Never Underestimate the Middle Child

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Don’t let the dimples fool you. This kid is as tricky as he is cute. Here he is painting in the driveway.

I was going back over my old posts and realized I haven’t made much mention of our four-year-old son Luke. He is and always will be, the epitome of the middle child exemplified here again by how infrequently I’ve written about him. But make no mistake, I love him so much it hurts. He is my only snuggle bug. He gets upset when the other two kids are sad about something and has cried real tears when Gracie has fallen down and gotten boo-boos. He is also the one with the quick wit, jealousy issues, a stubborn streak that seems unassuming until you hit a nerve and then watch out! He comes across like this quirky little goofball, but I am beginning to see that Luke is not to be messed with.

As I have described our son Noah, it probably seems fairly obvious that while he is a very loving child and generally considerate older brother, he can also be very overbearing. There have been many occasions where I have been worried that Luke won’t be able to hold his own. But my concern is futile and the following story will illustrate that.

A few days ago, we were visiting my parents. My sister and her son Joey were also over for the afternoon. After we had all eaten lunch, my sister was trying to get Joey to take a nap upstairs.The boys were being loud and crazy downstairs making it impossible for her to get him to settle down. So I suggested to my boys that we go downtown to the bakery to get a cookie. Luke was excited to get out for an adventure. Plus, he loves the cookies at the local bakery so he was an easy sell. I asked Noah to come with us, but he wanted to stay at Pops and Lulu’s house. Still, he was pestering me to bring him back a cookie. I told him he had to come with us if he wanted one. I was doing my best to bribe them to come out so Joey could get to sleep. Noah refused after throwing a temper tantrum so Luke and I left.

At the bakery, Luke sat in his chair on his knees and ate his dinosaur sugar cookie. He smiled his big goofy grin at me between bites. Then I saw his eyebrows turn up as he formulated a question. I waited for it. Luke usually takes a bit to get to the point.
“Mama?”
“Yeah buddy?”
“Can we play a trick on Noah?” he asked me. I laughed. I couldn’t believe my ears. My sweet, innocent Luke was plotting a scheme.
“What were you thinking about?” I asked breaking off a piece of his cookie to sample.
“I want to tell him we got him a cookie, but then say, ‘Just kidding.’”
I was cracking up. “Wow! You are sneaky! But, you know what Noah’s going to say, right?”
“What?” he asked smiling wickedly.
“He’s going to say, ‘Hmpf! I don’t love you anymore!’” I said, imitating Noah’s whine perfectly.
Luke erupted in a real belly laugh and he almost choked on his cookie. Then he stopped and looked at me with a smirk. “I’m not afraid.”
This sent me into hysterics. He laughed again too, thinking probably that I was laughing at how Noah would react, not at his sneaky little scheme.

So we got back to my parent’s house. Noah was zoned out watching a cartoon with my mom, my sister, Gracie and Joey. All was quiet. Luke looked up at me. “Tell him, mama,” he whispered.

“This was your idea. You say it,” I whispered back. Luke was losing his nerve a bit, but I could tell he was still dying to do it. While Noah sat unaware and watched his cartoon, I quietly told my sister and my mom about Luke’s plot. They giggled softly not believing Luke had hatched this plan on his own. I positioned myself between Noah and Luke on the couch to buffer the inevitable retaliation.
Finally, Luke spoke up, “Noah,” he said sweetly.
Noah looked at Luke, giving him a dirty look. “What?” he said. He was still mad that we had left without agreeing to buy him a treat.
“Noah, Mommy got you a treat at the bakery,” Luke said slowly with a twisted smile spreading across his face.
I held my breath.
“A cookie?!” Noah squealed.
“Yep!” Luke was wiggling all over the couch trying to contain his delight.
“YAY!” Noah bounced on his bottom. “Where is it, Mom?” he asked.
“Just kidding!” Luke laughed devilishly. “We didn’t buy you a cookie.”
Then almost exactly as I’d predicted Noah said, “Hmpf! I don’t love you anymore!” Then Noah looked right at ME and started swatting my arm repeatedly. Luke was rolling but also scooted quickly over to my mom for further protection from the wrath of Noah. He had bested both of us! I couldn’t believe it! It was like he knew I would be the one to be punished for his wicked little scheme.

It is foolish of me to think Luke is ever going to get trampled by Noah’s big personality. Now I know, I should underestimated ever again.

They really do love each other…most of the time.

Getting the World Ready for Noah

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The first time I saw Noah, I was at my OB-Gyn’s office, having an ultrasound. I could see very clearly, a small spot pulsing on the machine. Dr. Matoian was making a strange face. “Hmm…How do I say this?” she sighed. Then she pointed to the screen. “You see that blinking spot there?”
I nodded.
“That’s the first heartbeat.” My brain wasn’t registering the word, “first.” Not until she said, “And that blip there, that’s the second one.”

