3/1/17

What to focus on

My sister is a professional photographer in Ontario, Canada and while she grew her business largely on wedding shoots, lately she has been doing a lot more lifestyle photography, especially working to grow her portfolio with newborn shoots. I've been watching her instagram feed and getting inspired. I started to think about taking pictures of my boys the way she does with her clients: pictures that are beautifully styled, clean, soft, precious.

So I pulled out my camera one day when the sun was mostly out (a rare thing here in Michigan in February!) and the lighting was nice in our home. Initially looking through my lens the scene did not look great. It looked cluttered. Mostly because the room was cluttered. Coincidentally I was in the same room where my sister, a year before, had taken some of my maternity pictures. I started thinking about what she did to make my pictures look so nice. Where did she stand? How did she hold the angle? How did she style the scene?

Then I remembered helping her push all the crap in the room to one side so it would be out of the picture. I got up and moved a few things, moved the babies closer to the nice window light, and tried a few different angles.

I was delighted by the images on my viewfinder now!

I carried on like that over the next few hours, choosing my favorite parts of the day, pushing all the crap in each scene aside and capturing a lovely photo, a beautiful memory.

I know some people think that it's "fake" when we style pictures like this, without all the normal household crap- broken toys, three rolls of duct tape, a dead plant, the mountainous laundry pile waiting to be folded, the spray bottle of windex and crumpled up paper towel beside it- is hidden from the shot. (These are all real things I moved out of the way when I was taking these pictures.)

But I actually think these "cleaned up" photos are truer to life in that they are more like our real memories.

Even now when I think back to my earliest days of parenting after bringing our son Arie home from Russia, I remember watching him crawl under our table to pet our cat, the way his eye lashes stuck together in the bath, the long sluuuuurping noise he made when he ate his soup. My memories are focused on the important parts. I guarantee when he was under the table, there were piles of something or another on top. When he was in the bath I had one clean pair of pajamas in hand and four others crumpled up in our yet-to-be-emptied suitcase somewhere else in the house. As he slurped his soup I'm sure we had a pile of dishes in the sink, spills on the counter, and burned on spills on our stove.
I know the ratio of twins to Arie photos here is lacking.
Arie is 1) at school all day and
2) so OVER Mom taking his picture all the time. ;-) 

I'm making an educated guess at those background details because only four years later I don't remember any of them.

It's kind of freeing to think about life this way. There's a metaphor in there somewhere: there will always be crap. Don't be afraid to push it out of the way to make a memory. The crap is not what matters in the frame. Its the people.

Those precious, darling people.

Focus on them.

xo 

2/21/17

Twins' 10 month update

Ira and Roman are 10 months old!

If I were superstitious I'd ask you all to knock on wood as I tell you this: Ira and Roman's sleep is getting better! Our nights are not yet consistent but most nights each baby wakes fewer than two times and one of those times is right around the time I go to bed, so I'm only getting up twice most nights. Roman has even slept through the night a handful of times! We've dealt with travel, colds, ear infections, and hardcore teething this month so the fact that we are seeing improved sleep despite all those roadblocks is a very good sign to me! I am now just regular exhausted and not I-think-I-might-die exhausted.

Maybe the most relieving thing for us is that Ira has stopped doing the thing he did for months where he woke up crying every night after his first sleep cycle. Any parent knows how tired you are by the time you get to the nighttime routine for your kiddos. We would do baths, pajamas, books, nursing (for the twins), snack for Arie, teeth brushed, tucked into bed and collapse on the couch. At that point all you want is to not move your body but Ira's cry would pierce our quiet evening about 45 minutes later. I'd drag my body, which by the hurt from exhaustion, up the stairs to settle him and by the time that was done, I'd just fall in bed myself. John and I had no evening together to speak of.

However, glory be! That phase has ended. We now get all three children into bed by 7:30pm and have an evening to ourselves. Ah. It's so nice! I look forward to that time together every day!

I'm still nursing my babies to sleep and as their sleep improves despite the fact that basically every infant sleep advice article I've read says not to do this, I'm so happy I have. For one, nursing twins it is important for me to keep my milk supply up which frequent nursing does. For another, I just love it. Those quiet moments we spent snuggled close, the relaxing feeling I get when they play with my hair or stroke my skin, the way their eyes crinkle at the corners when they smile up at me... it's just the best. I'm sure they would have been sleeping better by now if I had taken a different approach but I was true to my instincts and how I want to parent my boys and feel so confident that it was the right choice for me. Even though the sleep deprivation was killer, I have no regrets.

