Lemme brag on my children.

For those of you that only come to my blog for my children…  You know who you are.  😉

My girls have had a complete turn-around in behavior lately.  Sophia has turned into this wonderfully sweet little girl.  She’s acting like a baby so much less.  She’s throwing fits less.  She’s back-talking less.  She’s playing by herself and with her sister very well.  I’ve seen her talk to Abby, consider her needs, and try to help.  I’ve been brought messages like “Abby told me she pooped.”  I’ve seen her get her feelings hurt because of Abby’s attitude.  I’ve seen her feel love when Abby says “sorry” to her.  I’ve seen her choose to do the right thing (share, apologize, hug, etc.) all by herself.  I’ve seen her offer to help me and actually help me.  I’ve seen how much it means to her for me to let her help me. I’ve seen her persevere in learning to read and ride a tricycle.  I’ve seen her broken heart when a friend chose to play with others instead of her.  I’ve seen her memorize bible verses and sing new songs that I didn’t teach her.  I’ve seen her love her daddy more than anyone in the whole world.

Now Abby.  She is now a toddler!  If she wasn’t already…. She’s just started playing by herself and is finally “into” something.  She’s super into babies and wants to do everything with babies.  She now must take one (firmly gripped with a bottle in hand) EVERYWHERE we go.  Feed the baby, change the baby, put the baby in night-night.  All by herself, without direction from me.  I have heard this child use new words every day and communicate full ideas using up to 4 word sentences.  I’ve seen she and her older sister play by themselves for an hour actually talking to each other like best friends.  Here’s a story for you.  I told Abby if she hit sister one more time, she would go to time-out.  She walked away and sulked.  Then, she came back less than a minute later, looked right at Sophia and said, “Sorry,” clear as day.  Unbelievable.  Unbelievable what she’s learned just from watching.  I never would have dreamed of asking her to say “sorry.”  I would’ve thought she was too young for it.  What a nice surprise.  She’s since said “sorry” a handful of times.

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The excitement that fills my heart to move on to this new bigger girls’ stage!  OH!  I can’t explain what it’s like to witness these girls growing up.  The girls that they are becoming warms my heart like no other feeling in the world.  I guess, you know, if you’re a parent, too.

Vacation.

I have a few pics from our recent Southwest CO vacation.  Yes, we drove from one end of the state to the other.  We had to drive around the range to shorten our drive to 7 1/2 hours (no stops).  Can I give you some travel tips with toddlers?  I feel like we’ve mastered it.  Pack the car the night before.  Leave as soon as the kids wake up.  Eat breakfast in the car.  Pack lots and lots of children’s books within arms reach.  Picture books read on audio are also awesome!  Children’s music like Yo-Gabba Gabba may also when they’re getting restless.  (As long as you don’t mind listening to it over and over.)  Bring plenty of healthy finger food snacks.  Bring a packed, picnic lunch to eat quickly at a rest stop while the kids run off their pent up energy.  Resume drive at nap-time.  Put on loud Mommy and Daddy music with a good beat… and kids pass out.  Voila–8 hours have passed.  Kids wake up, and you’re there.

Eat this, then that.

Humor me.  I’m rejoicing in a small victory today.  Lunch time woes.  Both of my kids have it.  “Lunch?!  I hate lunch! I want to throw lunch in the trash!”  Interpretation: “I only like to eat sweet, snacky foods–fruits and snack crackers and cookies.”  Today, my patience paid off–for BOTH of my children!

Lunch for the children today was meager: pile of tomatoes, pile of real mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 wheat bread slice.  I would’ve made a grilled cheese with tomatoes, but they wouldn’t eat it all together like that… They each ate the bread.  They each ate the tomatoes… and then, the cheese was left.  They looked at what Mommy and Daddy were eating and started losing it.  “I WANT a SANDWICH!”  (Of course, I know better… We’re eating fancy paninis, complete with pepperoni, cheese and veggies.)

