the grief started to subside, when I could see through the tears and think of life after… I was possessed by a single thought. We had to have another baby. And we had to have a little girl. Sprout had to have a sister.

Hubs was leaving for Afghanistan, and I could not bear the thought of another pregnancy without him. I did not want to see him miss the birth of his second child. So much time was taken from him and Sprout, I refused to take time away from him and his next baby.

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The thought of the next baby carried me through that deployment. He would come home, we would be a family, and then we would expand it. The baby would be a girl. The baby had to be a girl.

At the same time, I planned for more pink blankets and socks, I wondered if I was damning myself. If by wishing for a girl, I wasn’t wishing for a healthy baby. What if the most painful lesson of my life would be to lose a little girl. To lose Sprout’s sister.

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When the pregnancy tests turned positive, despite everyone and everything, I wished for a girl. I hoped for a girl. I knew if we had a boy, I would want to try again, and I doubted my body’s ability to carry a third baby. So while I said I wished for a boy, and imagined a dark-haired little boy. I wanted a girl.

You see, only a sister gets you. Only a sister understands you, as a woman, on a primal level. Only a sister is there to fight with you, make things better with you, to lean on and to be leaned on in turn. My life has been affected by my sisters. Sprout needed that.

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When the tech pressed the wand into my belly, and confirmed that Pudge was indeed a girl, I was relieved. I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. When she had Carl and Sprout leave the room, to call a doctor in, to talk about something she had seen, I lost all of that. Every good emotion I had left when the tech talked about my cervix, and funneling, and early labor. The doctor assured me everything was fine, and I would make it to my due date. But she asked me to book an appointment with my OB, after we moved and settled in, as soon as possible.

I knew then that I was at risk for losing my little girl.

We drove across the country a week later, and I drove most of those 3,000 miles with one hand pressed to my belly. She was kicking then, shoving her feet into my ribs and my bladder, and I counted everyone. I stood on the Continental Divide, some of the prettiest country I have ever seen, with my hands pressed to my belly, trying to keep Pudge in.

And a few months later, it was time. The epidural failed. Then she came so fast the nurses did not have time to set up the bed. The placenta was slow in detaching. It felt like the universe sending me a sign, do not do this again.

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I knew, laying in the hospital with a duplicate of Sprout, that my time in the land of pregnancy was over. But it did not matter. She had the same measurements as her sister. The same face. A few weeks later her eyes turned brown, and her hair does not have the blonde streaks in it.

Pudge is old enough now to play with her sister. They build sandcastles together, paint together, color together, make playdo cookies and run around in the grass outside together. Sprout leads Pudge around, teaching her how to kick a ball, how to hold her baby dolls, how to sneak into my room and get into the candy I stash in my nightstand. I have found Sprout in the crib, surrounded by toys, playing as they wait for me to get them up for the day.

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They fight. Already they scream at each other over toys. Or who gets to sit in my lap during the movie.

The bond is there though. They build it every day. It is my fondest hope that their bond gets them through the rough parts of life, and is there during the good.

~Jennifer

Carry Me

“Carry me”, she says. She is 5 now, and those thorough-bred long legs still tire on long walks. She is still afraid of thunder storms, and when the rain beats down, she holds her arms up.

“Up up up!!” the baby says. Chubby toddler arms reach up for me, as she bounces impatiently. The last vestiges of babyhood cling to her, a round face, an equally round belly that pushes out over her diapers. Proof of a healthy appetite.

I moaned and complained for years over my hips. My Mom told me there were child birthing hips. I have no idea if wide hips made giving birth easier. But it has provided me a spot to prop my children.

Since Sprout was tiny, I have carried her. Or worn her. First it was a wrap, then a ring sling got us through the toddler years. I put it away with the hopes of another baby.

And that baby came. Pudge was just a few days old, I was still sore and hurting, when I pulled the ring sling over my head, spread it out over my shoulder, and put her in it. A second ring sling, an Ergo that she outgrew, and finally a Tula.

At the beach yesterday, I wore her. And I realized that she is too heavy, or am I too beaten down and old, to wear her on my chest anymore. A long walk and my shoulders ached, that spot in my lower back that never seems to loosen up reminded me it was there.

I realized it was time to put her on my back, and so for a second walk, down by the ocean, I did that. She was content to watch the world from my shoulder, and I did not ache at much.

I have heard it often, that I should put them down. Let them run and play. And I do. At the park, on the beach, around my yard, and through my house. I could, and have, talk myself blue in the face about not running and slowing down and being more careful. They do not listen.

But the time when I can carry my babies on my hip, on my back, in my arms, is passing. These are the hard years, but they are the fast years. I still feel like I just brought Sprout home from the hospital, and this fall she starts kindergarten. A year ago Pudge was a roly poly baby, and now she is my independent toddler.

I will hold, and carry, and wear, them as long as I can. Until either my body gives out or they are too big to carry. Tomorrow they may conquer the world, but today, they have a spot on my hip.

~Jennifer

The Girls of Summer

I had just enough time to meditate this morning. Just a few minutes to calm the cyclone that beats a never ending path through my head. I have lists of mantras pulled up, things to chant. But today my mantra was simple, “I will not wallow.” I will not wallow in my grief. I will live today as best as I can, because I do not know what tomorrow will hold.

I repeated that mantra, over and over again during the day.

I didn’t grasp it; it didn’t settle until this afternoon. I spent most of the day faking it, hoping neither of the girls saw the cracks in my armor. But after Pudge and I took a nap, we all went outside. The weather is warm; it was hot this afternoon. Summer is here, at least in my corner of the world.

I am a sun worshipper. Not in the sense that I tan, I burn and then peel. But when the sun is out more, when the weather warms up, I feel more… alive. More me. I packed away my vitamin D lamp in March. I have enjoyed the spring, watching the sun spend more and more time in the sky, watching the grass green up again, the plants start to grow. There was something different about today.

Maybe because I forced myself to notice the warmth, and the sunlight streaming through my fingers. The hummingbirds are out now, buzzing around and chirping and fighting over the feeders. Maybe that is it. Maybe it is the sight of my girls, growing and thriving, maybe watching all the hard work of parenting slowly come to fruition.

The girls played in the sandbox, in their playhouse, with the neighbor’s dogs. I found my center again, with a camera in my hand. When I stood in front of my camera case, I picked up a lens I have rarely used, I didn’t shoot that many pics this afternoon. I didn’t take that many pictures, I put my camera down to play with them instead, to build castles and eat play food brought to me with dirty fingers.

When it was bath time, and the toys were put up and the playhouse closed, they smelled sweaty. Dirty little toes pit patted across my kitchen floor, and I ignored the sandy footprints. A bubble bath, clean pajamas, and our day was done.

I will not wallow in my grief. I will live for today. I will live for the hope of tomorrow. I will enjoy every moment in the sunshine and in the rain and in between. I will take pictures, build sand castles, color on the sidewalk, paint with bright colors, made bead necklaces. I will pick up homeschooling, and guide my lion cubs through lessons and play time. I will rock a baby to sleep and let a big girl sleep on my shoulder when she has a nightmare. I will put together a summer camp for my girls, and sign up for soccer lessons and eat too much candy. I will drink lots of coffee.

The girls of summer are here. And I have to play in the sunshine with them.

~Jennifer

 

Specs:

Nikon D7100

Focal length: 35mm

Aperature: 3.5

Shutter Speed: 1/250

ISO:100