We've made it to 10 months nursing and I am so grateful and proud! When we started our breastfeeding journey I felt daunted by the idea of doing it for an entire year. Now that milestone seems entirely within reach and my thoughts are directed more toward weaning than to nursing these days!

I often get questions about whether I'm going to do extended breastfeeding; my goal is to wean by 18 months (and earlier would be fine!) because John and I are going on a trip for our 10 year anniversary around that time. I want to be done by then both for myself and also because I want the twins to be falling asleep independently by then so my absence is not as traumatic on them. I'll start weaning after they turn one. Now that they aren't such tiny babies anymore I don't feel so desperate to not have them cry. In a few months I will be ready to help them adjust to a new normal of not nursing to sleep anymore, even if it involves comforting through some tears. If you weaned sometime between one and 18 months I'd love to hear how it went for you and any tips you may have! I'd especially be interested to hear from moms whose baby did not attach to a lovey or paci or any other comfort item which has been the case so far with Ira!

Speaking of weaning, Roman continues to eat like a champ! He has three teeth- almost four- now and loves to bite into table food! His current favorite food is watermelon.

This month we had an evaluation done on Ira because he was still not putting food in his mouth by himself (although he was eagerly accepting purees by spoon). It was an interesting issue because he could pick up table food and he would open his mouth for it if we held it up for him but he just would not do it by or for himself. The lady who came from our state's Early Intervention program agreed that he was behind on this fine motor skill but based on all the other skills he had developed (babbling, rolling, etc) she though it was just an isolated thing and with some occupational therapy work he'd quickly catch up.

Well I haven't even got the call to schedule his first occupational therapy session yet and in the last few days he's been making big strides! It started when we gave him a chunk of ham. I let him taste it and after his eyes lit up, I put it in his hand and he finally put it in HIS OWN MOUTH! Wahoo! I guess we just had to find the right taste to motivate him. Since then he's tried a handful of other foods and is quickly progressing to where he should be. I guess he just needed a little more time to catch on to this skill.

Having the lady from the Early Intervention program come to our house was pretty fun and encouraging. She said the twins are both right where they should be in terms of gross motor skills and both are advanced with speech. I'm not surprised by that. They both love to "talk!" They babble at me and at each other all day long. Ira loves to giggle at Roman and Roman is delighted by his brother's reaction!

One of their favorite "games" right now is to "fight" over spoons when they are in their highchairs. One baby offers it to the other and then they have a little tug-of-war with it, dissolving into giggles. I've tried a dozen times to get it on video but as soon as they see my phone they get get distracted and stop their game. I'll have to try get more sneaky with my recording!

This month in milestones, Ira got his first tooth (quickly followed by the second!). Both babies are getting up on their hands and knees and rocking back and forth so I am expecting them to crawl any day now. They pull to standing when we hold their hands and are super close to pulling up on furniture as well. They both love to stand and get enormous grins on their faces when they are showing off those skills!

I found month nine the easiest month with the twins so far. Physically it is hard to take them places because they are getting so heavy and the whole process of car/carseats/stroller/shopping cart etc wears me out! It's also tricky to time outings between naps, nursing sessions, and mealtimes, but as far as behavior goes, they are easy peasy. They love to be out and about! I took all three kids grocery shopping this week (Arie had a day off school) and they could not have been more content to sit in the shopping cart and look around. They even makes strangers smile as Ira shouts and giggles and Roman grins and claps his little hands together.

Their relationship with Arie evolved this past month as Arie is becoming more independent with them. If I'm out of the room I will hear him talking to the twins, narrating his antics, and doing silly things to make them laugh. It used to be that Arie's interaction with them was sort of mediated by me: either Arie getting me to answer their cries or respond to their needs or proudly getting my attention when he made them laugh, but now he is forging his own relationship with them! It is adorable. John and I talk to him about the treasure of having brothers and how they will be his forever friends when he is older. Arie loves to count how old the twins will be when he is 7, 8, 9 etc and talk about things he is going to teach them. It makes this mama's heart proud!

Our highlight this past month was taking a trip to Arizona to visit my mother-in-law! When we planned this trip John and I had a feeling it would go extremely well or be terrible for the simple reasons that we would be taking on a 2 hour time change and sharing a room at our destination.

