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Life in Pink, Part Deux

To read about the first days in Paris, click here.

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For our third day in Paris, we went a little further afield to Versailles.  It’s a half hour train ride and quarter mile walk to the palace, and Uncle Rick told us to get there at the opening to avoid the lines.  Luckily, they now offer timed tickets so we picked 9AM and promptly passed the 200 person line to walk right in.

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This isn’t even a quarter of the palace.  It’s staggering in size.  The early, cloudy morning hid the gleam of the gold, but not for long.

There’s a show on Netflix called “Escape to the Country” about British retirees buying modest country homes with thatched roofs.  This was Louis XIV’s escape to the country, away from his Paris palace, the Louvre; it was known as his little “chateau.”

So, same.

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There’s the glittering gold. Louis XIV called himself the Sun King. His bedroom, pictured later, is in those arched windows under the clock so the sun would rise directly on him.  What ego?

The interior is so unthinkably ornate, it’s actually difficult to grasp the grandeur.  If Les Misérables wasn’t convincing enough, one immediately understands why the French Revolution was entirely justified.

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The famous Hall of Mirrors (spot the Wo with audio guide)

This is King Louis’ bedchamber.  Yawn indeed.

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The thing about all the extravagance is it just puts you in the mood to enjoy some of your own.

Enter: high tea at Versailles.  At this point my parents were deeply, deeply craving enormous cups of coffee.  They like espresso, but they were starting to get desperate.  The kind waiter brought a porcelain carafe of French press (natch) that was clearly meant for two people, and my parents gave each other the side-eye like “…and where’s YOUR cup of coffee?”

It wasn’t twenty minutes before they ordered another.

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Her giddiness made me laugh and laugh.

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We walked the gardens, which are so expansive and myriad they offer golf carts to navigate them.  There are an astounding 300 fountains, a fraction of the original 1,500.

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King Louis XIV (and his mistress), decided they needed an escape from their Versailles escape, so they built a mini version at the other end of the property.

We all have our needs.

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There’s the “Grand Trianon” — just super mini, obviously

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Casual.

The interior is like any decent retreat center.

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During Louis XVI reign, Marie Antoinette sighed and said, “you all are too much for me.  I need peace, and quiet, and a staff of 40 to myself.”  She claimed the retreat from the retreat from the retreat: the mini-mini palace (called, inappropriately enough, the Petit Trianon).

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She really turned down the volume on the décor to rustic, austere.

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At this point Marie must have felt like the only thing missing from her life was a decent hobby.  But what?

Ah!  A tiny peasant-filled hamlet to call her own.  Finally we get our Escape to the Country thatched roofs.

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She stocked it with farm animals, gardens, a pigeon coop, a dairy, and of course, peons to work it.  She dressed in a muslin frock and walked around pretending to be one of them, without the helpful contribution of any actual work.

And her hamlet hovel was the largest, of course, with a billiard room, library, dining hall and two living rooms.  Super typical of peasant life.

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But remember!  It’s smaller than her mini-mini palace.  She was downsizing.

It was moments like this, in a place so remote and historic and singularly unique, that I would stop for a second and think of the clothes I wasn’t moving from the washer to the dryer, of the fights I wasn’t refereeing, and the naps I wasn’t managing, and I’d grin like an idiot and ask when our next snack was.

When you think about it, I owe Marie Antoinette for giving me an escape to the country.

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Typical Tuesday.

The train ride back to Paris passed us from one world into another.  It’s a bizarre journey to depart Versailles, glamour capital of the world, travel through all the unremarkable towns around it, and end up in Paris, the City of Light.

We walked to one of the most charming streets in Paris, Rue Cler, a true market street with vendors selling every desirable food, wine, produce, meat and novelty one could want.

We had the sort of dinner I’d hoped to have in Paris, where we ordered freely, talked about my parents’ memories of their younger days, shared glasses of wine and laughed as the sun went down.

With a bottle of red in hand, we walked to the Eiffel Tower and sat on the lawn with all the other dreamers, waiting for the spectacular sparkle of the tower at the top of the hour.

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We cheered and took photos as she lit up like Christmas, and laughed at the glory of it all, to be sitting outside on a cloudless night, together living a dream God had for us.

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The walk to the base was incredible as the tower grew larger and loomed brighter.  We said goodbye and hopped in an Uber home, certain to sleep in the next day after the incredible one we’d just enjoyed.

After brunch the next day, we visited the Rodin Museum…you know, The Thinker.

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Rodin is such a great place to visit because it’s housed in a mansion Rodin lived and worked in, it has fabulous gardens and grounds where some of his works are displayed, and it’s sculpture — we’d already seen many paintings, so this felt fresh.

This, and it can be done in an hour.

Our bigger goal that day was to visit the artsiest and most bohemian neighborhood in Paris, and also it’s highest, perched atop a hill: Monmarte.  We began by touring the Sacre Coeur cathedral at the tippity-top of Monmarte, and then the 900-year-old church next to it (!).

Off we trotted, me reading aloud from Uncle Rick as we navigated his walk through the highlights of the eclectic streets.

We had lunch in the town square, a plaza buzzing with artists called the Place du Tetre.

“HERE they are,” remarked my mom.  She had asked me half a dozen times where Paris was hiding all of her street artists.

We munched on crusty bread, ate hearty lunches, and watched as the fifty easels around us filled with cityscapes, portraits, still lifes, and abstract works of art.  We mourned not having any way of bringing a piece home, given our puritanical carry-on luggage situation.

Monmarte is its own enclave, bursting with personality and rich with the impressions left by Dali, Renoir, Van Gough and Picasso.

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Oldest remaining boulangerie of the 1900s art community

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The bistro from the famous Maurice Utrillo painting, frequented by Picasso, Utrillo and Gertrude Stein.

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High behind that tree is one of two remaining wooden windmills of the 30 that used to dot the hill of Monmarte.  They were originally used to press monks’ grapes (1200s), grind grain (1600s), and crush gypsum rocks into plaster (1700s).  Around 1850, once the windmills were no longer in use, this windmill (moulin, in French) became the centerpiece of an outdoor dance hall (the same used in Renoir’s most famous painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette).

