Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

When I sit down to draft up the annual Christmas letter, I find that it’s an excellent exercise in memory and gratitude. In the midst of a demanding work schedule for Josh and full time mommying at home, it’s easy to both forget and appreciate all the things that happen in the day to day. As you know, we moved to Ohio a year ago and it seems like we’ve had many little (and big!) firsts. I guess that’s how it goes with children because everything is brand new to them and, through them, it feels new to us as well.

John-Paul…I can’t even remember all his firsts! It seems like they happen every day! He took his first steps in our first home that we bought. He started talking – although many people probably need Josh or I to play translator if you plan on communicating with him. He tried ice cream and donuts and loved them. He played in the splash park, and though hesitant at first, found some bravery and did not want to leave. We had the first of many mommy-son Panera dates. He played in the snow for the first time. He became a big brother. He learned that egg nog is his JAM. He went to his first (again, of many) time outs. First Easter egg hunt (which he was not interested in. at. all.). Enjoyed lunch at Poppy’s favorite old hot dog place, Coney Island, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spent a long weekend without mommy, while I traveled to Oregon (by myself! No kids! For the first time in 2 years!).

We welcomed our daughter, Abigail Esther, in October and she has brought so much newfound joy to our family. She is an extremely easy going baby so far and as I’ve remarked on Facebook and Instagram, JP DOTES on her all day long (I’ve probably said “gentle kisses!!” about 4,592 times in two months). She hasn’t had many milestone “firsts” in two months, but she does sleep through the night most nights and smiles all the time. She, obviously, had her first bath. She received her first Sacrament – Baptism! She loves when we talk to her and make faces. Unless conditions are perfect, she does not like riding in her carseat.

Josh started working as an instructor for the first time. The job has proved quite demanding and takes a considerable amount of time outside of the M-F 8-5 time frame. It’s been hard. But Josh is grateful for the chance to really dive into learning the details of HVAC. Since he has to teach it, that means he gets the chance to really learn it well. We know this will pay off in the long run, but that doesn’t make the long hours feel any shorter right now. Josh also had the opportunity to go to a controls conference in Wisconsin which was both fun and professionally edifying. Can I brag, too, a little? Josh has spent the last couple months getting minimal sleep trying to balance both work and family life. The late nights, early mornings and weekend hours are never easy on him and he misses us. We miss him! And Lord knows I’ve done my fair share of complaining and shed a few tears. But I’m proud that he is a person who owns both his professional and familial responsibilities…out of love and duty. I just wish, for his sake, he could catch some more sleep!

For me, I had many mom firsts….like cleaning pee out of the dryer after one of JP’s diaperless excursions. And taking care of a toddler while having extreme morning sickness. And somehow managing to get him back to the van when he had a meltdown during our town’s 4th of July 5K. But also the most heart melting of firsts – when JP, unprompted, declared “Love Mama!” and when started saying “Jesus!” and “Mama Mi!” (Mama Mary). I gave birth completely naturally for the first time. I found that my parenting questions are less about how to physically care for my child – sleeping, eating, health, etc  – and turning into “How do I teach my child that having a tender heart is good?…that he doesn’t have to harden his heart to “make it” in this world? How do I teach him that it’s good to let it go when others wrong you but that it’s also ok to stand up for yourself? How do I let them be kids and do their crazy thing, but also teach them discipline and rules?” We’re all learning and growing.

Our lives are made up of many ordinary moments, daily rhythms that we hardly even notice or remember…often we’re waiting for and looking to the next big thing. But with reflection I see how sacred all of the little firsts and daily moments are. We receive extraordinary grace in these daily moments because of Emmanuel – God is With Us! Our days may be simple and humble…ours are pretty routine. But when we put them in the light of a simple and humble manger each year, we see how important family and new life are. Thanks be to God for this year of firsts! See you in 2017.

With love and prayers,

The Dills

Some of my 2016 little favorite moments

Abigail’s Baptism

It’s with great joy and hope that we bring Abigail into the faith and family through the Sacrament of Baptism! Her godparents, Katie and Kevin Gearns, could not be with us but they celebrated and prayed for Abby from the great state of MN. She is so blessed to have their faith as a witness and their petitions to Heaven on her behalf.

