Winter Adventuring

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
J.B. Priestley

0226150825Snow in the South is basically magic. I know it isn’t widely regarded as such everywhere but I have never lived in a place where it happened frequently enough to become a nuisance. Around here, it just makes everything better. It makes everyone feel happy. We all slow down for a day or two. We go on walks and build snowmen and make hot chocolate. We wake our children up at midnight, bundle them up in mismatched clothing and take them outside to catch snowflakes on their tongues and go sledding by moonlight, just in case it has melted by morning. We mingle in coffee shops or in line at the movies and chat about the last time it snowed and the time before that and the time before that and, of course, about the Blizzard of ’93.

So, yeah… snow is magic.

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On Wednesday morning, I took the boys to learn about how maple syrup was made. Please do not let the smiles on those faces fool you– we had a terrible time.  It was bitterly cold and as soon as Liam understood the basic process and had gotten his taste of the sweet stuff, he was bored. We lasted an hour before everyone was crying and I was feeling very silly for attempting a farm day with 3 children in freezing weather. So, we left without even riding horses and made it home before the snow. We then spent the afternoon thawing out and watching the world turn white through the window.

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When Papa came home, the big boys and I bundled up and went for a snow walk.  We found out some friends live just down the street and Liam had a great time sledding down their driveway. Dexter toddled around, looking rather ridiculous in his 27 layers of clothing, but he did not seem to mind…except when he fell and could not get back up.

0225151904aOne evening of snow fun was great. It was such a treat to wake up the next morning to a second day of our Winter Wonderland.

PicMonkey CollageWe decided to go on a snow adventure. It was a lot of fun.

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PicMonkey Collage- Walk0226151016cWe walked about a mile and a half to a nearby restaurant, stopping to climb trees, have snowball fights and watch the firefighters build a fort along the way. We even stopped at the little library so Liam and Dexter could pick out a book.

PicMonkey Collage-booksWe enjoyed a delicious breakfast and warmed up before making the trek back home… to build a snowman!

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0226151353a~2By that point, the snow was getting a little slushy… so after Liam had thoroughly explored the backyard and built a snow mountain, we headed inside and continued our snow day with yummy snow cream.
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Finally, Liam rounded out the day by conducting some snow experiments in the bath tub. He lasted about 3 minutes before racing away, shivering but it was a brave attempt!

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Finally, our snow day was done. The boys took a warm bath and got into the snug pajamas. By the next morning, aside from a few icy snow piles, it was almost as if it never even happened.

But…even if it was a dream…. boy, was it fun.

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A House is a House for Me

Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

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We found a home.

The story of how it all came to be is strange and wonderful and so it fits right in with all of our other stories.

We had been wanting to move back to Chattanooga since we discovered Rory would be joining our family… or maybe since the first night we all slept in Nashville– one of the two. Ryan had been looking for a job with little luck, so, in my typical whirlwind fashion, I sat down one evening and sent him the links to at least 50 job openings I found on various websites. The next day he looked at them, probably rolled his eyes at me a little, and then chose one to apply to because that was all he had time for.

It turned out to be perfectly timed and he was offered the position the following week. The job itself and the company Ryan is working for are pretty incredible. He is happy. What makes us even happier is that it brought us home. We are back in Chattanooga.  

Chattanooga and the Haddocks have quite the sordid love affair. But after 2 years apart, we have chosen to reconcile and much like rediscovered lovers, we are feeling mighty twitterpatted with our little city. We are rediscovering all we have loved about it, and choosing to put the things we don’t love as much behind us. We have learned first hand that the grass is never greener… or if it is, it is way too expensive to keep it that way.

Our move down here was intense.  Ryan had to start work long before we were ready to uproot our family. I was pregnant, Liam was heavily involved in homeschooling activities; it was not the right time. We decided Ryan would commute for awhile, stay with family during the week and come home on the weekends. He would find us a place to live, make arrangements and once Liam’s schooling activities had wrapped up, and the baby had come, and our lease was up and we were ready to calmly transition, we would join him in Chattanooga. That well thought out plan lasted exactly a week and a half before Rory made his appearance and we had to go with Plan B– pack a bag and leave. 

