Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Grace and friendships

I read a lot of blogs and talk to a lot of moms. The mom scene has been my jam for about 7 years now and I still feel like I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I get into these great grooves where it all makes sense. The children are sleeping 12 hours at night. They are taking regular naps. I start cooking from scratch again-- like everything from scratch-- and then-- BAM!-- asthma flare up, stomach bug, husband works crazy hours, we move, or the kids go through this "phase" that just drives me up the wall. I feel like every time I start to relax, let my hair down, and sink into the current vibe, something else happens. Or they grow... our oldest goes from toddler to preschooler to kindergartner to first grader and "the feelings" are off the charts. I feel like I'm swimming through a sea of conflict every morning, wading through tears and hurt feelings, gently navigating interactions between him and family members, guiding and channeling his energy... and I'm so lost. I have no idea what I'm doing. "Is this how we should do this?" I ask myself on the daily. Our preschooler twins... don't even get my started on potty training. That moment when you are standing and holding a pee soaked sheet that you found waded in a backpack, "Why is this here? Who would put this here?" And you have to disinfect and clean a whole closet/room/storage bin/bunk bed because the smell of urine is so overwhelming. "This is exactly how I intended on spending the morning." Or when you are 31+ weeks pregnant and have Braxton Hicks and a toddler on your hip and your husband hasn't been getting home until after the kids are all in bed each night and your older three children are all bickering and fighting and whining and nagging, "What are you making for dinner? I don't want to eat that. He drew on my picture. He's touching me. He's in my space..."

Day after day after day...

And you read mom blogs that talk about how there is this new trend in motherhood not to have your life together, how all the moms are trying to out-do each other with war stories. "Oh? You have a singleton with a yeast rash? I have twins who both have yeast rashes and a singleton with a stomach bug. I haven't slept in DAYS."

Or you get on Instagram and picture after picture of all these "Insta-Moms" are so flipping adorable. "Just kicking it at the park in our vintage children's wear!" How on earth does a mom of 5 get her children to wear coordinating clothes?! At the park??? I mean, what?! My kids throw fits over wearing the $40 rainboots they had to have. "I don't like them anymore." And I have to swallow the urge to yell, "Well, if I knew you were going to throw a fit over them, I would have happily bought the $15 pair so we could have had this argument over the affordable ones."

I feel like in motherhood, there is no winning. If your life appears together, you are sweeping everything under the rug and "Facebooking," where you only show people "the good stuff." If you are showcasing the nitty gritty, down and dirty moments, you are bragging about "how much worse your life is."

You know what? Motherhood is both. Motherhood is those moments where you take the children to a restaurant and everyone compliments how well they behaved. Motherhood is the moments where you literally burst in to tears looking at those adorable faces that you work so hard for, day in and day out, because you honestly had no idea that you could love anything, anyone, any job, any task that much. Motherhood is that punched in the gut, bottom dropped out feeling that you are doing absolutely everything wrong and that, somehow, today, this moment, you have messed up on something big. Motherhood is those times where you listen to your best friend worry on the phone because she doesn't know what to do about this phase or this misbehavior or that troubling rash or whatever and you have gone through it before and know exactly the answer. Motherhood is calling her back the next day sobbing because you have no idea what you are doing and the whole day was cursed from the get-go. Motherhood gives you confidence and at the same time makes you feel 2 inches tall. Motherhood makes you want to tell every stranger that you meet that your child-- your baby-- got an award at school and will get to do a special ice cream social because of it. Motherhood makes you want to hang up every finger painting picture that those tiny hands ever created because-- look, he drew the two of us holding hands (yes, that squiggly line is me and he is the circle thing over here and, see, those are our hands holding).

Today motherhood was crying at the elementary school outside of the cafeteria because I messed up this morning. I handled life all wrong. I sent our oldest off to school when he was crying and felt like he had done everything wrong when I was the one in the bad mood, in the wrong. I was the one that approached the situation poorly. Today motherhood was crying at my girlfriend's house when she asked how I was doing because I felt like I didn't know how to get the day back on track. Today motherhood was showing up for a preschool luncheon when the other kids were in nice pants and little dresses and my kids had dressed themselves in free shirts from the dentist and favorite jeans with holes on the knees and one kid still wearing pajamas.

Motherhood is based on grace. Grace towards children that make the same mistakes no matter how many times you tell them, no matter how many charts you make, no matter how you approach it... grace. Grace towards children that fail. Grace towards children that disobey. Grace towards children that are rude, disrespectful, wrong, spiteful, angry, hurt, sad, lonely... Grace, grace, grace. That is why I am here. To teach them how to navigate those feelings. To show them that sometimes life hurts and how to handle it. I walk them through those moments in life where they feel lost and don't know what to do. Then the next time they are in those situations, they think back and know that they have a support system, they have the space to fail if they try, they have us there to lift them higher, to make them stronger, to put their best selves forward when it is hard and they are scared.

And yet it is so easy to shut that grace down when it comes back to me. When I feel so lost or hurt or wrong, it is easy to start thinking about how you measure up-- with friends, with your own standards, against your parents, against that mom at school pick up who is always on time and looks cute. Today, I feel like I've let myself down. I know for a fact that if any one of my friends came to me with the story I have that I would hug them and tell them that it is okay, that we all mess up and yell or say things we don't mean or drop the ball. It happens. I've already apologized to the children. I've prayed about it. And still I hold on to it because I expect better. If my friends told me this... I would look them in the eye and tell them how this moment teaches your children the meaning of grace. This is the moment that they can look to when they are learning to forgive themselves. This is when you can say, "Remember when Mommy messed up and asked for forgiveness? Remember how much Mommy cried? It is hard to forgive yourself. It is hard to let go of something when you feel like you should have done it better, when you wanted to do it better. But God calls us to give those feelings to him. To let him complete us. Our job is not to come to him perfect, but broken, needing his grace and love to make us whole." That is what I would tell my mom friends. Yet here I sit, tears running down my face, beating myself up for something the children have long moved past.

So, my mom friends, reach out to each other. When you hit the wall, when you can't stop crying over failing, when you let yourself down or the kids down, call your friends. Look at yourself through their eyes. Because they feel that way too. They have been there and they truly know the disappointment when you say a harsh word instead of the loving word. They can pray for you as you heal those wounds between you and your children. They can support you as you stand yourself back up to face the rest of the day. The most important lesson about motherhood is that it is forgiving. I am constantly amazed at the openness of our children's hearts. When I showed up at the elementary school today with the treat for our 1st grader, he gave me the biggest and warmest hug. I told him how sorry I was for the crazy morning and that I hoped the rest of his day would go well and that I loved him. He said, "I love you too! You are the best mom in the whole world. Thank you." His smile was from ear to ear as he walked back to his lunch table with his ginormous M&M cookie. It made me weak in the knees watching him go, that I made that tiny person cry this morning over something so small in our usual routine.

When you find those mom friends that will pray with you, hold on to them. Because the mom friends that understand the ups and downs of motherhood, that give grace and support, who are walking through the fire or have walked through the fire, they are the ones that will cheer when you have mommy victories and pray when you have disappointments. Those are the mom friends that swing by with cookies when your day couldn't get worse and send you out the door with a fresh cup of coffee when they are watching your kids.

Hold on, moms. Motherhood is not easy and it may not always feel "worth it" when those feelings of, "Am I even making a difference?" creep into our daily routines. But it is. It is so worth it. Support each other. Reach out to each other. Talk to each other. If everyone is crying too loud to call your friend, text your friend. Tell her you are struggling. At the very least get her praying for you through that moment. It matters. You matter. You are doing big and important things with little and frustrating people. Grace with you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Moving with the military + best friends

One of the hardest things about being a military wife is moving far away from friends and family. I feel like a lot of times when I think about moving with the military, I think about the obvious: living far away from family. So far, we've had up to a 6 hour time difference (a 10.5 hour plane ride) between us and down to a 4.5 hour drive away from family. That is where I draw my circle when we consider duty stations-- how far away from my family will we be?

While living far away from family is so hard, what really starts grating with military life is always being at the wrong place. Yes, you move away from family to your first duty station. At that duty station, you make amazing best friends. You move to your second duty station and your friends move to a different duty stations... and then you are living away from your friends and your family. At your second duty station, you make more friends... and move away from them to your third duty station... on and on and until you are at your fifth duty station and living across country from the best friends you've ever made and your family.

Today my best friend called me with a crying and coughing toddler in the background on her way to the ER for breathing issues. I have been stuck in bed for the past 3 days 30+ weeks pregnant with my back thrown out (tweaked it wrangling my toddler). I've been texting her lamenting that I wish she was here. I know she would: first, make me cookies and, second, take my kids outside. Now I'm just heartbroken that we have this huge distance-- all of the United States-- between us; neither of us can help each other except texting, calling, and mailing each other every little thing that reminds us of the other. It has been heartbreaking living so far away from each other for these things that, yes, are a big deal, but faced together would be much smaller obstacles. I know how she would help me and she knows how I would help her if we were closer. It is hard when you want to rely on this part of you that is no longer living next door.

