Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Snapshot: Thanksgiving Edition

I love Thanksgiving.  It's such a wonderful holiday, perfectly placed between Halloween and Christmas.  The buildup to Halloween with all the costumes and decorations lasted the entire month of October.  And then post Halloween, we're stuck with a mountain of candy that we don't want the little ones eating for days on end.  As much as I love Christmas, the commercialism surrounding it these days is insane.  The emails about pre-pre-Black Friday shopping started at least two weeks ago, and we will continue to be bombarded with all these great "deals" until the last possible minute.  There is a lot I love about Christmas, like our simple Christmas traditions, but I'll save those for a later post.

I spent my 15th Thanksgiving with Jim's family this year!  I was 20 years old when I first started going to Villanova for Thanksgiving with Jim, back when we had just started dating in college.  Now, we show up with four little ones of our own, and while the dynamics of the day have certainly changed, the day is still a day about family.  There are no presents or costumes.  There is nothing materialistic about it.  There are grandparents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins (lots of them...12 little cousins, ranging from 8 years old to not even 3 months old).  For the last 9 years, someone has been pregnant at Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception.  Sarah is due to have baby #2 on March 18--Hannah's birthday.  The cousins adore being together.  Lilly (6 years old) talks about how much she loves AJ (8) and Lauren (7) daily.  Jack (4) and Paul (almost 5) are starting to be buddies.  Hannah (2) keeps telling us that she's "in love with Brookie (1) and Meredif (3) and Julia (almost 2)"...the group of little girl cousins so close in age that it's going to be hard to tell them apart down the road.

This year, we went up to Sarah and Ross' house in Marshfield, MA and as hard as it is to change traditions, at the end of the day, everyone loved being together.  Who you are with is much more important than where you are, especially when you're with people that you love.  The food was delicious, the beer, wine, mimosas, bloody mary's, pomegranate martinis, (insert any drink name here...) were free flowing.  We got to meet our newest nephews, Luke and Will who are just three months old but growing like champions.  Funny to think that next Thanksgiving, Eliza and these two little boys will be running around!

Here is our week in photos.
Lilly's 1/4 mile Turkey Trot at school

...and they first grade girls are off!  
Eliza, post Turkey Trot.
Lilly and Ashley after their race.
Jack's Thanksgiving Feast at school.
Jack studying the map of Scotland on a postcard from Gigi and Papa.
Checking out the Thanksgiving Table in Marshfield. 
Aunt Christine and Eliza. 
Hanging out outside enjoying the beautiful Thanksgiving weather.

The boys. 
Chatting with Meme and Pop
6 napping cousins.  A Thanksgiving miracle. 
At Jungle Jakes, so the "little ones" can play!
Eliza was well looked after by Hannah and Julia.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was enjoyed by all!
Heading home, rolls in hand. 
Ready for another week :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Moments