Ryan’s parents, with more grace than I ever could have mustered, shared their home with us for 3 months. I am so grateful for them. While I know it was hard on them to have their space overtaken by all the junk, changes in routine and sleepless nights that go along with a family like ours, and they had to witness our very clumsy transition to life with 3 children, they never made us feel like a burden. And having their support for the first 3 months of Rory’s life made a huge difference. We are very, very lucky.

We searched constantly for a place to live.  We bounced back and forth between renting and buying. We felt defeated as we realized that, with our two new additions and need for more space, our family had been priced out of our favorite parts of town. Ryan kept saying he knew we would find something great but I wasn’t so sure. When we finally decided buying was our best option, Ryan wanted to stay well below our pre-approved loan amount to give us more wiggle room in our budget. It made sense but I kept feeling discouraged by what I could find in the price range he gave me…so, one day, I went rebel and put in a search for a higher amount. Immediately, I saw several houses that I loved… and I showed them to Ryan.

After showing him one beautiful red house, totally remodeled inside and out, in a part of town we loved, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, that seemed perfect for our family, he noticed the price– a price $20k higher than our budget. I got The Look. I admit that I deserved The Look but I pouted anyway. “Well, it could come down!” I said.  He nodded skeptically, ” If it comes down, we will go look at it.” I tagged the picture so I would receive updates on it.

Just a few days later, my phone pinged. The red house had dropped in price…by $20,000. The owner needed to sell. The porch needed some work. The price was reduced to exactly what we needed it to be.  A few minutes later, my phone pinged again. A message from Ryan that said he had seen a house and he thought it was great. It was the same house. He did not even recognize it because when he had seen the price tag before he had dismissed it as a possibility.

Later that week, we set up showings for several houses. The minute we walked into the red house, we knew it was the one.  Even then though, I never expected it to become ours. It is just too beautiful. It is just too perfect in every, single way.

But… it is ours. Thanks to the hard work of a lot of people, generosity we will never be able to express our gratitude for enough, and a healthy dose of miracle, we closed on it on January 7th, just a few days before Ryan and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary.  We could not have asked for a better present.

So, here is a little home tour for you. We have, of course, filled it with our things since this video was taken. We have already cuddled by the electric fire, had pizza and movie night, invited friends over for dinner, taken bubble baths, broken blinds… and we are so excited for all the memories that will continue to be created here over the years…and year… and YEARS… and YEAAAAAARS that we plan to stay.

So, ya’ll come visit, ya hear?

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Hidden Truth

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Being a mother is all I can ever remember truly wanting to be. It is the one thing that comes naturally to me. I am, in general, pretty talentless, but I have always been a nurturer and I have embraced that; caring for countless children over the years, until my own precious boys came along and stole my heart. This is my niche.

In spite of all of that, I have a confession to make:
I have never felt the way about mothering as I am feeling right now.

I am bone-dry.

My poor, neglected blog. A week does not go by that I would not like to sit down and write something, or think something, really… but I am currently caught in an endless loop of caring for tiny humans.  I love those tiny humans with every inch of my messy heart but they are always touching me, covering me with bodily fluids, screaming at me for not being capable of splitting myself into three separate but equal parts capable of satisfying their every whim without delay.

Today, I managed to time Liam’s screen time with Dexter’s nap time and Rory is laying mostly content in my lap. This is as close to a peaceful moment as we get these days- a television blaring, hypnotizing The Tornado, my ear tuned in, waiting for The Screecher to arise, and the intermittent fussing of The Infant, who does not particularly care for sharing his rare Mama-time with a computer. Generally, I spend these moment nursing a cup of coffee, mindlessly staring into space, making lists in my head of all the things that need to get done and probably won’t, or at my phone, scrolling through Facebook, looking for something to read that I have half a chance of finishing in one sitting. Gosh…. I miss reading. 

But today, I decided to write. Pardon the word-vomit.