The restaurant above, with the original windmill, is named for the painting and the galettes (crepes) people enjoyed at the dance hall.

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I could live here.  It’s like Sesame Street moved to Paris.

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Van Gough lived here for two years, in that exact unit with the open window, where he left a life of making drab drawings of peasants to the wild Impressionist works that made him famous.  Thank you, Monmarte.

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The white bus tells us all we need to know — the moulin rouge (red windmill) cancan is touristy and lame.

We ended the afternoon with a walk down a classic Parisian market street, Rue de Martyrs, lined with traditional cheese mongers, butchers, bakers…didn’t see a candlestick maker.

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America has settled on a paleo/keto life of carb-denial, but France doesn’t give a flying fig tarte.

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After showers and a glass of wine on the balcony, we walked to dinner at Ile St Louis for our last night.

It was hard to say goodbye to such beauty.

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Going all in on the French cuisine felt like a no-brainer, so we did timeless French onion soup, duck confit and crème brulee.

Though it felt like tossing a penny into a marble fountain my parents had built, I treated my parents to dinner for our last night.  It would be impossible to thank them sufficiently, not only for their generosity toward their middle daughter, but for giving me my childhood dream of being an only child, just for a week.  Of course I adore my sisters, but we middles yearn to bask in the coziness of singular attention.  My parents know it’s a trip I’ll treasure the rest of my days.

The next morning I boarded the plane with a happy heart.  People balked when I told them I was only traveling from Saturday to Thursday, but it was plenty of time.  Two of those were travel days, so we got four full days to explore.  Even with the time adjustment, we slept really well each night.  If anything, this trip sparked dreams for future trips with Mike, that maybe we can pop over to Europe without needing two weeks to do it.

I expected to dread the return, but instead I felt full, like God had refilled a cup I hadn’t drank from in years, and I was satisfied.

Mike did a fantastic job, twice having to get the kids to preschool at the eye-watering hour of 7:50AM, and even vacuuming the house from top to bottom.  Like any dad I’ve ever encountered, he called his sister and mine to pinch-hit dinner a couple of nights, and his mama took them all in for the weekend, but I am really proud of how well he did.  He even took them all to the dentist.  I mean, really.

Perhaps the sweetest gesture he gave me was what he didn’t do: he didn’t pee on the gift.  This is a thing in our marriage that means if one of us takes on the entirety of home life so the other can do something great, we act graciously (even if we’re gritting our teeth behind the scenes).  He never called to say, “I’m dying over here.  I hope you’re enjoying living the life.  WHEN are you coming HOME?”  Instead he said, “We’re great!  Live it up!  Love you, Momma!”

As the plane landed in Seattle from Manchester, I looked over to the woman across the aisle from me, who was journaling furiously.  We’d already spoken, so I knew she was British, but then I glanced down at her journal and saw in all caps, “I AM IN AMERICA!!!!” and then “THE TREES!!!” with little sketches of our evergreens filling the margins.  It warmed my soul that my unexotic return was her thrilling adventure.

After all, I’d already had my own.

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Life in Pink

Everything good that Paris could have been, it was.

Before we left my mom was like, “Oh, man, you have a two hour layover?  Ugh, that’s awful.”

False.

One must only lament a layover if one is laid-over with children. That layover is like a hangover.  Layovers solo are like a precious amulet of alone time, presented with a book and beverage.

Despite LAX having precisely zero signs signaling the way to the international terminal, I said to myself, “This is the no-complaint trip.  I shall have zero complaints.”  How could I?  So I walked around the soon-found international terminal grinning like an idiot and basking in the quiet of walking without talking.  It’s an odd and welcome pleasure.

Speaking of pleasure — a nine hour flight with nothing to do but eat, drink, watch movies, read, and nap is a vacation unto itself.  Every mother of toddlers reading this is thinking, “I’d pay the airfare just for the alone time.  You could circle my city at 30,000 feet and bring me straight back.”

I was only able to sleep a short nap on the way over, but deplaned saying, who cares? I’m in PARIS!  ONWARD.

The surprise to Erin and Joey of my coming on the trip wasn’t able to come off like we’d hoped, because my parents and I couldn’t find each other after customs.  Turns out concourse E has two floors.  Who knew?  And again, who cares?  To Paris!

We Uber’d into the city and paid to drop our bags at a hotel down the road from our apartment, since it was several hours prior to check-in.

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We had a quick espresso at a café to perk up after the flight, said goodbye to the honeymooners and off we walked the short distance across the Seine to:

Notre Dame herself.

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I whipped out my Rick Steves and started our self-guided tour.  For those unfamiliar, Rick is the European travel guru of our time, with dozens of books, a PBS show, and a brick-and-mortar store here in Edmonds, WA.  I don’t travel without him.  He’s like Uncle Rick to our family.  It helps that his son (also now traveling for a living) is friends with my dear friend Maggie.  They’ve all gone boating together.  It makes it less creepy that I go hear him speak and get photos with him.

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Not our first meeting, though his riveted expression tells us it’s definitely the only one he recalls.

I digress.

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Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of Paris called the Ile de la Cite.  It was settled by a tribe called the Parisii in 250 BC.  Clearly the plat du jour is a heaping pile of history, served rare.

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Since it was Sunday, they were holding mass.  It was incredible to see so many worshippers in spite of the tourists milling around the periphery.

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After Notre Dame we walked through the Deportation Memorial, which honors the French lost in the Holocaust.  We stopped for lunch at a café along the Seine, which was lousy, but we didn’t have time to find something better since we needed to check into our apartment.

When Mike and I stayed in Paris in 2011, we were budget-conscious; we chose a modest hotel that had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but you could basically touch all four walls of the space at once.  I think the shower stall and toilet were hard to distinguish.

My mom and dad are conservative, but they’re over that way of traveling.  I stood only to benefit.

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Living Room

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Don’t these leaded glass windows beg to be flung open to call ‘bonjour’ to happy passerby below?

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My bedroom – excusez-moi, boudoir!

