Before and after this, there are accomplishments. Awards. Degrees. Tests passed. Jobs offered. Promotions given. Papers published. Goals reached. Mine for the taking, and keeping.
But in this strange, sweet stretch of my life there is no credit for my work. There is no public praise. My efforts are sometimes rewarded with hugs from tiny arms. "I love you"s spoken in sweet baby breath. The laughter of little boys. But these treasures are gone like a mist the instant they appear. Poof. No proof. I cannot hold on. Hard as I try, I cannot pile them up and keep them.
Every day I write an epic story in disappearing ink. Holding. Feeding. Cleaning, diapering and dressing. Encouraging. Drying tears. Instructing. Teaching. Prodding. Planning. Thinking ahead. Anticipating their needs. Teaching them to anticipate their needs. Reading. Pretending. Imagining. Comforting. And feeding and washing and dressing again. When I do my job well, all that's left at the end of the day is two little boys clean, fed, and tucked safely into bed. The work, and their growth, is unseen by everyone but the Lord. It all falls away. The only thing that remains is them and their precious hearts. And the next day we begin again.
To the casual (ignorant) observer I am losing years, and one day will have nothing to show for this time I spent at home "just raising kids". True, there will be a yawning gap in my resume and a noticeable lag in my professional skills. I worry that playing in the yard or cuddling on the couch, or reading the same book for the fiftieth time is not the best use of my time. And by selfish standards it probably isn't. But I believe it's the best use of their time and that soothes my pride and calms my worries. For the first time in my life I work purely for the good of someone besides myself. Only the Lord is here to witness my work. But He will hold on to them. He will keep them. This is no accomplishment. This is the care of souls.
I can't believe it's been three months since my last post about the boys! In some ways they have changed so much in that time, but a lot of that change is sort of intangible. Let's see if I can put some of that into words....
They've become more like peers in the last few months. Each one wants the other as soon as he wakes up. Sometimes they play so well together and can't stop laughing with each other (usually over something naughty like Sam picking his nose or somebody acting up during a prayer). Of course, they've also started bickering quite a bit too, and sometimes I have to separate them or command them to ignore each other - didn't expect to arrive at this stage so quickly.
Michael continues to grow up before our eyes. He becomes more confident all the time, easily navigating social situations that would have sent him running for our arms just six months ago. He used to shy away from attempting new things in school for fear that he wouldn't get it right on the first try. He still struggles with this from time to time, but a little encouragement and the successes he's had over the last several months have done wonders for him. He loves to write, read (sounds out many words on his own), loves to count and do his preschool math workbook, and he's really proud of his hard work when he's finished. It makes us so happy to see that seed taking root in him. He has a couple of good buddies at church, and it's so precious to see them hugging and talking and playing. He also notices the girls and occasionally talks about which one he will marry (he thinks giving a girl flowers is how you marry her - oh, my heart.) Lately he's wrestling with some very heavy stuff like growing up, death, and heaven. We try our best to give him gentle, direct answers, but it's heartbreaking to see his innocence slipping away. On the other hand, the other night he smiled and said "after my life I'm going to fly up to heaven with God" and it was all I could do to choke out an "amen". This is a whole new level of joy, seeing him develop faith.
Sammy has changed so much in the last few months, too. Right after Christmas he decided to stop nursing. He was already falling asleep on his own, and he has continued to be a good sleeper (except for a few very rough patches with teething and sickness.) He's at that cute stage where he'll rattle off an entire story complete with facial expressions and hand gestures, but we'll only catch some of the words. He's a good communicator, though, and he's assertive about making sure he is heard. He answers most questions with a firm "no" and it's safe to say that he has entered the "terrible twos" phase.
Here's a little more about them:
Michael - 3 years and 10 months
Latest skills: snapping, blows his own nose, does simple addition, sounds out words, wants to do most things without help
His spirit: thoughtful, careful, independent, tender-hearted, imaginative, adventurous
Words: "I'm thinking about being a deep sea diver when I grow up."
"You're my best mom I've ever had."
"Why did the tissue dance around? Because somebody put a boogie in it!"