Week 2!  Here we go.  This week:
  • Jack and Lilly were having one of their conversations about how one day everyone will be dead.  They're such lighthearted, fleeting conversations, often sandwiched between a game of "family" and some sort of art project.  In this conversation, Jack decided to chime in with, "Remember, Lilly, Father Sam said we're all going to be dead with Jesus one day.  Jesus and Elvis are already dead.  And we'll be dead too."  Lilly agreed, and then they continued building their lego house.  
  • Since I mentioned Father Sam, I should probably mention how much our children love church.  I mean, we count down to Sunday every week.  On Saturday night, when Jim tucked Jack into bed, Jack said, "Don't forget to remind me to go to church tomorrow, Dad."  Highlights of church include singing (and clapping) "Gloria", seeing Father Sam (who really is a wonderful priest) and eating munchkins with friends after church.  Lilly has even asked to join the children's choir.  Practices start next Thursday--I'm not sure we're quite ready for this.
  • Eliza changes by leaps and bounds every week.  As she approaches the most adorable age of six months old, she has started playing with her hair!  She twirls it between her fingers while I'm feeding her and when she's tired or while resting her head on my shoulder (which is another aspect of this age that I adore).  
  • Hannah is very opinionated.  All of our children are, but Hannah is especially.  This is something that we have known for awhile.  The best part of Hannah asserting her opinions is that she is still only two and a half, so some of her expressions have not been perfected yet.  For example, she likes to tell Jack, "I mam in charge, Jack."  They've all said "I mam" for I am. I'm not sure when it changes, but I love when Hannah asserts herself with a forceful, "No Mom, I mam bringing my blankie downstairs."
  • And lastly, this week, Lilly got off the bus on Thursday chatting away as usual.  Little snippets of her day come out in conversation all afternoon and evening.  Thursday afternoon's chatter went something along the lines of: 
Lilly: Mom, did you know that when you stick up your middle finger, it means a bad word?
Me: I had to look the other way and bite my lip before answering, Yes, Lil...I did know that.
Lilly: Well, I'm just trying to figure out what bad word it means, and I keep asking the boys at school but they won't tell me, because they say I'm a teller.  And I mean, I know I'm a teller at home, but I'm really not at school so I don't understand why they won't tell me.
Lilly continued chatting away, talking about what she made for her American Girl Doll that day after school and how excited she was for game night (their homework every Thursday is to play a game) and the middle finger conversation hasn't come up since, but I'm sure that's not the last I'm going to hear of that.  And this is only first grade.
This is what happens when I try to feed Eliza with anyone else in the room.  She hears a little voice and loses interest. But there's nothing like seeing her face light up when she sees a big brother or sister.  The older ones certainly love this little one too.    
This pretty much sums up our life at the moment.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sunday Snapshot

I want to try something.  I find it hard to sit down and write all I want to write during the week.  So, I've decided to keep a list on my phone of little snippets of my week--things that make me stop and smile; milestones; really just little insights into everyday life at the moment.  I'm not going to put pressure on myself to write too much about each moment, but I am going to write them down.  Every week.  I'm thinking I'll call it a Sunday Snapshot.  I may change it to Friday Favorites; or Saturday Snippets; or Monday Musings. I know Dad will have something creative, so the name may change.  But for today, it's a Sunday Snapshot (published on a Monday)!   

Clark Sunday Snapshot #1.  
  • Hannah is such a little character, with extremely strong opinions.  One of my favorite things that she does (and has done for months now) is whenever Jim or I pick her up, she pats our backs--just like Jim and I used to do to her when she was a baby.  It doesn't matter whether she's happy or furious.  She can't help it.  So the other day, I picked her up to take her upstairs for a nap, which she was less than thrilled about, and she still couldn't help herself; one of her little hands patted me on the back.  She catches herself when she's angry and doesn't want to do it, but she always gives at least a couple of pats before she realizes what she is doing.
  • Eliza is in one of my absolute favorite baby stages: the toe eating stage.  As the picture on my last blog shows, she eats her toes everywhere.  In her crib, her carseat, the bath, her bouncy chair... and she just sucks away!  Every time I see her do this, I have to stop and watch.  It's just the best.
  • This is one of my favorite recent stories.  A few weeks ago, Lilly brought home a little box from school.  It was a Trick or Treat for UNICEF box.  Naturally, all the little ones wanted to know what it was for, so I was explaining to them how we can collect all our coins in it and the money will go to help children who need it; children who don't have homes, for example.  Lilly was less than thrilled at the idea of taking money from her piggy bank to give to these children, and I understand that.  There is no way that could seem real to her; in her life all children have homes.  We talked more about it and I helped her understand through some photos how children in other parts of the world live, and how we could do a little bit to help.  Jack chimed in to our conversation, with his profound observation.  "Yes, Lilly...we have to help people like Uncle Joef and Auntie Ellie...they don't have homes either."  I caught myself from bursting out laughing, and then calmly explained that they both do in fact have homes.  They don't live on the train or at the train station, and that New York City has lots of homes.  Jack would like to visit them, just to be sure.
  • Every day at around 10am, Hannah asks for a snack.  Whether we're home or out and about, in Hannah's world, it is snack time.  So, if you're with us around 10am, you'll most likely hear, "Mum, can I please have a granoga bar?" Yes, granoga bars.  They're a staple in our house, and in most houses, although most people refer to them as granola bars.
  • Our bus stop is so full of life in the mornings.  All the little ones love going and waiting for bus; the big boys throw footballs around; the little boys drive matchbox cars down the driveways;  the girls talk about what they brought for snack, what's for lunch and chat about their shoes, coats, (insert any article of clothing here).  A hot topic of conversation is always the instruments that the older children bring with them to school.  Starting in 3rd grade, you can play an instrument.  Lilly ran up to me the other morning at the bus stop and announced that when she's in third grade, she would like to play the gorgonzola, like Lauren.  Lauren in fact, plays the viola.  But in our house, it's now known as a gorgonzola.    
  • Saturday was all about leaves.  I'll let the pictures do the talking for this one.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Last Times

