DEX 2.5

You know what is the very best part of every dessert? The middle.

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(Credit: Bianca Harrison)

Whether it is the cream filling in an Oreo, the ice cream in an ice cream sandwich….or just the gooey center of a pan of brownies, everyone knows the middle is where it’s at.

Today my “gooey center” turned two and a half years old and he really couldn’t be sweeter.

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Alright…that is actually a lie.
Dexter most certainly could be sweeter.

Have you ever heard the nursery rhyme about the little girl who had the little curl?

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Remind you of anyone?

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Dexter can throw a tantrum that makes other tantrums look like good manners. He will not hesitate to use his fists…or teeth….or fingernails…to get a point across if you don’t seem to be willing to comply with his every whim.

Of course, we would never say Dexter is “horrid.”

Fiesty.
Spirited.
Determined.
Expressive.
Physical.

These are all more socially acceptable adjectives to describe our precious son.  The truth is, this kid has been true to himself since the day he was born and toddlerhood simply fits his personality like a glove.

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Oh, but when he is sweet, this boy will steal your heart. He loves BIG and laughs BIG and embraces life with arms wide open. He runs fast and screams loud and hugs tight and always knows exactly when to flash those dimples of his, blue eyes wide with delight, to wrap you so tightly around his finger you have no idea what hit you.

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He loves his boots and his bike and his train set. He loves pizza and puppies and riding in Papa’s car. He is an awesome dancer. He is determined to never, never stop nursing. He helps me with all my chores. He loves to cook and draw. He is firmly attached to his “blue paci.”

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Although, Dexter has never struggled to express himself, his verbal language is finally beginning to emerge and I feel like I am really getting to know him. He tells jokes and stories. He repeats his favorite parts of books and television shows. He knows letters and numbers and colors which is bewildering to me since I have not put a single second into teaching them to him. He does not mind having to repeat himself constantly when we have no idea what he is saying. He is patient with us, saying things slowly and emphatically to get his point across. “Mah,” he will say with a firm nod and a smile when we finally get it right.

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They say middle children are natural diplomats. Perhaps that skill is aquired with age but I would not say it is part of our Dexter’s personality now. He doesn’t get a long very well with anyone for very long. At play dates, friends can be heard grumbling about Dexter, his older brother is genuinely afraid of him, if you hear a scream from down the hall, you can almost be sure Dexter is involved.
He will often get into moods where he just needs to throw everything he can get his hands on, and will walk around calmly picking up items and pitching them at your head. If he manages to get a hold of a pen or marker, you will be sure to find his art work all over the wall or couch. If there is a way to destroy something, Dexter will discover it. He runs away in crowded places and laughs. “That is not funny or cute.” I tell him firmly, to which he replies, ” I nunny an toot!”

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I am grateful he is our second child because had he been the first I am fairly certain I would have gone crazy worrying that we were doing something very, very wrong…but, as it is, I find myself just watching him a lot, trying to figure things out from his perspective, trying to understand what makes him tick. His personality is so different than Liam’s and I feel like I am starting motherhood again from scratch. At least, I am never bored.

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And I love him so much it takes my breath away.

2.5 years old, Dexter Keats.
You are a wonder.

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Seven

Ryan and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary this month.

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Over the years, the anniversary of our wedding day has meant different things to me. It has made me feel nostalgic and sappy. It has filled me with sadness and longing. It is just a day really, but it represents a lot.

We have celebrated in many ways over the years. More than seven ways, it feels: with a brand new baby, freshly discharged from the NICU, pregnant, with two babies and with three, in new homes and in new cities and even in no home at all. We have been living in seperate places when the day came around, flowers through the mail marked the occasion. We have gone out to dinner and out for coffee and away for the weekend. Some years, we just didn’t mention it at all and it passed by, silent and unnoticed.