Loves: playing with his friends, school, Bible class, reading, making up stories, running, playing tag, books, movies, painting, playing outside, gardening, Ralph the Mouse (the books and his stuffed mouse), talking
Best way to make him laugh: pratfalls, funny voices and faces, tickling, running from Sam
Doesn't love: being put on the spot, chaos, lots of noise
Habits we're trying to break: losing his temper, throwing things when he's mad
Aspirations: to go to Paris (he actually talks about this a lot)
Samuel - 1 year and 6 months
Latest skills: running smoothly, going up and down stairs, using a fork and spoon, gargling and spitting after he brushes his teeth
His spirit: happy, content, sweet, likes to share (most of the time), likes to play rough, gets a kick out of annoying Michael sometimes
New words: thinks it's funny to call me "Meemaw" (Mommy inverted), dee-don (donkey), nack (snack), more please, poopie, hold you, boom (to describe any type of injury), tee-go (tickle), prayer, yellow (usually used in the right context), flower, car, truck, Dear God (with hands folded to pray), excuse me, yeah, okay, all gone, sit down, sings some ABCs, crocodile, "cuggle" (cuddle/snuggle and read a book)
Loves: playing with Michael and Daddy (running, wrestling, laughing), dancing to music, hearing Daddy play guitar, his cowboy boots, wearing hats, running around naked after his bath, eating, playing outside, reading books, snuggling, being hugged and kissed
Best way to make him laugh: tickle him, nibble his cheeks
Doesn't love: the vacuum cleaner, visiting new Bible classes, sitting still or being quiet in church
Habits we're trying to break: throwing toys at Michael, hitting Michael, high-pitched shriek that annoys Michael
Aspirations: to climb onto every flat surface in the house
waking up from a nap in Rome
One last post about our trip, because I haven't quite beat this horse to death yet. Ha! But this is kind of important stuff, particularly when traveling with kids. And I need to write it down because ever since I had my kids my memory doesn't function anymore.
So, jet lag. (Or is it jetlag?) I was prepared for jet lag to ruin the first several days of our trip (our precious few days in Rome.) I spoke to our pediatrician about giving the boys melatonin on the flight to ease the transition, and he didn't recommend it, so we had a drug-free flight and jet lag experience. And it wasn't quite as bad as I expected! Here's how it broke down: we left the states around 7pm and it got dark shortly after we took off. We fed the boys dinner, changed diapers/went potty, and had them both dressed in soft comfy clothes they could sleep in so as soon as the cabin lights were turned off they could go to sleep. It took a while for Michael to settle down, but eventually he fell asleep in his chair. Sam had a more difficult time, mostly, I think, because he didn't have his own chair and couldn't get horizontal. As soon as the sky started to brighten, Michael woke up (he got about 3 hours sleep) and Sam was already awake (having slept about 2 hours.) For the record, I got none. Sam demanded constant bouncing/rocking/holding and Tim was not feeling well. So, the boys got some sleep, and we parents had a rough time. Was it a fun flight? No. But my imagination had me prepared for much worse. No one got airsick, no one cried incessantly, there were no loud tantrums, and the boys woke up happy and ready to take Rome, so overall I think it went pretty well!
We arrived in Rome around 10, and we were checked into our rental by 12 (boys still awake, and a little cranky). We walked to a pizzeria in our neighborhood and had lunch. It was delicious but the boys made it hard to enjoy. They were tired and not really hungry, so Tim and I ate fast, then got the boys home and right down for naps. We all napped for a couple of hours, but at 4 we opened up the shutters, let the sun flood in, and forced ourselves to get up. This was key! Especially in those first few days, we tried to be in the sunshine as much as possible to help re-set our clocks, and it really helped. Anyway, we all woke up pretty sluggish that first afternoon, but we had a snack, got out and started walking and had a really great evening.
