I didn't take many Christmas photos this year. I was too busy soaking it up.
Every year, I say that this Christmas was better than the last. It has always been true, but it is so difficult to imagine that there will come a year to top this one! Even though the kids were sick, it was such a joyful time. The kids are at the perfect ages to enjoy the magic of the season, plus we got to celebrate Miss Olivia's very first Christmas. I couldn't have been more grateful if I'd tried.
We attempted to have a mellow Christmas this year, particularly in terms of gifts. We feel so blessed, so we wanted to keep it simple and focus on the spirit of Christmas rather than the stuff of Christmas.
Of course, our families got involved and pretty quickly put an end to that dream! The kids had so, so many wonderful gifts under the tree, it was just amazing. The morning itself was simple, partly because we were all sick. We took our time, opened presents and then played, stopped for our traditional Christmas morning breakfast and got back to it.
Santa definitely came through and brought both kids the scooters they had been asking for, and those scooters got some mileage!
Besides the kindness of our relatives, the thing I want to remember most about this Christmas is how delighted our kids were - for all the right reasons. This year was not about the presents for them. They were equally as excited to drive around looking at Christmas lights or to bake cookies. They appreciated each other's presence. They worked on sharing and gratitude. Leah's favorite part was sleeping by the Christmas tree with her brother.
On Christmas eve, we loaded up the van with kids, cocoa and cookies and drove around looking at Christmas lights. As we were coming home, sweet little Logan said, "Mommy, I love our home. I'm so happy we have a home."
Because we were sick, we didn't have family around this year. The fancy ham I'd intended to prepare is still in the freezer, and I just pulled together simple meals from whatever we had on hand. But somehow, the house felt full and festive just the same, and nobody felt as if they were missing out. The kids' voices singing Christmas carols, their blurry figures flying by on new scooters... it was perfect.
It really hit me this year what a big kid Leah is turning into. I couldn't help but think about the fact that we're probably halfway through these magical childhood Christmases with her. It won't be too many more years before things begin to change... and UGH, that is such a hard thought! I just treasure the memory of the three of them, jammied and mussy-haired, hardly able to contain their excitement and anticipation while waiting at the top of the stairs.
It truly is hard to imagine that it gets better to this.
You know those ideas that sound really good in theory but turn out to be a bit of a disaster?
That happened to me recently.
The plan was simple enough: take the kids on a festive, Christmas-y sleigh ride, complete with jingling bells, over-loud off-key caroling, marshmallow roasting and hot cocoa.
I booked it weeks in advance, and I knew that my festive-y, Christmas-loving children were going to be absolutely delighted.
But when the day came, it was snowing. Reeeeeally snowing. And absolutely freezing. I called the ranch before we left to see if they were even running the sleigh rides, and they assured me that the weather wasn't too bad. The did advise me to bring extra warm clothes, but that it would be okay.
So we packed up the car, every article of warm, winter clothing we own, and set off.
I could feel in my bones that it was a bad idea practically as soon as we set off. The drive took us almost an hour longer than it should have, and the van was slipping all over the road. The snow was coming down pretty heavily, and when we had to stop so that the kids could go potty, it was 7 degrees outside with the wind howling.
I think it was the kids' enthusiasm and excitement to go on a sleigh ride that kept us from turning around.
When we arrived at the ranch, it was slightly better. It was a balmy 24, the wind wasn't whipping quite so badly, and we were promised lots of blankets for the ride. I very seriously considered staying in the car with the baby, but decided to push on.
...A decision I very quickly regretted to my very core.
Thirty minutes later, the sleigh had only been able to go maybe 1,000 yards due to the high, windswept snow. The baby was absolutely bawling - screaming her head off even though every in ch of her was wrapped up not only in her winter gear, but then inside a blanket and protected completely from the snow by a second blanket. I was convinced she had hypothermia, because I am not at all overly dramatic. When they could go no further (we were nowhere near our destination), we had to get off the sleigh so that the horses could turn it around to head back to the barn. The snow was so high they couldn't pull it and us through it. It was a complete nightmare.
Unless, of course, you asked my children. Who, despite the ridiculous conditions, were absolutely as happy as they could possibly have been (well, except for the screaming one).
All they saw or cared about was the fact that they were on a sleigh ride at Christmas time. They didn't care about the freezing snow hitting their faces, or the fact that when we got out, the snow came up to Logan's waist. They made snow angels and waited for the horses, shouting encouragements and calling them by name. They were so excited and completely overjoyed. In hindsight, I have no words to describe those two little joyful souls.