And the really frustrating thing about all of this is that my husband and I have an eye on how we can live closer to family. We have a game plan (rough game plan, if you know anything about making plans while your spouse is an active duty submariner). I'm really close to my family and every day I wake up feeling like a whole part of myself is missing living so far away from my mom and sisters. But this game plan of ours only covers that piece of the puzzle: moving closer to family. What about living near my best friends, especially this best friend? I can't imagine living the rest of my life without having her nearby (preferably next door).

When I start thinking about that, I have to push it to the back of my mind, because it brings up other aspects of military life-- all of the great local and military friends we've made along the way that I would love to live near for the rest of my life, the great places we've lived and things I've loved about each of our houses and areas, schools and teachers and local resources that I miss from each duty station... the list literally goes on and on. Wherever we end up moving whenever my husband retires will be missing something. Those are the thoughts I can't dwell on because they suck away my sense of adventure. I do love exploring new corners of our country. I do love living new places and I do love meeting such amazing people that otherwise I would never have met. I love how technology lets me text my best friend as I'm writing this. (Her son is doing well, by the way, but I'm making her send me lots of updates!) But it saddens me to think that I may always have this feeling of missing someone or something at wherever we end up retiring.

So... to my best friend... I'm sorry I can't be there for you today. I love you. I wish that I could watch your oldest while you are at the hospital with your youngest. I wish I could spend the night at your house and be a help to you, even if all you want is a meal or cookies or a drink or for me to take one (or all) of your kids for the day. I wish that tomorrow morning I could swoop into your house and you could tell me all about your night-- the good and the bad-- and that we could get through the long weekend together. I wish that we could spend the afternoons on each other's couches or in each other's back yards as our kids ran wild and we lamented life and pregnancies and the Navy and when will we finally be done with diapers and is it always this hard. I wish we could swap good advice that our moms have given us over the years in person instead of texting each other through time zones. It doesn't matter if we have the entirety of the United States between us (which we do), I'm always right there, praying for you, crying for you, cheering for you, and fighting for you. I'm on your side, on your team, covering your back. I'm a phone call away. You are an inspiration to me with all that you have on your plate and the grace in which you navigate it. You are practical and see the humor in life, even on the days when you are run down and stretched. You have your eye on the long game. You know how to turn around all my complaints and frustrations into temporary problems, things to appreciate and laugh at now because they are problems of the present. I hope you know how amazing you are. So obviously I love you and am proud to have you as a best friend, my partner as we wade through this season of motherhood, and my forever soul mate that I was blessed to meet when I did. I don't know when we will live next door again, but it is in God's hands. He brought me you and so I know we have nothing but good things ahead.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

3rd trimester + 4 boys

Today the children bickered all morning. As it turns out, bickering is a pet peeve of mine-- pregnant or not. The lazy sibling fights where no one actually wants to get up and solve the problem and so they whine, "Noooooo...." "Yeeeeeeeesssss...." or hiss each other's names at each other whenever someone looks at their toy/approaches the area they are playing in/talks to them. Whining, bickering, back and forth arguing... GADZOOKS! It drives me insane. Especially when I don't feel well and so the children are reduced to the most frustrating of behaviours when playing amongst themselves. It was a rough morning getting our 1st grader off to school and the other three boys dressed for the day. By the time I set off on my quick errands, I was fried and done. The preschoolers apparently were as well as they were asleep before I even made it to a main road. We came home for lunch before preschool started and they devoured their plates of food. I made seconds and they ate those. For the 800th time, I thought to myself that surely they are in the midst of a growth spurt right now. We loaded up the dog and set off to the groomers, our one last errand before preschool drop off. After dropping the dog off at the groomer, I swore every horrible word I could think of in my head before praying fervently that God would grant me the peace to get through the rest of the day-- Lord, I hate taking the dog and the children out together. I struggled through preschool drop off. Our twin 5-year olds did not want to go to school today. One of them wanted to wear pants and a winter coat in the 80 degree weather (why is a winter coat shoved under the van seat? I seriously need to clean that vehicle out). I finally wrangled them in their classroom along with the toddler, wrote a check for tuition, went through the whole rigmarole of good-bye charades that I have to do with each of our preschoolers every time I drop them off, peeled myself out of there, wrangled the toddler to the car, and drove back home.

I was spent. I wanted a moment to breathe. I thought, "Maybe I should bring the toddler outside for some playtime in the backyard? He can play; I can sit." I got him a snack. I got out my chair. I decided I wanted a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. I made myself a glass. As soon as I finished adding the garnish, the groomer called. I dressed the toddler. I loaded him up and went to the groomer. I swore to myself again while struggling with the dog and a child. That dog is so frustrating when out with the children. Too much. I brought home the dog and the toddler and we all went out back to relax. I had my lemonade... and realized we needed the patio umbrella. And that the water table hadn't been cleaned since winter. We cleaned. We rearranged. The toddler got naked and pooped in the yard. I cleaned it up. I cleaned him up. I finally sat down with my feet up to enjoy my freshly squeezed, homemade lemonade... and the toddler came over and plunged his grubby, grass covered toddler hand right in my glass. Sigh. In the end, I did manage to get about 30 minutes of sitting with my feet up before running another small errand before preschool pick up. The toddler went wearing nothing but rain boots and a diaper. Such is the life.

I came home with the preschoolers and the toddler and had to wrangle them all before heading out on our school walk to pick up our 1st grader. I dressed the toddler. I filled up my water. I found helmets and bikes and scooters for all four children and we finally made our way to the school-- the preschoolers on a bike and a scooter and me dragging a scooter in one hand (for the 1st grader) and steering the toddler on his Radio Flyer tricycle in the other. We picked up the 1st grader and he rode the scooter home. The boys actually all had amazing listening ears. This was the first time I've allowed them to ride to school pick up. The last few times we had attempted this the preschoolers gave up and wanted me to push them or drag their scooters home or whatever, which was way too much work for me while wrangling them all to school and back.

For a brief period in time upon arriving home with all four children, the mood was happy and homey. We loved the weather today and decided to spent the rest of the afternoon in the backyard. The pleasant mood didn't last long. Once changed into swimsuits, the boys once again dissolved into tears, bickering, whining, and dramatics. I was equally exhausted when we finally called it quits about an hour later. By 5:15 pm, all four of the boys were bathed and in pajamas. During pajama time, the toddler's stomach loosened. Between not feeling well and a decent tumble he took, he wouldn't let me put him down for almost an hour. Our asthmatic preschooler came down with an allergic rash from something that covered his back and legs. The evening was quickly spiraling out of control.

I came downstairs with clean children and had our oldest start "The Force Awakens." I pulled out granola bars, bananas, cheese sticks, cucumbers, apples, and bagels for dinner. By this point, I was exhausted from Braxton Hicks and "irritable uterus," as Labor and Delivery called it the day I went in to get checked out. As I settled onto the couch with my makeshift dinner, I noticed the toddler was stinky again. Of course this is when my husband called to check in and let me know how late he was going to be. It has been a really busy time at work which has made for really late evenings. Duty day or not, I have been putting the kids to bed by myself. I did my best to separate myself from the chaos around me to actually talk and connect with my spouse for a few minutes. Lately he's been sounding just as done as myself (if not more) when we chat. I always find it ironic that he craves and misses the chaos when on night after night of struggling through a frequently painful bedtime routine, all I want is a break.

I took the toddler upstairs and changed his diaper. I folded the laundry that was piled on my bed. I put a sheet on the preschooler's bed (potty training-- grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble... a million grumbles). I carried the toddler downstairs to find two children asleep on the couch and the toddler starting to doze off in my arms. I carried the toddler back upstairs and tucked him in. I came downstairs and woke up one of the preschoolers. Our 1st grader was a little disappointed to turn off the movie before it finished, "There is only 40 minutes left, Mom! Please can I finish it?" But in the end he went upstairs without much fuss and got ready for bed. The two upstairs really were quiet, but the toddler woke up, crawled out of his crib, and came back downstairs to find me as I was struggling to get the other preschooler awake to go upstairs. I finally managed to get him up and held his hand while holding the toddler. The other preschooler started coming down as I was bringing the two upstairs, "No, bud, we are going to bed..." "My blanket is downstairs..." "Your blanket is on your bed..." "No, it is on the couch..." "I put it on your bed, bud. Please turn around so I can go up the stairs..." "But, Mom..." "Go..."

I had the preschoolers finish their bedtime medicine and teeth brushing as I put the toddler back to bed. The 1st grader came in while I was putting the toddler to bed to ask if we were doing stories tonight. "Not tonight, bud. We watched a movie." "But, Mom, it is only 7:30. Can we read one story?" "Bud, please go out. I am putting the baby to bed." "Okay, just one, Mom?" "Out." The toddler wanted up again. I restarted the bedtime routine for the third time. He fell asleep half way through. I snuck out, again, and got the preschoolers out of the bathroom, one of whom had started cleaning out the bathroom drawers. "Mom, I wanted all these kind of toothbrushes in this drawer and all these toothpastes in this drawer..." "Bedtime, bud. That is a great job, but let's do that in the morning..." I got the preschoolers in their beds and said prayers and did a small story with them. I assured them Daddy would come kiss them as soon as he came home. I went in with our 1st grader and did the same-- short story, prayers, talked about Daddy. We had a long talk about the Force Awakens and when we planned on finishing the movie (as if we haven't seen it a million times already).