They see the whole grain chips and hummus we’re eating.  My 19-month old: “Chip.  Chip.  Abby chip.”  It started with Sophia hollering and beggine and continued on to Abby.  The easy thing to do would be to just give in–give them each some chips.  After all, they’re whole grain.  Or, I could simply have put chips on their plate in the first place.  However, I had a sneaking suspicion that neither of them would eat this foreign looking cheese.  I was right.

Since Sophia asked for a chip first, I told her that she would need to eat some cheese before she could have any chips.  After flipping out and yelling awful things, she finally asked to leave the table to go play.  5 minutes later, she was back.  She ate a piece of cheese and got a chip.  10 pieces of cheese and 10 chips later and lunch was finished.  Abby didn’t quite understand the concept so well, though we’ve done it many times.  (Either that, or she’s stubborn as a mule.  I think she’s stubborn as a mule.)  After 10 whole minutes of screaming her head off for a chip, she asked to be all done.  Then 10 minutes later, Abby came back to the table and asked for a chip.  This time when I said, “Cheese first, then chip,” she ate the piece of cheese and then ate the chip.  (Sophia helped.)  10 pieces of cheese and 10 chips later, and she was also completely finished with her lunch!  AH!  Victory is mine!

It’s a simple rewards based system that teaches children the importance of eating what’s more healthy first before moving onto the junk.  Some people don’t like to reward with food, but it’s such a simple concept that is effective.  As long as your rewards aren’t crap and as long as what you’re using to teach them to eat is truly healthy food, then I think that it will teach them good eating habits.

Another trick we use with our eldest is dessert rewards.  When she completely finishes her (well-balanced) plate of dinner, she is rewarded with a (reasonable) dessert.  Dessert is usually fruit, sometimes a fruity popsicle, or something sweeter like chocolate or a cookie.  I want to teach my kids to eat EVERYTHING, appreciate foods with different flavors, textures and colors…  I think it’s working, little by little.  The trick is having the patience to be okay with screaming for a few minutes.  My kids sure can throw fits!  I bet yours can, too.  😉

An homage to a long lost friend

Cowboy.  That stinking cute animal has been the thing I love to hate for almost 2 years, now.  Cowboy has been that over-loved, stuffed cotton dog that has been the bane of my existence every day at 1:00 and every night at 6:30–sometimes spending up to 1 hour looking for the blessed thing!  The emotion I have spent being angry with that little stuffed animal!  I have retrieved her from all manner of hiding places, washed her after trips into the potty, cleaned her when her face was green with snot.  And, of course, consoled Sophia countless times for said trips to the washing machine.  “Cowboy needs a bath.  She’ll be back soon.”

I have thanked God for Cowboy every night.  Yes, that’s right.  Sophia would add Cowboy to the list every night when we thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, Abby and Sophia.  (Nighttime talks.)

Cowboy has been with us in nearly every picture that has been photographed in the last year.  Cowboy has gone with us on nearly every trip the store.  She’s been introduced to every stranger we met along the way.  Cowboy’s been on every camping trip and every hike.  How many times have I said, “Let’s leave Cowboy in the car so we don’t lose her.”

I have listened countless hours about how much Sophia loves her, how she’s her best friend.  I have spent every trip out worrying about that stuffed animal as if it were a 3rd child of mine.  I have said, “Do you have Cowboy?”  or “Where’s Cowboy?” so many times a day that I’ve nearly lost my mind over that animal!  How many times have I snatched up that stuffed animal and hid her in my bag so that Sophia wouldn’t lose her?  I have felt so much anxiety about keeping up with her that now that that anxiety is absent, I feel empty somehow.  Cowboy was my daughter’s best friend.  Ugh.  I’m nearly sick to my stomach about the loss of this… this… lovey.

“Cowboy” now is this word I dare not say aloud.  A word that I used to use and hear, literally, hundreds of times a day!  It’s now a word that brings up heartache at my daughter’s first loss.

If this sounds over-dramatic, then I fear you haven’t been a mother to one who was so attached to a doll…

Thankfully, though… it seems that it has been harder for me….