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Massive balcony overlooking courtyard and the street

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Making ourselves riiiiight at home…in our clothes from the plane. (Peep my mom’s slippers)

We walked to Sainte-Chappelle, which I’d never been to, and were utterly struck dumb when we walked inside.  There’s an old joke when you travel through Europe that it’s ABC: Another Bloody Cathedral.  This isn’t to deride them, it’s meant to imply that you get grandeur-fatigue, like your brain goes blank after the seventh soaring ceiling and flying buttress.

Sainte-Chappelle laughs at the idea of visual boredom; the cacophony of color in the stained glass is more spectacular than in any cathedral I’ve ever seen.  It’s criminal that these photos don’t capture the effect of feeling like you could collapse from the kaleidoscope of stunning ancient light.

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When I first considered coming to Paris, one of my concerns was the nine hour time difference, and not being able to talk to the kids very often because of it.  However, once we arrived, I realized how totally freeing it was to know they were asleep when I was awake and vice versa.  I couldn’t be tempted to micro-manage, check-in, or worry because for most of my day they were unconscious.

So, worry I did not.  We hopped on a cruise of the Seine, wine in hand, and this was the moment when our collective dam burst: we are HERE.  NOW.  TOGETHER.  IN PARIS.  LOOK!

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It was so exciting to go from lots of walking and careful navigating to: sitting back, sipping a Bordeaux and sailing down the river with the highlights of the city rising before us.  We were absolutely giddy.

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Is the French flag too much?  Never.

We ended the day with dinner on a magical avenue in the St Germain neighborhood.  We stumbled upon it, only to later learn from Uncle Rick that this street is the heart of the Left Bank.  This really showed me that I don’t need his books anymore; he sends me places subliminally.

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It’s like this couple forgot I wasn’t their family and wouldn’t be giving them this picture.

I ordered beef bourguignon, because it felt right; it was delicious.  Dad ordered duck confit because it’s a French classic; it was delectable.  Mom ordered scallop risotto for reasons no one understands; it was disenchanting.

The next morning we took the metro to the Musee de l’Orangerie, because Monet is my mother’s favorite artist.  The space was designed specifically for the enormous canvases which were his final works before his death.

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My mother was underwhelmed.

“These are a little dull.  His earlier works had more interest.”

Apparently French field trip kid agrees.

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Dad and I thought they were amazing, particularly because what appeared simple from the center of the room was a myriad of colors when approached.

Here’s the same tree trunk seen above, up close.

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After enjoying the artists’ work downstairs (Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, you know, the lesser-knowns), we all felt like a Parisian patisserie was the ideal mid-morning break.  Naturally, I turned to Uncle Rick, who led us to Laduree Paris on des Champs Elysees.  My parents said one metro ride was enough, so we grabbed an Uber.

It was a patisserie worthy of being on the most glamorous avenue in the world.

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It was extravagant; dark carved wood, elaborately painted ceilings, crown moldings two feet deep, and gleaming serviceware.  The pastries, tea and coffee were exquisite, and we sat in the light-filled sunroom in perfect contentment.

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The upper floor was more opulent than the first, boasting a ladies room that looked like a toilette from a doll house.

And their claim to fame: the pastries.  Heart-stopping.

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We ran into Joey and Erin at the Arc de Triumph, which was actually pretty crazy considering the size of the city.

We were on a special mission in that neighborhood; mere days before we left, my grandfather casually told me that he’d worked in a hotel in Paris after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.  I gasped and wrote down the name, determined to find it.

We found it.

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While we rested in the lobby for a minute, a concierge approached, asking if he could help in any way.  I explained about my grandfather working there during the war, and in classic French style, he said, “No, he did not.”

We all looked at each other, until he said, “Follow me.”

He led us outside and explained that The Majestic Hotel was located directly across the street during WWII, but is now a different hotel altogether.  So while we’d found the one, we couldn’t visit it as it was while he was there.  My mom and I nudged each other, because many employees wouldn’t know or care about the history of their hotel 70 years ago, and the one who did just happened to approach us with this priceless information.  God shows off like this all the time, and I love him for it.

Here’s Paris in a nutshell: we headed to Le Café de Flor, a favorite of Pablo Picasso, right across the street from Hemingway’s favorite café, on a busy street dotted with other hundreds-year-old cafes, including the very first café in the entire Western world (1686).  This is why Paris makes people swoon.

The place was bustling and jovial and totally alive with Parisians leaning over tiny tables to be heard above the din.  A gentleman with a delicately creased face and a casual day suit sat next to us reading his newspaper and slowly enjoying his omelette and espresso.

I lifted my phone to take a picture of my parents and stupidly told my mom to reach for her wine glass, which led to:

2018-09-17 15.47.06 Joke’s on me.  It’s the no-complaint trip, and I mean business.

The waiter brought me a giant gray canister of seltzer which was adorable, and useless.

We walked to the magnificent Luxombourg Gardens, which are exactly what you’d hope to find if you opened a calendar of Parisian scenes and watched them come to life: the elderly gentlemen in dress pants and sweaters playing chess under the bougainvillea, the children pushing rented sailboats across the pond, the leathery ladies and gentlemen brazenly sunning themselves across green park chairs, shirts and tank straps removed.

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It is meticulously manicured gardens under a cloudless sky, set against the matchless backdrop of the Luxombourg palace.

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We walked on to the Pantheon, but midway decided after all that walking we’d earned happy hour, so we stopped for a glass of wine.

We approached the Pantheon the moment it closed.  Oops.

After resting on the apartment balcony awhile, we changed for dinner and walked across the bridge to the Ile St Louis, recommended to me by my friend Maija (who lives in Paris with her husband and three kids, having moved there from Seattle two years ago).

Just the walk is a delight unto itself.

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The menu and everyone around us were entirely French, which is always the sign of a fabulous restaurant, but also the sign that we are about to embarrass ourselves.  Here is my father systematically typing in menu items for translation, in a Vacation Dad move so bold I laughed until I was shaking.

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We had a fabulous meal once the waiter basically ordered for us and treated us like old friends.