I walked out of the last bedroom and felt equally relieved that all four children were in bed (three of them already asleep) before 8 pm and guilty for not doing a "normal" bedtime routine with our usual story routine and tuck ins. I considered going back downstairs to watch a show, but my bed sounded much more appealing. I went downstairs and let the dog out. I tidied up the kitchen a small amount and then I huffed and puffed my way back up the stairs to the bedroom, where I collapsed in bed with a book.

I honestly can't say that I have spent a large portion of this pregnancy beating myself up for feeling that our children are being "short changed." I truly feel family life is a communal arrangement. When one of our boys has an asthma flare up, we take it easy and get him better. When our oldest had his Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby race, we all went and cheered him on. When my husband has a weekend off, we reserve that time for family activities. My pregnancy is just another thing for the family to adapt to. However, when I feel so short tempered and exhausted, I really do start feeling bad. I know how often I am throwing a kink in the plans we've made and how much we have said no to already this pregnancy. And then they have to adapt to that while I have a bad attitude. I know that it is all part and parcel with pregnancy and the complications I've been dealing with-- it is hard to be cheerful when your body is getting such a beating. What makes me feel bad is when I feel like the children are getting in trouble for being children, when I put unreasonable expectations on them because I can't deal, when I want them to behave a certain way solely to make my life easier in that moment. That's when I start feeling bad. Because they are moving through various situations feeling like they are in trouble or disappointing me, which doesn't inspire better behavior from them, but worse. They act out for attention. I get irritated and done. And so then they lash out to each other or back to me. It becomes an exhausting cycle. Those are the times when I feel bad. It is a hard balance. I can't keep up with my usual level of activity and they have a hard time understanding changes in our routine. On exceptionally hard days, I want to go scoop them up out of their beds and just hug them so they know how proud of them I am for being such troopers, for refilling my water, for entertaining the toddler while I finished a task, for sitting like gentlemen at the doctor's office, for whatever small thing they did that day. I do tell them frequently during the day how proud of them I am, but it does seem that often after they are in bed, I reflect on the scales for that day-- how many times I told them "Good job!" and how often I even gave the impression of being irritated-- and am disappointed in myself. I am very proud of our children and it pains me to think that perhaps they didn't feel that because of my own selfishness.

Through the difficult first and second trimester, there were many times that I had to hunker down and cut things out of our schedule. For the most part, we all rolled with it. There were rough days where I felt was so exhausted and tired and done, yes, but as the third trimester has trudged on, I have found my mood becoming more disagreeable. My body hurts and having the toddler jump on me when I don't expect it or all the standing, sitting, and kneeling required during the bedtime/prayer routine with four children has brought me to tears. At 30+ weeks pregnant, I feel like we are almost there. The end is in sight. I feel like I could reach out and touch June and know-- with my husband's work schedule and the boys' school schedule-- that in a blink of an eye, baby #5 will be here. However, every evening that I'm struggling through the bath routine or calling in a sitter to help with the bedtime routine, I think, "How will I survive the last 10 weeks?!" Those are the times where I take a deep breath, say a prayer, and narrow my focus to this moment-- this day, this evening, this activity, this child. I pray hard for forgiveness and grace. A short temper in one moment doesn't mean I have to carry that on in the next. I can put on the brakes and apologize, "I'm sorry, guys, for talking that way. I am not handling this well. Would you mind if we played a different game? My back is hurting me a lot and so I can't play this game easily."

How do you get through pregnancy with older children to take care of? How do you get through the long evenings when you are ready for bed when school gets out?!

Navy wives, what are your "duty day while pregnant" tips and tricks?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Putting 4 children to bed...

We have 4 children-- a 1st grader, twin preschoolers, and a toddler. I'm 28+ weeks pregnant and my husband is active duty Navy on submarines. When putting our children to bed, there are three different ways that it happens. The first is when I'm not pregnant and somewhat helpful in the evenings; this would be the two adults approach. The second happens either when I'm pregnant, exhausted, or my husband has been working really long hours and trying to squeeze in all the time he can with the kids. This is when Daddy puts the kids to bed. The third pretty much only happens when my husband works super late, has duty, or is underway. (For all you non-Navy folk, duty is when my husband stays the night on the submarine and underway-- or deployed-- is when the submarine is out to sea.) Bedtime has always been a "Daddy thing" at our house, so if he's home, he is in charge at bedtime and I just assist. With his Navy schedule, a lot of times he is coming home right when we start our bedtime routine or even sometimes after the boys are in pajamas. However, this is the "average" or "what we shoot for."

1. Two parents doing bedtime

This is the easiest approach for bedtime. We can relax in the evening and play outside all the way up to bedtime. We can snuggle and watch movies and ignore the dinner dishes for a bit. There is much more freedom when my husband and I work together to tackle bedtime with our boys. Even with both of us helping, we start moving towards our bedtime routine around 6:30 pm, 6:45 pm. This means we start wrapping up the activity that we were doing. If we were outside playing with toys or playing games in the loft, we start tidying up and so we can go to bed with clean spaces. We start our bedtime routine between 6:45 and 7:00 pm every night. We really make an effort to have all tidying up done by 7:00 pm because at some point in the day the boys are just over picking up toys and it becomes a battle of wills over the 3 toys left in the loft. This does mean that some days we have them go to bed with a bit of a mess to clean up the next day, but it also means a happier bedtime routine and-- possibly-- teaching them how to prioritize and-- maybe-- learning when to let some things slide (so we tell ourselves).

We are not a bath every night type family. We pretty much bathe the boys as needed. With our oldest now attending public school, we do have him bathe at least every other night (he is an active kid). We also make a point of bathing on Saturdays so every one is clean for church the next day. With our preschoolers and toddler... I'm not even going to post how often they get a bath. I will attempt to defend this by saying we have 3 kids with sensitive skin (one of them with eczema), but-- really-- we just don't bathe every.single.night. So... on bath nights we make sure to be upstairs to start the bedtime routine at the earlier time (6:45 pm) and on non-bath nights, it is 6:45/7:00 pm. Since 3 of our boys no longer nap and our toddler has frequently interrupted naps (ahem, thanks to his older brothers...), we sometimes choose the earlier bedtime just because they need to get to bed and we need the break.

Now that I've aired our dirty laundry... if we bathe the boys, we do it in two shifts. The first would be the bath shift and the second the shower shift. Our oldest showers himself. One of our preschoolers has started voicing a desire to do the same, so occasionally he joins the shower shift. For the most part, my husband brings them all upstairs and has them get undressed and then bathes the preschoolers and toddler. Then while he gets them all in pajamas, our 1st grader showers himself and does his pajamas and teeth brushing. After getting the preschoolers and toddler in pajamas, my husband often plays a couple games upstairs with the boys. They toss snowballs or do this little hide and seek game that they find amusing. Once the bathroom is open, he has our asthmatic preschooler do his inhaler (Flovent twice daily via an inhaler and a spacer for his asthma) and then both of the preschoolers go potty and brush teeth. This all usually wraps up around 7:20 or 7:30 pm.

If it is not a bath night, he heads upstairs with the boys around 6:45/7:00 pm and then plays a couple games with them. When they go upstairs, I tidy up downstairs. My husband is great about doing dinner dishes while I finish cooking and plating, but there is always one or two pots and pans left out, plus all of the dishes we used during the meal. I finish getting those in the dishwasher and finish tidying up downstairs while he does bedtime. As much as I hate doing dishes, it sure is nice having a little time to tidy up without helpers. Depending on what I got done that day, I wrap up my leftover chores while he does bedtime. We also set a time limit on the adults doing chores in our house. Once the kids are in bed, it is adult time-- no laundry, no dishes, no organizing. It is time to put our feet up and watch a show or read a book or stare vacantly at the wall (kind of just kidding about the last one...). Often times while he is reading stories, I'm moving and putting away laundry or organizing our bedroom (where I throw all random things during the day and close the door). On non-bath nights, he stops the games and shenanigans and starts having them all put on pajamas around 7:15/7:20 pm.

While the older 3 are putting away their towels and wrapping up teeth brushing, he starts the nebulizer treatment with our toddler (he takes twice daily Pulmicort treatments for his reactive airways). When they finish up, he has them all pick their bedtime story. Each boy gets to pick one bedtime story each evening. On bath nights, he tries to have them pick out shorter stories, just because bathtime takes longer than only putting on pajamas. This doesn't always happen because one of our boys is obsessed with Skippyjon Jones and those stories take awhile to read. Our toddler is still flighty enough that some days he picks out a book and some days he does not. After reading through each of their books, he has started reading them The One Year Book of Devotionals for Boys. He reads them their passage and then sends them all to wherever I am to get Momma kisses. Then they all head to their rooms to wait on their beds for their turn to be tucked in.