We lost Sophia’s lovey at a huge shopping mall this weekend.  He got dropped somewhere along the way… and, well,… nobody noticed.  Until it was time to go home, many hours later.  No one is blamed for the disappearance, other than the fact that she got dropped and lost.  (By the way, Cowboy is a girl in case you hadn’t gathered.  This is very important.)  Sophia was so exhausted from the trip that she conked out in the car while Will and I took turns going back into the mall looking for Cowboy and leaving our name and number with all the stores that we went to.  Her falling asleep meant that we didn’t have a huge, dramatic scene, but it meant that the drama would be post-poned… and, we would have to tell her about it after there was nothing we could do.  As we pulled out of the parking lot and drove the hour-long drive home, the reality was looming and settling in and the loss was real.  Will and I both cried as we imagine the devastation that Sophia would feel when we had to tell her, the difficulty it would be for her to soothe herself without Cowboy.  She’s too young to deal with this kind of loss.  It’s too soon!  We mourned that loss for the next hour.

By the time we arrived back in Fort Collins, we stopped and got popcorn and a movie to watch together, hoping to soften the blow.  After we got home, we sat Sophia down and told her what happened.  She cried.  She told us that she missed Cowboy.  But… she seemed to understand… (I fear that I’ve been warning her that this day would come.  She’s kind of aloof sometimes.)  She’s asked about Cowboy only a few times (bedtimes), none of which I have heard.   It’s so strange how this word has disappeared from my every day.

I’ve noticed something different about Sophia, though.  Since the loss of Cowboy (3 days), I haven’t once seen her suck her thumb.  She’s acted more grown-up.  There’s no whining about “where’s Cowboy?”  She’s wanted to cuddle with me more–not something she’s ever been that crazy about.  It’s been very strange.  It’s the complete opposite of what I expected.

Today, I heard this: Sophia walked into her room. “I’m going to get Cow– uh, Piglet.”  Officially, Cowboy has been replaced.  Replaced with a larger stuffed animal that used to be Abby’s before Abby attached to a Pooh Bear…  And, she’s sucking her thumb again… I’m. Left.  Feeling… Well. Strange… I guess, I feel bad for Cowboy getting replaced so quickly, though I’m relieved that she didn’t feel the loss more strongly.  Is it her age?  Is she not old enough to really understand the loss?  Or not old enough to have fully developed attachment as I see it?  I mean, Cowboy has been around longer than Abby!  Abby knows that Sophia and Cowboy go together like french fries and ketchup.  She would constantly take Cowboy to Sophia when Sophia didn’t have her….  And, now what?  Is this it?  Do we now live life as before but with Piglet?  At first I was encouraging a new attachment, but keeping up with Cowboy was getting out of hand.  And Piglet’s at least 3 times the size that Cowboy was, maybe 5…

Well, it was really good for me to look through all those old pictures.  (There are many, many more.  These just happen to be what’s on my MacBook.)  Well, it was good for my grieving… though, I probably won’t show Sophia for a while…  I do feel a lot less angry about Cowboy making it into all those pictures, now… funny, how things change.  Maybe, this will help me let him…er, her go.

I cried because I was so beautiful–a rant.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about, nothing new to parents of a little girl: Do I tell my daughter that she’s beautiful?  Immediately, my gut response is “You betcha!  Absolutely!”

Start now and never stop.  Tell her through those awkward pre-teen years.  Tell her during the difficult teen years.  Tell her when she starts dating and gets stood up for the first time.  Tell her when she realizes her “first love” was a d-bag.  Tell her when she gets married and is walking down the aisle.  Tell her when she feels like a whale pregnant with her first child.  Tell her.  And, then tell her some more.

Does that make me a bad mother?

I want my girls to feel beautiful.  Are they going to feel beautiful just because I say so?  No.  I realize that there’s much more to it than that…

Comments on appearance is such an icky topic.  It always brings up weird stuff in people.  For me, it brings up the wicked teenage years when I lost over 30 pounds at the vulnerable age of 16.  I got comments on my physical appearance for the first time in my life.  It was off-putting.  It was always the same people over and over, too.  I just got tired of it.  Talk about something else!  And, some people, honestly, I didn’t believe.  Like, once I got the strangest compliment from a gorgeous and popular, thin girl in my high school.  (I think she was dating the quarter back at the time.)  She actually told me, in line at the cafeteria in front of God and everybody, that she thought I had a great butt.  Maybe, I’m just not “girly” enough, I don’t know how girls talk to each other, but this was weird… right?  I had such a horrible self-image, and all of these comments made me more obsessed with my appearance and more obsessed with keeping my body a certain size and shape.