The first night did not go as well. Both boys were awakened by a loud thunderstorm around 11 (just about the time they would wake up from naps at home) and had a hard time going back to sleep. Sam had an especially hard time, but after a couple hours of nursing, bouncing, and patting he finally went back to sleep. The next night (and for the rest of the trip!) Michael slept like a champ. Sam had trouble sleeping through the night, though, during the entire trip. During those first few days I think he woke up hungry in the middle of the night, and I always nursed him, and Tim spent hours rocking and patting him, but as the trip went on I think he was just scared about being in unfamiliar places and he got dependent on us snuggling him back to sleep. (It was exhausting. Luckily, as soon as we got home he went back to sleeping through the night again.) So, there wasn't much quality sleep for Tim and me, and that was a bummer, but it didn't ruin the trip. We got busy making memories, and that distracted us from our weariness (most of the time).
The flight home was a little trickier because it was a day flight and the boys were awake and bouncing around the entire time, except for one quick cat nap for Sam. (At one point, I felt sure we had been flying for like six hours, so I checked the flight tracker and we had been flying for less than two hours and Sam was already stirring from his one and only nap. That was a sinking feeling.) But, with a whole lot of snacks and iPad and laps around the airplane, we made it home and had a very smooth transition back to Texas time. Both times we flew, we tried to stick to these rules:
1) start eating and sleeping in the new time zone as soon as you get on the plane
2) if it's day time, get out in the sun as much as possible and be active (as if kids give you any choice about that)
3) nap at naptime, but then get up and do something
4) if you or your offspring wake up in the middle of the night, keep it dark and quiet
A couple weeks ago we had family photos taken and I'm so thrilled with how they turned out! Our friend Erin took the pictures (she took these too!) and she did such an awesome job. The boys were so happy and comfortable with her, and she recommended the most fun, gorgeous location in downtown Houston. She really captured us! Thank you so much, Erin!
I love the portraits we got, but I love these precious candid moments too. Precious memories.
I'm so thankful to have these.
A quick update on the boys. They're best buddies and most of the time they play together so sweetly. Each one asks for the other as soon as he wakes up. Recently, when they've been playing with other kids, I've caught Michael protectively putting his arm around Samuel and "helping" him play with the big kids - made my heart burst with love and pride. More than ever they keep us laughing (and our hearts breaking) with their precious sweetness.
Michael - 3 years and 7 months
Latest skills: Reads some words (the, boy, zoo, box, fox, toy, it), can sound out most short words with some help, cuts with safety scissors, clears and scrapes his plate after dinner, writes his name clearly without help
His spirit: sensitive, kind, cautious, imaginative and thoughtful
Words: "I'll pretend my pee is fire retardant."
"I can't watch what I say. I don't have eyes like a chameleon."
"I'm getting a signal. (pause) It's Jesus. (pause) He says I should eat my dinner."
Loves: school (most days), Bible class, doing projects of any kind (building, crafting, taking pictures, making little videos), playing with kids his age (especially in small groups), Gigi and Papa, facetiming with cousins, running, pretending, traveling, any kind of adventure, praying and saying what he's thankful for, Ralph the mouse, Sammy, laughing at physical comedy and Sammy's antics
Doesn't love: loud hand dryers, loud/pushy people, being hurried to do anything
Habits we're trying to break: being a perfectionist, being rude to strangers that talk to him
Samuel - 1 year and 3 months
Latest skills: speed walking (it's almost a run), climbing, naming body parts, imitating Michael
His spirit: joyful, playful, patient
Words: hello, bye, please, thank you, eat, hat, book, milk (sounds like "buk"), dog ("gog"), tickle, blanket ("bee"), banana ("blabla"), get down, all done, bath, baby, diaper ("biper"), apple ("bapple"), bible (he prefers to yell this one really loud during prayers at church), amen, round and round, no, bubble, makes animal sounds, sometimes strings a couple words together like "bubble again"
Loves: when Dada comes home in the evenings, reading short books, wearing ball caps, carrying my old baby doll, his blanket, copying Michael, eating, chasing Michael, doing "cheers" with his drink, giving fist bumps, tickles, being held and snuggled (especially when I'm making dinner), Michael, Daddy
Doesn't love: being told no, the vacuum cleaner
Habits we're trying to break: throwing food, throwing toys at people, throwing tantrums (they've started already!), nursing (down to twice a day)
boarding for Italy / catching a train in Milan / almost back home to Texas
The first thing I did was pack a carry-on bag. My rule of thumb, when packing a carry-on, is to imagine the worst case scenario and pack accordingly. I imagine the airline loses our checked bags, we all come down with sickness during the 9 hour flight, there are multiple diaper blow-outs, the food on the plane is inedible, and everyone needs a change of clothes. This might sound excessive, but it covers the bases and it works! And even after the flight, this bag continues to function as command central - whenever we went on a day trip this bag came along. We changed locations multiple times during our trip and we didn't lose anything because everything important had a specific place in the carry-on bag! And it all fits in one backpack. Here's what I packed:
- one change of clothing for everyone, rolled up tightly in the bottom of the bag
- ziploc "first-aid kit" (tylenol, pepto, teething tablets, bandaids, any prescription meds, retainers, etc.)