I started this blog weeks ago, and re read it today and decided to finish and post it even though it's a bit outdated.  Such is life for me these days!

Today marks the first day of fall.  It was a beautiful, sunny 80 degree day.  School is in full swing and the days of summer vacation feel like ages ago.  We're starting to get used to our new morning routine.  Lilly gets on the school bus right in front of our house every morning at 8:32 and gets home in the afternoon at 3:45.  It's a long time to not have Lilly at home; I miss my little chatterbox and even after two weeks, all it takes is a baby photo of her to pop up on the computer for me to get teary eyed.  Jack if off at school from 9-12, which he just loves.  As soon as Lilly's bus pulls away, Jack grabs my hand and tells me that it's time to take him to school.  He still loves his maps and land and water forms, but is branching out and enjoying painting, cutting work, tracing shapes and has started coming home with lots of letter practice.  He gets to stay one day a week for lunch and taekwondo.  As he was carrying his backpack and lunchbox out the door on Monday, he turned to Hannah and said, "Bye Hannah.  You're probably going to miss me because I'm getting bigger so I get to have lunch at school sometimes..."  He was so proud and I could do nothing but smile.  Hannah is 2 going on 16.  Yesterday morning, when everyone was getting ready to walk Lilly out to the bus stop, Hannah stopped and turned to me and said, "Mom, when am I going to be 6?  It's taking forever and forever and forever."  She's dying to get on that bus with Lilly, while also not wanting to leave my side.  Eliza, at 15 weeks old, is smiling and laughing and sucking on her hands or her toes given any opportunity.  She sits in her bouncy chair in the morning, watching everyone have breakfast and get ready for school, kicking her legs and bouncing away.

In what little quiet time I have, I find myself torn between wanting certain phases of our daily life to pass, and trying to slow time down.  Then, this little voice in my head (usually Mum or Dad's) tells me that this is something I have no control over; I can't force a phase to pass or make time stop, so I take a step back and just try to be present.  Our daily life is busy; especially since the months since Eliza's arrival.  Being present and not trying to think of the 1449857839 things that are on my never-ending to do list is not always easy, but I remind myself as often as I can to just enjoy my days.

I love being a mum.  The hardest part for me is letting go.  I have to stop myself often from looking at Eliza and thinking, What if this is the last time I have a squishy little baby who spends her mornings sucking on her toes?  What if this is the last time I get to lie in bed and nurse a gorgeous baby who often stops eating to look up and smile at me?  What if I'm putting away all these tiny little baby clothes for the last time?  It's easy to see how I could get carried away.  More often than not, I never know when that last time is going to be.  I didn't know exactly the last time I swaddled Eliza; or when the last time was that I unwrapped her from her swaddle and watched one of those mega stretches where she uses her whole body.  I didn't know she was sleeping in her bassinet for the last time (the bassinet that Lilly, Jack and Hannah slept in as well).  I didn't know exactly when Lilly stopped saying "Wiwwy" or Jack stopped calling Lilly "Lala."  These were all just natural transitions that happened when the time was right.  I have to believe things happen this way for a reason.  If I let them, my days would be filled with so many last times, and as a busy mom with lots of postpartum hormones, the tears could be free flowing.