Well, the first two nights of our trip I have to say we were thinking, "We've made a huge mistake." Between the time change and the new sleeping environment the twins slept TERRIBLY. Just awful.

There wasn't really anything we could do short of buying new flights home so John just told me, "Let's just make the best of it." And thankfully the rest of the nights went a lot better. Not great, but we did get a little sleep.

And despite our sleepy state we were able to make the best of it. We had a great time hiking a "mountain" with Arie, visiting Sedona, and enjoying a few days of sunshine. We even had the pleasure of visiting my friend Denay Miller whose blog (Where's Baby Miller) I know many of you followed as they were building their family!


Nine months turned out to be an absolutely perfect age to fly with the twins. The flights were about 3.5 hours long and the twins, who want nothing more in life than to be held, were thrilled to be in our arms for that long. They didn't really sleep too much on the flights but they dozed off long enough to keep them from being overtired. Arie though flying was, "AWESOME!" and delighted the passengers around us with his joy about both taking off and landing. I felt so proud of all three of my boys!

Well kudos to you if you've made it through my rambles. I think that's all the update I have for now. Thanks for following along!

xo


1/19/17

Twins' 9 month update!

Ira and Roman are nine months old! Month eight may have been their most adorable month yet. They interact with each other now on purpose, making each other laugh as well as fighting over toys. They are affectionate, silly, smiley little babies!

Roman has become especially aware of wanting and getting things. He is almost like a toddler in this way! He gets super frustrated when he wants something and he can't get it but he is also extremely delighted when the coveted thing is in his hands; his coveted things are mainly: me, crackers, and the TV remote. Roman is an incredibly cuddly baby. He gives the tightest hugs and makes the most heart-melting baby noises as he buries his face into our necks. When he isn't frustrated, he is a soft hearted little baby with quiet babbles and an adorable squeaky little laugh.

Ira is generally quite a content baby although maybe he just hasn't gotten to whatever developmental place Roman is at right now! He loves to play and investigate. It is fun to watch his facial expressions when he is trying to figure out a toy. Intrigue, confusion, surprise, and delight all cross his face. He continues to be quick to laugh. One of his favorite things right now is when Roman rolls over on top of him. He giggles and giggles. I'm not sure if Roman is doing it on purpose but I sure love listening to them when it happens! Ira is very social and loves to search for your eyes and touch your face when you hold him.

Neither one is crawling yet but they certainly get around by rolling.  Gone are the days when I can leave them on the floor while I make dinner! They now are confined to their highchairs or jumpers when I can't be immediately available to help them get unstuck from the space between the coffee table and the couch or prevent them from pulling on the lamp cord!

When it comes to eating solids, Roman loves carbs! Crackers, oatmeal, bread, biscuits... he wants it all. He is becoming quite good at handling food too. I can give him a whole banana and he will devour it! He has one tooth and puts that thing to work!

Toothless Ira's favorite food is yogurt. Ira still will only accept purees. Even if we offer him one of those baby rice crackers he will open his mouth for it, clamp down, and do nothing else. We laugh to see him sitting happily with a cracker sticking out of his smile. Eventually he drops it and that is that. He does not yet pick up food and put it in his mouth, though he does love his purees!

Sleep-wise we have seen it all this month! Before Christmas they both got colds and did not sleep very well. Then over the Christmas holidays we travelled and they slept okay; about how "well" they had been sleeping at home, waking every 2-3 hours. When we arrived back home they got sick again with worse colds. Roman's turned into ear infections and Ira's turned into a cough. Oof. That was a wakeful couple weeks.

However once they recovered from their illnesses they started sleeping better! Roman was sleeping 5-6 hour stretches and once slept 12 hours ALL THE WAY THOUGH THE NIGHT! Unbelievable! The next day I exercised, baked all the things, cooked the best dinner, and READ A BOOK without falling asleep! Ira still got me up twice that night but twice for him is a HUGE improvement! And it was way more sleep that I have been used to getting.

Last night unfortunately Roman woke up every 2 hours and Ira did the same for the first half of the night but them slept 5 hours in a row. John says, "Every night is a new adventure with these babies!" and it is true! However in general I think we are improving. This morning Ira woke up while I was nursing Roman and instead of bursting into tears like he usually does, he picked up his lovey and talked to it until I was ready to nurse him. This is huge for Ira and evidence of his being able to self-comfort! I am starting to see a little light at the end of my sleep deprivation tunnel.