The room stood still for a small eternity. Two. Two heartbeats. Two…babies?

“Two babies?” I looked at the doctor wondering if this was a practical joke she played on new mothers. Surely there couldn’t be two babies in there.

But she nodded smiling and reassured me that it was real. I started crying feeling completely overwhelmed, overjoyed, but mostly scared. I felt so inadequate and unprepared. She handed me about twenty-five tissues to wipe my eyes and nose as the news washed over me again and again. Why hadn’t I insisted Scott come with me to that appointment? I was completely alone absorbing the news that we- no, I– was going to be having twins.

As I drove back to work that gray February day, with the ultrasound pictures in my purse, I kept pulling them out trying to get my brain around how this was even possible. Scott and I had been trying for nine months to get pregnant. We’d had a miscarriage the previous July. We had been trying for one baby, not two. But there they were. Big blip and little blip. I called him about halfway back to work when I thought I could tell him without bursting into tears again.

He didn’t believe me at first but eventually, he understood it was true. I drove to his office instead of mine to show him the pictures. He hugged me and we freaked out together in his small office with the door closed. One baby was significantly larger than the other, but the doctor had said that was fairly common. We named the big one “Bubba” and the little one “Tiny.”

We went to several appointments early on. Dr. Matoian was treating it like a high-risk pregnancy because of my previous miscarriage and the fact that it was twins. For about four weeks, Scott and I started talking about names. We planned where the babies would sleep. Would we put them together or in separate rooms? We were terrified but also felt so special to be having two babies at once. I battled some nasty morning sickness early on but was relieved to have it. After all, it meant I was still pregnant. I was always worried about losing them since the miscarriage. I just couldn’t get used to the idea that I’d get to keep them.

I went to my twelve week check up alone. I was excited to see the babies again. Dr. Matoian’s face grew serious as she held the wand in place, moving it this way and that. It seemed she was looking for something. She finally glanced at me. “Um…I don’t want to upset you, but the second baby’s heart-beat has stopped.” She stretched a dotted-line cursor over the second bean shaped hole in my uterus. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. “Based on this measurement, it happened at about nine weeks. But the good news is, the other baby looks just fine. Still has a nice strong heartbeat.”

I cried again. She handed me about thirty-five tissues. I’d lost Tiny. One baby. There would only be one baby. Bubba.

So I drove to Scott’s office again and told him that Bubba would be our only baby. We both cried. But we resolved to be thankful that at least we got to keep one. We’d still get to keep one, or so I hoped. I worried the entire pregnancy that I was going to lose him.

Then in spite of my fears, Bubba, or Baby T, was officially called “Noah James” on October 21, 2008. He was an emergency c-section delivery after many hours of labor. He wasn’t progressing because he was stuck in a position which could have crushed his windpipe. So instead of meeting him in labor and delivery, we met him in the operating room. I was scared out of my mind. Was today going to be the day I would lose my baby? But No. Noah came charging into the world. He had a good strong cry. I fell in love with his old man face instantly. I knew when I held him, he was going to be like me; stubborn and moody, but when he was quiet and stared at me, I could see his depth. He was, and still is, full of life and tenderness.

All of this is so fresh in my mind and my heart. It doesn’t seem possible that today, I spoke to his kindergarten teacher about the upcoming school year. How could that little mesh-capped, swaddled baby boy possibly have his first wiggly tooth? How is that baby already swimming without a life jacket and riding a bike without training wheels? I remember when he was still all curled up and his feet wouldn’t even stay in his footed pajamas. That can’t be the same kid, can it? But then I know it must be because he has the same laugh; the laugh that makes everyone else laugh. He has the same crooked toes. He has the same long, curly eyelashes. He’s just far less vulnerable.

I am getting better at realizing how resilient Noah is. Scott and I were just remembering how we’ve tried to child-proof the world for him. We were not so good at just letting him fall and pick himself up. We covered corners of furniture. We cut his food so small (he did have a tendency to choke). I worried incessantly before he started preschool two years ago that he wouldn’t find the bathroom in time or would not make friends…

But finally, I’m starting to learn, we should be getting the world ready for Noah.

He has such a strong spirit. His capacity for empathy is so deep. He is a natural leader. He is honest- he tattles on himself constantly! He is brave. I am so proud of my Noah.

So, I hope the world is ready for my son. Because he is ready and here to stay!

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Noah with his pocket watch from his Papa (Scott’s Dad). I mean, really though, check out those eyelashes!