Most nights he puts the toddler to bed first. If my husband leaves the toddler out of bed, the toddler runs from room to room and makes everyone mad by touching their things. Or the toddler hunts me down so he can pull over my laundry piles or throw a fit because he knows bedtime is next. So the toddler goes to bed first. He says a quick prayer with him and does their little tuck in routine. Then he goes to the preschoolers' room and says prayers with each of them and does each of their tuck in routines. Finally he goes to our 1st grader's room and they do their prayers and tuck in routine. He saves our 1st grader for last because they like to chat about things and sometimes that takes awhile. If all the little boys are in bed, they don't have to worry about the time or rushing off to get other kids to bed. On a regular night, all the boys are in bed, lights out, by 7:45/8 pm. Our 1st grader has picked up reading after he goes to bed (or playing on his tablet). If I walk by around 8:30 pm and he's still on his tablet, I have him turn his lights out. However, if I see him with a book, I have a really hard time discouraging that and am prone to let him read as late as he wants-- true confession. Most nights, he turns his lights out by 8:20/8:40 pm on his own anyways and he is super quiet and well-behaved about his little privilege and so there are no complaints.

Sometimes when my husband finishes the bedtime routine I am still folding laundry in our room. Most often I've taken a shower or I'm waiting for him downstairs on the couch and we can start our show. Our favorite nights, surprisingly, are not the nights that the children are all in bed by 7:30/7:45 pm. At this point-- with a 1st grader, twin preschoolers, and a toddler-- for bedtime to happen that early, they have to be really grouchy. Those are the nights that we slump on the couch with relief that the evening is over and we just stare at the TV until one of us realizes we are watching Tiny House, Big Living re-runs. The best nights are when bedtime goes as we normally do it and he comes down from getting all 4 in bed, the kitchen is clean, the downstairs tidy, and we have a DVR full of new shows to watch together. We chat a bit. We catch up on a show together. We head upstairs around 9 or 10 pm, depending on his work schedule. I read. He falls asleep. I turn out the light around 10 or 10:30 pm-- all good. That adult time is our favorite time of day. Most weekends we watch a Netflix movie together-- a big splurge for us, as during the weeknights if we watch a movie we split it up over 2 nights (yes, we've hit the point in our lives where a single DVD takes us two nights to watch-- sigh).

2. Daddy doing bedtime

Hmmm. Bedtime routine lately has been different. I suppose this extends from the pregnancy to the first year with the baby, because I don't participate in the routine much during any of that. The biggest change is that instead of me getting things done while he does the bedtime routine, I'm laying on the couch with Braxton Hicks or locked in the bedroom nursing a baby. At least during the first year there is a chance I will fold laundry (or make an elaborate show of moving it about for awhile before shoving it in basket in the corner). During the pregnancy, the dishes get pushed aside until the next day; the laundry gets piled around our bedroom. It is a mess. The first trimester I was too sick to get much done; now in the third trimester, I'm usually exhausted from a long day with 4 kids and school pick up and drop off and errands and life. When my husband starts the bedtime routine, it is the perfect time for me to take a shower or finally ice/heat my back.

So, a lot of times, my husband sends the boys upstairs early, like right after dinner, and starts on the dishes. Sometimes he will even have them help put away or fold laundry before they do pajamas, which is just amazing. He doesn't always get all of these chores done (sometimes I get really behind on the laundry), but the fact that he even tackles most of the chore really impresses me. I love how caring my husband is and how he involves the kids in these chores. I see how they emulate him during the day with the love and care they put in to helping me. I think he has told them to make sure that I have water because they are always refilling my water glass or asking if I need to stop and buy a bottle of water, "Did you bring a water with you, Momma?"

Even with all of this stuff that isn't getting done during the day, we still stick to our 8 pm "no more chores" guideline. There are a few days where it is hard and we do finish dishes or fold a load of laundry after the kids are all in bed, but we try to do those things together then and use that time to talk. Well, doing the dishes pretty much ends up being me sitting at the island eating ice pops while he wraps up the dishes, but we do talk while he does that.

There have been plenty of days-- especially during the first trimester-- where I felt guilty over all of the things I hadn't finished that day. Now in the third trimester, I'm realizing that my body is just helping set the pace for the next couple months. When our fifth baby shows up and I'm nursing and school is out and my husband's work schedule continues to be crazy, the children will already be accustomed to this schedule where some things just have to wait. In the end, that's not a bad thing for anyone involved, even the adults. It teaches the children patience. It is hardest for us adults to extend ourselves grace when we have that shoulda/coulda/woulda feeling that, really, God calls us to let go of. On the hard days or the guilt ridden days where my husband walks in the door and I'm exhausted and he's exhausted and we are figuring out what we have to get done that evening, this is what we remind ourselves of. It really doesn't all have to get done and it is just a passing season.

3. Mommy doing bedtime

Aaaaargh! These are my least favorite times, when I'm putting the kids to bed. My husband works a lot of hours and so we've always viewed bedtime as "his bonding time." He comes home and wants to spend time with the children. While he may be tired, he's freshly dealing with them and trying to catch up on how their day went. They tell him long rambling stories during bathtime and they all cuddle close during storytime. I think for all of them-- my husband and the children-- the 20 minutes of playing games upstairs before the bedtime routine starts is the highlight of their day. There are a lot of days where their emotions are running high after a long day and he's exhausted after his long day and I'm exhausted after my long day, but even then it is a time where he puts forth the effort of being present. I love it (the one time of day that isn't my responsibility), they love it (time with Dad), and he loves it (time with his children).

When I am going to put the children to bed by myself, my favorite thing to do is a super early dinner. We eat around 4:30/5 pm. I clean up the dinner mess while they are still fairly fresh (or at least not in complete hysterics). Then, to get everyone out and break up the evening, we often go for a walk once the kitchen is clean. When we get home, depending on the time and weather, I let our 1st grader play basketball while I start getting the other 3 ready for bed. Once I have all 4 in pajamas, we come downstairs for a quick snack around 6:30 pm. I usually turn on a show while we eat our snack. The boys love Chopped Junior and Fixer Upper, so I keep a few episodes recorded for duty days. Then we head upstairs for medicine and teeth brushing a little after 7 pm. Because I often cut corners during the bedtime routine, I try to extend storytime as much as possible, especially when everyone is in good moods and completely ready for bed.

After stories, the boys all head to their beds to wait their turn to be tucked in. The toddler is pretty difficult for me to get to bed. We've made a lot of progress, but he prefers to have Daddy tuck him in and is quite vocal about it. I have discovered if I crack his door after laying him down, he will eventually fall asleep. I truly believe he lays in bed watching the door, waiting for Daddy to come in, before he dozes off. I say prayers and tuck the preschoolers in. Often I have to go back in to the toddler before tucking in our 1st grader. On duty days, our 1st grader usually ends up sleeping in my room. He helps me fold a load of laundry and we chat before we get in bed. With the pregnancy, I usually close up the house and read in bed after getting all the children to sleep. I'm usually pretty tired and have enough Braxton Hicks that I just want to rest.

When the boat is gone, we really try to stick to the routine we have going when Daddy is home. Obviously some evenings that just doesn't happen. I'm just one person and can't do it all. We did do Friday movie nights where we hunkered down early, partly as a treat to the boys and partly to give myself a "day off" from doing the bedtime routine. I have found that as this pregnancy progresses, I'm cutting myself more and more slack. We cut a lot of corners during the bedtime routine the past couple months. Cold and flu season hit us hard-- even flaring my asthma-- and so I would be administering Albuterol to 2 kids while trying to take it easy myself. The biggest key to the evenings when nothing is going well or easily is to keep my cool. Those times can be stressful and the boys are only following their "usual" routines. I try to give hugs freely, to let them know how much we love them, and to talk calmly. I don't want them to feel punished because their brother is sick and I want them to be understanding and compassionate when others need help. They have impressed me how much they have risen to the occasion. Sometimes our preschoolers teach us songs from their preschool or give us Bible lessons. Our 1st grader is always willing to read stories out loud and show us things on his tablet. I feel like how they approach those times takes those hard to get through moments and makes them teaching moments-- a chance for them to recall things they've learned, share their knowledge with each other, and to put other's needs above their own.