We always joke that we experienced 20 years of marriage in that first year. We laugh when we say it but the truth of it stings a little bit. We stood up in front of family and friends, shivering with nerves like puppies, and made promises to one another that we didn’t understand because no one ever does. Then we went home, expecting to argue over who takes out the garbage. Instead, we found ourselves facing unimaginable trials. For a long time, we could not catch our breath.

Until suddenly, one day we could.

And in the seventh year…

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This year our anniversary started with a quick kiss stolen as a giggling toddler who may never have been rolled over our heads to slide between us in bed. It was filled with red roses and homemade peanut butter bars, tantrums and legos, piles of dirty dishes and clean laundry.

This year meant being brave- a table for five at a restaurant with no playground. It meant reminding dirty-blonde boys of their manners, spooning rice into a hungry baby’s mouth, shushing loud voices and wiping crusty hands, tipping well and remembering to just be grateful for it all.

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This year, it meant Spider-Man pajamas and bed time stories and movies on the couch while babies slept. And then it meant waiting and waiting until it was time to write out schedules on notebook paper, pack diapers and pacifiers and lovies, and send three boys to three different houses for two days of time to ourselves.

We spent those two days running errands alone, enjoying late night dinner reservations, movies and wine, brunch at a restaurant with an hour long wait list, chilly walks downtown, wandering through the aquarium, and spending time doing things that used to be meaningless but are now rare and precious and savored.

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So many things have happened this year. So many unbelievable things. We are happy. We are home.

It has been a good year. 
It has been a good year.

I bet you never saw that one coming, did you?

We know the storms will come around again… they always do, but this year, this seventh year…

Oh, it is one to remember.

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Surprising Finds

We do not have a working computer at home right now, which means that many of the pictures from our camera do not get uploaded until months after they were taken. We snag Pop’s laptop every once in a while and stash our pictures there for whenever we manage to re-enter the 21st century.

Recently, I was looking through some photographs taken this summer and found some from A Memorial Day cookout we attended at a local campground with some friends. Liam had asked to use the camera. I am always surprised by his perspective.

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Leave

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Dear Ethan,

You are leaving.

You have been coming and going for years now so I should be used to it, but for some reason this time feels different.

I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go because of the way my boys’ eyes light up when you walk in a room.

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I don’t want to tell them you are going away. I don’t want to explain why you aren’t here and why we can’t see you.

I don’t want them to have to miss you. I don’t want them to stop missing you either.

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I don’t want you to go but I am glad you are going. I am glad you are doing something exciting and new and a little bit scary. I am glad you are jumping through the puddle. (If you don’t understand that reference, please read The Chronicles of Narnia immediately- what is wrong with you?)

I am glad in a big sisterly sort of way because it was not so long ago that I was dreaming of doing things that scared me just a bit but I waited too long and sort of stumbled into “settling down.” I don’t regret my life one little bit but I do wish I had known then what I know now; it was all waiting for me at the end. I am glad you know this. I am glad you are going.

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Your leaving feels different and that makes me sappy. I am going to miss you. I am going to miss not talking to you for weeks on end and then getting a text two hours before you show up at my door. I am going to miss arguing with you about ridiculous things at family dinners. I am going to miss your stupid mustache. Except…not really that.

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Thank you for being the sort of brother and uncle that makes me wish you weren’t leaving. Thank you for sitting with me at 5 o’clock in the morning when the baby won’t sleep and for learning to endure my nursing in front of you with minimal snark. Thank you for coming to visit us on your rare days off, even when you were so tired you could hardly keep your eyes open. Thank you for reading my favorite book and loving it too. Thank you for turning up the radio in the car and making me listen to songs you love. Thank you for making us laugh. Thank you for loving my kids.

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You are the most interesting person I know, Ethan. I am excited to see where life takes you. Have adventures. Take care of your girl. Come visit soon.

Love,
Michelle

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Dear Bianca,

I love how when Ethan mentions you in conversation, he never says your name. He just says “she” and “her” and I like it because it is so definite- you are the only one he would ever be talking about.

I won’t claim to know everything about my brother but I do know this: that boy really loves you. Maybe I didn’t have to love you just because he does…but I do. My boys do. We all do. You are easy to love.