For me, I have been feeling good with my mothering lately. It's still hard of course but I feel like I am really getting the hang of this whole "I have three kids" deal. It's not because I have been doing it perfectly of course, but being so tired over the last nine months has given me a strange gift: the gift of not having energy to worry about everything being perfect. I've had to be very selective with what I chose to spend my time and (more so) energy on and in the course of doing so I've learned what my priorities are and been forced to come to terms with what it means for me to do enough and be enough.

When I was pregnant and had my baby shower, all the guests wrote a piece of parenting advice to me on a notecard. The hosts of the shower put all the notecards on a ring and told me to read through the cards when I needed some encouragement. So I slipped the stack into the side pocket of my nursing chair and indeed I did find encouragement flipping through those cards during some endless nights, especially back in those early days when I was nursing AND pumping AND bottle feeding AND sleeping even less than I am now. The toughest part of those early weeks was always listening to one baby cry when I was tending to the other. Or listening to both babies cry when I was trying to pump for them and could not pick them up. I felt like I could not meet their needs. I wished I could clone myself. I wished I could be more and do more.

During those difficult stretches there was one card in particular to which I kept going back. It read:

"Breathe. God chose you for this. For them. You have what you need." 

When I felt overwhelmed I run those words through my mind. Over the last nine months I have learned what it means to be "enough."

I look back at the newborn stage and I know that even when my babies were crying (or when I was crying!) because my hands were full with the other one or because I had to make the world's fastest peanut butter sandwich before I starved to death or when the screamed while I took three minutes to brush my teeth and I felt like I just could not be enough for them... I was doing my best and it was enough.

Today I still have times like this- almost every day actually- when I get Arie home from school and unload him and the babies from the van and somehow need to simultaneously get two screaming babies out of their carseats (because they both want out immediately upon walking in the door), change two diapers (because they poop 100% of the time in their carseats), get hungry Arie a snack, nurse two babies, give Arie attention after his school day, and prepare dinner... I again wish I could be more  and do more. But I'm only me and the truth is that I'm enough for my family. am the mother God gave these children and I am enough for them. 

When it comes to the tasks of my mothering I have learned that being enough often means saying, "enough." I work hard. I enjoy taking care of my home, preparing meals for my family, and mothering my three little boys. But I can't do it all perfectly.

I'm learning to say:

The house is clean enough.
A simple dinner is good enough.
Our calendar is full enough.
Taking a shower every third day gets me clean enough. (Just kidding. Or am I??)

The only standard I'm holding myself to is my best.

When I was a girl I would get super nervous before tests at school and my mom would always kiss me before the school bus came say, "Do you best and God will do the rest!"

Indeed.

Grace not perfection.

I am enough.

I'm doing my best and my best is enough.

Sometimes when I tuck my last sleeping boy in at night, I look at his peaceful face, studying the details of his eyelashes and falling in love all over again with the perfect flush of pink in his little cheeks and silently say to him:

I'm doing best. I know I don't always get it right. But I'm doing my best. 

And then I breathe.

And remember the words my friend wrote on that notecard:

God chose me for this. 

For them. 

I have what I need. 

I'm enough.  


xo

1/6/17

Christmas 2016

Is January 6 too late to say, "Merry Christmas?"

Yea. It is, isn't it?


After our holiday celebrations I edited our photos and then our family was hit with a virus. So we've been sniffling and coughing and wincing over sore throats and I've been trying to be three moms in one as I've juggled two miserable babies and a sick six-year-old whose patience I try hard not to take for granted. To say I've been stretched this week would be... accurate.


But Fridays are my husband John's day off so while he juggles our still-sick-but-thankfully-improving babies (Arie is back to school) I'm taking a few moments to write about our Christmas!


Our first Christmas as a family of five.


This was our fifth Christmas with Arie. Since the tradition of opening gifts on Christmas Eve morning is so memorable, it always makes me notice how much Arie has matured over the years. Some things are exactly the same like the way his body becomes a living exclamation point, jumping and jittering with glee over the excitement. I love that about him. He never fails to add so much joy to our day! Other things have changed as he has grown: he is more interested in watching me and John open gifts (and the twins, this year), and more verbally expressive. Where he used to squeal and shout  over his gifts he now launches into paragraphs of plans on how he imagines using each toy later in the day or in the coming week. "I'm going to... and then... and maybe I can.... or I'll..."


