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!

I thought…

I thought that I’d have an all-natural, no intervention birth and then I didn’t. And it was still beautiful.

I thought we’d never get the hang of breastfeeding, but after weeks of pumping, exhaustion, tears, lactation consultations, nipple shields, nipple butter and some growth….we made it through and I’m still breastfeeding at 12 1/2 months.

I seriously thought that I would never stop leaking milk all over my clothes when I even THOUGHT about nursing John-Paul. But eventually that stopped and my laundry pile was a little smaller and my clothes less wet.

I thought I’d never be able to breastfeed with ease in public places, but we do now and it ain’t no thang.

I thought to myself, “How will I ever, ever, ever manage to cook and clean and do anything else besides sit on the couch and take care of John-Paul?” But as time goes on, we’re able to balance more.

I thought we’d have to lug him around in that ever-awkward-to-carry infant carrier forever and ever and ever, but that stopped. And he’s outgrown his first carseat.

I thought I couldn’t be more thrilled than I was when JP first smiled…but then each milestone proved ever sweeter.

I thought I’d never get the hang of the wrap or the sling, but with some good youtube videos and an extremely kind stranger at Target…I can wear JP.

I thought that I just might die when I had to fly alone with John-Paul across the country. It was exhausting, but we did it! and then we flew alone again 2 more trips out west.

I thought I wouldn’t know what to do with JP once he outgrew his rock’n’ play. Where would I put him when I cooked or needed to do something? But he outgrew it and we adjusted.

What about when he outgrew his bumbo? His Johnny Jump Up? His exersaucer? What would I do with him then? (I didn’t learn it the first time) We adjusted.

I thought teething would never end, but after four long months JP finally caught a break. And we got a little sleep.

I thought that it would be so long until he sat up, and sometimes it certainly felt long…but he sat up and changed my life by being able to sit in the grocery cart.

I thought I’d never see an 8 hour (or please, just six) stretch of sleep again in my life, but recently we’ve had a much more tolerable sleep schedule. Thank you, son.

It seemed like forever until JP learned to “crawl” (it was a slither for a couple months…) but now he’s so quick and I can barely go into the kitchen without him crawling off into some mischief.

And then before I could even think he was standing up, scooching around the couch and responding to things we said.

I thought I could imagine the love I’d feel for my child before we had John-Paul, but I realize now I couldn’t fathom the depths of the love I’ve felt grow each day since we found out we were pregnant. John-Paul stretches my heart to contain love I never knew was possible. Sometimes it’s easy to look back and think, “Gosh life was so much easier before we had a kid!” and it’s true, life was much easier, much more convenient. This last year has pushed me to many limits, and I often still feel overwhelmed, anxious and very uncertain about what the heck I’m doing as a parent. Even though many days I have dark circles, greasy hair and feel exhausted…life is full with John-Paul. He gives our family life and deepens our love. Through his total dependence on us, he challenges us to be less selfish, more giving. John-Paul, we are thankful for you!

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Mr. John-Paul Goes to Washington

A couple of weeks ago we headed south to Washington, D.C.. A while back Josh signed up for the DC triathlon, and around the same time his Uncle started working in a position that allows him to give tours of the White House. We had a blast visiting with our family – staying with Josh’s Uncle, another Uncle happened to be in DC that weekend and Josh’s cousin also did the triathlon! And of course, getting to see the White House was a real treat. The first year I went to DC was a year after 9/11, so White House tours were no longer allowed (same case for my subsequent visits). We’re so grateful for the opportunity to spend time with loved ones and enjoy the richness of our nation’s history in the capitol city! JP, you look like you just sat through a filibuster, but we hope you enjoyed it as much as your baby self can. Can’t say we didn’t try to give you some culture!

(almost) one year later.

Last night Josh, JP and I went to the Lantern Tours at Penn State. Last year they hosted them on Halloween, so that little outing ended up being the last time Josh and I went out on the town without a little one in tow. As we walked around last night, it was fun to think of the past year and how much our lives have changed. Instead of just wondering, “where should we get coffee before the tours?” we now think about things like “Do we bring the stroller? What about all the stairs? Where will we leave it? What time should we go so JP doesn’t get cranky and lose his mind?” And things like balloons and the Nittany Lion mascot all of a sudden seem awesome because we have a kid (although there were MANY adults that were thrilled to pose for photos with the lion).The Lion Ambassadors hosted the tours a month earlier than last year to, I think, have warmer weather for the event. So these photos are almost a year apart. And although we must consider a hundred different things when going out with JP, life has certainly changed for the better.