One morning, a few weeks after Rory made it home from the NICU, I got just stir-crazy enough to attempt an outing with all 3 boys. I had loaded them up in the car before and planted ourselves at a friend’s house for the day, but had never attempted to take them all into public alone.  I was nervous- not, first-date-butterfly-giggly nervous…more like walking-into-the-exam-room-after-questionable-test results nervous. I wanted to vomit…but I am not a homebody and I had reached my limit. We had to get out. It was worth puking for.

For our first outing, I decided to go to my favorite coffee shop. I remembered it being pretty quiet during the day. The food is amazing. They have board games. It would be good. 

….Apparently, it has grown in popularity during our time in Nashville. I launched myself into a hipster 20-something lunch crowd- into a sea of beards and black-rimmed glasses attached to very low opinions of people like me, “breeders,” if you will. But, you know… I have a nose ring and tattoos! I am cool! My kids are wearing Toms and fox beanies and WE CLOTH DIAPER so… my environmental footprint is totally “fetch.”… or whatever word the youngins are using these days. We could pass, right?

We piled into a corner. I silently begged for Rory to stay asleep in his car seat and he did for the first ten minutes or so.  Liam- or, I mean, Peter Parker- was busy showing every person who glanced in his  general direction how he could bust open his snapped shirt to show off his costume, and giving them the entire Spiderman back story in one breath. Secret identity be damned. I steered him toward the board games and he picked “Battle of the Sexes” or something else entirely inappropriate. I gave him the thumbs up. He can’t read. Dexter was running off in various directions to throw things off shelves while I frantically searched for a high chair.  I pulled a disintegrating coffee label from his mouth, scooped him up and hurriedly ordered coffee, hummus, sandwiches, coffee, random baked goods, coffee– did I mention coffee?– before strapping him in the food-encrusted high chair without even a vague baby wipe wash down. Building immunity, Middle Child! Rory, being the angel he is, waited until I had the other two scarfing down chocolate chip cookies while waiting for their actual food to remind me he existed and needed things. So, I pulled him out of the car seat and nursed him while standing so I could catch various falling food, fetch water, and hide the nursing from Dexter, who turns into a wild animal if he catches wind of a nursing session that does not include him. It did not work, so we then all piled onto the couch and educated the entire restaurant on the benefits and joys of tandem nursing.

In the end, we finished our meals, I slung Dex on my back in a wrap, bundled Rory back into the car seat and ushered a still chattering Liam toward the door. We made it in one piece but I was trying to decide what the heck I was thinking when the cute, skinny-jean clad barista caught my eye and called out, “You are my hero!”  I laughed and thanked her…but immediately my brain said, “Why?! Because I haven’t figured out proper birth control and I am just crazy enough to land my brood in the middle of your restaurant?! Your standards for heroism are startlingly low!” 

In that moment, I vowed to never leave the house again.

This morning, Liam asked me to play with him and I said no. I actually said something about needing to sweep the avalanche of crackers crumbs off the floor from breakfast and nurse the baby first, but it meant the same thing.  He knew it and I knew it and no matter how many times I have had to say it in the last year and a half since the onslaught of brothers showed up in his world, it doesn’t get any easier.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelming sadness about this and other times I don’t feel guilty at all. I just feel annoyed. After a day of being a human playground, circus performer, conversation-buddy, All You Can Eat buffet and personal chef/maid/chauffeur/educator/nurse, I am just over it. Sometimes, I point in the general direction of “away” and say firmly, “Please. Go. Play.”

What this means in reality is… “Please…just go away and leave me alone for 5 minutes. Please. Stop calling my name. Stop wanting. Stop needing. Stop requesting the most ridiculous things and forcing me to shoot you down because no, you cannot get on the roof and no, you cannot eat 12 cookies for lunch and no, you cannot feed your baby brother marbles and…just no. Please. Stop touching me. I am not a trampoline or a jungle gym.  Your elbows are bony and they are always rammed into the most tender of places. I am tired of being choked and stepped on and yanked. Please. Please. Stop fighting with me. Stop being mean. Stop yelling at me because I handed you the wrong shoes or could not remember the words to the song you made up 3 weeks ago. Please. Stop asking me to look at you. I have watched you jump off the steps 327 times. I have cheered enthusiastically 327 times. It was boring 326 times ago and I am done. Please stop treating me like a criminal for walking into another room. Please. Give me a minute to just be.  To just think. To just remember that I am an actual person outside of your existence.”