We went back to the barn to enjoy our hot cocoa, and I'm pretty sure my children had no idea that what they had just experienced was SO not the way it was supposed to go. As far as they were concerned, it was perfect.
The lesson there is pretty clear, particularly at Christmas time.
Although I was extremely grateful to get back in the car, those two sweet, excited children made it a wonderful memory.
We walk two blocks over to the pool to visit him while enjoying hot cocoa, cookies and carolers. There is also a horse-drawn sleigh to ride through the neighborhood, but because the line was long and we had a very tired Olivia, we didn't do that one this year.
At summer camp in July, Leah absolutely fell in love with a pink scooter. She rode on it every day, and it was all she wanted to talk about when she got in the car. Several times, she asked if she could have one, and I replied that we would start making a list and she could ask Santa for it if she still wanted one at Christmas time.
Well, wouldn't you know it, she has held onto that thought for the last five months, and she followed through with her plan and asked Santa for that pink scooter. With as good as she's been, I have no doubt he'll follow through.
Because sister has been talking about it all this time, Logan got on the bandwagon too and decided to ask Santa for a blue scooter - you know, because blue my favorite color! It was pretty cute to see them very politely make their requests.
We also took some time out and stayed up past our bed times to visit the zoo for zoo lights, which is so much fun every year.
Just like the parade of lights, the weather was perfect. Just the right kind of cold - festive, but not so cold that we were all miserable. The kids enjoyed looking at the lights, but most of all, they enjoyed the hot cocoa that is such a staple at this time of year!
Best of all, we had Daddy around for these fun activities. After such a long time away, we were grateful to be together.
I hope I'm not alone in using the TV to babysit my children.
It's not that I do it often. But there are a handful of times throughout the day, chiefly when I'm trying to put the baby to bed, that I simply require the following from my children: 1) quiet, 2) quiet, 3) guarantee that no one will break something or die, and 4) quiet. In my experience, the only way to really be sure that I can have all these things at the same time while not physically present in the room is to get a little more acquainted with our friends Daniel Tiger or Caillou.
But this one time, I thought it would be fun to mix it up. To let them watch Milo and Otis (remember that movie? It's an adorable flick about a kitten and a pug puppy. Seriously.).
So there they are, downstairs watching the movie as I'm upstairs changing the baby, nursing her and putting her to bed.
Until... I hear Leah crying. Sobbing.
And before long, the same from Logan.
I called them both upstairs to the nursery to see what in the world had upset them so, and it turns out, that sweet, charming movie about the cat and dog has a dark side.
You see, there is a scene where Milo (or is it Otis? I'm talking about the cat, for the record) falls in a box and starts to float downstream on a river. And this absolutely broke my little Leah's heart, to the point of tears, because he was going away from his friends and he was going to be alone. Yep.
A little later in this scene, a baby bear decides it would like to make a quick snack of Milo or Otis or whoever, and even though the pug bravely protects his friend, Logan was terrified and ended up in tears too.
Yeesh. Nothing like a nice, wholesome family flick to traumatize the children.
Not long after this, we saw an advertisement for a life-sized, animated dinosaur exhibit. Logan absolutely adores dinosaurs right now, and I desperately wanted us all to go.
Except... well... the kid had just had a meltdown over a cat from twenty five years ago that surely would be costing us in therapy. These dinosaurs would not only be huge, but would move and growl and have features true to carnivorous animals. Would this be a good idea, or would he totally freak out?
So I prepped him. I showed him pictures and we talked a ton about dinosaurs and the noises and motions they would probably make. We growled like dinosaurs and chased each other around the house. He told me time and time again about how brave he was going to be.
And, it seems that the prepping paid off.
It was a pretty neat exhibit. And, the kids did wonderfully. Thankfully, there was no repeat of the Milo and Otis trauma.
I suppose it's probably rude to have a favorite. You always hear that parents don't have favorites, and evidently I'm the exception to this very important (lie) rule.
Because this kid. As a baby? She's the bee's knees!
Leah was absolutely wonderful as a baby, too, but I was so darned new at the motherhood thing that I was much too worried and anxious and busy figuring it all out to truly enjoy just how easy she was. My sweet Logan has grown into the funniest, sweetest and overall easy two year old, but as a baby... well, he was a LOT of work.