Adventures of a Seven Month Old

John-Paul should…

Get a Delta credit card and cash in on some frequent flyer miles. He made his third flight to the Twin Cities to witness the marriage of John and Christine Goerke. Christine is a dear friend from Grand Forks. She has one of the kindest, purest, gentlest souls in all the land and reuniting with her (and Amanda!) was a breath of fresh air. John and Christine’s beautiful wedding filled our hearts with joy. Watching them embark on this new season of life made our summer! Leaving the reception, I had tears in my eyes because I have so missed close friendships while starting over in a new place. Being far from the friendships where I grew up, leaving behind friendships to attend 3 different universities, moving away from best college friends, leaving dear ones in Grand Forks…it’s hard on my heart (sorry JP, I’m hijacking your 7 month into a mommy update). Keeping up with long distance friendships is tough when I’m also trying to be present in the new places that I live. But being with my sweet GF friends reminded me that balance between staying connected and staying present is important. Friends are precious.

While in Minnesota, we went up to Bemidji and visited Jackie and Grant. We stayed at their cabin once before, when Josh returned from his deployment. Oh the good times! We sat out by the lake, went for a boat ride, sipped wine and enjoyed alllllllll the catching up we had to do. From wedding stories (congrats Madeline and Carson!) to long discussions about youth ministry and sharing about John-Paul…And laughs. Many laughs! What a blessed visit.

Unfortunately, there were weather issues when we went back to the MSP airport. Our flight got delayed so much that we missed our connection and they couldn’t rebook our flight for two days. It was a stressful moment and an exhausting end to the trip. But we’re so grateful that Christine’s parents took us in for a couple days. Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Thelen!

After we finally got home, we had a day of recovery and then a drive up to Albany, NY for Father’s Day and Josh’s first triathlon of the summer. Everyone made it home (except for Dan! We missed you!) and good times were had by all.

John-Paul has…

6 teeth! SIX! We are just waiting on two more bottom teeth, and the gums are already swollen there so I’m guessing he’ll have all 8 by 8 months. (or at least I hope so, we could really use a break from teething!)

Gone for his first swim. He started out a little unsure of the water, but seemed to enjoy himself by the end. Josh hopes to keep up his swimming lessons so they can do a relay triathlon together.

Been to two weddings and gone on three round trip plane rides

Developed a little bit of stranger danger…but not consistently.

Started taking longer naps most of the time

Decided that rolling from his stomach to his back is something he is not interested in doing. He just stopped a while back and hasn’t picked it up again? Weird?

John-Paul loves…

Green beans, scrambled eggs, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, yogurt and strawberries and cheese

Jumping in his jump-up

The Raffi song “Ducks Like Rain”

Scratching and pinching my face

Sleeping in the car

Strawberry Season

Now that I’m a mom, I find myself having a hard time getting out of the house. I know this isn’t the case for everyone; lots of moms feel a sense of relief by going out and doing things with their kids in tow. I, however, frequently feel overwhelmed by the preparation that goes into taking an adventure and worry about all the possible what-ifs that could happen along the way. I’ve always been a worrier, but this anxiousness makes me feel not myself. Growing up and through college I was always up for spontaneous trips to the beach, hikes, a long walk through Boston, go to a rodeo…whatever, let’s do it! But it’s not just me anymore! I have this little person, and I’m just learning how to take care of him and figuring out what I’m comfortable with. He has needs and limits, and I’m figuring out what those are. But more often than not, I err on the side of “I guess I’ll just not go…” because it’s easier.

There’s a balance of being merciful and patient with myself and summoning up the courage to take a leap of faith. There’s a balance of pushing my self-made boundaries and making sure that John-Paul is well cared for. So it’s not very easy to navigate. I try to encourage myself, saying, “If you wait for all the conditions to be perfect, you’ll never do anything.” Josh challenges me, knowing that if I get out I will feel better, and I’ll have a little more confidence than I did the day before. As a follow of Jesus, I don’t want to let my heart be ruled by fear. “Be not afraid,” our Lord tells us. I want to trust Him.

Thankfully, I have people in my life that help me through this process. Yesterday this person was a beautiful woman named Karina and her son. I wanted to go, but kept feeling set back by how my day at home was going – I’m exhausted! It’s kind of cold! I don’t know where the farm is! I have chores! John-Paul is acting like a Grumplestiltskin! – and was tempted to just bail out on the idea. Karina, who was already on her way to Bee Tree Farm, offered to turn around so she could help me get out the door and so that I could follow her to the farm. So flexible! So patient! So kind! I continued to fumble through the day, and each time Karina met my absent-mindedness and anxiety with grace.