- ziploc "snack kit" (nuts, raisins, apples, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, etc.)
- "diaper kit" (changing pad, diapers, wipes, and plastic bags)
- "electronics kit" (chargers for phones, iPad, and camera, adapters if traveling abroad)
- water bottles for the boys
- a light layer for everybody (jackets for boys, sweater and scarf for me)
- several extra plastic bags because they're small, light, and they really save the day when you need one
- travel packs of lysol wipes and hand wipes
the boy knows how to relax on a flight / playing on the people-mover / watching the sun rise over Europe
We also brought Michael's small backpack. This enabled him to carry part of the load (sometimes), but even more importantly, he had a consistent place to keep his books, toys and found treasures on the trip so nothing got lost. I packed small toys and activities that I knew would inspire play in any setting. Here's what we brought for Michael:
- a dry-erase activity book and marker
- a small, flat tin full of letter and picture magnets
- several new small books (from the dollar bin at Target)
- his favorite "adventure gear" that also happens to be small (compass, binoculars, laser)
- crayons, stickers, a couple of activity packs from the dollar bin
- a couple of his favorite cars
- Ralph and his motorcycle
- a small matching game
- his two small blankets that he likes to sleep with
- the iPad (loaded with favorite movies and games)
- along the way we also added an Italy cap, a slingshot, some rocks, and gladiator gear
Finally, I carried my purse (wallet, keys, passports, sunglasses, iPhone, camera) and pushed a single stroller with the Ergo stashed in the basket underneath. Most of the time Sam rode in the stroller and Michael walked, but when Michael got tired he would ride in the stroller and we put Sam in the Ergo. We also kept a hook on the stroller so we could hang bags from it whenever possible. This was a really good balance for us. We had everything we needed and it was manageable getting around in airports, train stations, and even walking through cities.
We checked two medium-sized suitcases and a travel crib (which can be worn as a backpack). Looking back, I think we probably could have packed a little less clothing (and put everything in one very large suitcase) but we expected cold, wet autumn weather and we ended up having warm temps instead. So, we were prepared, but in the end we didn't need some of the things we brought. My packing goals were pretty simple: I packed one week's worth of clothes for each of us (plus a little extra for the boys), planned to re-wear clothes when needed, and wash clothes when possible. I tried to make sure everyone looked nice while still being comfortable, everything was layerable, and I tried to keep most of our clothes within the same color palette (because you never know when you'll get the perfect framer of a picture!) All of this took some thought and careful planning, but it was really worth it! I won't go into detail here, since this will vary so much by season, but here is a perfect (and realistic) example of a travel capsule wardrobe. I followed this almost exactly and it was just right.
Tim and Tiny Tim / making our way through Zurich airport / Sammy in his "highchair"
Finally, a few quick words about baby gear. We brought as little as we possibly could, and I'm so glad! As I mentioned above, we brought our favorite stroller and kept the Ergo stashed in the basket underneath. We debated a lot over what type of stroller to bring, and I'm so glad we settled on this one - it's old but it has never failed us! Sam spent a lot of time riding (and occasionally napping) in it, and it served as his high-chair during most of the trip, and a few times as a changing table on the go. I worried that it might be too big or bulky in tiny European streets, but it was fine and it handled cobblestones much better than an umbrella stroller would have! The only other equipment we brought was the travel crib and, again, we debated this one quite a bit. And, again, I'm so glad we brought it! Sam struggled with sleep on this trip, so I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for him to sleep in strange/uncomfortable beds along the way. It gave me huge peace of mind knowing he would have his own familiar, clean bed wherever we went. The iPad functioned as white noise and/or night light when needed. We brought about a week's worth of diapers and wipes, and when those ran out we just bought more. And that's about it!
train from Milan to Zurich
running through Milan train station / so happy to be in Zurich!