Olivia's temperament is very much the way I remember Leah's being: super easy going and delightful. I think if Leah had been the third child and not on the receiving end of everyone's undivided attention, she would have wanted to have her demands heard as Livvy does, but overall, Miss Liv is sweet, snuggley and easy.
She is not overly smiley yet, most of the time she's still pretty stone-faced. But ooooh, when she does crack a smile - or better yet, gift us a little giggle - she just melts our hearts!
She is extremely ticklish, just as I remember Logan being.
She does not enjoy tummy time, and will only tolerate it for a few minutes at a time before a pretty good melt down ensues.
She will, however, lay on her back and look up at the little figures for a while. Though, truthfully, "a while" is as much as she ever likes to be away from her mommy. She's my little monkey, and prefers to be perched on my front 17 hours a day.
I tried her in the swing recently...
...it was not a hit...
...but she does enjoy both the Bumbo and her high chair, and will tolerate both for reasonable periods of time so long as Mommy doesn't leave the room.
Especially if her siblings are there to entertain her.
She loves to be spoken, sung and read to, and can listen endlessly to any of those. Her expressions when you address her are priceless.
At her four month appointment, she weighed in at 13.1 lbs, the smallest of any of my children. (For reference: Leah, Logan)
She is such a great mixture, both physically and in terms of personality, of her big brother and sister. Honestly, if you took a picture of Logan and one of Leah, and superimposed the two over each other, it would look exactly like Olivia Joy. I love it.
Speaking of siblings, she is adored by hers. I can't believe how sweet and gentle those big kids are. Logan loves to lay by her, hold her, touch her face, whatever he can get away with. Each and every morning, the first words out of his mouth are, "Hi, baby sister! Can I give Olivia Joy a kiss?"
And Leah. Well, we all know this kid loves babies. Mothering Livvy is just a natural part of her daily routine, and she is so very good, kind and helpful.
It's a blessed place to be. I am so grateful for these three.
So, so very fast. When I think about the fact that she's almost five; that we've already seen her through nearly 1/4 of the time we'll have raising her... I just treasure the wonderful, joyful little lady she's becoming.
And recently, she proved it again with a pretty major milestone: her first ballet recital!
She has been asking to take ballet for at least a year. We even threw her a ballet-themed fourth birthday party, because she's just been obsessed with dance. She has been taking gymnastics for ages, but we knew that this fall was the time to jump on the dance train.
And, seriously? She does it beautifully. Not that she's a prodigy by any stretch, but she does exhibit much more grace than I had imagined she'd be capable of, given what happens to her body if you've ever watched her run. It's not a bad thing; coordination just isn't one of her strengths. At nearly five, she can't catch, throw, kick or otherwise manipulate a ball with any grace, but the kid can sure dance!
The recital was adorable. We were lucky, because even though he had to work, Casey took some time off in the middle of the day to meet us at the high school so he could see her perform. The kids danced to this song, Holidays at Home, and she was so over the moon excited because her costume was pink. Not just pink, guys. Her favorite color - pink!
The cherry on this ice cream sundae was definitely little brother's response when he spotted her on stage. It was hilarious, actually. When the curtains opened, Logan, who was standing up in Daddy's lap exclaimed, "THERE'S LEAH! I SEE HER! HI, LEAH!" in his cute little voice that echoed through the otherwise quiet auditorium. She couldn't see him, but we could clearly see her big grin and little wave while the other audience members had a chuckle.
And, naturally, I couldn't have been more proud if she'd just been elected president. In fact, I didn't make it all the way through the performance before the tears hit me. I know it sounds cheesey (like you expected anything else from me?), but I just couldn't help myself. I'm so in awe that we've made it to this point - the point where she's a real little person, who selects dance over gymnastics, who is smart and kind and brave enough to get up on a dark stage and perform in front of a crowd without hesitation. It's amazing to me!
Even seeing her name printed in the program was a WOW, I'm a mom! moment for me. It seems like just yesterday that I was picking out that name just for her! More than that, it seems just yesterday that it was me up there on stage - in a choir concert, in a band concert, a dance recital, a musical. I lived out my young life on a stage, a field and in a pool... how did I so quickly trade places with my own mother, cheering on my daughter?! I was overwhelmed with awe, pride and love. She's a keeper, that kid of mine.