I love watching the boys throw themselves into your arms, reach for you, lean into you. They don’t remember any life before you and so you are family and stuck with us always. I don’t remember much of what it was like without you either. You just fit and it feels like you always have.

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Thank you for wanting to know us. Thank you for always being so patient with my little maniacs. Thank you for playing with them and listening to them and making them feel important. Thank you for sharing your creativity with us. Thank you for coming to visit when Ethan couldn’t, and for being willing to hang out with us when your free time was so limited.

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Thank you for loving my brother exactly as he is, even when he is being all prickly….especially then. Please take care of him, keep him in line and have so, so much fun. We are going to miss you. Come visit soon.
Love,
Michelle

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And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:
Leave.

Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.

– Donald Miller (Through Painted Deserts)

**Photo Credit: All Bianca.**

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Can>Can’t

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Credit:Bianca Harrison

The cashier at the grocery store spots Rory and starts gushing about how beautiful he is. He purses his lips and blinks his round eyes slowly at her, long lashes brushing his cheek. He looks a little bored with her compliments. He might be, he does hear them all the time. After a minute, he flashes her a grin and reaches his hand out to her in his standard royal greeting.

“Oh! He is just a doll. Will you blow me kisses, sweetheart? My grandaughter is about his age and she blows kisses all the time. Can you blow kisses?”

Rory lowers his hand, still grinning, and I kiss him on the cheek. ” Oh, no, he hasn’t learned to blow kisses,” I say cheerfully, “Have a nice day!”

An acquaintance asks to hold him at the library, bouncing him on her hip a little as she remarks on his beautiful eyes. “Is he crawling?” she asks casually.

“No, no crawling.” I reply, reaching out to touch my favorite curl on the back of his head- the one I can only see if someone else is holding him.

Rory sits in his high chair during a meal with family. He giggles and claps, pauses and then claps again. “What does that mean?” my brother asks. He knows we have taught the boys sign language to communicate before they can talk. “Nothing,” I say, “He doesn’t know any signs. He just likes to clap.”

“What words does he know?”
None.
“Have you started baby-proofing?”
No need.
“I bet he can’t wait to play with his big brothers!”
It would appear that he can.

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Credit: Bianca Harrison

All day, every day the things Rory isn’t doing are brought into focus; when I lay him down on the changing table and walk to the sink without fear of him falling, when I hand him a bottle because he was not able to continue nursing, when friends post videos of their babies flying through milestones, when strangers look startled at his age. I try to keep conversations about his “isn’ts” short and sweet, mostly for my own sake. I don’t allow myself to say “yet” as in “he doesn’t sign yet” or “he isn’t crawling yet” because I don’t want to send the message to others (but mostly to myself) that everything will be okay once he does learn these things. The truth is, I don’t know when or if he will learn these things because I have no idea why he isn’t learning them…but everything is going to be okay no matter what.

Sometimes, I start to get worried or just a little bit sad. I want to be putting the contents of the drawers back in their place, covering corners with ugly rubber pads, laughing at the silly way Rory says “dog.”   But those things are not happening. However, there is a lot that my tiny bean IS doing if you will only take a second look…

Rory is growing.

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Every time we go to the doctor I am amazed at how much he has grown because I cannot see it at all. The pounds and inches go up every time. He is long and lean but he is healthy. I am grateful for that. He eats like a champion and his heart and lungs are perfect. His vision and hearing are great. He has 8 teeth and a head full of curly hair.

Rory is learning.

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Rory did not used to be able to hold his own cup and now he can. He could not pick up or eat finger foods and now he can. He could not roll to his side to get a toy and now he can. He could not sit up on the couch or in a high chair and now he can. He could not sit in a shopping cart and now he can. He could not put weight on his legs and now he can. He did not notice his own feet or hands and now he does. He couldn’t clap and then suddenly he could. He couldn’t roll over and now he will…if he is in the mood.