What is the message that my daughter is getting when I tell her she is beautiful?  There’s a difference in my story.  No one told me I was “beautiful.”  Well, at least that’s the difference that I see.  People were commenting on my new thin body, on new muscle tone, downed pant sizes and tight buns, apparently…  But, none of my peers, or teachers or friends ever said, “You are beautiful.”  The only ones that ever did were boys…  and those I clung to like a starving tick behind your dog’s left ear.  I fully invested myself in these relationships because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to believe it myself.  When I put on make-up and voraciously fixed my hair, it was to do just that: “fix” myself.  When I dressed up, I never thought I looked good, I always hated the first 10 things I put on and settled with number 11.  (That’s all normal teenage stuff, right?)

There was a definite shift in my thinking when I was pregnant with my first daughter.  I felt the undeniable feminine beauty of housing and growing a child.  I was becoming a mother and knew that this was beauty that could neither be denied nor taken away.  Becoming a mother is a lot like being a child of the King, my relationship with God can’t be taken from me.  It is.  And He is mine.  And, it is beautiful.  So it is with being a mom.  The God-given gift of carrying a child in your womb is one of the most inherently beautiful miracles of the world….

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  When I stepped on the scales at the labor/delivery ward to be induced on that fateful day 3 years ago, the number jumped passed two bills…. And, I knew it would… Did it sting?  Sure, how couldn’t it?  Did I feel beautiful?  Yah, I did.  A mighty beautiful and swollen, pregnant mama carrying within her the mostly beautiful baby girl her eyes had yet to see.  This began a beauty revolution in which I wanted my girls to know that they’re beautiful–that they are God-made and He said “It is good.”

Let me tell you where my thoughts are coming from.  As you can imagine, my little 3-year old is a parrot.  A parrot and a mirror.  She repeats everything she hears.  She takes it on.  The most hilarious thing that she says is a quote from a book that I am not recommending… maybe, you’ve heard of it: Pinkalicious.  It’s a bit of a sensation, I think… Oh, what a book.  We’ve read it 18,000 times.  We’ve nearly worn the jacket right off that library book.  We’ve had it for well over a month and read it more than once a day sometimes… Shew.  I like to hide it sometimes.  Anyway, in case you haven’t read it, it’s about a girl who turns pink from eating too many pink cupcakes.  This is what she says about being her favorite color, “I cried because I was so beautiful!”

So, out of nowhere, I will hear Sophia say this.  She often hollers it out throughout the house.  It’s quite hilarious because she’s quoting a very funny moment in a book.  But, I also here her calling out things like, “I’m pret-ty!  I’m pret-ty!”  She also told me in the library a few days ago about “the most beautiful little girl in the purple sweater.”  It’s sinking in.  She’s commenting on other kids…

Here’s why I don’t think it’s so bad.  I’m a thoughtful person.  I know that beauty is not just what I see with my eyes when I look at my daughters.  I know that it’s also about what I know about them, about who they are.  It’s also about what I feel about them because I know them.  It’s about who they are and who they will become.

The problem is that my girls really are physically beautiful.  (Is that a problem?)  Well, they get comments all the time.  Abby’s red hair is a magnet for all gushy,over-talkative,pseudo-aunties.  Often during said gush session, Sophia will yell out, “My hair’s beautiful, too!”  Or, “I’m pretty, too!”  Just yesterday a man on the square told us that our girls looked like they came out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nice.  Lovely.  Yes.  I eat it up… But, what are these messages sending them?   Will they stop?  And, what happens when they do?  When they go through those awkward years of 11-14?  I’ll still be telling them how beautiful they are.  Will they believe it?  And, what about when they’re 16, 17.  Will they believe it or will they look for boys to tell them that?  And what about sibling rivalry?  I didn’t have a sister, but I’ve seen enough made-for-TV movies to fear what jealousy may exist between the two of them…