When Tim and I took our lovely trip to France, so long ago, we really enjoyed traveling by train. It was so quiet and peaceful to relax into our chairs and watch the scenery slip by. Maybe have a snack or a nap. Nothing but enjoyment.
The same does not hold true for train travel with 3 and 1 year old boys. I assumed they would love the trains (and they did!), but they didn't want to be stuck on the trains all day (and they were!) We also found out that it wasn't as efficient or easy a means of travel as we remembered. We had to drive from Pienza to Florence, drop off the car, walk with all of our gear to the train station, ride one train to Milan, change trains (we almost missed this one), and ride another to Zurich. By the time we got to Zurich it was dark, we hadn't had dinner, and we still had to pick up a rental car and find our way to the Zurich house. Not ideal. In hindsight, it would have been much easier (and quicker, and even less expensive!) to have kept our car rental and just driven from Pienza to Zurich. I wanted the boys to experience traveling by train in Europe, and I'm glad they did but I'm not sure we'd do it over again with little ones.
the cows (and their bells) were my favorite / pretty wildflowers everywhere
the neighbor's woodpile / pretty scene in Appenzell
One way or another, we made it to beautiful Switzerland. It surpassed all of my expectations! Italy has a history, a patina, that makes everything beautiful - the buildings, the land, the food, the people - and I was sad to leave it behind. But Switzerland appealed to another side of me with its neat little farmsteads, bright painted houses and velvety green fields. I wanted to roll in those fields and hug those beautiful cows and gather all the wildflowers. Everything just seemed so fresh and tidy. It was lovely in a very different way than Italy.
boat ride on Zurichsee with Gigi and Papa
AND, we got to meet up with my parents in Zurich, which was so fun! The boys love their Gigi and Papa so much, and they were thrilled to share this part of the adventure with them. We all were. We rented a little house in the country (in Wetzikon) about 20 minutes outside of Zurich, and from there we made excursions around the area. On the first day we stayed close to home, gathered some groceries, and hosted my cousin and her family for dinner! The next day we drove East into the Appenzell region to the town of Appenzell. It was a beautiful drive through dramatic green hills with tiny little towns nestled in the valleys, like pictures in a fairy tale. In town we walked, lunched, took lots of pictures, and let the boys play in the park. The next day we went into Zurich and took a boat ride on the lake, walked around a bit, and had lunch. Like always, we tried to combine some sight-seeing for the adults with a fun adventure for the boys, and this was really great! We all loved the boat ride, and it was a beautiful way to see the city. It was a chilly, drizzly day and I'll never forget how cozy it was, sipping hot tea in our seats and watching the boys play with the mountains going by in the distance.
boat ride on Zurichsee with Gigi and Papa
Zurichsee / Dad: "stop looking at me, swan"
out on a date in the neighborhood / some of our neighbors
On our last full day in Switzerland my parents made a day trip over to Lucerne. Tim and I would have loved to go on this excursion, but we knew we had a long trip back to the states ahead of us the following day. So, we chose to stay in Wetzikon to allow the boys to nap when needed, and spend their waking time being as active as possible, rather than sitting in a car. Tim found a local farm where we could pick out some (tiny) pumpkins, have lunch, and let the boys play. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in Switzerland, in my opinion. The farm was just beautiful and the boys had a blast climbing hay bales, petting goats, running in the orchard, and of course, picking out a pumpkin. (Michael named his "Scary Harry".) It was a perfect, crisp fall day. I'll always remember it.
running around the orchard at Jucker Farm
It was so special, getting to share this trip with you, Mom and Dad! We have such happy memories of our time together in Switzerland! A few more photos...
out the front door / Michael meets one of the locals
dinner at our swiss house / playing with Papa
our last night at the swiss house / saying goodbye to Switzerland