In all the “cannots” we face throughout the day, it is easy to lose sight of what he is learning. He is learning at his own pace and in his own way but he is moving forward and that counts for something.

Rory brings sunshine.

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Rory is the happiest, most content baby I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. It feels like a miracle that he is mine. Being with him is an absolute delight. He is peaceful and joyful and people are drawn to him. His smile lights up the entire room and his giggle is contagious. He takes life as it comes and rarely makes things challenging. He is content to just be with you no matter what you are doing. On our adventures, he will ride in the carrier or in the stroller smiling at the world passing by, making everyone fall in love with him. When he does get upset, you want to do everything in your power to make it right. Taking care of him never, ever feels like work.

Rory loves us.

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Credit: Bianca Harrison

If you could see the look of pure joy on our little boy’s face when he sees his Papa at the end of the day or any time his brothers walk into the room, there would be no doubt in your mind that he loves them. He wants to be with us always and makes his displeasure known  if that doesn’t happen. When we are trying to convince him to try something new, his biggest motivation is being on the floor with his big brothers. He loves to snuggle. He endures all the kisses. When he is being loved on, he wiggles with delight.

Rory communicates.

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Credit:Bianca Harrison

Rory cries when he is sad or frustrated. He screams when he is angry. He fusses when he is bored. He squeals and laughs when he is happy. He kicks his legs and bobs his head when he is excited. He reaches for food when he is hungry. He clings to you when he is scared. He dances when there is music. He locks eyes on you when you talk to him. He engages with the world around him in the ways that he knows how. The words and signs may come later but I am grateful he has learned to communicate his needs in the meantime.

Rory gets into mischief.

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You will never appreciate toddler mischief more than if it takes your child 15 months to get into any. When I hear Liam yell, “Rory! Don’t grab my book!” or Dexter cry, “No, Wowee!” I cannot help but smile. As I scrub blackberry chai pudding from the walls and floor and the back of Rory’s knees, I do it cheerfully because he insisted on feeding himself. When I find the book I left sitting next to him chewed and soggy, I don’t mind one little bit. When he cries out in the middle of the night because he has managed to wedge himself into a ridiculous position, I am thrilled. Getting into trouble is a sweet, sweet reminder that my little boy is getting there. I don’t really know where “there” is but it is the “getting” that makes me smile.  

Raising Rory is teaching more than I ever expected to learn from my third round of motherhood. I have a hard time accepting things that do not go the way I expect… which is actually pretty ridiculous when you examine my entire existence to be honest. But Rory is finally breaking through my controlling tendencies and teaching me to be content with the way things are. It isn’t easy. Sometimes, I want to throw a tantrum about it. Sometimes, I sit with Rory in my lap and try to talk him into to doing the things now so this can all just become a silly story in the end: “Oh, remember how long it took Rory to do the things? I am so glad that turned out to be nothing.” But sometimes, like now…. I am just grateful to have been chosen to help this unique, beautiful person grow into whoever it is he is meant to be.

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Happy Christmas

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The other night, I was feeling pretty sad.

Christmas with multiple small children is this strange blend of magic and madness.I love sharing the season with them,  but we have missed out on a lot of fun because someone needed a nap or someone was in a bad mood or someone was covered in snot.

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Liam and Dexter have hit the phase of their relationship that includes being constantly at odds with each other. The never-ending fighting and screaming leaves me raw and steals my Christmas spirit. Money is tight this time of year, as it always is. We have been sick a lot.  And also, I wanted a Christmas puppy and it just didn’t happen.

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Our neighborhood was having an afternoon of hot chocolate and caroling and it sounded wonderful, but we had to back out at the last minute because the boys were a mess. I think that is what finally did me in and I was pretty mopey. 

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Ryan put our cranky boys to bed early, we warmed up some mulled wine and popped Home Alone in the DVD player. The tree was twinkling and we ate leftovers from our holiday potluck the night before. It was cozy and it was just what I needed.