 

Thank God He Likes Sour Patch Kids

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My husband often refers to me as his SourPatch Kid which he loves incidentally. They’re always his movie theater pick. I prefer Junior Mints. I think SourPatch Kids tear up the roof of your mouth. I’ve asked him before why he likes them so much and he says, “I like them because they are sour one minute and sweet the next. It’s a good balance.” I just don’t know if he likes it as well when it comes to being with me, but he’s still around if that proves anything…

I don’t mean to be this way. It’s just how I am wired. He has told me I can lift him up with my words, but I can use them as my weapon against him when my back is to the wall. I am an extremely passionate person but I also have a short fuse. I’d venture to say that this paradox is true of most people; our best qualities are often our faults.

He’s had to deal with me for the past ten years, eight of which we’ve been married. I applaud him for putting up with me. I know I am not easy to live with. But to be fair, he can be challenging too. Scott’s strong points are his determination and his ability to achieve almost anything he puts his mind to. He works hard to succeed at everything he does. He doesn’t look for approval from anyone. But sometimes it leaves me feeling railroaded. When he’s on a mission to accomplish something, I sarcastically refer to it as, “The Scott Show,” where the kids and I are just supporting actors. I know that’s harsh. But it’s our reality at times. Every marriage has it’s challenges and I am just opening up and sharing a few of ours.

To all of my unmarried friends, I will never lie to you and say marriage is easy. But you probably know that already when you see how many marriages end up failing. If it were easy, people would stay together and in love forever. I don’t stay with Scott because it’s easy nor do I expect it to be. In truth, our fights (and we’ve had some doozies) have made us stronger both as a couple and individually. It’s like two rocks rolling down a hill together and when they bump into each other, they help chip off one another’s rough edges. We become more refined. It has helped us to have a sense of humor about ourselves.

As I mentioned, we’re celebrating our eight year wedding anniversary on Monday, August eighteenth. I look back at my wedding pictures and I remember the day better than “just a blur” as many people describe it. I look at that young girl with her meticulously styled hair, looking confident in her beautiful wedding dress.  Her cheeks are sore from smiling and her heart is full of hope and expectations. I want to sit her down and tell her, “That hope and that love you feel today are going to be tested. But don’t give up. Every challenge will be replaced with strength once you overcome it. Some days you are going to want to leave. You will think you are going to be better for it if you do. But don’t. You will miss out on a really amazing life if you do.” But I probably would have rolled my eyes at myself and said, “Ok, I’ll keep that in mind, Mrs. Know-It-All,” because we never fully appreciate what well-meaning people are trying to tell us until we go through it ourselves. So you can take or leave the advice I am about to dispense. It is, after all, just my opinion based on my meanderings of my life.

I know sometimes a marriage falls apart because of things beyond control. I have seen people split apart by abuse, addiction, or by the loss of a child; things that I pray I never have to experience. I don’t know what I would do and I won’t pretend to be any sort of an authority on such matters.

I have also known people who walk away because they are searching for a missing piece of themselves or feel that marriage is preventing them from understanding who they are. In truth, I have felt that before mostly because I am trying to control what I get out of life. I want the lessons to be like college courses:
“I would like to avoid having to take Disappointment 101 and AP Stuck in a Rut 400, please. Can I please take Self-Discovery 302 and Intro to Traveling Abroad?”

But our journey is determined by the choices we make with the required courses in which life enrolls us. We don’t always get to “choose our own adventure.” And some of those choices we make when we’re tossed into those tough courses lead to some frighteningly permanent circumstances. The one that terrifies me most is losing this guy I promised to love forever or breaking the hearts of my children because I need to find something I believe I can’t by being with their daddy. Thankfully, any thoughts I’ve had doubting this life are fleeting. And once they pass, I find out something about myself more profound than what I thought I was missing. Every time. Sometimes it takes a bit, but there is always light after the dark if you’re willing to wait for it.

So yeah, our eight years may look a little different than other couples’. Maybe we fight more. Maybe we fight less. Maybe there are a few more dents in the walls from shoes or my phone being chucked in Scott’s direction during one of our epic battles (Sorry, honey. At least I have terrible aim). Maybe we don’t go on as many date nights as some people do. Or maybe we make other couple’s social lives look pretty lame because of how much we do together. I don’t know. It’s really not a contest. I do know that I don’t regret a minute of it and I am thankful that he’s still willing to call me his Sour Patch Kid.

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Happy Anniversary, Scott. I’m glad we decided to take this class together.
P.S. It’s been eight years! Does that make us Doctors?

Bunnies or Goldfish? My Choice is Not a Criticism of Yours!

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I loved this one. I have also been guilty of this one. We don’t mean to do it, but we do compare ourselves to other moms. And we all know, comparison is the thief of joy.
Anyway, a good reminder to all us moms who are “in it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thanks, Natalie, for the poignant message.