The hardest nights are when everything going wrong. When I have a toddler who's pulled off a stinky diaper and needs a bath, boys who are picking fights with each other and having bad, moody attitudes, and we still have an hour and a half before bedtime (or it is well past bedtime and we are still struggling to get pajamas on). Of course these are usually the times that someone starts puking too. The nights where I am so far past my limit and feel like I cannot deal with another whining, bickering fight... I usually have the boys do a quiet time. I take care of what I have to get done (bathe the toddler, for instance) and then I figure out what doesn't have to happen until tomorrow, even if that means leaving a table covered in dishes. If it is late enough, I have everyone get pajamas on in their rooms and read one story with each of the boys in their own rooms. If there is still a long time until bedtime, I do pajamas and watch a show with them or-- depending on why everyone was sent to their rooms-- a really early bedtime. Thankfully these nights do not happen that often. I'm not saying bedtime routine always goes smoothly or easily, but these type of epic nights are not the norm. These are the nights that, even if my spouse was home, bedtime wouldn't be easy. When I have a night like this when he's on duty, I tend to laugh about it after everyone is in bed. Work has been crazy for my husband lately and so the stories of, "Well, here's how it was going at home..." make him laugh. When I have nights like this when he's underway, I have been known to call my mom when it is really late in her time zone so I can cry and say, "You won't believe what they did tonight!" Then normally she can help me laugh about them the next day when I call her again-- first thing in the morning.

Do you have a bedtime routine at your house? What is your favorite part of the bedtime routine? How do you get through the bedtime routine when your day gets derailed?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Answered prayer

I wanted to share a blog post about our recently answered prayer. At 22+ weeks pregnant, I went in for my 20 week ultrasound. (This was the earliest my OB could get me in for the ultrasound.) The appointment was on a Friday. The following Wednesday, we received a phone call that they found abnormalities on the ultrasound and gave me a whole bunch of complications it could be. They told me the pregnancy was high risk and I needed to get in with a MFM (Maternal Fetal Medicine) right away. I met with my OB 2 days later, that Friday (23+ weeks), and they again went over the possible complications and had me go to the lab for blood tests. The earliest the MFM could see me was a week and a half later, when I would be 25 weeks.

Our OB told us at the appointment that the pregnancy was going to be high risk. That more than likely I would be spending a lot of time at the OB and the MFM to be closely monitored for the rest of the pregnancy. We were so scared for the outcome of the pregnancy and for the future of our baby girl. What would this all mean? The wait was so hard since we had no idea the direction the pregnancy would go.

As soon as we got the news, I started texting and calling my girlfriends who I knew would spend some serious time in prayer for us. We informed our church's prayer team. My husband told his work, who in turn reported back to him that they had informed their churches' prayer teams. We felt that we had this team of people praying for us as we headed to our appointment.

The morning of the MFM appointment I felt like I was going to be sick standing outside of the building. I was very nervous and so glad my husband was there with me. My phone kept going off with encouraging text messages from friends and family. While the gal did our ultrasound, she talked us through everything she was finding and it was all good news. The abnormal measurements found at the previous ultrasound were within normal at this ultrasound. The baby was moving a lot. The gal was able to quickly and easily get all of the measurements she needed. My husband and I were anxiously hopeful. What does this mean now?

When we met with the doctor, he told us that the ultrasound looked great. He said that they did not find the same readings as on our 20 week ultrasound, that the ultrasound done there at their office overrules the 20 week ultrasound because of how in depth and experienced they are. He spent a lot of time asking us family history questions, answering our questions, and explaining the results and our future plan of action. He even suggested we cancel the appointment with the genetic counselor, who we were supposed to meet with next. It was a miracle.

The next day at our OB she reaffirmed all the findings and agreed with the plan of action. We are going to meet with the MFM again in 6 weeks. If they find similar results on that ultrasound to what they found at our last appointment, they will release us from their care. I will have to start weekly NST's (Fetal Non-Stress Tests) at some point in the 3rd trimester, but she said that will fall more into the category of cautious monitoring. My husband and I were elated and credit all of this to God and the people praying for us.

Adding more great news to the week, I was chatting with my OB at that appointment about the complications I had after having Baby #4 and how I've experienced increased discomfort. She mentioned how her practice resolves those issues, which was exactly the same as what I had discussed with my OB in South Carolina. For a short time here, at our new duty station in Washington, I had been seeing a different OB/Gyn who was not on board with that plan and only offered me a solution that would resolve some of the complications I was having. It was very frustrating and again something that I had prayed about. My husband and I both felt that I needed to switch OB/Gyns for a number of issues (a tough decision for us to make as it involved switching insurance plans) and we were blown away again by God's hand in this decision. It was amazing to see how God brought us to someone who was exactly on board with what we had talked about at a past duty station with a different doctor, a plan that would resolve the complete issue and improve my quality of life once we have Baby #5. Again, another miracle.

I do not always expect "Yes" answers from God. The children and I were watching "Joseph: King of Dreams" yesterday and I was reminded of how often we do not understand God's plan. I fall back on Job's prayer a lot, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (Job 42:3b). We do not always understand the path God walks us down or know where he is leading. I love the entire book of Philippians, but Philippians 1:18b-19 stands out, "Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." Philippians 1:27a continues, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." Even our current family Bible verse speaks of the hardships we will have in this life. John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." God does not promise us that he will remove hardships. No, he promises us Jesus-- the way, the truth, and the life. We do not understand his plan, yet we rejoice because whatever happens to us will turn out for our deliverance and bring glory to God. But I wanted to share these answered prayers with you because we had a team of people petitioning God on our behalf and he answered those prayers. We felt his presence through this whole process and are blown away at how he moved. Thank you to everyone who prayed for us.

Philippians 4:4-7
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

To read about the first trimester of this pregnancy, check out my previous post here.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Processing miscarriage and grief

I was reading some blog posts recently and they were discussing how we as parents should be more vocal about our miscarriages and open about whether or not we are trying to conceive. There were a lot of points in these posts that I agree with-- how isolating miscarriages can be, how heartbreaking a negative pregnancy test feels, the emptiness and longing as you pass your due date without a baby in your arms. But some of the other points made me think about my own experiences with miscarriages and my current pregnancy. I think I have finally sorted out my thoughts into a blog post...

So, first of all, I'd like to clarify that we do not struggle with infertility; my fertility is normal. When I talk about trying to conceive, all of this is within a year of trying to conceive without fertility treatments. I am adding that only because I am not trying to misrepresent myself or to represent a journey that I have never taken. I have many friends that struggle/have struggled with infertility and their stories are different than mine.

When I announced that we were 16 weeks pregnant with baby #5, a lot of people were surprised. Sadly, even a lot of my close friends were caught off guard. I received phone calls and text messages and many face to face conversations where people said, "I didn't realize you were pregnant!" I had hardly shared the news with anyone. I did not expect to keep the news that tightly under wraps when we went into this pregnancy.

I had my first OB visit right before I was 6 weeks pregnant. From that first visit on we received bad news after bad news regarding my pregnancy. Nothing was looking right. They were worried it could be another molar. The ultrasound readings weren't looking good. I was devastated. I remember telling my husband, "I have to have you come with me in case we get bad news," and my absolute shock when we did receive bad news. This is our 6th pregnancy (7th if you count a confusing and brief chemical pregnancy, which my husband does). Previously we had had 2 miscarriages, one of those ended up being a partial molar pregnancy. We have had our share of bad news in the OB office. When we received bad news regarding this pregnancy, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Again?! How could this be happening again?!

Right before 11 weeks we were told that the pregnancy may progress normally. From there we received more tentatively positive feedback until 16 weeks when they said that the baby was indeed progressing normally and that everything should be fine. At 18 weeks we got the all clear. By that point, my head was spinning. I remember each of our previous 2 miscarriages vividly. I remember those feelings, the words my husband comforted me with. The late night prayers and the early morning longing. I remember the long showers and sobbing, sobbing, sobbing at all the blood and disappointment and failure. How could I have let this all go? How could my body do this to me?

With the molar pregnancy, the months of returning to the OB office each week for blood work, the waiting room full of pregnant women. The entire year passing before we conceived again, my due date passing, the age gap between our twins and baby #4. The comments we receive, "If we had twins, we would have waited to have another baby too!" We didn't want to wait. We tried for a baby. We had a baby. The baby is gone.

This pregnancy was different for me in that I had no idea and have no idea the support I wanted or needed. I felt lost. I didn't feel ready to open up and to start fielding the routine comments. I didn't even feel ready to face the day each day. I felt beyond overwhelmed with our 4 children, the Navy schedule, the complications I'm experiencing due to past pregnancies, the distance between me and my family, and the depression. I felt like crawling into my bed until it had all passed.

Combining the rough start and my past history, I have strange feelings regarding this pregnancy. I keep trying to keep my emotions in check as the weeks march forward, "Don't get too excited... hold it in... you don't know how this will work out..." As I've started to shed my depression, I have started to see that much of dealing with this specific grief is forgiving myself. I have held on to so much shame from miscarrying my babies. I feel like my body failed. I scramble sometimes to find the "why" and the "what I could have done differently." Those thoughts hurt. What if I do stumble upon the why? If I hadn't done this then my babies would still be alive? Oh, those thoughts hurt. If I can't tolerate those kinds of comments from other people, why do I tolerate them from myself? I have been praying for forgiveness for myself, to hand this over to God and let him heal the pain that I have sheltered.