To keep myself from going crazy, I look ahead at all I have to look forward to.  I am often in awe at the little girl Lilly has grown into, and can't believe that one day, all four of these little ones will be school age.  While it's sad, it's also exciting.  I'm excited for a day when we can all sit down and play a board game by the fire without someone getting upset about not winning while someone else runs off with game pieces while I'm bouncing a crying baby in the bouncy chair next to me.  It will be fun to snuggle up on a cold weekend with a good book on the couch, while the little ones are all doing the same.  It will be fun to go on road trips and have animated discussions at the dinner table.  I can't wait to see where these four little people, who I love so much, will go in life.  I know that there is so much to look forward to, and that is what makes it easier to let go of so many last times.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What I've Learning Being a Mother of Four

Eliza is just over four months old now and I get asked all the time what having four children is like.  Here is what I have learned so far.

1.  Being a mom of four is not really different from being a mom of three.  Jim and I are still outnumbered.  There is still an insane amount of laundry and lots of little mouths to cook for and a house that never seems to be clean (or quiet).  I think it's having a newborn and any number of children that is an adjustment.  While the older three can entertain themselves, Eliza has her own schedule.  The kind of day that Eliza has strongly impacts the kind of day that I have.  On days where she has wonderful naps, I get so much accomplished.  On other days when she doesn't sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time and wants to be held while she is awake, my productivity is severely limited.

2.  Everything that happens during these baby days is a phase--usually a short lived one.  Because I know how quickly these phases pass, I can appreciate even the fussy days.  Sure, I may be ready for a glass of wine at 4pm instead of 5pm and I'm not saying I love the days when nothing goes according to my plans, but I try to make the most of them.  As soon as I realize that a day is not going the way I intended it, I abandon any ideas of productivity.  I remember these days with Lilly--I used to spend hours trying to get her to take her proper nap and would get so frustrated if all fell apart.  With Eliza, I try my best to follow a schedule, but instead of spending hours getting frustrated, I find myself more often than not putting Eliza in the stroller and taking everyone to the park or for a walk while they ride their bikes.  Either she naps or she doesn't, but we all get some fresh air and move on.  

3.  The early morning hours--while all the little ones are still sleeping--are like gold.  No matter how exhausted I feel when my alarm goes off, I need to get up.  Time to myself doesn't come easily these days.  Even on days when everything goes according to plan, life is still busy.  Having a quiet cup of coffee and being able to read for half an hour, or sitting with Jim and having time to talk without little people climbing all over us is time that impacts the rest of my day.  I'm a happier person when I'm up before the children--this is something that I remember Mum and Dad saying and having four little ones has made this time even more valuable.    

4.  I need exercise.  I've always had sports in my life--for as long as I can remember, I was swimming or rowing or triathlon training.  I have enjoyed working out during all of my pregnancies, and even though the intensity of the exercise shifts, it still made me feel good.  People were always amazed that this pregnant woman with a gigantic stomach was at the gym lifting weights (not heavy ones!) but for me,  working out while I'm pregnant is the easy part.  I could always guarantee that if I went to the gym at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, the little ones would be asleep.  Post pregnancy working out is much harder for me.  While I love working out, the time of day that Eliza wakes up is still unpredictable and there's nothing like lying in bed in the morning with a sleepy baby.  I keep reminding myself that there will be plenty of time for early gym mornings in my future and during this interim period, I go to the gym when I can but more often than not, I settle for long walks, runs after Jim gets home, or a quick DVD workout during nap time.