Mom Upside Down

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Dear Courtney,

Do you ever feel like motherhood is a competitive blood sport?  Do you ever feel like the other moms are constantly watching you from the corner of their eye, checking out your stroller, your diaper bag, your discipline, your kid’s snacks and clothes and toys and, and, and.

I feel it.  All the time.  And I’m totally, 100%, over it.

Until I realize I’m not.  No, in fact, sometimes I’m an active participant, in an almost subconscious way.

Example:  Not long ago I was on a zoo date with another mom and her two munchkins.  At lunch I pulled out juice boxes for my kids; she pulled out water bottles for hers.  Immediately I felt self conscious.  I began to stumble around and explain, “I probably should make mine drink water too.  We don’t do juice often, but we had these left over from that party… actually my kids almost never…

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If Only We Could Freeze Frame Moments in Time

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There is this scene from the movie Big Fish where the main character sees the woman he wants to marry and time stops. A bucket of popcorn was tossed in the air but the pieces hang in place and the chaos of the big top comes to a screeching halt when he sets eyes on the woman of his dreams. In that moment, time is perfection. It is absolute. There is no wondering. He knows. There is no room for doubt or question.

To me, it’s probably one of the most romantic cinematic scenes of all time.

I wish that moments of my life could be like that, just suspended frames of joy and love there for me to peruse and take my time savoring to remember forever exactly how they are, etched like a painting.

This past weekend, Scott and I loaded up the minivan with our kids, enough squeezy applesauce and juice boxes to feed a small village and drove to see my grandparents in Spring Lake, just outside of Grand Haven for Coast Guard Festival.

A little stir-crazy but we made it.

It’s a great weekend getaway because it’s only a two-and-a-half hour drive to the other side of the mitten from where we live. Of course you have to factor in a few potty and snack breaks, but in about three hours we arrived and the kids tumbled into my grandparents’ kitchen one by one.

Noah brought his endearing, inquisitive nature with questions that require actual research. Luke came equipped with his ten-minute tangents which lead to nothing of great importance, yet you hang on his every word and stretched syllables in his sing-song voice waiting for a non-existent conclusion. And baby Gracie bounced around on her chubby legs, messy pig-tails bobbing, while she narrowly missed table corners and fell about every ten steps or so, using her forehead as a buffer.

Seeing the happiness on my Grandma’s face listening to Luke during one of his epic tales about a dog he saw in a truck on the way over, or the way my Grandpa’s face lit up when Grace reached for him to hold her rather than her own mommy made my heart warm but the moments are frozen in my mind forever.

We took the kids to the beach and incredibly the icy cold water didn’t seem to phase them. They ran into it fearlessly then rolled themselves in the sand better resembling cinnamon sugar donuts than children. Then they did it all over again. Noah buried his legs in the sand and told me to take a picture. Gracie was thrilled to have found the biggest sandbox she’d ever seen. Luke got mad that he couldn’t keep the water from going into the hole he was digging. Click. A few more shots for the mental scrapbook.

This is the best sandbox EVER.

“Luke, give me your best beach smile.”

Coast Guard Festival: The bright colors of the carnival rides all over downtown, the vintage cars, fire engines and a big float of a cow crawling along the road while kids waved their arms for candy. Noah waved his little white flag. Luke and Scott snuggled on a blanket in the grass. Grace’s little button nose and fringe-like eyelashes pressed onto her round cheeks as she snored softly in spite of blaring bag-pipes and noisy sirens. Eating soft, warm pretzels and French fries on the boardwalk listening to Noah and Luke tell their Daddy which boats they liked best. All filed away in the “Happy Place” drawer.

“Mom! Take my picture please!”

It was such a great visit to one of my favorite places on earth. It never disappoints. We got to see my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Dan and Dan took the boys and Scott out on his boat for a bit (Dan, please let us know if Scott’s Ray-bans turn up, but thanks for diving in to attempt salvaging them).

So many mini-adventures crammed into two and a half days. The boy slept well, exhausted from the excitement and also because they got to share a bed. Listening to them say good night to each other was probably one of the cutest things anyone on this planet has ever heard. “Luke, are you so excited you get to share a bed with me?”
“Yeah! Good night, brudder. I had so much fun today. I like this vacation.”

Gracie “Danielle” with Grandpa Dan, half of her namesake. The other half is Grandma Ellie. 😉

I wish I could literally make a panoramic 3-D, life-size, interactive mural to relive this past weekend whenever I am having a bad day, just like that beautiful moment in Big Fish.

Thank you, Grandma Ellie and Grandpa Dan for such a wonderful visit, for being such accommodating hosts and for making those memories possible just by being alive and so full of love and warmth.