With each of our miscarriages and with this current pregnancy, I have handled the "bad news" differently. With this pregnancy, I had depression. I knew we would get through this-- one way or another. I knew what each step after a miscarriage felt like. The breathless feeling as you move each day away from your baby. Yesterday I was pregnant. 2 days ago I was pregnant. Last week I was pregnant. Last month I was pregnant... On and on until suddenly you are far enough away from the baby, the pregnancy, that it isn't relevant anymore and people don't understand. The idea of hearing the same comments I heard during my first miscarriage, the second miscarriage, the molar pregnancy... I couldn't do it. With my complications from baby #4, I knew that this was it, the last pregnancy, our last go. If this pregnancy fails, would we dare try again? I don't know. I don't think so. Could I even try again?

People are well meaning, I know they are. I cannot even express how thankful I was during my molar pregnancy to receive a handwritten condolence card from a friend. I had something tangible that this pregnancy happened and mattered and that someone was praying for me. The hugs and tears shared with friends. The long phone calls with my mother. These things matter and the support is real. I am so thankful for that support and that is the support I crave when things go wrong.

What is hard is the other comments, the ones made by people you don't know well or people who don't understand. I remember the devastation when a neighbor flippantly told me that "everyone has a miscarriage their first pregnancy." Everyone loses their baby at 12+ weeks pregnant? This is normal? Why didn't I know this? Or when you are trying to conceive again and month after month your cycle arrives, your pregnancy tests are negative. "It will happen in due time. Don't worry." I'm not worried. I know I will eventually get pregnant. What I want is to be pregnant with the baby I lost. What I want is to go back in time and tell my body to do it's job, to protect what was inside of me, for my womb to love the baby as much as my heart did. The worst comment: "That baby didn't survive for a reason. There is a reason you had a miscarriage." Logically, yes. Emotionally, no. I honestly don't care what the reason is. Obviously something happened or I would pass my due date with a babe in arms. Every time I hear this comment, I want to cry. I want to burst into tears and cry. The way people say it to me-- not doctors, just people-- is that I shouldn't be sad. That I should let this baby pass because they, a bystander, are telling me that my baby miscarried due to a congenital failure that I do not know about. It doesn't help me. I do not want a diagnosis sitting at Starbucks.

I do not want the dismissive shrug, "God has a plan," as though my grief is in defiance of God. God does have a plan for me. I know this. I trust him. Did Job shake it off and say, "Whatevers. God's got a plan, you guys." No. The first thing Job says is, "May the day of my birth perish." (Job 3:3a). Yet he is praised for his patience and trusting of God. "I loathe my very life, therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 10:1). Job trusted God and held fast to God's promises. He wept at his hardships. I can be sad and weep and long for those babies and fully trust God. God's perfect plan will happen. My life will be lead to the glory of God. I can count down the days until I am in heaven praising the Lord and holding those babies of mine that have been waiting for me to get there. My grief is not separate from my faith. My grief is my very human need for God. I do not think God took those babies from me; there is sin in this world; I am not blaming God. I know that whatever happens to me, I can hold firm to the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27), that all things can bring glory to God. That is what I do. I hold firm. Job 42: 2-5:
I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you..." 
It is easy to focus on the comments I receive during these times of grief, the times where I felt 2 inches tall because of a misplaced sentiment. Sometimes people really are trying to help and my grief takes their words personally. It isn't their fault. It isn't my fault. It happens. There are times, like with my first miscarriage, that comments were bound to happen because we had shared my pregnancy with everyone. During the second miscarriage it felt more personal because I had only let a handful of people in. It is easy to put the blame on them, "I would share, but people need to learn what to say and become more sensitive and mindful." True, manners go a long way, but sometimes people are being sensitive and mindful. They genuinely mean God loves me and has a perfect plan for me. They are not trying to tell me to put my tears away and my sensitive heart is processing their words differently than how they mean them. While I will never forget some of the comments I have received during my times of grief (grief has a way of imprinting in your mind while also merging days and weeks into a blur), I can forgive them. I can hand them over to God when they pop into my mind. I do not have to give the off handed words people said either by mistake or with genuine feeling power over my actions. I know that once a hurtful word is spoken it is easy to be paralyzed. The times that I lowered the wall and tried to let people in only to have that trust broken-- real or perceived-- make it very difficult to be vulnerable again. It is hard. It is a struggle.

When I read posts that demand that women have a right to discuss their miscarriages, that each of these losses are real, I agree. What I do not agree with is that we have to. I choose to blog about my losses here because I know how isolating a miscarriage is and how uplifting and encouraging it is to read someone else's story who went through the same thing. I know how hard the late nights and early mornings are and what the Google searches that bring people to my page looking for someone else who has been there. But in real life, I am a woman that feels the tears burn the back of my eyes when a comment feels insensitive, a woman who changes the subject when I don't know how to put into words the emotions those losses bring up, a woman who thinks about each of the babies that are waiting for me in heaven each and every time I see a positive pregnancy test. I do not boldly preach about these miscarriages at each opportunity in real life, but I will quietly grab your hand when you hint at yours. I will relate with you. I will pray for you and cry with you when you tell me that your pregnancy isn't going well. I will tell you my story. I will answer your questions when you ask. I will share with you. I hold these babies of mine dear to my heart. My story of them is my only connection with them here on earth. I have 4 precious children sleeping upstairs right now that I get to spend each day with. I make memories with them and I have seen them grow. I do not have that same gift with these babies that weren't born. My time with them was fleeting.

What I am saying is that I do not believe there is one answer out there regarding sharing about miscarriages and processing loss. I have felt differently during each of my miscarriages. During my first miscarriage, I wished more than anything that I hadn't shared my pregnancy with everyone-- the gas station attendant, the cashiers at Wal Mart, the pizza guy, every single one of our neighbors I waved at, all my friends and acquaintances. The weeks and sometimes months afterwards of, "How's the new baby?" or "How's the pregnancy?" kept me hiding at home to avoid the explanations. With my second miscarriage and subsequent molar pregnancy, I wished I had shared more. I gathered local support after the pregnancy started miscarrying. I told people after the D&C. I felt so alone and felt so horrible with the awkward, "Oh, congratulations on the pregnancy, honey. I'm so sorry to hear that it isn't going well.." People didn't know what to say when I said I was pregnant and miscarrying or had miscarried and was having complications. It was all hard.

How each person processes that time with miscarried babies is different-- and each pregnancy is different. Grief is messy. It is really hard to say ahead of time the support you would want if the worst was to happen or if you were in someone else's shoes.

Have you had a miscarriage? What comforted you during your time of grief? What was one of your biggest challenges? Did you feel sharing helped?

I also want to say thank you to everyone who has shared their stories with me via email, messaging, and in person. Every time I post blogs on miscarriage I am blown away by other people's stories-- from friends to my blog readers. I am so blessed to pray for you and to receive your prayers.

John 16:33
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cloth diapering a toddler

Well, cloth diapering has been different than I thought it would be. I tried to approach cloth diapering with an open mind, knowing that it was something that we were dedicated to. So, with that said, our cloth diapering journey has been full of ups and downs and lots of learning.

Cloth diapering tips

My first recommendation when cloth diapering is to find a local baby store that carries cloth diapers. This was such a great resource to me, beyond just having a local business to support with my cloth diaper purchases. A lot of local baby stores hold cloth diapering classes. This was informative to me because it discussed all the different types of cloth diapers for all the different ages and stages as well as how wash routines for each of those as well. This is also where I went every time I needed to troubleshoot our cloth diapering routine.

My second recommendation-- and one that may be harder to support-- is having a cloth friendly pediatrician. Our kids have all been extremely prone to yeast. Baby #4, the only one of our boys that we cloth diapered, was no exception. Nystatin is not cloth safe and so we switched him to disposables for all of his yeast infections. Baby #4 also had other issues that pulled him out of cloth for a little while and through all of it our pediatrician supported our cloth diapering. It has been really great not having our pediatrician blame baby #4's yeast infections on cloth since cloth is not the issue considering our other 3 boys all had the same problem and did not ever wear cloth.

My third point-- which is more of a tip-- would be to remember that baby's skin changes through each of the ages and stages-- from newborn, to infancy, to starting solids, to toddler years. Their stomach changes how it digests the new foods it is encountering. Their skin changes as they grow. Our little guy had a big reaction to Freetimes. We had him out of cloth for a long period of time as we moved across country. When we put him back in cloth, he had reactions to the Thirsties microfiber diapers I used for overnights. It was a mess. One we still haven't quite sorted out and so we started putting him in disposables at night until we can find better overnight options (organic cotton has not made the cut for overnights for us).

What's it like cloth diapering a toddler?

I am so glad we started cloth diapering. Even with the hiccups we've had along the way, I wish we had started cloth diapering from the start with baby #1. I feel like we would have saved so much money, even though we are currently putting baby #4 in disposables at night and the other times we use disposables. We definitely plan on cloth diapering baby #5 and, since it is a girl, I've been looking up adorable girl print Elementals. I will be pulling out all our newborn stash for her. It makes me so happy that we already have diapers from the newborn days to the toddler years for baby #5.