Time. Holy moly, how I wish it would slow down.
They were adorable. And she was so very proud of herself. I don't blame her; that feeling was mutual.
It's July. There is a massively pregnant momma with two in the neighborhood kiddie pool. She's soaking her feet while watching the two littles play. A few people ask her when she's due or comment on how nicely her kids are playing. End scene.
Fast forward about three weeks. It's mid-August.
Now, the same children are playing in the kiddie pool. The same giant-bellied mom sits on the same edge soaking her feet and watching her children play. The absolute only thing that's different this time is that she now carries a tiny and very new baby in her arms, partially concealed behind the blanket she's using to shield said tiny baby from the sun. This time, people are remarking on the tiny baby, asking her questions about sleep, breastfeeding and adjusting. Amid the questions, she fields no less than three inquiries from wide-eyed bystanders wondering, "are ALL these yours????"
You mean the two that nobody has ever before - no, not even once - counted as "ALL THESE!" and the tiny baby I'm carrying? Why yes... all these are mine.
It's true that I've always wanted a big family. I knew that eventually we'd get the looks and comments that are surely inevitable when you see a tribe of small children. I get it, I really do. I mean, even I can appreciate that at some point it just seems like too much. But I had no idea that we would hit that point at... three.
During my pregnancy, I wasn't on the receiving end of any comments that suggested to me this was coming. Sure, the occasional person commented on me having my hands full, but that happened even when I was pregnant with Logan. Besides... it's true. Having a toddler and a new baby is a lot under any circumstances! I was conscious of the fact that, since I already have a girl and a boy, I was spared the comments about trying for a specific gender. But the fairly constant stream of commentary and insight that people have been kind enough to share has been a huge surprise to me, and required some adjustment, since adding Olivia.
On another note, it would seem that there's a general assumption about having three; that is, the only reason to have three is if you were trying for the other gender. I've run into this one a number of times when I'm out with Olivia and people find out that she's the third (it happened a TON in Hawaii, for example. Since it never happened to me when I was pregnant, I've paid attention because it surprised me). Automatically, 100% of people assume that I have two boys at home. It is really interesting; people don't ask what the other two are, they say "So do you have two boys at home?" It has been the same script in literally every instance.
Mostly, none of this bothers me. I find that most people are eager to lend support. I've been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness in the form of people who are willing to hold doors and show patience to the fact that doing anything with one adult and multiple little people naturally requires a little extra time, energy and volume.
But not everybody is so kind. There is definitely a bias that exists when my troupe of small ones comes through, and sometimes it really puts me over the edge.
For example, we recently stopped into an ice cream parlor that had three small tables and a row of high tops with spinning stools.
After purchasing our ice cream, I directed the kids to go and sit down. The parlor was empty but for an older couple who had pushed all three tables together to make one large table. As we're walking toward them, me with the baby in carrier and two kids' coats on one arm and three ice creams in the other, my two small children in my wake, the lady informed me that she was saving these seats for her family and we couldn't sit there.
Are you serious? Is this real life?
I know. She can claim the law of dibs, and she'd even be in the right. Seats at a table are equal opportunity -- I get it. But, really? I literally can't sit my kids at the high tops because they're too small, and there's not enough of me to watch them spinning precariously from four feet up and tend the baby, and that's before you factor in the ice cream. Not to mention, her party didn't even arrive until we were taking our last bites, and when they did? Ugh. It was a pack of adults accompanied by one who was roughly Leah's age. We ended up standing, which was not fun, especially because it took every ounce of my self control not to shoot her and her still empty table really dirty looks. (I've already decided that in the future, you don't get to play that game with me. Ummmm, sorry.)
I do understand that I've "gotten myself into this situation" or whatever charming colloquialism you'd like to apply, but really. It doesn't take a genius to know that the right thing to do is help a tired-looking outnumbered momma out. Having an awareness of when the needs of others are greater than your own is so obviously the right thing to do, regardless of the circumstance you're in, that it is really frustrating to me when it's not the law of the land.
So that's where we're at. I adore having three, but I was absolutely not prepared for the input I'd receive from the rest of the world, or how frequently I would have to deal with it. Like I said, mostly none of it phases me - and I certainly don't mean to complain here on my little corner of the internet. But it is both interesting to observe and an adjustment for me, one I wasn't prepared to have to adjust to.
At the end of the day, though, I wouldn't trade it for the world.