And that is only one of them.
Where I used to find silliness in these moments, I find mostly defeat. I can still laugh at the absurdity. I can tell myself it is normal and fleeting and to stop being such a big baby…. but….

I am really bone-dry.

I have all the normal reasons for being exhausted.  Liam has recently dropped his nap, and the other two never nap simultaneously, meaning that the break I could count on during the day to restore my own balance is gone. From the moment my eyes open before the sun to face whichever boy has the day’s first request (usually Rory, usually milk) until the moment their eyes close at night, and the last request has been answered (usually Rory, usually milk), there are 4 other humans who will need something from me. On a good day, it is consecutive, one right after the other after the other after the other, and on a bad day, you will find various combinations of 2+ crying… and me, deliberately focusing on not being one of them.

On top of it, moving several times and having a Mama and Papa frequently distracted and depleted have taken Liam’s high-strung personality and dialed things up several notches. He hates transition and is a bit insecure, he is destructive and emotional, he has way too much energy. He is also 5. Dexter also has an intense personality. He is not an easy baby. A beautiful, charming, darling baby…but not an easy one. He has a temper and he loves his Mama, which is something I adore, but also leaves me feeling wrung-out at the end of the day. And sweet Rory is just doing his very best. He actually IS an easy baby. Something I did not even know actually existed! But he came from the land of the unicorns and flying pigs to join us here and he is just the sweetest thing. Unfortunately, being an easy baby does not mean a darn thing when you are the third.

The truth is though…none of it is their fault at all.

I have not taken care of myself. I do not mean that in a fleeting “I let myself go” sort of way. Fundamentally, at my core, I never learned to take care of myself. I never learned to set healthy boundaries with the people I love. I never learned to hold other people accountable. I never learned to make myself a priority without feeling guilty and selfish.  I never learned to ask for what I needed and then actually accept the help when it comes. I never even learned to identify what it is I need, for that matter. I just keep stumbling along, thinking if I can just get this in order, I will be able to breathe again… and feeling disappointed when it just isn’t true.

You can get away with not learning this as a teenager and as a young adult. You can manage as a newlywed, or part of a married couple. You can even skate by as the mother of one or two children…. and maybe a stronger woman manages it with more. But I have hit a wall now, as the mother of 3 small boys- the mother of 2 under 2- the mother of emotionally intense children- and I have realized….I am falling apart. I have been struggling with anxiety. Dark circles have taken up permanent residence under my eyes. My patience is thin. My health is suffering. And I wonder…what am I teaching these boys that I love so dearly about the role a woman plays in a family- in her own life?

So, this year, among the bodily fluids and sleepless nights, I have a lesson I need to learn. It is not great timing at all… but that is what happens when you put something off, isn’t it?  I have really very little idea how this will play out. But it has to be done.

I am going to leave the house with my small army of tiny men… often. I am going to go to coffee-shops and concerts and ignore the sideways glaces from the people way cooler than me. I am going to find a pair of jeans that doesn’t make me look 40.  I am going to find time to write.. and occasionally brush my hair. I am going to get a dog and play in the dirt. I am going to go on trips and on dates. I am going to say good-bye to unhealthy relationships.  I am going to find a balance this year… where this endless loop of caring for tiny humans is the joyful dance that it once was.

Wish me luck.

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February 6, 2015 · 2:43 pm

Happy Christmas

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
Charles Dickens

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Rory Emerson

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Dear Rory,
Just when I think there is nothing left that could possibly surprise me, Life throws us you.

When we saw those two little pink lines, your Papa and I sat around in a sort of stunned stupor for 2 full days. We just couldn’t believe it

“Just don’t get too attached,” I said to your Papa. I did not see how you could possibly exist and I wanted to brace myself against any heartbreak. But, several weeks later, I walked into a doctor’s office and saw your heart beating, strong and perfect. You were determined.