With JP we had a private ceremony after Mass with the Deacon at Our Lady of Victory. I LOVED the private Baptism because of the extended Scripture readings and the ability to take the whole thing slow and soak it up. This time we had Abby’s Baptism during Mass and, while I prefer the private ceremony, sharing this special moment with our new parish family was quite special. At Saint Francis, they elevate the beauty of this Sacrament and don’t simply go through the motions. Father takes his time to pray over and bless the babies at the beginning of Mass. As we went back to the Baptismal font in the back of the church, Father invited everyone to gather around instead of staying in their pews. As we processed out, we all sang the Litany of the Saints, asking them to pray for these babies from Heaven. Again, Father Tom took his time and made sure that we all understood and appreciated the meaning of this momentous occasion and the symbols that accompany Baptism. I loved this. As cradle Catholics, sometimes we miss these simple things because we think we know it already. And even if we know the faith well, it is an awesome opportunity to more deeply internalize the beauty and richness of our faith at each Baptism we witness.

For more information on why Catholics baptize infants, click here.

oh and lest it be forgotten, JP, you received a big, fat F for Mass behavior that day. Holy frijoles. The pictures may fool the world but your crazy toddler screaming DURING the baptisms (and basically every sacred moment) shall be burned into the memory of all present. This is family life. Your sister will pay you back one day, of this I am sure.

Abby: One Month

I figured I should probably post these before Abby turns two months. Can you tell it’s been a little hectic around here? Although Josh’s job is technically 8-5, realistically he works late most nights and at least one day on the weekends. The demand ebbs and flows, but right now it’s particularly intense.

We’re all adjusting to life with two kids and, honestly, Abby has made it incredibly easy. Seriously, she is a very easy going infant. And JP loves her so much that they’ve both made this smooth as it can be. Abigail eats and sleeps well and is content most of the time. If she isn’t, I wear her and she falls right asleep. Of course, now that I’m posting this for the world to see Abby will sense that I’m bragging and bring me back to reality. She’s looking out for my sanctity.

As I said, she eats and sleeps well so far. By that I mean, I put her down around 9 and she usually wakes up once in the middle of the night and then again around 6 or 7. She usually wants to go back to sleep after that, but sometimes that’s hard since the rest of us are trying to get the day going. Sorry, Abbers.

Abby started smiling almost right away and now warms our hearts regularly with her affectionate grins. She has these eyes that make me feels like she KNOWS me. She looks in deeply. So far she is a good traveler in her car seat. There’s really not much to report – we just all really love the little honey bee! and I think she loves us, too! And gosh, she is cute! Glad to see her cheeks are coming in strong. Love you, baby girl!

Two.

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Happy birthday, JP!

I cannot believe we have a two year old. How did that happen?! Although toddler nap schedules/meltdowns can make outings challenging, we still managed to get out the door for some birthday fun. In the morning we went to EnterTRAINment Junction, the largest model train display. They also have a kid play area, which JP thoroughly enjoyed last time we went. This time, though, he was totally into looking at the model trains. John-Paul loves anything that GOES, but trains and trucks rank on the favorites for this guy. On our way home from Entertrainment Junction, we grabbed some pizza. After his afternoon nap we headed off to Mass for Abigail’s baptism (more on that at a later time) and celebrated this big guy’s life with cake after Mass! What a joyful day celebrating our little one’s lives.

JP at two…There are so many things I could say about who JP is at this moment in time. I know I’ll end up leaving some things out, but here are a few highlights:

John-Paul has a servant heart even in the midst of toddlerhood. He helps me unload the dishwaher, change the wash to the dryer, rake leaves, sweep, vacuum. Whenever I ask him to help, he is excited to do so. We’ll see how his love languages unfold, but we may have an acts of service boy in the making. John-Paul still likes to run and wander off, but is getting better at listening to us and allowing his to re direct him. He loves to laugh along with us, and will run in from another room if he hears us laughing. The play place at Chick Fil A is his jam. Also, 100% in love with road signs with the crown jewel being stop signs. Every time we go for a walk he tells every stop sign “hi stop! and as we pass it “Bye stop!” and often requests that Josh lift him up to touch “the stop.”He loves to read, and has a particular love for Calvin and Hobbes and Curious George. I often catch him quietly looking through books by himself. He can play with his trains for hours. He has even taken to “sharing” his trains with Abigail, and brings them over for her to look at. His vocabulary grows rapidly everyday, so it’s hard for me to keep track of my favorites…but right now i love when he signs and says “sunshine” and “stars” and “cold” it is too cute. He is obsessed with “Toffee” (coffee) and will gladly sip the last drops from my mug if given the opportunity. With his growing vocab, JP is also starting to put together phrases and concepts. For instance, he will tell me that the sunshine is “all gone” and then will follow that thought by saying “dark, cold”. JP loves the My Smart Hands aka “Happy Hands” videos and could watch them on loop for eternity (he really has learned so many words and signs by watching them and it’s fun for us to do together!). All sweets are called “Keek” (cake) by JP.

