Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I ♥ the Early Days

Sure; the early days with a baby can be tough. There's a lot of sleep deprivation (last night was vaguely reminiscent of a few of my tougher college all-nighters). There can be a fair amount of stress... of time management issues... and even some difficulty fitting in "normal" tasks (like eating and showering). There's also an abundance of yoga pants and ponytails in my house right now.

But I still love the early days.

I'm sure other moms have different experiences - the bond with a child is an intensely personal and unique experience for everyone - but for me, the early days are where the magic starts. When each of my kids were  born, I had this initial exhilaration and intense love for them immediately. It was that strong motherly love that is full of protection, care and amazement. But the real bonding for me -- the parts that make my heart feel so full I think I'm going to burst -- happens in the weeks (and months and years) following the birth. It's during this time that I start loving them as individuals rather than just a son or daughter. And for me, that makes the connection even stronger, the love even deeper and the joy even greater.

It's the early weeks that find me getting to know my babies and building unique relationships with them. I may have had a few instincts about my babies' personalities while in the womb, but after they're born, I start really getting to know them. Their temperaments and traits are already there and I'm getting that first glimpse into who and how and what they are. I start appreciating their uniqueness, forming my own relationship with them, and falling in love with them as their own person.

During the early weeks, I spend a lot of time looking at my babies. I stare at them. I learn about them. I connect with them. I am in awe of them. They are truly amazing. I notice everything. Every eye flutter or sneeze or silly sound they make while sleeping. And somehow, all of it seems amazing. So much bonding comes not just in the big moments - the birth, the baptism, the birthdays - but in the little every day moments. The snuggling. The nursing. The silly things we do to get our babies to go to sleep. The tending to them that happens around the clock. Because although I might be tired the next morning (or occasionally annoyed at 3 am), the middle-of-the-night feedings are special as well. It's just me and my little one spending that time together while the rest of the world sleeps. Mother nourishing baby. Mother loving baby. It's in all those little moments that you really get to know your baby... that I really connect with mine.

The early days are amazing - a miracle in every sense of the word. It's amazing that I'm getting to know my daughter right now. I'm learning about her temperament, the budding personality she has that will keep unfolding in the months and years ahead. And I'm loving her for her. Not just because she's my daughter, but because she's Elissa. If experiences with my son are any indication, this amazement, this bonding and this connection I feel are only going to continue to grow in the years ahead.

It's hard not to appreciate where all the joy begins. Even if I am a bit tired. ♥

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Toddler Activity Boxes

The last few weeks of my pregnancy, I decided to put together some activity boxes for Brayden to play with after the baby arrived. I knew that things would be busy for a while and that my little guy would have others watching him (Daddy + Grandmas) who might need some ideas for activities during these cabin-fever winter weeks. All I can say is that I am so happy I did this. Brayden absolutely loves them and us asking if he wants to play with his boxes immediately calms him down during temper tantrums or grumpy days.

I didn't quite finish them (they're probably 80% complete), but my goal was to include the following in each box: a musical instrument, two new books, a fine motor skills activity, a learning activity, a just-for-fun toy and one or two additional activities. Some of the things I put in the boxes I wasn't exactly sure about, but they ended up being a huge hit (leave it to a toddler to find a way to play with ordinary objects!).

I definitely didn't expect a bowl of dice to be such a hit, but Brayden played with the die in dozens of ways for a good 20-30 minutes.

I was asked to post what's in the boxes, so here are the contents (both what I finished and what I'm still hoping to include). I'll highlight the activities that have been particularly interesting for my guy with a star*


Toddler Tambourine
Books: Where is Baby's Puppy?* Richard Scarry's Cars & Trucks
Doodle Materials (construction paper, markers, stickers, stamps etc.)
*Photo Memory Cards: I printed two photos of family members onto small cards and typed the names below. We're using them for matching and memory (I put a few face down and ask him to find each one). Lauren also is trying to get him to learn how to say everyone's names.
Number Tubes: These are toilet paper rolls covered in colored cardstock with a number printed on each one. I also included bigger cardstock circles so we could stack them vertically while learning numbers. Lauren has used them for bowling and Brayden has enjoyed just playing with them at random.
*Object Shape Sort: I gathered a bunch of random objects of different shapes, placed them on foam board and traced around them. Brayden places each object in the right shaped spot. I thoughgt this one might be outside of his ability level, but he immediately figured out what to do and loves it. (The back of the foam board has number magnets traced so he can put those where they belong while learning numbers)

Not included:
Shadow Puppets (He adored the Halloween ones I made for him, so I'm hoping to include some general, non-holiday ones)