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Tomorrow it’s on to Versailles — if you want to feel simultaneously awestruck and full of disgust toward Marie Antoinette, meet me here.

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How Am I In Paris?!

I’m in Paris!  For the first time in seven years!  Without kids!  With my mom and dad!  And really sadly, without my hubby.  How did this happen?!

It’s called the miracle of flight.

I kid.  That’s a different kind of how.

Over a year ago my parents and their best friends booked a house in Italy for a week, and they had an extra bedroom, so they invited my sister Erin.  They later invited me too, assuming I was an easy no, because HELLO, I had four kids under four.  (But they were wrong – joke’s on them.)

I prayed and waited for an answer from the Lord about whether to take such a big trip when my kiddos were so little, and He answered resoundingly when Mike spontaneously told me that he was taking time off and he wanted me to go.  He has traveled fairly extensively for work throughout most of our parenting years and he was ready to stay home with the kids and let me take an adventure.

I verbally committed to the trip, though I was filled with anxiety at the thought of over a week away from my babes, halfway around the world.  Since we’ve had kids we’ve taken a weekend away once or twice a year, but the most we’ve ever been away is three nights last March for Mike’s work trip together.  This was a big leap from that.

The best part about waiting for the trip was dreaming about it; if I was having a long day with the kids, or was feeling overwhelmed with the work of caring for them, I’d fill my mind with images of walking the streets of Cortona with a gelato and an approaching happy hour overlooking a vineyard.

I mean, come on.

Then…enter Joey, my sister’s first and forever love and the answer to the longest continual prayer of my life.  When they got engaged after only four months, I didn’t hesitate to tell him he’d also won a trip to Italy.  No part of me held back when I gave him that trip, because the blessing of his arrival in my sister’s life (and ours!) magnificently eclipsed one silly vacation.

I felt like not going on the trip didn’t actually diminish the joy it had already brought me for almost a year.  The happy anticipation lifted me in harder moments, and not flying to Italy didn’t take that away.  Of course I was bummed not to go, but I couldn’t feel sad when the reason I wasn’t going was because my sister was honeymooning.  What could make me happier than that?

Fast forward to about a month ago, when my parents told me they were adding a leg to the trip.  They were going to Paris first, a new place for them, and while Erin and Joey would be going too, they’d be staying somewhere separately and doing things alone, because honeymooning with your parents generally isn’t done.

Then my mom casually asked, as I could tell it was just occurring to her, why don’t you just come for that part of the trip?  Come to Paris for six days and then fly home, and we’ll go on to Cortona.

I did Mom Brain, naturally.  No, no, I couldn’t do that.  It’s only a month from now!  I have the kids!  Mike has work.  No, no, of course not.  Thanks for offering, but it’s just impossible.

Except it wasn’t.  Mike started saying, “I have the days off, we were already prepared for this…you should go.”  Brief hesitation.  “Man, I can’t believe you’ll be in Paris without me.  I want to go!”

So I handed it over to the Lord and said, are You serious?  I let this go — I’m really fine!  I don’t need this!

But nothing got in the way.  And then I checked airfare and it wasn’t obscene, but it wasn’t cheap either.  And then one day I prayed and checked again, and it was $837.  Roundtrip.  And I looked at my mom and she said, “Why are you surprised when He answers your questions?”

I booked it.

Et voila!

Recently it occurred to me that August was the first month in five years and nine months that I have not been pregnant or breastfeeding or both at once.  Five years and nine months without a single day that didn’t involve nursing or carrying a baby inside me.  The time is staggering when I think of it in those terms.

I’ve been thinking about the timing of that and the timing of this trip, and it feels like a victory journey, a roar of accomplishment, a squeal of glee that Jesus sustained my body through the most intense demands ever placed on it.  My body is solely mine for the first time in almost six years, and Paris feels like the right place to celebrate.

(Anyone who knows me also knows I’d be pregnant tomorrow if it were only up to me.  But it’s not, so…pass the champagne!)

There’s also a tension I’m carrying because I don’t deserve this, this wild extravagance.  I work hard as a mom, but I work no harder than all the moms shouldering the same responsibilities alongside me.  So many moms work harder, have husbands on deployment, are themselves deployed, have children with special needs or more children than I have or very few resources to get by.  When I’m given gifts like this I feel so unworthy and embarrassed.

But I know the Lord is sweet, and He’s generous, and while I don’t understand, I want to accept His gift with joy and gratitude.  I’m hoping He’ll mold my embarrassment into a grateful humility that’s acceptable in His sight.  It’s delightful to be reminded that I’m not in control, even of the fun — for me the trip was over and He was probably laughing like, oh daughter, just you wait.  Because He loves to spoil His children; His love is spectacular.

My parents are like the Lord in that way; they spoil their children with abandon. My dad and mom have worked and saved their entire lives to be able to casually add a week in Paris and invite their kid along for the ride. 

My meager offer in return is a scrupulously detailed itinierary to wow them with all Paris has to offer; times, costs, hours and notes crisply laid out in a spreadsheet for maximum efficiency.  Whether it wows them or makes them beg me to stop, for the love of Rick Steves, stop, is yet to be determined.

One amusing part of this trip before it even began was the reaction-question I got, without exception, every time I shared where I was going (which wasn’t to many people; see above, my embarrassment). 

Them: “Who’s going to watch the kids?”

Me: “Mike.”

Them: (Insert your favorite shock phrase here)

And often:

Them: “Mike’s babysitting?!”

Me: “No, he’s parenting.”

Good gravy, people, he’s their father.  He’s highly capable. Mike is the type of dad where I can walk out the door without a word of instruction and he knows what to do. 

To him, and to my in-loves watching the kiddos for today while he plays in a golf tournament (please tell me you saw that coming), I say thank you, thank you, thank you.

I mean, merci beaucoup!  Man, I need to brush up. 

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Happy Campers

Here’s a sentence with two facts I never thought I’d write:

We went camping and it was fun.

Mike and I are not campers by nature.  We’ve done it several times pre-kids, but most of our camping experiences involved “camping” for three nights at the Gorge so we could watch Dave Matthews Band play three times Labor Day weekend, as they do every year.