I could go on and on…

the bottom line is that we are so crazy about him. We have our hard days and forming his conscience is challenging, but the hard looks miniscule in comparison to the joy he brings and how good he really is. I often say he has a chocolate heart because he is just sweet. This morning I told him “I love you, JP” and for the first time ever he replied “love mama” and later this morning he told me “love sissy.” He gives us hugs and kisses all the time and loves to snuggle when he isn’t on the gogogo. Ah! JP we love you, sweetheart. You are good and kind and wonderful and we are so proud of the boy and big brother that you are growing into. I’m so blessed to spend my days watching you learn and grow and love. I love you forever, dear son!

Abigail Esther

Abigail Esther

Abigail means “Father’s Joy”

Born on 8 October 2016 at 1:01 in the morning

8 pounds and 8 ounces of perfect newborn squish

21 inches long

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Since he was our first child, I fully expected John-Paul to arrive late. He arrived one day early. Having a second child, I expected her to arrive even earlier, especially since at my 38 weeks appointment I was 3 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced (and I felt so much pressure from her sitting so low in my pelvis). But kids, they never quite do what you expect, am I right?

Mama Heidi/Mimi arrived on October 2 and was scheduled to leave the 10. As my due date approached and passed, I started to feel anxious about not having our little girl before my mom left. I knew there was nothing I could do about it! I knew it would all be ok! I knew worrying was useless and unproductive! But worriers gonna worry. I so wanted my mom to be here for the big moment (and for peace of mind that I could leave on a moment’s notice and my mom would be here with JP). Trying to push the what-ifs out of my mind, Josh and Mama started taking me on frequent walks throughout the week, trying to get labor going.

What helped me the most is that I tried to remember that these moments with JP and Josh and Mom were precious and important. I didn’t want to wish the time away.

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Isn’t his haircut ridiculously adorable? I digress.

After a day of contractions with no pattern or progression and lamenting “She’s never going to come out!” and “Is there even a baby in there? Maybe it’s just a watermelon?” and “I’m going to be the first human being to have a year long gestation!” labor kicked in. (I know. SO dramatic for a woman that is only ONE DAY past her due date. Mamas that go two weeks past their dates…bless ye.) I was just wrapping up some messages with Greta (Mod 7 forever) and it was about 8:45. My back started aching like it did when I was in early labor with JP. It was a slight shift, but I knew things were changing. Within the hour my contractions went from mild and 7 minutes apart to over 1 minute long and less than 3 minutes apart.

I thought I’d labor at home for a long time, but at 10:10 Josh and I decided we didn’t have time to spare. Our little lady decided to make haste! After what felt like the longest drive of my life, gripping the seats and trying to breathe as the contractions piled on top of one another…we arrived. After a very painful check in (why are you asking me all these questions right now?! Didn’t we fill out a pre-admission form for a reason?!) we were taken in to triage…which is a whole thing in itself because I was going to the natural birth center within the hospital and because I was in active labor I shouldn’t have gone to triage…but there we were. We waited for ten excruciating minutes as country music blared through the room (WHO CHOSE THIS MUSIC? NO ONE IS SOOTHED BY THIS). When a nurse finally asked “Is anyone helping you…?” we were assisted and the ball got rolling. I made it clear in no uncertain terms that I did NOT want to be checked and that I wanted to go over to Family Beginnings, stat. It was about 11pm when we got in the room, and I was already at a pain level that I wanted to hop into the tub for some hydrotherapy.

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The pain got so intense and the timeline starts to blur in my memory. From this point on I remember things in general segments, having no idea how long things actually took. I know I was in the tub for a while, until I got to the point where the contractions caused me to feel like I had to throw up and the hot water made me feel worse. I got out of the water and tried some different positions, like leaning over an egg shaped ball while Josh or the nurse applied counter pressure to help with my overwhelming back labor. I was on the bed for a while I think? I know at some point I got up and sitting on the toilet and leaning forward helped relieve some of the pain. Then I felt an immense pressure in my lower back/rectum and I collapsed back onto the bed. I knew intellectually that some sort of squatting position would be better, allowing gravity to help  bring our baby into the world, but that wasn’t going to happen. Because my labor happens primarily in my lower back, I felt as if my legs were paralyzed (they obviously weren’t, but they couldn’t bear my weight at this point). Shaking, I looked at Josh and said “If I’m not close, I want an epidural.” The nurse knew I was serious as a heart attack and she went out of the room to get my midwife, Neva. Neva, the calmest person in the world, checked me and told me I was 9.5 cms (10cms is when you’re ready to push). Although the pain rolled over me in continuous, almost unbearable waves, knowing I was so close made a world of difference. I still held onto the fear that I’d push for three hours like I did with John-Paul. I was afraid of tearing, too. But fear is useless and birth presses forward. I felt the urge to push. Neva told me to trust my body and away we went. I pushed and cried out that I couldn’t do it. I remember bits of their coaching – “grab your legs and curl into your legs with the contraction.” “Push all the way through the contraction.” “You can do it. You’re close now.”