Wooden Clapper
Books: Dive In, Builder Bugs*
*Melissa & Doug Water Wow Coloring Book (This is a pretty cool idea; the marker in the middle gets filled with water and you "color" the pages to reveal the bright pictures. Once it dries, it's blank again and you can do it again)
*Giant Bubble Wand
*Finger Puppets
Paper Plate Weaving
*Cheerio Stack (I took small containers of Play-doh, placed blunted wooden skewers in the dough and let Brayden string the Cheerios through the skewer. I didn't know if it would be too difficult or boring for him, but he LOVED the activity)

Not included:
Slot Container: I took an empty sour cream container and covered it with cardstock. I'm going to cut different sized slots out of the lid and then give corresponding lids/coins/objects that fit in each slot.


*Toddler Drum
Books: Animal Opposites, Touch & Feel 1-2-3 (Although Brayden hasn't gotten into it yet, the Animal Opposites book is pretty awesome)
*Dice: Literally, this is just a bowl of about eight dice. I wasn't sure how I'd use it, but Brayden had his own ideas. First, he put them on the drum and played the instrument, then he used the drumstick to "mix" the dice around, then he was throwing them into the bowl. He just kept finding more things to do with them!
*Shape Bean Bags: I added Duct tape to the pile so we could do something fun in the kitchen. My thought was to make a shapes with the tape and have Brayden throw bags into each one. I'm sure there are a variety of other activities we can do with the two objects though.

Not included:
Alphabet Match Cards: Similar to the photo memory cards I made, these are cards with letters and cards with pictures of something that starts with that letter. Brayden has been pretty interested in letters so I figured this would be a lot of fun for him.


*Egg Shakers
Books: Goose Needs a Hug, Fisher-Price Let's Get Moving
Sponge Painting
Nuts & Bolts: I took three different sized nuts and bolts (very large, large and medium) and put two of each size in a bowl. The idea is for Brayden to match up the sizes and put them together
*Wooden Picture Tiles: I took plain wooden tiles and drew different pictures on them with markers (dog, football, sun, airplane, etc). Brayden has loved matching them up or finding them when flipped over.

Not included:
Pom Pom Drop Game: I'm planning on putting colored cardstock around five small (empty) water bottles. I'll have the same colored pom-poms for Brayden to drop in the corresponding bottles.


Wooden Guiro
Books: Doggies, Bugs That Go*
Coloring Book & Crayons
*Vehicles Sound Puzzle (be warned: the sounds on this puzzle are pretty obnoxious)
*Almond Transfer Game: I gathered a paint palette, measuring spoon/toddler tweezers, and a cup of almonds for this activity. Brayden moves the almonds from the floor to the palette spots using the spoon or tweezers (the tweezers are too difficult for him now, but he really enjoys doing this activity with the spoon).
*Number Cards: This was sort of a filler object, but Brayden loves looking at the cards. Whoever made them did a great job deciding on the objects to include. Most of Brayden's favorite things are there - cars, airplanes, bumblebees, dogs, etc. We're counting the objects with him, but this is definitely more of a fun activity than a learning one for Brayden (we're certainly not using them as actual flashcards).

Not Pictured:
I Spy Board: I'm still hoping to make one of these. All I wanted to do was put together a collage of clipart images that Brayden knows (animals, objects, etc) so we could play I Spy. He loves doing this with his books (he always points to things when we're reading together and wants to know what they are) so I figured this would be a winner as well. Hoping to have that done soon.

These boxes have been complete life-savers for me and the hubby. Brayden asks for them everyday and they keep him busy for a long while (and not just "long" in toddler-land). And because he only sees each box once a week, it's almost like new toys all the time. They keep his interest way longer than toys that he sees regularly and somehow, he knows the boxes are something "special" for him. Even if you're not having another baby, I'd recommend something similar for an active toddler.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The More Things Change...

I can't believe I have two children. Because it's such a big change, I imagine it will take a while to fully adjust. So far, things have been great though. We're staying busy entertaining a toddler, cleaning the house just enough to not be too embarrassed when company comes over, and falling so much in love with our little girl. Things have really been great this week -- not as difficult as my dear hubby feared and even more amazing than I could have imagined.

Elissa is such a sweetheart - so snuggly and downright adorable. Despite the fact that she looks like Brayden when he was first born, she's certainly showing off her uniqueness. The two babes are clearly related... and I really can't get over just how similar they look. Considering what a cutie I think Brayden is, I have no problem with this!

Elissa on the left; Brayden on the right
(You didn't believe me???)