And guess what? I had a great time. The rain sprinkled down a little, and JP didn’t melt. I thought I lost the cash that I brought, but found it in a different pocket. JP didn’t want to be in his carrier, so he sat on the grass and bugs didn’t eat him alive. He got strawberries all over himself and it was GOOD.

I didn’t want to leave!

The Trenches of Teething

I began typing up this post several weeks ago, and the original beginning said something along the lines of “I think we’re out of the teething woods for a while now…” HA. HA. HA. That lasted two days. A couple days reprieve and he is back to gnawing on everything in sight and drooling as if Iguazu Falls flows from his mouth. The hardest part is that he sleeps pretty terribly most nights. Which means he bites me when nursing, my shirts are soaking wet and I be like

Fortunately, he never got a fever and was only mildly more fussy than an average day. From one fumbling-through-motherhood mama to another, here are a few things that helped take the edge off. I wish I could tell you I have discovered a revolutionary cure-all. If I had, I’d be out spending my millions of dollars, and since I’m not doing that you can expect these ideas to be pretty common suggestions.

Nuby teether

Of all the teething rings and toys I received as gifts, this one is by far the household favorite. It is easy for JP to hold onto, and it is just the right size for his mouth. He also really seems to enjoy the texture of the bristles. Plus, it comes with a little case so that all the lint and crumbs in your diaper bag don’t stick to it.

Camilia drops

I went to give John-Paul some children’s Tylenol one particularly restless night, and found that the label said for not under two without asking a doctor…ok…so now what? I know lots of moms give their babies medicine for teething, but since we were weeks away from JP’s next appointment, we decided to look for alternative teething relief. That’s when we discovered a homeopathic medicine, Camilia drops. You can find out more about them here. One night JP was hurting so badly that hat he wouldn’t go to sleep. 2 doses of Camilia and he’d be out in the next 20 minutes or so. We also have Hyland’s Teething Tablets, but those didn’t seem to work quite as well for JP. They have great reviews on amazon, though. So may be worth a shot.

Frozen fruit

I puree bananas or blueberries, pour it into a silicone tray, stick a baby spoon in the middle, then pop that bad boy into the freezer. JP liked eating the bananas off of the spoon, but preferred the blueberries to be more slushy than a frozen solid popsicle. From the way he devoured it, I think he thought it was muy bueno. And I’m guessing it felt nice on his swollen gums…tending to a non-verbal involves alot of guessing…

Frozen Baby Wash Cloth 

Pretty self explanatory – wet a baby washcloth and freeze it. JP loves chewing on and sucking the water out of these! It keeps him happy for a while!

All these things help take the edge off, but the two days leading up to the tooth finally coming through…nothing really helps. we just have to wait it out and try our best to soothe and comfort JP through it.

I tried a Baltic Amber teething necklace – so many moms swear they help. I didn’t notice any difference with JP. Have you tried one? Did its powers help some of your kids but not others?

What helps me? Strong coffee, going to bed shortly after JP does and cheery songs that come up on Raffi Pandora. Reminding myself how miserable JP must feel helps me be more patient. Praying for other mothers and babies helps give the night wakings more purpose – praying especially for parents and children who are struggling and suffering in that very moment.

Best of luck to y’all in the trenches of teething! I’m thinking of you!

S.O.S. – Save Our Sleep

I did not think that I would ever spend so much time thinking about things like diapers and baby sleep habits, but this is my life now. Love me.

John-Paul started out like many newborns in regards to sleep; he slept a whole lot but not for more than 3-4 hours at a time. Eventually his sleep consolidated, and we’d get 5, 6 even 7 hour stretches of sleep at night. His naps usually lasted an hour, maybe more. Then all of a sudden, around the time JP turned four months, he turned into the night time menace…his stretches of sleep kept shortening, and shortening…down to about an hour and a half. His naps also grew shorter, to the point that I couldn’t lay him down for more than 20 minutes on average. Some nights he wakes up every half hour and fusses. Exhaustion ensued. And I looked like this:

But add greasy hair and tears. And subtract the cute boots.

I started scouring the internet and begging moms in person and via social media for some advice. The people I spoke to either didn’t have a serious sleep issue, or they just kind of dealt with the frequent wakings or they were at a loss like me. If the wake ups don’t bother you too much, you are lucky and bless you. But it bothers me and I’m not here to be some sort of sleepless martyr. I accept that tiredness is a part of parenting, but my exhaustion doesn’t do anyone any good. And not to mention, poor JP looked just as tired as me! His sleep habits were/are not serving him well either.