Birth is crazy because you cannot quit. No matter how badly it hurts or how you feel you can no longer go on, you have to. Your body spurs you on passed your perceived limitations. I think that’s part of why birth, and in particular natural/low intervention birth, feel so empowering. Josh, Neva and Ashley (the nurse) all calmly told me I could do it and that I was close. I heard the same encouraging mantras over the course of three hours with JP, so I didn’t believe them when they told me I was close. I said don’t tell me that! I’m not close! Neva told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head, but I didn’t because another contraction came on. I don’t know how long it was but I felt that “ring of fire” and knew I was pushing the baby’s head through, and then the feeling of release and knowing her head was out. I paused in between the contractions. Knowing her head was out, I expected to hear her cry, but that’s not the case! With the next couple contractions her shoulders and body came through and then that beautiful scream of new life.

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They placed her directly on my chest and allowed her cord to stop pulsing before Josh cut it. If I remember correctly, I kept announcing, “She’s here! She’s here! I can’t believe she’s here!” You dream about this little person for so long and then they come crashing into your world…naked, screaming and precious.

All in all, Abby’s birth took about 4 1/2 hours. After which we enjoyed a magical hour with our girl. At Family Beginnings, they encourage immediate skin to skin bonding between mama and baby. They do not take the baby away to measure or clean before you’ve had time to bond and try breastfeeding. When they do the measurements, they do it right next to your bedside and never take the baby out of the room. Additionally, you get to stay in your room that has a nice big bed and recover. No getting shuffled around and there’s plenty of room for daddy to sleep comfortably as well. Instead of sending the baby to a nursery, the baby sleeps in a co-sleeper bassinet right along side the bed. Family Beginnings truly helped us have the birth we desired (with the peace of mind that we could be taken down the hall to regular L&D/NICU if any complications came up!).

Having kids is challenging. Some days are really hard.  When people ask me about motherhood, I try to paint a realistic picture because I don’t want to romanticize and create unrealistic expectations for new moms out there. Some people have said “you make motherhood sound awful!” But motherhood is alot like this birth story or any birth story. It’s a labor of love. Labor means WORK. Motherhood is hard work and some days are downright painful. But look at the joy and the love we receive. Look at that precious face! Look at that unique, unrepeatable body and soul that God entrusts to us. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much I pour out…I’ve already received much more than I could ever give.

Abigail Esther Dill, you are a joy, daughter! We are so glad you’re here. Welcome to the family!

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Kids Aren’t Expensive, But That Other Thing Sure Is

This House Is Our Home

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My husband and I have always wanted a lot of kids. (Of course, “a lot” is a relative term, depending what your social circles look like, but for the purpose of this post, we’re going to call “a lot” more than 3. Ha.) Over the last 6 years, when we’ve made our feelings known, we’ve often been met with one particular phrase: Kids are so expensive!!

Well, on the one hand, I suppose they are. Depending on your particular situation – medical bills, dental care, school tuition, etc. all definitely add up. So I’m not trying to be flippant with what I’m about to say, but I do think it’s an important distinction to be made when one is saying how “expensive” children are.

Kids aren’t expensive. Greed is.

Kids don’t “need” designer clothes, Etsy outfits, brand new everything, more shoes than they can wear before they grow out of…

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Pieces // Amanda Cook

Since becoming a mom, I am so behind the times when it comes to music. I pretty much listen to Raffi, Disney and talk radio (I don’t hate it). Every once in a while, I’ll catch a gem that I missed out on. Josh introduced me to this song last night:

 

Powerful. Last night and today as I reflect on the lyrics, I realize how much I parcel out my love in pieces, afraid of what it would cost to give my love unreservedly in one whole gift. It’s risky to love without limits. It makes you vulnerable before everyone. I realize how, in my own brokeneness, I feel unworthy to receive such a complete, unearned love…but that God gives it anyway, patiently waiting as I learn to receive more and more of him. I know in my heart that this is the kind of love I want to give to my husband and my children, but I’ll never be able to do so perfectly in this life time. And loving my enemies or people who annoy or inconvenience me with such a brave love? How do I even begin? I thank God that his love is that big, that complete, that perfect…because where I inevitably fall short, he will make up for it tenfold. I can ask Him to help me grow in both giving and receiving this wild, selfless, radical love and to not be afraid.

For love to be real, it must cost; it must hurt; it must empty us of self. – Saint Teresa of Kolkata