Elissa on the left; Brayden on the right

As far as temperament goes, they are pretty different. Elissa is so much calmer than Brayden was as an infant. Much less crying, lower maintenance and just overall more laid back (so far). As long as she's not hungry or in need of a clean diaper, she's happy sitting in her bassinet (or in our arms) just hanging out. Despite the calm temperament, she is darn feisty when she wants to be. Before Elissa was born, I said she seemed determined. Her kicks were stronger than Brayden's and her movements just seemed so focused. Now I see why. When this little girl wants something, she gives it her all. If my ridiculous labor didn't prove that, her behavior since then has. When they drew her blood at the hospital, the day old babe was struggling so much she would have flipped herself over if there wasn't a wall nearby. When I put her on her tummy this week, she was so mad she kicked her feet hard enough to unintentionally crawl across the mat. And when our doctor saw her spunk, she was pretty taken aback. "Wow - don't discount this one. She might be small, but she is mighty."

The other huge difference between Elissa and infant Brayden is their sleep. Brayden absolutely abhorred sleeping during the day. It was so difficult to get him to nap in the early days (at one point, we even resorted to putting him in his car seat carrier and rocking him for obscene amounts of time). Elissa is pretty different. She doesn't fight sleep during the day at all. She actually loves her sleep. But where Brayden did great was at night. He was sleeping in his crib from the very beginning and waking up just a couple times at night to feed after the first few weeks. Elissa just isn't a huge fan of the crib yet. The bassinet works about half the time (if we slip her in there when she's in a deep sleep), but she prefers sleeping on Mommy or Daddy. So one of my children fought sleep during the day and took to the crib, while the other one welcomes all sleep but prefers to sleep on us. I'll take what I can get.

I've been loving getting to know our darling girl and am looking forward to the days and weeks and months ahead. Elissa is such a sweetheart and my heart feels so full with the blessing of two amazing children. ♥

Monday, February 10, 2014

Welcome Elissa Lillian! ♥

Our beautiful baby girl was born on Thursday, February 6 at 6:57 pm. She's a feisty and dainty little lady, weighing just 6 pounds, 6 ounces at birth.

Most of you already know that, so this post fills in the blanks about Elissa's quite dramatic arrival.

The Story

My water broke completely out of the blue at 1:00 in the morning Thursday. I wasn't having any contractions, which bummed me out since I know doctors freak out and make you go to the hospital when your water breaks. I actually didn't even call mine to let her know (something I got reprimanded for later). I knew there was nothing to be medically concerned about and since I was hoping for another natural birth (and wanted to avoid them inducing me), I tried to get a bit more sleep.

I had a doctor's appointment already scheduled for that morning, so Lauren and I went to that at 10 and got an earful of scolding. Not surprisingly, they told me to go right to the hospital. We got Brayden set up with a friend, had some lunch and took our time getting there. I still wasn't having contractions yet and my doc had already told me they wanted to give me something to speed things up. (Little did we know what was ahead of us.) I was determined to avoid that.

At the time of my appointment, I was 3cm dilated. I was 3cm with Brayden for weeks before giving birth, so that didn't mean anything. We got to the hospital shortly after 1pm. Standard procedure is to be monitored for 20 minutes before doing anything else. Thankfully, while I was being monitored, I started having regular contractions that did just enough to keep the doctor from inducing me.

Around 2:30, things started getting pretty intense. By 4:00, I was in a LOT of pain and dealing with contractions every couple minutes. Over the next hour, they became so painful and frequent that I was seriously doubting whether I would be able to avoid medication. (They were WAY worse than the ones I had with Brayden.) A new on-call doctor came in around 5:15 to check on me.

She looked down at me with this nasty look and said "You're a four." WTF?!

"Second baby? ...You're going pretty slow." Are you kidding me lady? Great bedside manner; love the pep talk. She told me she was going to be back in an hour and by then I "should be a 5." Because you know, I can control this and was clearly just taking my time to tick her off.

I was completely discouraged at this point. If this is how long and painful it was to get 1cm of progress, I couldn't even comprehend what the rest of labor was going to be like. I was dying at this point - in way more pain than I even thought was possible. I decided to give it a bit more time but was pretty pessimistic. Lauren tried to remind me that things don't progress linearly, but it was just so. hard.

After another hour, I just couldn't take the pain anymore. I was breaking down at every contraction. Lauren recommended a hot shower. Great. Let's do it. I need something. Anything. But the water wouldn't get hot - or even warm. WTF. Call the nurse. The nurse calls someone else. They'd need to send someone in to fix it. I. don't. care. Just do it. Anything that might help me escape this ridiculous pain. The guy comes in and shuts himself into the bathroom.