So we’ve started the sleep training journey. I picked up the No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Let’s just say the “No-Cry” refers to the baby and not to the mommy. Sleep training is a full time job, because it’s also about daytime training with the naps. I feel like I’m constantly attempting to put John-Paul to sleep. It’s been about 10 days, and we are seeing some improvements, though. It’s definitely a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. And it seems that things got worse before they got better. Let’s focus on the positive, shall we?

The length that JP sleeps at night has not changed much. However, he is able to go back to sleep more frequently without breastfeeding. Sometimes he wakes himself up and is able to go back to sleep on his own…and sometimes with only mild interventions such as SHHHing him or patting his bottom. Still, I end up feeding him 2-3 times a night now…which is an improvement from 6+. 2-3 night time feedings is much more do able, but still would like to be down to 1 or 2. Zero would be great, but I’m keeping my expectations realistic.

Daytime is where we have seen the most progress. John-Paul is consistently taking 1 hour naps, and sometimes even two hours or more. As I type this, he has slept 1 1/2 hours. He started to stir, but we gave him a binky about 20 minutes ago and he stayed asleep.

These small victories are the fruit of a number of changes:

  • Moving his bed time to between 6:30 and 7:00
  • Starting his bed time routine earlier, to help get him ready for his earlier bed time
  • Not breastfeeding him all the way to sleep/Allowing him to fall asleep in other ways like rocking, bouncing, walking, etc.
  • Not letting him sleep in my arms throughout the day. I always did this because I liked holding him and he seemed to sleep better. I was creating my own problems there. But no one should deprive themselves of the pleasure of holding their sleeping baby! Just don’t let it become a habit, is what I learned.
  • Having a flexible, but regular nap schedule. I put him down for a nap at the first signs of tiredness. His first nap is between 9-10am, second around noon or 1pm, and then sometimes a third around 3 if one of the others was a short nap.
  • Setting him down just after he nods off, while he is still not quite asleep but almost.
  • 90% of the time I use a whitenoise app on my phone, set to sound like the ocean. I really need to get a white noise machine though because I can’t use my phone when JP is sleeping, which is often inconvenient. Especially if someone calls and temporarily interrupts the white noise…
  • Not picking him up right away when he fusses, but 1. see if he falls back asleep on his own or 2. trying to shhh him or pat/rub him first. If he cries, we pick him up and use other methods to soothe him and get him back to sleep.
  • Recently we started including a binky. He never used to take it; he would just chew on it, usually. But now sometimes it will help him fall asleep. Today for his nap, I nursed him, laid down next to him and shhhed him while he sucked on his binky until he fell asleep. I know this isn’t breaking his “suck-to-sleep” association, but honestly I’ll take sleep and deal with breaking a binky habit later. I KNOW THIS IS CONTROVERSIAL and many will disagree. Please don’t troll my blog over this minor parenting disagreement, please and thank you. You do what you gotta do to get through.
  • Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, wide awake and ready to play. As long as he is happy, I just let him stay in his crib and “play” until he starts to get tired/upset, then I’ll try our methods to soothe him back to sleep. With some training, he has started to put himself to sleep without our help. It is useless to exhaust myself walking around with him to try and put him back to sleep when he is wide awake. It makes for a very cranky and impatient mama. I learned that the hard way.
  • We’ve also started to introduce a “lovey” which is basically a small, sleep-safe item that they can hold to comfort them. JP doesn’t seem to really love any one item yet, but we’ve had the most success with his little stuffed beaver. His U of O fanatic father obviously loves this.

None of this has come easily. A huge part is just accepting the lifestyle change – I have to plan things around his nap times and we can’t go out in the evenings. I get discouraged almost daily, and most nights I dread getting ready for bed because you just never know how it’s going to go. I think in many ways it’s like dieting and/or exercising…you can’t step on the scale or evaluate your progress every day. You just have to trust in the process and know that change will come EVENTUALLY with time, patience and hard work. It’s just a real challenge to hang in there when you feel like you’re putting in so much work and not seeing dramatic results. I know this too shall pass, and that someday I’ll look back on these sleepless nights with romanticized eyes, missing those sweet moments with my little baby. Right now though, all I want is a good night of sleep. And if not that, bring on the coffee.

I know there are other sleepless Mamas and Papas out there! Commiserate in the comments. All y’all Ma’s and Pa’s who have sleep success, what’s been the key to good sleep for your little one? Even if your babe is sleeping for just 5 or 6 uninterrupted hours, I want to know what you did to help them get to that point!

Also a big shout out thank you to my mom who took JP night duty THREE NIGHTS IN A ROW during her visit. She handled all the minor wake ups, and only called me when he legitimately needed to eat. And thank you to Josh, who took JP duty last night. It really helps me stay patient (and sane) during the day.