I’ve read all this stuff like “When you tell your daughter she’s beautiful, make sure you say ‘inner beauty.'”  Or, flat out, “Don’t tell your daughter she’s beautiful.  Tell her she’s smart, she works hard, she’s good at ________.”  Or, “If you do tell her she’s beautiful, be sure to greater emphasize her other characteristics.”  What the #@#!#%$!  Besides this being totally confusing, I want her to know she’s beautiful!  Is that so bad?  I want her to know that I think she’s beautiful!  I also want her to know that she’s smart…  and strong… and kind… and loving… and nurturing… and independent…and interesting… and worth knowing… . I also want her to know that she’s loved… and adored… and cherished… and enjoyed… and loved by the King…  I want her to know that the Father thinks she’s beautiful.

It’s like beauty is this thing that some people have and some people don’t.  That’s just not true in the eyes of the Father.  That’s because the Father truly sees.  He truly sees the whole person, the whole forgiven beauty that is His child.  I want to love like He does. I want to foster that in my girls.

But, how do I do that?  How do I navigate the ugly stigma that is attached to “beauty”?  I don’t want to tack on “inner beauty” to every compliment like some caveat or some over-used cliche that my girls will need therapy for. I can’t (won’t) keep my girls out of our culture.  At the same time, I don’t want my girls to be obsessed with their physical appearance, worried that they have to look just so or worried about when it will fade.

That’s what they say, right?  “Beauty fades.”  May I respectfully say, “Bull $#*@!”  My grandmother was the most beautiful woman I can remember in ALL OF THE WORLD!  Not a touch of work done.  White as a ghost and very overweight in her old age.  But, skin as soft as silk and a heart of pure gold.  An absolute gem of God’s pure light.  And, her husband loved her boundlessly, with a lifetime of faithfulness to prove it.

What can I do other than thoughtfully parent every age, hoping to nurture my girls into strong, beautiful women. Beautiful women who know who they are, know they are loved by me and loved by God.  What else can I hope for?  Does telling them they are beautiful sabotage that?

I don’t think so.  What do you think?

Ultimately, my daughters will have to navigate within themselves a feeling of beauty–of inner beauty, of outer beauty… everything.  They’ll have to navigate within themselves every kind of self-feeling.  I’ll nurture what I can.  But, I want my daughters to know that I think they’re beautiful.

UTAH.

Utah.  It’s hot.  It’s sunny.  It’s dry and desert-y.  It’s stinking gorgeous.  But, I may not want to go back for a while.

I had never been out West.  I had never been much farther west than where we live right now.  Until we took a nearly impromptu family vacation to Moab last weekend.  The conditions weren’t quite right, but we thought we better go soon if we were going to go this summer.  I was itching for a camping trip; it was really still too cool to go here.  And, we’d neer been to Moab and really wanted to visit the national parks there…

We looked at the forecast and planned the trip.  Just as soon as we got everything in order: asking for time off, booking a campsite, etc., Will got some kind of stomach virus (the Monday before we were to leave Friday morning.)  Will, the strong-man that he is, didn’t let on how debilitating this virus was to his body.  He powered through, as he always does.  (Maybe, he can give birth to our next two children?)  So, not knowing how yucking his illness was, we continued on with our planning.

After stress building because of his recent illness (and my unknown onset) and a regretful argument the night before, we were on the road by 7 a.m. on Friday.  Woohoo.  May I count the plentiful reasons to leave so early!  Wowee.  It was the most wonderful car trip we have ever had.  It was perfect, really.  The kids had breakfast in the car, “read” 20 books a piece, had more snacks and sang songs, and all of a sudden we were half-way.  We stopped at a park for a super-early picnic lunch (10:45).  After letting them run their energy off, they sacked out in the car right as we crossed the UT border.  We made it by 2:00!  It’s like 430 miles!  Anyway, great trip over.  We were able to set up tent, get some ice cream and head into the park for a little sight-seeing, all well before dark.