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It was simpler times.

We’d talked about taking the kids for a classic camping experience, but it wasn’t until our most outdoorsy friends invited us that we packed our bags.  These awesome friends really remove any excuse we could possibly produce, because they not only have four-year-old boy-girl twins like us, they also have one-year-old girl-girl twins.  End scene.

We did not have the courage/masochism to bring our one-year-old along, so we left him with my parents Father’s Day weekend and headed for Lake Wenatchee.

The other kicker in this experience is that our friends invited all the twins they know, so we had no fewer than fourteen four-year-old twins running amok in the forest.  Plus two sets of one-year-old twins.  Plus Hunter.

When we arrived at Lake Wenatchee we were amazed by the beauty of the campgrounds.  It was easily the cleanest, nicest, most well-maintained campground I’d ever seen.  The campgrounds were evenly scattered through the woods adjacent to the lake, with little level squared areas for tents and a little firepit and a little parking place.  I like little.  I like order.  This appealed.

Mike set up the tent, like any dad worth his salt, and the kids hopped on their bikes and took off on the paved road through the campsite.  We were like, oh, this is weird, we don’t have to watch them compulsively because there’s no traffic, and they’ve already found several sets of twins to ride with, and hey here comes our friend Mike with a beer.  Wait, are we liking camping?  Why is this happening so fast?

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We took the kids down to the lake to explore and were stunned by the beauty of the mountains rising out of the water.  It’s a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, but it never fails to stop me in my tracks.

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Laura Jean, trip planner extraordinaire, had coordinated meals so we potlucked.  The adults grabbed a beverage while the kids ran hollering through the woods, and we chatted around the fire, amazed that this was working out.

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We also laughed at the pure northwest nature of the group.  We were all ensconced in our Patagonia puffers as we emerged from our North Face tents holding local microbrew beers (Seattle Cider Co, in my case).

To remove any doubt that ours was a bandwagon of northwesterners, let’s look at an adorable sample of the children’s names:

Adler
Bear
Hunter
River
Forrest
Pilot
Blaze
Sierra

And it’s official; we’re a real life Washington State advertisement.

The main pain was the mosquitos.  They were legion and relentless.  Even now Arden, who had a fabulous time, says, “Mom we are never going back to that place with the mosquitoes.”

I had pants, leggings, jeans, and the mosquitoes laughed in my face.  As if your cotton and polyblends were any match for us, they scoffed.

At home I counted 90 bites on my legs alone.

But who cares when you’re spending the day with no agenda but paddle boarding, toasty fires, walks in the woods, and a nap?

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I thought sleeping would be a titanic problem, given that it isn’t dark in Washington until nearly 10pm, but evidently the reward for all of that outside play is kids who fall asleep at their normal bedtime (well, we gave them 8 instead of 730) from sheer exhaustion.  It didn’t matter that we all shared a tent or that we didn’t bring an air mattress.  The kids conked out and two hours later, so did we.

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When I was a kid, I had a wide, plaid, flat, freezing flannel sleeping bag like any normal American.  My children have “REI Kindercones” which keep them toasty down to 30 degree temperatures.  Naturally they have whimsical, artistic, satin interiors, because this is the life to which they’re accustomed.

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They are so lucky they have their Nana and Papa to spoil them/keep them alive in the woods.  (Thanks Nana and Papa!)

And they’re so lucky they have their mom and dad who don’t bring sleeping pads, to keep them humble.

I brought Jiffy Pop, because I thought it would amaze the kids to hold it over the fire and see it burst into a bubble and then give them their favorite treat.  It did not.  I bought three and it took all three for us to make one that wasn’t both charred and holding most of the kernels hostage, unpopped.

They didn’t care.  They had kid-sized camping chairs!  Well, my kids didn’t, but we’re not at that level of camping yet.

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You know what doesn’t fail you?  Marshmallows.  Marshmallows work every time.

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I thought camping for a mom meant nonstop work; food prep, cooking, packing food away, washing children’s hands and other parts, constant bathroom trips, etc and while it was some of that, it was also a whole lot of rest.  Not being at home meant I couldn’t occupy myself with chores and other to-dos, so I had time to just sit in a camping chair, drink my tea, swat my mosquitoes, and read my fast-paced novel.  That was totally unexpected and so, so good.

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I know we can do this now.  Not until next summer, but we can do it.  (Next summer Jameson will be two…I shouldn’t think about this — focus back on: we can do this now!)

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Happy Anniversary, Happy “Trip”

Today is Words Become One’s ninth anniversary, so let’s celebrate by getting out of town, shall we?

In January, Mike and I had our ten year anniversary, and his parents generously invited us to join them at their two condos in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a week of fun.  We were bringing the kids, so it was a week of fun with the major parenthesis of a boatload of work, but we were determined to make the most of it.

Before I go any further, every mother reading this knows the sweat, angst and gnashing of teeth that goes into packing for one’s children and oneself.  I wrote a separate post about the ins and outs of preparing to travel and traveling with children.  Head there for the details.

Away we go!

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And just like that, hours later we were like this!

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Only if by “just like that” I mean one plane ride, an overstuffed carseatless shuttle, an interminable wait for our rental SUV, a 35 minute drive to the resort, a (wise) rejection of the fourth-floor kids-could-fall condo, and a settling into a wonderful first-floor kids-can’t-fall-from-the-balcony three bedroom condo.  Just like that!

The units themselves were ideal for our bigger family.  A master bedroom with en-suite, two kids bedrooms with their own bathrooms, and a kitchen and living room.  Glenn and Colleen had the same setup right above us, which we loved because it gave them their own space to have peace and quiet and a break from the kiddos.  That and Henry would race up there every morning after getting dressed, usually followed by Hunter and Arden.  Wouldn’t want them having too much peace and quiet, after all!

Nana and Papa brilliantly asked for units next to the children’s pool area — a place with a huge pool, water slide, and in-ground shaded trampoline.  It even had a kids indoor area for artwork and creative play.  We thought it would be unbelievably crowded, and instead no other kids were around.  This must be the result of traveling outside of holidays and spring break.