It has not been as free from disposables as I would like, sadly. As I said, we use disposables for overnights and baby-sitters. I also keep them for sickness and yeast infections. For instance, he was in them off and on through the first trimester with baby #5 when I was feeling so horrible; I also use them when a stomach bug hits our house. Not just because of the frequency of diaper changes during those times, but also because we have 4 children and that's just a lot of laundry.

In other respects, it is amazing. I absolutely love not having to worry about diapers all the time. I don't have to drag all the children to the store just to buy diapers. When I need diapers, I just wash and voila! Diapers! I had hoped when we started on our cloth diapering journey that it would be something that my husband is on board with and he has been this whole way. He still changes just as many diapers (read: all the diapers whenever he is home-- haha!) and he is completely comfortable changing and rinsing even the most soiled diapers. It has been an easy process to take on and I'm glad it has worked as well as it has.

When people find out we cloth diaper, I think one of the biggest comments I get is, "We decided against it because of the dirty diapers." I'm probably going to be the wrong person to comment on this. We have somewhat potty trained twins that still wear diapers at night at 4.5 years old and often need their sheets changed at 1 am. We have waded through the potty training trenches with our first 3 boys and so taking on cloth diapers with our fourth has been no big deal. Are the dirty diapers pleasant? No, obviously not. But are they worse than changing a disposable? No, they really aren't.

The inside of a BumGenius Elemental diaper

The organic cotton diaper liners are sewn in to the waterproof diaper cover,
making them all-in-ones that basically function like a disposable diaper
What the BumGenius Elemental diaper looks like "on the bum"

I'm not sure how much of that comes down to the type of diaper we chose. I have never changed a pocket diaper. We only use BumGenius Elemental diapers, which are all in one organic cotton diapers. There are no inserts and no stuffing with these diapers. They essentially function the same as a disposable diaper. We do use cloth wipes at home. Instead of putting them in a solution, we store them dry and spray the wipe with solution from a spray bottle before use. (Side note: we also discovered that our baby has a reaction to Tea Tree Oil so I have to be careful what I put in the cloth wipe spray.) Regardless of whether our 20-month old is in cloth or disposables, changing a dirty diapers at this point in time is just not fun, but one hasn't been worse for us than the other.

Changing a cloth diaper at home

Our children playing on the mountain of laundry
To cloth diaper at home, I just stay on top of the laundry. (Everyone who knows me will laugh out loud at that, so I guess I should clarify. I wash the laundry and then move it to a giant laundry mound on the floor of my bedroom.) Our cloth diaper stash supports a wash routine of doing a load of diapers every two days. If we go through a lot of diapers in one day, for some reason, I will do a load even if I washed the day before. We still have our cloth diaper changing station. We have since moved since my first blog posts on cloth diapering. The cloth diaper changing table is now in the nursery instead of a bathroom (no bathrooms big enough at our new house!). It is still fully stocked, with the diaper pail and wet bag next to the changing table. The bathroom with the sprayer is right next to the nursery.

Unsnap the diaper

Take it off the baby

Throw it in the pail

If a diaper is only wet, it is changed just as you would a disposable. We take it off and throw it in the diaper pail. If baby #4 needs a quick wipe, we spray a wipe and clean him up. If not, we powder and then re-diaper.

"Baby powder-- what?!"

I can almost hear you exclaiming. Yeah, I know baby powder has a bad name in recent years. Yes, I know that baby powder is often linked to yeast; this is our first baby we've used baby powder on and it works well for him. No, we do not use talcum powder, only cornstarch. Yes, we are careful to keep it away from baby's face.

Why do we use baby powder?

I have found, for us, that it helps keep the moisture off baby #4's skin. We have had a multitude of issues with his skin, some that I've touched on from diaper area trouble to general skin issues... it has just gone on and on the stuff we've had to deal with regarding his skin. We use organic cotton diapers and I have discovered that using baby powder and frequent diaper changes keeps his skin clearer longer instead of using cloth safe diaper creams at each changing. I really feel like the powder helps pull the moisture from his skin. We do have some cloth safe diaper creams that we have used and liked; none work as well as baby powder and frequent diaper changes. I feel bad admitting we use baby powder. It is such a heated topic in parenting circles lately, but I have talked it over with our pediatrician for anyone who is concerned.

Homemade cloth wipe (cut up receiving blanket). I fold into fourths.

Spray with homemade cloth solution
(Recipes can be found at Cloth Wipe Solution Recipes by Zany Zebra Designs)
So, back to the logistics of diaper changes. For a stinky diaper, I will speak as to how I change his diaper. I know my husband has a slightly different routine, but it is roughly the same. First I assess how dirty the diaper actually is. If it is pretty normal, I spray a wipe and clean his bottom first. I dispose of the cloth wipes into the diaper pail as each wipe is soiled during the diaper change.

Wipe baby with first wipe
Throw the first wipe in diaper pail once used
Folding the diaper under his bottom while I finish cleaning him up
Once I have cleaned off his bottom with the first wipe, I fold the diaper underneath his bottom and so he is sitting on a clean part of the dirty diaper. He is still not completely clean and so I do not want to put him directly on the clean changing cover (more laundry for me). I then spray another wipe and wipe him clean again. Usually I can clean him up with 2 wipes. I sometimes will fold over the second wipe and do a thorough freshening up of his diaper area, but for the most part 2 cloth wipes will do the job.

Tucking the heavily soiled wipe in the stinky diaper

Putting the diaper with the heavily soiled wipe out of reach
of the baby on the shelf of the changing table

Finishing cleaning the baby with the 2nd wipe.
Usually this wipe will not be soiled enough for a rinse and goes straight in the diaper pail

Sometimes the cloth wipes get heavily soiled. If that is the case, I pull the diaper out from under the baby and tuck them inside the soiled diaper. I then set the diaper on the shelf of the changing table and finish the diaper change.

New clean diaper under baby

Pull diaper up

Snap closed on waist

Once baby #4 is cleaned, I remove the diaper from under him and set it on the shelf of the changing table until I finish his diaper change. I then put the new clean diaper underneath him. I powder his diaper area and then I snap the new diaper shut. The baby is now finished at the changing table and so I sent him to run wild while I dispose of the soiled diaper.

Carrying the soiled diaper and wipe to the bathroom to spray in the toilet with our diaper sprayer

How I hold the diaper to spray if I'm going to spray a diaper and a soiled wipe.
I find a clean corner of the wipe to pin to the diaper and hold the sprayer with my other hand.

How I hold the diaper to spray if I just have a soiled diaper and no wipe.

Our diaper sprayer

Where we store it. I can say something about how we lost the hook in our last move and my hubs is going to fix it somehow, but we all know it will just stay this way until we move again (and we can say the same thing at our next house).
I take the soiled diaper to the restroom for rinsing. If I need to spray the wipes, I bring those too, tucked inside the soiled diaper. I turn the sprayer on (we keep it stored off so that it doesn't leak and so that our boys don't play with it). I thoroughly spray the diaper into the toilet. Most of the time, the diaper soil will roll out of the diaper into the toilet and I just have a little to spray off of the diaper. Sometimes it is heavily soiled and nothing rolls off of the diaper. In that case, I just spray the diaper a little longer. The sprayer has enough force that it has cleaned off the diapers well for us so far. (Our toddler is 20-months old right now.)

To carry the diaper back to the diaper pail from the bathroom, I first fold it in half.

Obviously normally I do this with 2 hands. In general, I do not take pictures of my hands while I do this so I am able to utilize both of them instead of tying one up with a DSLR.

Since I don't have 2 hands free, I'm showing each step with the diaper sitting on the toilet. Typically I would fold it up quickly with both hands.
After I fold it once, I fold it again loosely. This is the step where most of the water leaks out so be sure to do this over an open toilet.

I fold over the flaps one at a time... (ONE)


...and then I can hold the dry waterproof shell of the diaper and carry it back to the diaper pail
without the diaper dripping on the floor.

Back at the diaper pail I let the diaper unfurl in my hand and drop it in the pail. I don't like to drop things in the pail wadded up because I dump the diaper pail wet bag directly in the washer and I want everything washed loose.

Because of the waterproof outside shell of our diapers, I do not have to worry about the diaper dripping when I carry it back to the diaper pail. I take care to not spray the outside of the diaper as I rinse it. Once it is rinsed, I fold the bottom half of the diaper up into the dry part I have not sprayed. I then carefully roll it up into itself, folding the wings over the diaper so it is in a nice tidy bundle for me to carry to the diaper pail. I am careful to do this part over the open toilet because water rolls out of the diaper as I fold it up. I then drop the diaper into the pail, letting it unfurl as I drop it in. I highly doubt that makes much of a difference, but I tend to think it washes better being open.

Laundry routine

My wash routine hasn't changed too much. I did buy the Rockin' Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer. We haven't been having a hard time with an ammonia smell as he wears them or in the pail, but I felt like when I opened his diapers to change, they had a much heavier ammonia smell than I expected. I started throwing a tablespoon of the Funk Rock in with our rinse cycle and that completely eliminated the ammonia problem. Our baby store got me hooked on the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent. I love that it is biodegradable and unscented. When I first started buying the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent, I wanted to test it out and see how I liked it. I washed all our boys' clothes in it and became a major fan. This stuff works great.