Meanwhile, I decide to get checked again. I know its only been a little over an hour since my wonderful "4 proclamation," but if I haven't progressed at all, I might have to change courses (which was such a disappointing thought). The nurse checks me and gives me this weird look. In less than an hour and a half, I went from 4cm to 9cm. I was NINE. Fully effaced, +2 station. I was about to have a baby. Thank goodness I had a nurse come in to check me or we would have given birth by ourselves. (Seriously)

The nurse starts scrambling to get things ready, but says they need to monitor the baby's heart rate. (When you don't get an epidural, you're not confined to a bed and only need to be monitored for 15 minutes out of every hour) She barely has enough time to get a heartbeat when I calmly and politely tell her the baby wants out.

Miss "You're-Going-too-Slow" comes running in the room to get on her gloves. She doesn't even have a chance to finish though. My tiny little baby comes out in three pushes. No one was ready. One of the nurses has to reach over and catch the baby so it doesn't fall on the ground. Elissa looks up at the doctor and asks "fast enough?" (Well, not really, but someone should have said that!)

The nurse gives me the baby and we find out we have a beautiful little girl. Lauren has a daughter. We have our baby. Our sweet and feisty little baby.

After I have her in my arms and things have settled down, one of the nurses opens the bathroom door and lets the repairman leave.

From start to finish, my labor lasted less than six hours. But don't mistakenly think I enjoyed the brevity. I liken it to running a marathon in the time it takes to run a 5K. Covering the same distance in a short period of time just killed my body. Brayden's labor lasted about ten hours - and I would do that two more times before I did this one again.

...Unless you remind me what a sweet and determined angel I got out of the deal. Then I might consider doing it again. :)


Monday, February 3, 2014

2013 Photo-A-Day

Last year, I decided to take a photograph a day for the entire year. The idea was to capture all kinds of moments - everything from momentous occasions to mundane daily life. I wanted a complete visual representation of a year I knew would be full of crazy chaos and toddler fun. I was a few weeks late finishing it, but it's finally complete... and I'm so excited that I finished it.

Lauren loved looking through the book - little by little as I worked on it throughout the year - and actually told me he wished I could do it perpetually. I adored recording all the little things that would have otherwise been forgotten. The day Brayden realized his giant teddy bear had a face and sat in front of it giggling for 10 minutes... my first long run after having Brayden (it probably came much later than it should have, but it was still a great accomplishment for me!)... the horrible day when I came home to chewed up tissue paper everywhere (thanks, dogs) while carrying groceries and a screaming baby (somehow it made the day better to sit Brayden down in the mess and take a picture of the chaos of the day). It was a great project... probably one of my favorites. I'm just really happy that I managed to complete it.

For anyone interested in the format I used, I can't say enough great things about Project Life. I stumbled across the product a few years ago (when it was just a woman trying to establish her company) and thought it would be perfect for my photo-a-day goal in 2013. Essentially, it's scrapbooking without all the cutting and pasting and gluing and craziness. Everything is in sleeves so you just put your photos in some of the pockets, add journaling cards to the other ones, and you're done. I'm a bit of an overachieving perfectionist (what, you're surprised?) so I couldn't leave it there. I added embellishments and other fun things... but it's great that you don't have to.

I loved working on this and am really excited for my 2014 project. I'm trying out a different format for a "scrapbook-type project" this year and then will decide which I like better between the two. I'll still be using Project Life, but just in a different way. While I'm shamelessly promoting a favorite product, I might as well add the other project I've been using it for: Brayden's Toddler Book. Most moms make some kind of baby book for their child's first year (though admittedly, I'm not yet finished with Brayden's). It seemed strange to only document the earliest time in your child's life though, when so many amazing things happen during the toddler years. They're full of fun and excitement and discoveries and quirkiness... and I really wanted to document and remember that.

So what I've done is used the Project Life mini-album (a much smaller scale than the big binder I used for Photo-a-Day) to record monthly highlights for my little guy. At the end of each month, I pull out a few favorite photos (it usually ends up being 4-6) and then I type up some notes about the month. Milestones Brayden reached, funny things he started doing, exciting activities we did that month, favorite books, etc. I liked that it was more detailed than the Photo-a-Day project (and solely focused on Brayden) but still a breeze to do. Other than printing a few photos each month, all it takes is for me to make two cards and add embellishments... and I get to remember all the special parts of Brayden's toddlerhood.

I've really loved doing these photo projects. I get to use my creativity, reflect on all the fun from the last few weeks or months, and have something I can give to Brayden to allow him to see how amazing he's always been. ♥