The Land of One

Tomorrow is my last day in the Land of One. There is no little baby coming up behind Pudge, once the clock rolls over to midnight, I will not come here again.

One is a land of sippy cups during the day, and bottles at night. One is a land of Up, and More, and NO. One is the land of naptimes, lovies and pacifiers.

The baby I cradled against my shoulder, a head full of dark hair, skin yellowed from jaundice, and slept in the sunshine from my living room window, she is gone.

But so is the barely one year old.

A sturdy toddler body launches herself into my arms from the couch. A head full of dark hair lays next to mine on the pillow at night, half-heartedly sucking on a pacifier as she sleeps. The crib has been turned into a toddler bed, and already we are looking at bunk-beds.

2T clothes, and soon 3T, dominate the wardrobe. Size 6 shoes sit by the door.

We are firmly in the Land of Toddler.

Today at lunch, she held her arms up, arms that are no longer chubby, and said Up. Followed it up with a please, and so I ignored the bubbling water on the stove, and hoisted her onto my shoulder. On their bedtime playlist is These Are The Days. I have memories of spinning slow circles in my kitchen with her cradled in my arms, or sleeping on my shoulder.

Sprout and I have Layla, the Unplugged version. She still firmly believes that Eric Clapton wrote that song for her.

Pudge and I have These Are the Days. And standing there today, on the last day of 1, with her head on my shoulder, and her eyes half closed, I cried. Not the big fat tears of true sadness. But small tears. Tears of letting go.

Tomorrow we are off to see the snow and play in the mountains. Her first day in the Land of Two will be one of adventure and fun.

Goodbye Land of One. My memories of you are sweet. And exhausting, I feel like every time I have come through this land, I am exhausted. But we can not stay any longer. Life is pulling us along.

 

~Jennifer

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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

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

 

Death Valley, March 2016

I was watching the news and there was a segment on the super bloom going on in Desert Valley. It’s been on my list of places to visit, and I said I wanted to go either in the Spring or Fall, when it is slightly cooler. The temptations of flowers was too much to pass up.

Hubs and I spent our 6th wedding anniversary (how has it been that long?!!) in the park, taking pictures, eating lunch, letting the girls wander around. By the time we got home we were tired, and hot and dusty… and I had some incredible pictures. I could go down there every weekend and take pictures for a year and still not get all of the park photographed.

The Cowboy Hat

On a random morning, just before we started school, Sprout asked to have me take pictures. This is a rarity, she is starting to get camera shy; I can’t really blame her, she’s had a camera in her face at least twice a week since she was born.

She agreed to wear the Big Sister shirt, and do pictures with Pudge on one condition, she get to wear her new Sheriff Callie hat. Sheriff Callie is a cat sheriff on a show on Disney Junior, Sprout loves the show. I could have spent the morning cleaning, or writing lesson plans. But in the spirit of Making Cupcakes, I skipped laundry and instead, we took some pictures. I think the outtakes are my favorites.

~Jennifer

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First Day of School

No matter how maudlin I might have been about Sprout started Pre-K, the sun rose on her first day. I found myself looking down at a bouncing, eager, excited little girl, and her yawning, chubby little sister, coffee in my hand, Monsters in the fridge.

Of course we had to take pictures. I found the My First Day posters on Teachers Pay Teachers. I did pay for this one (normally I try to stick with freebies), but it has a first and last day starting with preschool and going up to senior year. It was worth it.

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Hubs walked in from work just as we were settling down to start, and Sprout insisted he take first day pictures with her. I felt bad leaving Pudge out, so the night before I printed off a first day poster for her too.

After that, I traced her body out on a big sheet of paper, she colored it, we worked on the rules for our classroom (which also helps her work on new words for reading) read a few books, sorted some rocks, and worked on some letter tracing and writing. It was a fairly easy day, most of them are.

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The aim of the game right now is to just get her curious about school and learning, not have her memorizing Shakespeare. I’ve set up a themed week about twice a month, this weeks was Back to School. We’ve covered rules and expectations, she’s gotten used to her new routines and activities.