Love that boy.


The twins were at such a perfect age to enjoy Christmas because they were just old enough to take pleasure in the process of unwrapping a gift. They just loved ripping the paper off their new toys! Ira concentrated on crinkling the strips in his hands while Roman immediately wanted to put everything in his mouth. We spent half of our gift-opening time fishing soggy chunks of paper from Roman's mouth.


This was my favorite picture from the morning:


Seeing all three boys under the tree made me think of how thankful I am for them: my three greatest gifts in life!


We spent Christmas Day with John's family...




...and then travelled to Ontario to be with mine on the 26th. Counting Christmas Eve with our nuclear family, Christmas Day with John's, the 27th with mine, and then the 28th with my Dad's, Arie declared with awe that we had, "FOUR CHRISTMASES!" this year. It made me smile to think how hectic we adults think of the holidays sometimes while the children revel in the chaotic abundance. I too loved the wealth of family time I experienced as a child, having Christmas with my parents and siblings, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles.


I was talking about this experience with my mom one evening and she told me, "I remember when we would visit my aunts and uncles over Christmas, I would lay in bed with my cousins listening to the grown ups laughing downstairs and feel so happy."


Same. There was nothing better at the holidays as a child than being infected with the contagious happiness of all the adults in my life. I see it in Arie too: he is never happier than when we are with family, filling the house or rental hall with loud conversation and boisterous laughs. Family and friends are such treasures. Though is was certainly tiring for us to do all our traveling and visiting over the holidays, it was worth every ounce of energy spent. It also helps me to project into the future when our boys will be grown and have families of their own. Though it is exhausting to have three young ones right now, I know they will grow up blessed to have each other as brothers and John and I will someday be beaming to have them and their own families squished around a too-small dining table brimming with food as my parents were this Christmas.



I re-read a blog post by Sarah Bessey as I geared myself up for the holidays this year and I loved this line about these little years:  "We get to hold the wonder and sleepiness, the boring and the magical at the same time, the work and the delight, the mundane repetition and the ferocious love altogether, it’s not one or the other."

Indeed. It's both. Very much both for me right now. I've never been so exhausted and totally sleep deprived but I've never laughed so much, enjoyed so much, cuddled so much, or been so completely fulfilled. Truly I can hardly wait to sleep again but in the meantime, I embrace the both-ness of this season. 

Two wise women spoke into my life and over my sleepiness this Christmas. One was my Oma via my mom. My mom is empathetic to a fault; as she lamented my exhaustion to my Oma- her own mom- my Oma responded in the dually firm and encouraging way that she often manages to do by listing the far more serious struggles other family members are currently facing. "The sleeplessness? It's only temporary," she concluded, "And Jillian is handling it well." (Well, mostly. I do have my moments.) 

Her words helped give my mom a hopeful perspective. When she recounted them to me I laughed and remarked that to a woman who live through such tragedies as: WWII, nursing her own mother on her deathbed, becoming a widow with two young children and a baby, and loosing a son in adulthood as my Oma has, a year or so of sleep deprivation is entirely manageable. There are far worse things! That encourages me that if she can do that, I can do this. 

The other was an aunt, mother two three adult children and grandmother to one- soon two- who replied tenderly to my woes of exhaustion, "People are going to tell you to just let them cry. DON'T YOU LISTEN!" 

I know everyone parents differently but I just cannot leave my babies to cry it out and her words were so affirming to me. The sleeplessness is hard enough without feeling like it is your fault as a mom because you are doing it wrong. My dad and all his siblings are all tender parents and I have been encouraged by their soft approaches on more than one occasion. I remember when my sister-in-law had her baby shower all the guests had to give a word of advice about parenting. My dad's sisters shared encouragement about being a responsive parent, soft and gentle. "Hold your babies," they said. "Wipe their tears." "Pick them up when they cry." I am encouraged to know I come from a family of gentle parents and my choice to pick up and soothe my babies is just fine. These women make me remember that I am not going to look back in my old age and regret holding my babies too much. 

So there it is: Christmas was exhausting and wonderful. I hope yours was wonderful. I hope less exhausting than mine, but if it was exhausting I hope wonderful all the same. 


Happy New Year, lovely readers! 

xo 
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