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Slowly, I started to notice how the Christmas lights were dancing on our buttery walls and ceiling and it was so pretty I remembered to feel thankful for our cozy, little house and our cozy, little neighborhood. We may not have been able to participate this year, but we live in a neighborhood that goes caroling together at Christmas and I find that pretty spectacular. And the magic of our house- how everything just fell into place- how people blessed us in unimaginable ways-how it meets all of our needs and more- has not worn off and maybe never will.

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And even though we didn’t get to go caroling, in the end I was pretty happy to be curled up on the couch beside the man I love. He did all he could to cheer up his pouting wife and he works hard to provide this lovely house and this lovely life for his family. I remembered holidays past, when things were harder. There were even a few that I thought may be our last as a family. I try never to take our wholeness for granted. There is a special magic in a quiet night at home, stealing a few happy minutes with your spouse before one of the three grubby boys drooling onto their pillows inevitably stumbles into the room crying over a nightmare or for a drink of water so that you must pause your movie and pick them up, sweaty heads on your shoulders, to put them back into bed. I think it is a quiet sort of magic that you only notice when you have come very close to not having it at all.

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Snacking on leftovers from the party we had reminded me of our house full of friends and laughter the night before; the table filled up with delicious food and the kids running around our legs giggling and the shouting as card games got heated. It made me remember how lucky we are to have such a community….except it isn’t really luck at all because we have worked hard to build this and every time I see their faces I am reminded again of how worth it it is to invest in people.

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And then I thought about how we had to forgo certain things this month because money is tight and I realized that even that is a blessing in itself. We had a closet stuffed full of gifts for the people we love, which we bought without spending more than we should. It may mean a few items are a bit more modest than our wildest dreams but they were each picked with thought and love. We have everything we need and more and that is not something we could always say.

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I could not really find a silver lining about the puppy, except maybe that without it I won’t have to endure my mother’s disapproving looks. (Love you, Mom!)  But by the end of the evening I was feeling much better.

After that, things just seemed to get better and better. Someone blessed us in line at Target, buying all of the boys stocking items for us. The impact of such a simple act of kindness has been astronomical. I have not stopped thinking of it since. The night before Christmas Eve, we drove around and looked at lights, just the way I used and it was magic.

On the way to Mamaw’s house on Christmas Eve, Liam said, “Oh! I can’t wait for the wrapping paper fight! It is my favorite!” and it made me so happy that my boys have all this family and all these traditions to grow up with. It is everything I ever hoped for them.

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My parents and I stayed up until 2 in the morning, readying the house for Christmas morning. I loved having them with us in the morning. I can’t imagine Christmas day without them. They were the two people who made all my Christmases special and now, because I am spoiled, they are here to make my children’s Christmas special too. And did they ever! I loved watching the boys opening presents and listening to them  squeal. I loved Christmas brunch and our afternoon Christmas movie and even cleaning up all the Christmas at night so that we can do it all again tomorrow.

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It truly was a very happy Christmas. Life will never stop leaving me surprised and bewildered.

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Pirate Princess Ninja Party

I am a little bit late in documenting Liam’s birthday party this year, but late is better than never, which is what happened last year.

Baby steps, people.

This year Liam had a combined birthday party at a local gymnastics center with several of his friends. It was a Pirate, Princess and Ninja party and it was both super fun and super easy!

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Liam was a ninja of course. Grams got him this awesome costume and he was very excited.  Dexter went dressed as a prince and Rory was our little pirate.

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Everyone brought a few decorations, we all pitched in for snacks, and we asked our guests to bring a donation for the humane society rather than gifts. The kids had a blast!

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Playing in the gym was the very best part!

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After playing, everyone sat down for pizza and cupcakes.

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After cupcakes, everyone had a little bit longer to play before headed home with lots of Pirate, Princess and Ninja goodies. It was a great party.

Then we all headed home for a dinner and present celebration with our family.

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It was a really simply celebration but I think our little ninja had a pretty fantastic day!

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Happy Birthday, Liam Eliot!

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