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Also, I did wear waterproof mascara. And I did cry. I’m a sap.

~Jennifer

Little Architect

This was supposed to be summer vacation. This was supposed to be the summer Sprout learned how to be bored on her own, and come up with marvelous things to do. I envisioned her building forts out of  blankets and sheets, filling up her drawing books with the best work since Picasso got into Cubism, creating sticker pictures, playing Doc McStuffins with her toy collection. And she did that. And then…

Two weeks into summer break, and she was coloring on the walls. I mean that in the literal sense of the word.

I realized I do not have a child who can just be on her own, who can figure out how to amuse herself. Let me rephrase that, who can figure out how to amuse herself in ways that do not involve destruction or the permanent markers she snatched from my desk.

So I started coming up with activities to do. Some of them were home school activities, simplified for easy play. We’ve done more arts and crafts, used more glue, paint and glitter than I care to reminder. Or can get out of my carpet.

But I had a box of packing peanuts, saved from a delivery, sitting on the top of my fridge. And I had toothpicks. Putting them together meant nearly an hour of building, taking things apart, and rebuilding. I should have done this on a sheet, to avoid the risk of stepping on lost toothpicks. Or even better, I will do this outside next time, and I will not have to worry about toothpicks getting jammed into small toes. Or my toes. I’ve had to go the ER once to get a piece of toothpick out of my foot, years ago, I don’t care to do it again.

But she was occupied. She wasn’t in trouble, wasn’t scheming to do something she shouldn’t or playing with something she shouldn’t, or pestering the cats, or any number of the Do Nots. I try to avoid the Do Nots as much as possible, but there are times when you have to have a Do Not. But on this afternoon, I forgot about the Do Nots, and let her build. And build. And build some more.

~Jennifer

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Off the back porch

Hanging off a branch directly over my back porch is a hummingbird feeder. Sprout has been fascinated by the hummingbirds since we got here, and as soon as it was warm enough, she had to have one up. I forget to fill the stupid thing all the time, and days go by before I realize we’re not seeing the tiny little birds because they have no food.

When I do keep it filled though, we get a couple regulars. Tiny little puffballs of aggression, fighting over spots at the feeder. I put a second one up, hoping it would keep them from fighting, but nope, they maneuver like Apache helicopters, rushing each other and chasing each other off. It’s warfare, on a little size, conducted by the smallest birds I’ve ever seen.

He hangs out with us the most. I had always thought this one was dark, and probably a female, but when the sun caught him just right, he sparkles and turns into a redhead. I need to keep the feeder refilled, and see if I can lure him back, and this time, get a couple truly good pictures of him.

~Jennifer

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At 6 months

This is what 6 months looks like. Rolls of fat, chubby thighs, sitting up, babbling, and putting everything, and I do mean everything, in her mouth. Sprout at this age had delicate features, a pointed chin, a button nose, and over-large ears that she still hasn’t grown into. If I played the word association game, the word elfin brought me right to Sprout. But say Pudge’s name, and I think of round. Round cheeks, a round belly that pokes out over her diaper.

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I have these small little laughing Buddha statues. And he is all round belly, and big smile in every statue. From the moment I opened the box, I thought of Pudge, with her big toothless grin, and that belly, pushing against her onesies, and hanging over diaper. She is unapologetically chubby, perfectly content her roundness, and happy with her life. (As long as she isn’t hungry.) I’ve learned more about body positivity in the past few months, as she started to go from tiny newborn to pudgy baby, than I have my entire life time.

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She’s not too good at sleeping yet, she wants to get up after bedtime and play for a few minutes, and then go back to bed. I try to be in the moment during those times, especially once Sprout has gone to bed. I try to imprint the weight of her head on my shoulder, the squeals of laughter, the baby talk, to memory. The dark circles under my eyes, testament to the amount of sleep I’m not getting, are slowly making their way down my face. By the time the girls are in college, I am convinced my face will be nothing but puffy, dark circles.

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But these moments will pass quickly. It feels like yesterday I was gingerly getting out of the car, and carefully unbuckling a tiny newborn from her seat. In reality, half a year has gone by.

~Jennifer