It was really peaceful, which was the last adjective we expected to employ on our first day.

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So peaceful in fact, that we promptly shattered the serenity by Hunter slipping and busting open his lip, blood dripping out of his mouth.  Nana and I rushed to attend to him, not realizing Mike had stepped aside to order beverages by the side of the pool.  At the same second Hunter tripped, Mike walked back along the pool edge and saw Henry tiptoe closer to the deep end, his little chin in the air.  He threw the drinks to the side and ran in, scooping him up in one of the scariest moments of his life.  He ran over to us only to realize we never saw a thing — we were still holding paper napkins to the lips of a sobbing Hunter.

We were all devastated that so much could happen in seconds, and it shook the casual relief of our resort arrival into soldier-like attention at every moment.  We’d had several conversations about man-to-man water coverage, but we learned when an accident happens it can pull us away just long enough for disaster.  We were deeply shaken and prayed thanks for protection of both our sweet boys, while vowing to do much better.

After many long breaths in and out…

It took the kids no time at all to adjust to a life of wake, eat breakfast at a restaurant, swim, beach, eat lunch at a restaurant, nap, swim, jump, eat dinner at a restaurant, sleep.

Not surprisingly, it took the two women on the trip who cook all the food at home no time to adjust either.

I know this picture looks entirely staged, but Henry really was acting 40, unbeknownst to him, and we laughed out loud.

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All parents know that “vacationing” with kids is taking a trip — you’re not vacationing from the work involved with caring for kids.  That certainly applied here.  However, we thought one way to make it feel like a vacation would be not going to Costco, meal planning and cooking.  So we opted for the all-inclusive, a first for us.  Considering kids are free, I’m certain we won out on eating and drinking more than the daily price we paid.  That resort didn’t bet on four kids.

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Major-eater infant not pictured.

Also this is Hunter’s signature move; he puts both hands into “I love yous” and sticks his tongue out.  Only Hunter could make it look like gang signs.

One of the days the gentlemen watched the kids while we ladies had a lovely few hours getting massages and hanging at the spa. The next day, we watched the kids while the men did their version of the spa.

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We made the most of the outnumbered childcare situation by taking ourselves to lunch.

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Note my non-non-alcoholic raspberry mojito.  It was necessary because of this:

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Do your sons wait for their food this way?  No?  Just us, then?

In the middle of the week we had a day of hard rain.  This is very rare in Cabo. We know because the staff told us twenty-five times.

We asked for ponchos to get through breakfast, which the kids found HI-larious.

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Then we headed inside for some art and movies.  Even though kids love non-stop activity, they thrive when the pace changes and they can just chill.  They’re surprisingly like adults that way.

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Unquestionably, the best part about the downpour was the golf cart rides from condo to restaurant and back.  The kids were squealing with delight, particularly when it rained so hard they zipped the plastic drapes so we were cocooned inside.

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The couple of cloudy days were also vastly improved by hot tubs.

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I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a moron, but a few days into the trip I had the following thought: this trip is one hundred percent about the children.  We are doing nothing but entertaining them from sunup to sundown.  It’s just one kid-bliss activity to the next.  I knew this before coming here, but how did I not truly KNOW this?

Mere hours later, Mike came up to me and said, “I know how dumb this sounds, but this trip is entirely for the kids.  Like we are just service vehicles on their parade of fun.  It’s insane.  Is this what our parents felt on every vacation!?”  I smacked him on the arm and yelled “I KNOW!” totally elated that our parental wavelength was still so completely synced.  I wasn’t the only idiot who has been a parent for four and a half years and is still surprised by the parenting commitment being TOTAL.

 

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OG Hunter strikes again.

The intense guarding of four kids by the water was nerve-wracking, but we tried to breathe into it by taking turns, ordering beverages, and shuffling them over to the trampoline when our inner lifeguards were wiped.

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On our last full day, Mike gave me a break during the kids’ naps to go lay by the pool.  I thought I would burst from the happiness and disbelief of actually being alone poolside, and walking the beach just thanking God for His grace and this stunning beauty.

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I am not a selfie taker, but exceptions must be made.  I wanted to remember being this giddy.

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That evening, Glenn and Colleen stayed in and we took the kids down to the beach for a special moment we wanted them to participate in.  We brought our vows to recite them to each other again, just as we have nearly every year, but this time with our own children as our witnesses.  It was pretty surreal and, to the two of us, quite profound.

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There wasn’t one other person on the beach, so we asked Arden to take our picture while we spoke.  Then we tried to gather the kids together and squeeze for an impossible selfie, but it just wasn’t working.

Right then, a kind-looking, well-dressed man approached, walking around the boulders near the entrance to the beach, and smiled at us.  We were sort of embarrassed he saw us wrangling the kids for a picture.

“I had to come down here,” he said.  “I’ve been watching you from the restaurant and I felt I had to come take your picture for you.”

The restaurant wasn’t adjacent to where we were; it’s a good walk back to the resort and up a flight of stairs.  He had to have left his seat before we even began taking a picture.  I just stared at him, stunned.  Then I told him how incredible it was that he came down because we were just renewing our vows and wanted a photo.

“Wow, really, wow.  You have just the most beautiful family, and it’s just the best thing.  Really, you’re blessed!  I’ll take your picture!”

I beamed at him, totally grateful, absolutely aware that this man was responding to a prompting in his heart, one the Lord nudged him to.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

We handed him our phone and the chicks gathered around and he took our photo.  We thanked him profusely, telling him we couldn’t believe he would leave his dinner at the fanciest restaurant on the property just to take our picture.

“I’m so glad I did,” he replied, smiling at each of the kids.  “I’m thanking you for this.  It’s just so beautiful, your family, thank you so much.”

He smiled sincerely and then turned to walk back up the beach toward his dinner companions.  Mike and I looked at each other, amazed, so sure of the Lord’s presence with us on that beach.

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This picture means more to me than I can say.

God wasn’t done showing off, because that night at dinner there was this sunset.