To wash the diapers, I pull the wet bag out of the diaper pail. I turn the wet bag inside out into the washing machine (no touching the diapers required!) and rinse them with the tablespoon of Funk Rock. Once the rinse cycle ends, I add clothes from our boys' laundry hamper to make a full load of laundry. I add 3 scoops of the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent and wash on heavy duty. When that ends, I throw them in the dryer. I confess-- I have been drying our Elementals. I know that is hard on them, but we live in the Pacific Northwest. Hang drying takes so long with Elementals. When the sun comes out again to stay, I will hang dry again. What I usually do is dry them a little bit and then let them hang dry for the rest of the way, but I don't feel they get much benefit from that either as they are hang drying in our laundry room instead of in the sunshine.

Cloth diapering out of the house
From top row:
Planet Wise wet bag. More cloth than I will need for the amount of time I plan on being out.
(I pack a diaper for every 2 hours + an extra one.)
Backpack with plastic shopping bags. Orange bags are small disposal bags.
(Actually, the bags we buy for our dog... but they are biodegradable just like the diaper ones.)
Inhaler + spacer (we have 2 asthmatics).
Baby powder, cloth friendly diaper cream, disposable wipes. Plenty of disposable diapers.
I keep a lot of disposables in our diaper bag. They are great for emergencies + childcare situations. That way I only need one diaper bag for cloth + disposables.

To cloth diaper out of the house, I pack a diaper bag with more cloth diapers than I think we will need for the amount of time we are leaving the house, disposable diapers just in case (or to use if we are heading somewhere he needs to be out of cloth, like childcare at church where other people are watching him), disposable wipes, plenty of diaper disposal bags, plastic shopping bags, wet bag, and baby powder. I keep hand sanitizer and a change of clothes in the diaper bag as well.

I always change a stinky cloth diaper in a restroom changing table when we are out in public. If he isn't stinky, I will change it in our mini van or where we are hanging out at an outdoors park. I have had to change a stinky toddler diaper at a park when there were no restrooms available (unless you count a port-a-potty a viable restroom option).

Pretend this is a changing table in a public restroom and not the ottoman in my family room.

Wiping baby with the first wipe.

Put the wipe in the disposal bag.

Wipe with the second wipe.
Put the wipe in the disposal bag.

Tie up the wipe disposal bag when finished wiping baby.
To change the diaper, the whole process is pretty much the same. Unless the changing station is next to a trash can (which some of them are), I open up a little trash bag to put the disposable wipes in after I use them. I set this well out of the toddler's reach or you are looking at a hot mess mid-way through diaper changing. If possible, I set the dirty diaper to the side to clean a little before I put it in the wet bag.

Put soiled diaper in wet bag.
I diaper the baby in a new clean diaper and that is when I assess if I can clean the dirty diaper a little before putting it in the wet bag. A lot of times the changing table in a public restroom is in a bathroom stall. If it is, I hold the diaper out and let the soil roll out of the diaper into the toilet. If the soil is sticking to the diaper, I will sometimes take a wad of toilet paper and grab off whatever comes off easily (much like picking up after a dog, but with a wad of toilet paper instead of a plastic bag). I throw this in the toilet. If I either do not have access to a toilet or the diaper, for some reason, is soiled in a way that I will not be able to easily clean in a public bathroom with a toddler underfoot (and, most likely, 2 preschoolers and possibly our 1st grader standing outside my stall door), I roll the diaper up a bit and throw it in the wet bag.

Put new diaper on baby and put changing supplies back in backpack/diaper bag.

Congratulations! You have baby in a clean diaper on the go!
The wet bag seals in odors and doesn't leak. I have had no issues with our wet bag when out and about with cloth diapers. When I get home, I pour the contents of the wet bag into the diaper pail unless they are stinky. In that case, I take it to the restroom in our house with the diaper sprayer and carefully open the wet bag. I find a good spot to grab the edge of the diaper, hold the diaper out and spray it clean. I put the diaper back in the top of the wet bag and carry the whole thing to the diaper pail, drop the diaper into the diaper pail, and then drop the wet bag into the diaper pail. If I only had wet diapers in the wet bag, I do not wash after one use. If I put a stinky diaper in the wet bag, I always wash it.

How often do you change a cloth diaper?

With normal wear, he can wear an Elemental cloth diaper for 3 to 4 hours. If he wets heavily, he will need it changed every 2 to 3 hours (like if he drank a lot of liquids at a meal or had juice instead of water). Because of our baby's skin issues, we check his diaper every 2 hours and change him immediately when he has a stinky diaper. It actually can be hard to tell when he has a stinky diaper in cloth, oddly enough. My pregnancy nose is very sensitive and can smell when he is a little "off," but a lot of times my husband doesn't even notice a difference a foul odor to warrant a diaper change. He will begrudgingly check the back of the baby's diaper and say, "Wow! He is stinky!" and then take him off for a change. The pregnancy nose knows though. I don't know if the waterproof cover of the cloth diapers keeps odor in or what about disposables makes stinky diapers so pungent. Of course he still has diapers where he walks in the room and everyone yells, "The baby needs to be changed!" But, for the most part, his stinky diapers are much more under the radar in cloth, which is why I check before each diaper change to see if he is stinky or just wet. It is much easier to know before the diaper is off in cloth what you are getting in to than to be surprised at a floor diaper change away from the wipes.

I also always change his diaper before I leave the house every time. If he is wet at all, even a little bit, I change his diaper before heading out. If we are at a restaurant with a bathroom and changing table and getting ready to leave to wander shops away from an easily accessible restroom, I change his diaper. It is hard to find a place to change a toddler's diaper, especially if you are dealing with a soiled cloth diaper. It isn't socially acceptable to pull off the clothes of a stinky 20-month old to change his diaper on a sidewalk bench outside of a shop or restaurant (but, I mean, when it comes down to it, you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes). Since we already deal with enough awkward parenting moments with our four boys, I do try to avoid the ones I can. Checking the toddler's diaper before we leave an area where I can easily change him when I know we are heading somewhere that I cannot easily change him makes our life much more simple. The nice thing about parenting toddlers is that you do become tuned in to normal times of day for them to have a soiled diaper. For instance, I know mid-morning to expect a stinky diaper change. Conveniently, that often works out well for our typical family schedule. I can usually change his stinky diaper before we leave the house. With our twins, I could expect a late afternoon soiled diaper change. I don't remember our oldest's and perhaps that's best. Who really wants their schedules posted on their mom's blog? My point is, while I bring everything I need to change the unexpected stinky diaper, for the most part, I know what to expect when heading out of the house with the baby in cloth.

Differences between cloth diapers and disposables

Well, the first and most noticeable difference to me and my husband is the frequency of the diaper changes. While I attribute a lot of that to our baby #4's sensitive skin, I know that cloth diapers are recommended to change every 2-4 hours. I'm not saying we have left our children in disposables longer then that, but...

The second difference would be the on-the-go diaper changes. Because of the frequency of diaper changes, if I'm out running a lot of errands, I usually have to change his diaper at some point while I'm out. He usually is just wet and so it is a quick change in the mini van, but read above. With our toddlers at this age, I probably would just wait to change all wet diapers until we got home (unless it had to be changed). Also, while changing a stinky cloth diaper at home really isn't a big deal, changing a stinky cloth diaper on-the-go takes a little more forethought. Not a lot and I'm in the rhythm of it now, but the first stinky cloth diaper in a public restroom I definitely had, "Oh, crap! Now what?" thoughts running around in my head.

Do cloth diapers leak?

Short answer: no. Long answer: yes.

The short answer is no because they don't. I know that for those 2-3 hours he's in his cloth diaper his Elemental diaper is not going to leak-- stinky, heavy wet, nothing. And we won't smell it either. It is all wrapped up in there and he's good.

The long answer is yes because if after hour 3 he starts heavy wetting, yeah, the diaper may leak. Or after hour 4... yeah, possible leakage. The other day my hubby and I were running errands and completely forgot about diaper changing. We went to lunch (where the toddler sucked down lemonade); then we went here, there, and everywhere. As he was pulling the baby out of his car seat at home, he says, "Oh, man!" and the bottom of baby #4's pants was starting to have the leak lines around the leg holes of the diaper. If he had been in disposables, he would have just had that huge hanging disposable diaper sagging between his legs. In cloth, it had finally started leaking. Today though baby #4 did jut over 4 hours in the same diaper and no leakage, nowhere near leaking when I changed him.

But, if you leave a kid in any diaper long enough it will leak, cloth or disposable.

More reading on cloth

Check out my previous blog posts on cloth diapering: under Popular Posts, Kimber's Posts on Cloth Diapering. I discuss buying cloth diapers, types of cloth diapers we used from newborn to the toddler years, and logistics of cloth diapering.

Our 20-month old toddler
What are your cloth diapering tips? How has your cloth diapering experience been?