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It took forever to get things worked out and find a doctor and by the time I saw you on that screen again, you were viable.  I just stared at the miracle of you. There had been  no time to rub my belly and daydream the way I did with your brothers. The most thought I had given you a day was the 5 seconds it took to wash down a prenatal vitamin in the morning and to scold you a bit when you jabbed me in the ribs with your tiny, dangerous feet. But you had been there, all along, growing into a perfect little person in spite of my thoughtlessness. You were determined. 

And then…one day all too soon…they told me they were taking you. They rushed us to the hospital by ambulance and within 15 minutes had things ready to snatch you from me.

I am not going to lie, sweet pea: I totally lost it.  No one would listen to me. Everything was noise and chaos and pain.  I have never felt panic the way I felt it in that moment and I hope I will never feel it again. It was consuming. And ugly. And even now, I cannot name anything I want to remember about the day of your birth… except this:

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Through it all, I could hear your heart beating on the monitor, strong and steady. I kept my eyes closed and just listened to your heart. As I sat on the operating table, the nurse said I should open my eyes and try to take everything in and I told her there was nothing at all I wanted to see. It was true, too. I am glad I don’t know what the ceiling looked like as it rolled by, or how the needle looked going into my arm, or the expressions on everyone’s faces when I begged them to please, please, please stop. I am glad I kept my eyes shut tight.  And I hope that one day the beautiful sound of your beautiful  heart followed by your beautiful cry  is the only thing left in my mind at all about that horrible day.

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They did not let me go see you. It took 5 days for me to be released and 10 days for you to join us. Those days seemed endless.

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PicMonkey Collage[Photos by Liam]

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But every day, they told us how strong you were and how well you were doing. We never once got a bad report. Your heart stayed steady. You learned to breathe. You learned to eat. You figured it all out and you grew and grew. You, Rory Emerson, are determined. 

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Now, you are home with us and life is a total mess. I did not get to plan a nursery or fold your tiny clothes and place them carefully in your drawers. It is not at all what I wanted for you- for any of you. We are all just sort of existing and we move you from place to place while you sleep and eat and continue to grow.

As much as I hate it, I think you will probably be just fine.

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If there is one positive thing I can take away from this experience (aside from you, of course)… it is how amazing people really are.

I have never felt more taken care of than I have since your birth. Nana took off work and stayed with us through everything, cooking and cleaning and shopping, playing with your brothers and keeping me company.  Papa’s brand new company let him stay with us even though he had only been working for a week and they sent us beautiful flowers. Ms. Rachael picked your brothers up from the hospital, no questions asked, invited them over play, fed them and helped with responsibilities. Grams and Gramps let us use their car. Friends brought us delicious food, special treats; they sent tiny, adorable clothes for you to wear and beautiful cards. Our family even helped us pull together a birthday party for your brother in the middle of it all and now they are letting us stay with them while we figure out the rest. And people called and told us they were there if we needed them and told us how beautiful you were and every single thing meant so very much to us.

I never, ever dreamed we would be so lucky to have such an amazing village to support us when things got tangled. Every minute of every day since you were born I have felt grateful and blessed and completely humbled. And that is worth something. It is worth a whole lot. 

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I stare at you a lot, still in a stunned stupor.  Who are you? Where did you come from? Why did you choose us? I can’t figure it out. I don’t even have a guess.  You are a complete mystery to me.

What I do know though is that, for whatever reason, you are meant to be here, little boy… and…

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…you are very, very loved.

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Once I Caught a Fish Alive

The real menace in dealing with a five-year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five-year-old. Joan Kerr

” You shouldn’t play with guns!” he declared this morning, “Guns are dangerous and you could really hurt someone with them.”

“Very true, ” I replied.

“….Mama, what if I shot you?”

“Well, that would be pretty sad,” I answered, doing my best to not sound totally creeped out, something I have gotten quite good at over the last year.

He fell silent for a moment, cutting his eyes to the side, the way he does when he is thinking.
“Yeah… it would be… because then there would be three boys around here without a mother. And you really need a mother!”

“Why exactly do you need a mother?” I asked, laughing.

He answered without missing a beat, “To bring you milk! And to cuddle. Sometimes, I need a cuddle and Papa doesn’t really like cuddles. But you do. So, I won’t shoot you, Mama. You’re welcome.”