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It was heart-stopping.  We just stood there and stared and stared.

Hunter, of course, flashed his signs.

By this point of the vacation, Henry and Arden were over everything.  Nothing was amazing anymore.  They even told me by the fourth day they didn’t want to eat in one more restaurant.  “Not ANOTHER restaurant, Mom!  Not AGAIN!” This from the two people who ask to go to restaurants five times a week.  See those faces above?  Same.  Sunset?  Sigh.  Eyeroll.  Another sunset.

I do the same thing to Jesus all the time.  Another day where my kids are healthy and there’s food on the table and heat in my vents?  Same-sauce, man.  Whatevs!  Observing things like this in my kids is the quickest heart-change.

One of the nights, my in-loves had a lovely date night dinner alone, which they more than earned for putting up with our chaos.  They shared the favor by giving us one to celebrate our anniversary.

This trip could not have happened without them, not nearly — we’d never have attempted it. We’re so grateful they were willing to spend a week on a trip with us, rather than a vacation in peace and leisure like they deserved to.

We had a couple of hiccups and close calls, but really it was such a happy time, full of memories being made by the minute.

Thank you, Mama and Papa-in-love, for such an awesome first vacation/trip adventure.  Twice a day I’m fielding the demand, “I want to go back to Mexico!”  Looks like two people got over their restaurant satiation.

So…January 2019?  What?  Too soon?

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Fear Not, Trip Taker!

We recently took our first big family “vacation” (cough trip cough) to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and it was no small undertaking.

I’m a recovered over-packer and panicked-packer, which is a relief because if Abby at 18 or 25 were packing for five people, she’d be manically pacing in her room for days while consuming processed sugar.

Instead, I try to be minimalistic and regimented about packing the kids, because the only thing worse than packing before the trip is packing to return home.  To make my future self happy, I try to reign it in before departure.

These are the keys: two bag max for the kids (two kids to a bag) and carry-on only for me and Mike.

The kids bags look like this from Land’s End:

Medium Natural Open Top Canvas Tote Bag

They are enormous, they zip closed, they have interior pockets, they smoosh into an overhead bin, and you can choose colors and initials.  (Also they’re on sale right now which is rare [I’m not paid to post this; I’m not that cool].)

A fellow mom gave me two bags when the twins were born and said they were the perfect bag for everything, and she was right.  Each of our kids has one, but we only bring two on trips.

How do we fit all their things?

Enter these brilliant AmazonBasics packing cubes (not sponsored):

These have changed my travel life.  No exaggeration.  I bought a different colored set for each child (yes, the same color as their tote bag…I can’t stop myself), and then I fill each cube by category — one with shirts/dresses, one with shorts/pants, one with underwear/socks/pajamas, one with shoes/hats/swimsuits/sunglasses/anything random.

Imagine: your kid asks you for his blue striped shirt — locate his color cubes, peer through the mesh to see what that cube holds, and you’re handing your kid their shirt within seconds.  This saves you from the standard chaos of the two of you pawing through an enormous bag of not just their clothes, but their siblings’ as well, digging for long minutes while you ask why they even NEED that shirt.

On weekend trips I keep their clothes in their cubes, tossing dirty laundry into the big tote bag. On longer trips I unpack their clothes into dressers, but when it’s time to repack, it’s infinitely easier and organized.

There are still the random items (I’m looking at you, stuffed animals) that won’t fit in the bags nicely, and on this trip my dear in-loves brought an extra bag for us to fill because they have free checking.  What blissful words those are.

Each kid brings their own tiny backpack which has their snacks and books, and a spare pair of pants and shirt, in case of airborne barfing.  Turns out Hunter needed his on his descent into Cabo…what a champ.

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We got them each a pair of AmazonBasics kids’ headphones (not sponsored) so they can watch things at the same time (using a splitter) or on their own screens in front of them.  Mama doesn’t need fighting for audio mid-flight.

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No fear on those faces!  Actually, we can’t see Jameson, so maybe he’s full of airplane dread, we’ll never know.

Lastly, we bring the Ergo to keep the baby on my chest, and one umbrella stroller for cruising Hunter through the long airport lines and walking distances.  Of course on this trip we left it in baggage claim, but the kind people of Los Cabos International Airport had it waiting for us when we returned.

The main thing that keeps me from lighting my hair on fire while we check in/check bags/go through security is having our IDs and tickets in one zipped bag. No digging or panicking = mama feels like she’s already in margaritaville.

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I’m certainly not trying to paint a still life for you when traveling with kids is, in fact, more like a Jackson Pollock.  No amount of organization can guarantee an easy time, but for me it goes a long way in assuaging my anxiety.

It’s my inner Girl Scout blooming in adulthood.  I can’t control what happens, but I can prepare.  Kids will upchuck, kids will cry, kids will not sleep when you want them to and then pass out precisely when you don’t (landing).  But when my side of the fence is in order, I’m less likely to melt down right alongside them.

Go for it; the more you do it, the more “normal” and easier it becomes.  Fear not, travelers with tots!  Travel on.

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Jameson’s Birth Story

To commemorate Jameson’s birthday, I’m finally sharing his birth story.  Fear not!  It does not involve wince-inducing bladder ruptures nor hours of fruitless pushing.  All goes well!

I just saved you ten minutes, if birth stories aren’t your cup of tea.  If they are, then please accept this steaming cup of Earl Grey, one sugar.

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Because of my complicated twin birth and borderline outrageous second birth experience, my OBGYN explained that should we have a fourth baby, it would unquestionably be a scheduled cesarean section.  In fact, he drilled this point home while I was still in the hospital after having Hunter, before my bladder ruptured.  Apparently birth isn’t like baseball — two four-hour pushing strikes is all you get before you’re out of the “natural” attempt forever.

Of course, after all I’d been through, I was in full agreement.

So in the early morning of March 23, we left our home and arrived at the hospital.  We knew our nurse was going to be an earthly angel because my amazing nurse from Henry and Arden’s delivery reached out to me and said, “What’s your section date?  I’m choosing the greatest nurse available for you — I got this.”  It was a significant blessing on a day full of them, thanks to the chorus of prayers we had rallying around us that week.