5.  To take each day as it comes.  I'm a planner--I have everyone's school and sports schedules on my google calendar, along with all my tutoring and SAT classes.  I also have a planner that sits out so I can see each week in front of me and I plan my meals for the week there.  I have a love/hate relationship with to do lists--they're vital in my life at the moment but they seem to be never-ending!  When I look at the entire month at a time, I get overwhelmed and have no idea how everything will get accomplished.  So I try not to do that anymore.  Life is busy and I've found that as long as I sit down on Sunday, look at the upcoming week and plan meals, I'm good to go for the week.  As busy as the week may look on paper, it's always doable when I focus on taking things one day at a time.

digging for fossils

6.  Savor these days.  As cliche as it sounds, the years fly by.  When pictures pop up on the computer of the day Lilly was born, I can picture it all like it was yesterday.  Now Lilly is off at "real" school for almost the entire day.  Even though she seems so grown up, I know in the grand scheme of things, she is still little; they all are.  They love to play dress up and have dance parties in the dining room after dinner.  They love marching around the house before they get in the bath at night singing a song they so accurately named, "We Are Naked." (I have this pre-bath parade around the house on video to show them when they're older, when I'm sure they'll all be mortified)!  They love their cuddles when they wake up in the morning and it's such a treat when we let them bring their blankets downstairs to lounge around.  Sure there is name calling and full sprint chases around the house and plenty of not listening and not cleaning up...but the good outweighs the bad and we're all having fun.

school picture day!

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Teeth Adventures Begin

Last smile captured with a mouth full of baby teeth!
Teeth.  They really are a mystery.  Babies spend years teething, causing many unpleasant side effects.  Then, somewhere around six years old, those same teeth start falling out with a little bit less pain and a little bit more excitement.  Then they grow in again, inevitably needing thousands of dollars of orthodontic work as they cause countless problems throughout your life, and most likely end up falling out.

We're at many different teeth stages at the moment.  Eliza has no teeth yet, so we have two years of teething to look forward to in the months ahead.  Hannah and Jack have all their teeth for now, until they get their 6 year molars.  And Lilly has started losing her teeth.  She has been dying for wiggly teeth for a year now, and this summer, she finally got her wish.  Those two little bottom teeth fell out within weeks of each other, with a tiny little pull at the end from Jim and me.  Lilly got her first visit from the tooth fairy, getting two dollar, both of which were covered in fairy dust (or glitter modge podge to be exact).  Lilly left the tooth fairy a sweet letter, asking what she did with all the teeth she gets and where she gets her money to give to children when they lose teeth.  

One tooth gone!
This was one of those times when being an oldest child has its perks.  When Lilly lost her first tooth, Jack and Hannah celebrated right along with her.  You would have thought she had won the lottery!  Lilly's face lit up in disbelief, and the other two keep asking to see her little tooth and the new gap in her mouth.  Our little social butterfly spread the news quickly, telling anyone who happened to walk by our house.  She celebrated with neighbors, texted pictures to Auntie Ells and Uncle Joef, who were here for the very wiggly stage, and couldn't wait to tell Valerie, our mail lady, who is kind enough to stop and listen to a daily update on Lilly's teeth.  When Lilly told Gigi and Papa via Skype, she had to explain multiple times to Papa that no, the Tooth Fairy wouldn't come and give him money if he pulled out Gigi's teeth and put them under his pillow.  She actually told him, with a very serious look on her face, that Tooth Fairy only comes when your teeth are ready to come out.  The second tooth was just as exciting.  Lilly's smile couldn't be cuter--that giant gap in her bottom row of teeth makes me laugh every time.

Looking more and more like a Jack O'lantern
For me, losing teeth brings memories flooding back.  When I was in Prep, which is the equivalent of Kindergarten in Australia, we had a tooth chart on the wall.  The concept was simple: every time you lost a tooth, you put up a little white rectangle on the chart.  Apparently my thirst for competition started at a young age, because I decided I wanted to "win" the tooth chart.  And win I did--I put up more rectangles than anyone else in the class.  My teacher, clearly cognizant of the fact that I still had a full mouth of baby teeth talked to Mum and Dad, suggesting they might want to talk to me about this at home.  I still remember sitting in a chair in the kitchen crying and crying because I refused to admit that I had done this.  My first lesson in lying was a hard one, all over losing teeth.  Let the Clark teeth adventure begin!  