Oh, this boy. November Pic December Pic January Pic February Pic March 037 April Pic May 073 July Pic July 010 September 068 September 204 kisses for bro Five years old feels really, really old. Do you know what my newly minted 5 year old is doing right now? Right this very second? He is sleeping… at a friend’s house… without me.  He is having a genuine, sleepover.  Because he is old.

This year has gone by so fast my head is spinning.  Another move. Another brother. Life is changing. The chaos never ends.  I am so not ready for any of it…but Liam takes it all in stride. He never seems to mind much when things do not go according to plan. As long as he can bring along a couple of action figures.

This kid is smart and quick-witted really quotable. He is mischievous and easily distracted and slightly annoying.  He is crazy about wild animals, human anatomy and computer games. He is an awesome big brother. He asks tons of questions and is genuinely interested in the answers. He has more energy than we know what to do with.  He is always surprising me…. and I do not see that stopping any time soon.

Happy 5th Birthday, Liam Eliot.
I love you more than bacon.

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Brothers Three

Every son quotes his father, in words and in deeds.
Terri Guillemets

Growing up, when I pictured the family I would go on to have, I never, ever pictured myself surrounded by men.

When I really stop to think about this, I am not sure why. Girls have always been scarce in my life. But, for whatever reason, I just always knew I would have a daughter.

Until I was 8, our closest family friends had a set of 3 boys. I specifically remember wondering how their mama could stand not having a girl around the house.  I loved those boys with all my heart (and was pretty convinced I had to pick one to marry) but they also made me cry a lot.  I have this really specific memory of the middle son hop-skipping down the hallway after his older brother.  His leg was in a cast, having been broken in some trampoline accident or other high-energy antic, but it was only slowing him down a tad as he was intent on killing his older brother over some quarrel they were having.  I ran away as they landed in a dog-pile on the floor, yelling and shoving,  absolutely sure blood was about to be spilled.  It was too much for my sensitive heart to handle. Their mama must be scared all the time, I thought… and also lonely.

Me and those boys(Those boys and Me– 1991)

When Ryan and I got married, I teased that he was contractually obligated to provide me with a daughter. I was only half-joking.  When we discovered our first-born would be a boy, I reminded him of his obligation and when we discovered another boy would be joining our family 3 years later (even though I had genuinely hoped Dexter would be a boy) … I simply gave him a knowing look. He knew what it meant.

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Now, we are unexpectedly expecting yet again and we have been informed that more snips and snails will be entering our lives.

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The truth is, it is exciting! At the same time, however, it  is suddenly dawning on me, as I find myself waddling through life once more, that it may take more pregnancies than I am willing to endure to add a daughter to our family. For the first time, I am entertaining the idea that I may, in fact, be a mother of sons.  Even stranger for me is that I am also entertaining the fact that this may end up being our last baby entirely. I want a large family and so that never seemed an option before, but I also want to be the best mama I can be to the children I have and, for practical reasons, that may mean stopping before I am ready.

I have been asked how I feel about another boy and I always give a pretty generic answer. “Oh, it would have been fun to have a girl to dress up, but boys are so awesome!” However, as I really attempt to process my feelings, only one word genuinely seems to describe my true feelings on the matter: bittersweet.

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There is a part of me that is always very aware that every day my children are moving away from me. My job as a mother is to hold them close- nurture and love them- while simultaneously easing them toward the day they will be pushed from the nest and told to fly on their own. While I think this is a universal truth for mothers of both boys and girls… there is just something so final to me about that inevitable separation when raising my sons. I am teaching them not to need me.

A son is a son till he takes him a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life.
Or so they say.

Being the mother of a son means preparing my child to belong to another. Being the mother of a son means perfectly the art of letting go.This has never been a strong quality of mine and so I have a lot to learn.

Please know that I am not making any assumptions about what it is or is not like to raise a daughter; I am, in fact, simply acknowledging that I may never know what it means. I only know what I know about these boys of mine.

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It is sometimes hard for me to watch my boys’ eyes light up as they watch their Papa. They soak up everything he does like a sponge. They want to be just like him.