Dark.  That’s where things turned evil.  In the night, Abby kept waking up making these wretching sounds–like dry heaving.  She never cried for me to get her up, but the wretching was awfully disturbing.  She had had diarrhea that evening.  It got me to thinking about my own constitution.  Queezy.  I tried not to think about it.  Only imagining it, right?  By the time morning came, my belly was not in the mood for a 7 a.m., 5-mile desert hike.  In fact, my belly was only in the mood for diarrhea and vomiting for the next 12 hours.

After crapping my guts out in the camp bathroom about 30 different times,  my body ached and my fever got up to 101.4.  Since we were camping and the forecast now told us the highs were around 99 for the next two days, we thought we had better pack it up and head home before things got worse.  At 11 a.m. Will miraculously got the tent packed up, and we headed out.  He was such a trooper that day.  You can imagine that we had to stop a few times on the 430 mile drive back home… It was rough.  I’m not gonna lie.  We all napped, though.  A LOT!  I was basically asleep the whole time.  My girls were so wonderful.  They could tell I was miserable, and the minimal amount of whining and crying can only be attributed to a gracious God.  We made it home, and now have the stories, the memories, and the pictures…

YAY!  Pictures.  Here’s a few fun pictures of what we did get to see during our VERY short trip to Utah.

A Mother’s Wish

I want to make a memory of today, of something I just witnessed.  I want to make such a vivid memory that I can recount every detail to my girls when they’re adults.  My mind is always so foggy, my memory so disjointed and unclear (thyroid symptom?)  I fear I won’t remember.

Today’s been pretty rough day.  It began abruptly at a 5:45 bang on our bedroom door, followed by a 5:46 climb into bed over the top of me.  Yup.  Sophia.  She needs some boundaries. (By the way, I was up past midnight last night; so, I did not welcome this sweet face so early.)

As I groggily came downstairs at about 6:30, I was met with the unmet tasks of yesterday–horribly crusty kitchen with a sink full of dishes, 2 new shrubs to plant out in our front flowerbed, the next week’s grocery shopping, 2 loads of unfolded laundry, and a houseful of tornado-toddlerdom, i.e. every kind of toy everywhere.  (I’ve been taking some time off from housework.  Still recovering from a recent stomach illness.  More on that later.)

This might not be so bad if I had woken up a bit cheerier… or let’s say, if everyone else had, too…

So, Sophia went to bed after 9 last night, and she woke up before 6.  She is CRANKY today.  She is every bit of 3 years old today. The way she is talking to me sends my head spinning, my eyes rolling, and body shaken.  I tell her to do something, and she yells at me, “NO! I DON’T WANT TO! THIS IS MY KIND OF LIFE AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!!!!!”  You can be sure that this kind of behavior is met with time-outs and apology sessions…

How’s Abby today?  She’s getting new words every day.  Just a few days ago she finally started verbalizing “no” and doing it very well.  Now, she yells (in a very sweet 18-month old voice) “NO!” after I tell her to do something.  Then she rolls all over the floor laughing.

WHAT the WHAT?!

Where was I?  Was there a scene I wanted to savor?  It wasn’t them helping dig the holes for the shrubs… or them helping me get new soil mixed in… or even watering them…  though, it sure made me think a lot about how God is working on my patience…

About 20 time-outs later sometime after cleaning up lunch, I hear, “Abby’s hugging me, Mommy!  Abby’s hugging me!”  I look around the corner, and both my girls are on the ground.  Abby has tackled Sophia from the front, arm tight around her neck.  She sitting on her knees, hugging her heart out, laying her head on Sophia’s shoulder.  Sophia’s smiling ear to ear, trying to be patient enough to hug her back, her legs wrapped around behind her.  There is only sheer joy.  “Abby’s hugging me, Mommy!  Abby’s hugging me!”

They’re becoming best friends–following each other around everywhere, wanting to be just like each other.  They’re playing together better all the time and also doing their share of fighting and wrestling.  It’s the most beautiful thing a mother can see.  I want to savor it.  I want to pause and make this memory of this moment last forever.  I want to tell my girls when they’re in the late 20s about this day.  I have a feeling if I remember it, I will tell it through choked back tears.