Checking out the tooth!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our Family of Six

The summer is flying by.  I've been writing a blog entry for weeks now about little Eliza Maree, and it is still not finished!  It might have something to do with the fact that my writing is usually limited to 20 minute intervals while children are sleeping or at night before I collapse into bed.  I will finish that entry because it's a special one that I'm putting a lot of thought into.  Even this blog entry has taken me two weeks to finish!

Eliza is eight weeks old today, and life feels normal again.  It feels like she has been a part of our family forever.  I feel like I was pregnant ages ago--feeling those little kicks inside me and wondering when this little person would make her arrival.  It's strange to think that Hannah and Jack won't remember life before Eliza was here, and almost all of Lilly's memories will be after Eliza arrived as well.

Our summer has been everything that I wanted it to be, and we still have a month before school starts.  We make very few plans and take every day as it comes.  I am making a conscious effort to be present and really enjoy this summer.  We don't have to move into a new house, we don't have summer camps or school drop off and pick ups.  I don't have to rush everyone out the door in the morning.  Some days we stay home and the little ones play out the back in the pool and the water table.  Other days they ride bikes in the culdesac or we go for long walks.  We've been to the library and lots of parks.  We've met up with friends that we don't get to see to often during the school weeks.  The beauty of having no plans is that if it's rainy and everyone wants to stay in pajamas and play in the basement all day, they can do that.  I love seeing what the older three decide to do with their time.  They create elaborate games, pretending to be Jim and me or their favorite family from the neighborhood.  They've set up a store and spent hours shopping and stocking the store.  They spend the majority of their days out the back, making concoctions of dirt and water and bubbles and finding dinosaur fossils (aka rocks).

Since Eliza joined us at the beginning of June, I constantly find myself stopping and being thankful for what I have.  For our growing family with four healthy little ones, a house that I love and am proud to call ours, siblings and parents who come and visit and make life that much more fun, a neighborhood where people couldn't be kinder, close friends who bring over dinner and drinks when they know we can't leave Eliza with a babysitter yet, and most of all, for a husband who has made all this possible.

Having a baby brings out so many emotions (as I'm sure Jim will attest to) and often, these emotions come out of the blue.  Quite a few times, especially those early days in the hospital, I have looked at Eliza and burst into tears as I wonder if she will be our last baby.  Jim and I don't pretend to know what the future holds.  We've never been ones to say, "we're having ___ # of children" or "we're officially done having kids..."  In the back of my mind, I do know that this could be it and I can't really wrap my head around that.  Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a Mum with lots of little ones (just like my Mum) and to think that the phase of my life where I have babies is over makes me tear up every time.  Jim, in his rational husband speaking to his irrational, emotional, post baby wife, tells me not to think that when I look at little Eliza, but instead to take everything a day at a time and just enjoy her.  And that's what I'm doing.  Most of the time, I am just enjoying every day.  I'm soaking up the swaddles and the middle of the night newborn feedings.  I love it when Eliza falls asleep on me and find myself worrying less about making sure she spends all her time sleeping in her bassinet.  I love these newborn days and know that they are dwindling.

Eliza has slotted right into our lives.  Her bassinet is up in our bedroom so she always has a quiet, cool place to sleep.  Lilly and Hannah want to hold her and help with her all the time.  Bath time is a constant fascination, and they both love trying to swaddle her.  Jack likes to lie down next to her and just stare.  Now that she has started smiling, he loves looking at her and trying to make her smile, but he has no real interest in holding her.  And everyone is intrigued by breastfeeding.  I've answered more questions about nipples and milk than I knew was humanly possible.  I think that after six weeks, we've all come to an understanding that only Moms can feed babies, although Hannah has changed her baby doll's name from Daisy to Eliza and constantly lifts up her shirt to feed her from her "nibbles".  As amazing as it is to watch Eliza during this time, watching the older three become big sisters and brothers again always makes me smile.

I could keep writing and writing, but I'm going to stop there and actually publish a blog post.  Otherwise, the unfinished entries will keep piling up.  Time for us to keep enjoying summer.