On our way to the antepartum wing (that’s where you go when you have a scheduled surgical delivery, rather than the labor and delivery wing), we had to pass through the NICU.  We hadn’t anticipated this, and we caught our breath as we passed the doors we’d been buzzed into countless times during Henry’s 17 day stay.  There was the basin where we’d scrubbed our hands dozens of times; there was the check-in desk where we’d received 17 stickers signifying our security clearance.   And now, here we were, with our NICU baby age three and a half, healthy and home asleep, about to receive a new baby sibling.  We felt down-to-the-bones grateful.

After we met the sweetest nurse imaginable, she took us to our room and I got into my gown and hooked up to the monitors and IV.

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This is a smile of joyful peace; of a woman who knows she’s not going into labor.

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That belly!  I know pregnancy is misery for many, but I love it so much.

We met with each doctor involved, and then, like we were going to brunch, they all said, “Okay, let’s go have a baby!” I hopped out of that bed ready to rock because I felt a supernatural peace.  So many people sent us messages of prayers and so many had committed to praying for us that morning that there wasn’t room for nerves or fear.

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We all walked to the surgical room together, laughing, joking, chatting like one of us wasn’t about to drug another of us, and one of us wasn’t about to cut another of us open.  It helped me relax, but heightened how surreal it felt.  Where was the drama?  The urgency?  The pain?

Absent.  Answered prayers, all.

They administered the anesthesia, and as I laid back against the table, I repeated aloud the verse I’d used to prepare for this day: “She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)  Mike said a prayer and after the surgical pause, they began.

In our other experiences, this portion of the show was incredibly fast.  In this case, they were much slower because it wasn’t urgent, and also they had to work through all the scar tissue they discovered on their way to my uterus.  They explained this, but I found it a little woo-woo to hear graphic details of my insides while I was still awake on the outside.

Before we knew it, they told us they were reaching inside to bring out our baby.  I felt an enormous pressure, and then heard a healthy, perfect cry as Mike looked over the curtain and laughed, “It’s a boy!!!”

“A boy!!!” I replied, because I truly had no instinct this time, and hearing that our “who” was a “he” was overwhelming, heart-happy news.  He came cruising over the curtain to the nurses station and then right back to me seconds later — and that’s when I saw his handsome face as they placed him on my chest.

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“Hi Jameson, hi baby,” I said over and over.  “He looks exactly like Hunter!” Because he did — it was remarkable how alike their big puckered lips, noes and cheeks were.  It was a spellbinding feeling to see such similar features between babies we’d created.

The funny thing is now I look at these pictures of that same little face and all I can see is Jameson.  It’s distinctly him and that demonstrates what a year of getting to know a little person can do to your heart and your eyes.

After skin-to-skin time, the nurses cleaned him up, measured him, and made sure all was well.  Then they swaddled him tight and covered me with heated blankets and returned him to us.

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The proud Dada, father of four.

Then it was just us; mama, dada, baby, cooing to comfort our new little life.

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This was the first moment of pure bliss.  My baby’s cheeks next to mine, his cries stopping completely when he heard my voice.

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My mom, Jameson’s Nonni, was his first visitor, and also first photographer.  She joined us in surgery to capture his birth, and we’re so grateful to her that we have these priceless photos.

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After they stitched me back up, we were wheeled back to our room where the rest of Jameson’s grandparents were waiting to meet him.  They were so excited, they had left the room to meet us down at the end of the hall to find out who this little baby was.

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Nana and Papa!  At this point Jameson had no idea how amazing his paternal grandparents are, but good things come to those who wait.

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Grandpa!  My dad has three daughters, (who are top-notch, natch), so finding out he had a third grandson was like an embarrassment of riches.  Amiright, Dad?

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Auntie Rae Rae!

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Auntie Erin!

See the smiles all around?  That is how the whole day felt.  It was just happiness.  As each family member came into the room, they didn’t know who the baby was going to be, and it never got old sharing, “It’s a boy!  His name is Jameson Wendell!” and celebrating all over again.

I was so grateful to FaceTime with Siri and Amy so they could meet him.  I marveled that my best friends were states away, but so close I could feel them in the room with us.

And then the moment my heart had waited for — introducing Jameson to his sister and brothers.

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Hunter was only 22 months old, but he still dove right for us.

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Henry, 3.5, was next, and was unsettled by the cords attached to me, so in addition to baby, we talked about that.

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Mike and my dad reassured him, and told him when he visited the next day I’d be far less plugged in.

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When it was Arden’s turn, she was enamored from the first, not at all dismayed that she was meeting a brother and not a sister like she’d hoped.

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And one touch was not enough.  Homegirl was over in that hospital chair ready to hold him in two seconds.

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She’s like auntie, support the head.  I’ll show you.

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Apparently he follows sister’s lead.

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Auntie Sam!  Under Arden’s watchful eye, of course.

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The. Boy. Is. Mine.  She’s 19 years late for Brandy and Monica, but she gets it.

Uncle Aaron managed to get a moment with her little bundle, however!

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And later that evening, Cousin Lillian!

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Later that evening my girlfriends arrived, complete with Meredith FaceTiming in.  I was full to the brim with joy after such a spectacular day, and having them there was my cup running over.

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The next morning, Auntie Lindsay came to visit, having traveled all the way from San Diego!  It was amazing to have her there to greet our little blondie.

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I don’t believe for a minute that Jameson’s birth was about me — this is his birth story, not mine. His safe arrival was the essential priority of the day; that it helped heal and redeem our harder birth days is just the way our God works. He takes what is already profoundly good, and uses it as a tool to bring new life elsewhere; in this case, my worried heart. He makes the broken beautiful again.

Before the kids had left, we huddled for a first family photo, and Mike and I could hardly believe this was our life — four kids!  It is outrageous and funny and wonderful and intimidating to us that we had four kids in three and a half years, but we are so, so happy we did.

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Jameson took his place in our circus with aplomb, and we can’t imagine our lives without him.

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