Liam will often run into the room to show me the outfit he has chosen to look “just like Papa.” He asks me when he will be big enough to go work at the office where his Papa is. “That is what my Papa says,”  he declares a million times a day, to anyone who will listen.

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When Ryan walks in the door at the end of the day, Dexter face explodes in happiness and devotion. He crawls as fast as he can to his Papa’s feet, sits up on his knees and reaches his hands in the air to be picked up by his big, strong Papa.

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And, I know enough by now to know, this third little one will be just the same.

It is beautiful and I love it, of course…but it can also sting. There is no little one to want to be just like me, no one trailing me all day or begging me to play the games I remember from my own childhood.

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It is disappointing to accept that I may never buy a dress for my little girl or help to plan a wedding. I might never get into a screaming match with my daughter or listen to her gush about a new boyfriend. I might never share make-up tips…and have them ignored, or create fairy-princess tea parties, or have mama/daughter dates. I can admit this.

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I think that to be completely honest with myself, I have to admit this.  If I do not have a daughter, there is a lot I may miss out on… and that if I do, I will feel that loss.

But… of course, there is a but…

There is also something so incredibly beautiful about being the mother of a little boy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade these boys of mine for the entire world.

As a woman, men are really quite a mystery to me. Yet, here I am, privileged to witness the tender beginnings of three of them. I rock Dexter to sleep and his little body melts into a puddle against my chest. I hold Liam as he cries over a skinned knee.  They throw themselves into my arms with reckless abandon. They open-mouth kiss me right on the lips. They lose themselves in laughter. They scream in fright. They dissolve in tears. There are not many other women in these boys’ lives that will witness these moments of vulnerability as I have. And I will always be the first.

I am the first girl that will ever love these boys.

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And, oh, how I love them! (Shut up… you knew it was coming.)

They are so sweet and curious and full of adventure.  We are always fighting bad guys, digging for insects, and going to the moon. Liam knows endless interesting facts about almost any living creature. Dexter has taught me that anything is edible if you only put your mind to it. They never, ever stop exploring. They smell like sweat and earth and somehow the two mix into what has to be the most amazing smell on the planet. They test my patience and challenge me daily…but they are endlessly forgiving of all my short-comings. My life is so full of laughter and joy and fun and it all bubbles directly from their little hearts. They love me completely. I am the luckiest.

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I feel so much responsibility to protect their hearts, these tiny men of mine.  I want to shield them from a world. I want to preserve their tender spirits. I don’t want them to be “toughened up” or have anyone tell them not to cry or squeal in delight. It breaks my heart… but I also know that in some ways, in spite of my best efforts, it is inevitable. One day, my soft-hearted boys will probably bite their lips and hold back the tears, so even as I do my best to protect them, to teach them to be true to themselves… I also wipe those tears that stream down their faces so easily now with purpose, knowing that one day, I may never do it again. I listen intently to every giggle, savor every freely given, slobbery kiss on the mouth. I hold them in my laps while I can, folding their legs and arms up in mine, trying my best to remember what their little hearts feel like beating against me.

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They change so completely, don’t they? Their voices crack and deepen, their arms and legs grow long and their jaw gets wide. They will tower over me one day.  When I look at baby pictures of the men in my life, I can barely see the resemblance and so I am careful to soak in all of who my little boys are at every moment; everything from their button noses and chipmunk voices to their tender, exposed emotions and open expressions of affections.

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We don’t get to keep them.
And it is all very precious because it is all very fleeting.

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As I feel this new little life inside of me flutter around, I am happy… and also a little bit sad.  He is going to be the perfect addition to our family, but perhaps the final one.

My children really are my greatest teachers. I am learning that even when things do not turn out the way that they expect, they might still be pretty great. I am learning to expand my vision for my life and even the definition of “daughter.” Perhaps I will never give birth to a little girl…but that relationship may be filled in other ways. And in the meantime… I have a lot to be thankful for.

I have also learned over the last few years that a  mother to boys honestly does not have any time to feel sad or lonely. She is way too busy making mud pies, fighting dragons and flying to save the day. Yes, perhaps she is a little bit frightened from time to time…but honestly, aren’t we all?

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