Always something

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember: a bit of a stresscase.

I tend to carry around a little list in my head of all the things that are currently uncomfortable or overwhelming. All the to-do’s that need to get checked off before I can relax. All the things I want to accomplish but can’t quite ever get to.

Today, I caught myself feeling that way. There have been so many big and small challenges and changes and check-off lists that my brain and heart feel like they’ve been tossed headlong into the deep end.

And boy have I been paddling hard.

— Our family MRSA adventure swallowed our January in a fog of worry and Lysol and antibiotics and doctor visits. I think we’re still about a month from everyone being back to normal.

— Our sweet nanny gave us a heads up that she was looking for full time work.

— The same pelvic joint pain that plagued me for a year after Fey’s birth came raging back 2 weeks ago and I’m limping and wincing my way around the house.

— A’s almost out of speech visits at the therapy center and his therapist feels he’s at about 85% and ready to work with us at home now anyway. I’m glad he’s made such good progress but I don’t feel ready.

— We have a baby on the way in May and I’m trying to work ahead on all my work projects to give myself an actual maternity leave.

— God in heaven, we’re trying to potty train our strong-willed two-year-old. Trying and kind of failing, I fear.

— We have a baby on the way in May. There will be THREE OF THEM.

— Our sweet nanny told us last night that she’s found full time work. I tried not to cry and instead went and ate my feelings for a little while.

— I’m wondering if I’ve been eating my feelings too much: I did a blood glucose test (for gestational diabetes) that I never remotely considered would come back weird, and it came back 2 points too high, and tomorrow I’ll spend most of my precious office hours at the lab getting poked 4 times.

I feel it creeping up in my head, “Ugh. Always SOMEthing.”

I start flailing. Stressing out. Making everything a little worse, frankly.

***

When J and I got married, our friend Dan urged us to try to sort things into two categories: problems or challenges between us (as in, how we’re communicating or how we’re taking care of each other), and stuff coming at us from outside our little unit (financial challenges, in-laws, health crises, career frustrations, bumps in friendships). We were encouraged to deal with the stuff that causes disharmony between us, but to also try to recognize that all the external stuff isn’t evidence of how well our marriage is doing. That stuff will always be there. Each challenge is just another chance to be in each other’s corner.

Team Lawlis vs. the world: it’s a motto that’s served us well.

Eight years in, I’d be straight up lying through my teeth to say that we’ve never had those between-us issues. We have.

But for whatever reason, that internal-external perspective has really helped us. By and large, I tend to feel like I struck it GOLD in terms of the man I married.

Most of the tough stuff feels like external stuff. Nothing’s wrong, we’re just not in control.

***

I’ve been much better at applying this perspective to my marriage than to how I feel about my day-to-day life. If I’m rose-colored-glasses about my partner (um, I SO am), I’m admittedly a little pessimistic about the frustrations of daily life. I’m sensitive, so if I’m not watching myself, every little thing feels like “always something.”

It’s a sentiment that betrays my underlying belief that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. That if I were managing my life better, it would all look calmer somehow. This chaotic feeling? It’s a failure on my part.

Today I remembered something my therapist said to me last year, and the moment it entered my little brain I felt my shoulders drop from right around my ears to a more normal position.

This isn’t a sign that I need to fix things. Nothing is broken.

This is life. It’s always been full of hassles and mishaps and never-ending piles of laundry and undone house projects and minor health freakouts.

Nothing is broken.

I’m just not in control.

I never was.

And all this crazy is a sign that we’re lucky.

We have full lives. We have demanding, gorgeous, hilarious children. We have minor health stuff right now — that hasn’t always been the case and it won’t always be.

We have each other, and that’s no small thing.

I was looking for some clever and sarcastic “always something” image to pair with these rambly thoughts, and I kid you not, this is what popped up:

A1_ThereIsAwalys

The message was not lost on me. I’m working on changing the gist of that “always something.” I bought a little notebook in early January with the sole purpose of writing down three things each day that I’m thankful for. It’s probably time I dust it off and get to listing them off.

Not so I can pretend that everything’s fine or that the hard things aren’t hard. Not so I can start burying my feelings and faking it.

I just want to remind myself how much good stuff is right there in the midst of all that crazy.

If you’ve been feeling like it’s just one thing after another (and to be fair, maybe it has been) — maybe grab yourself a little gratitude journal and join me?

obamaquote

“When is the time you felt most broken?”

“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”

—President Barack Obama
Courtesy Humans of New York

“Those” parents

MAJOR verbal processing by an admitted highly-sensitive type ahead. Whatever. It’s my blog. And it’s cheaper than therapy copays.

I blame masochism. It’s the only thing to account for why I click on certain articles on the net.

They all have really charming titles, but the latest one was “I don’t care about your baby.” Subhead: “It’s not that I hate your little sprog — quite the contrary! Just don’t ask me to indulge your narcissism.”

I know what’s coming, and I click anyway. Because I’m an idiot. “This does not mean I resent your baby or resent the fact that you have less time to bro-down with me on a weekend. What I resent is the singularity of focus that some new parents bring toward parenthood.”

I am one of THOSE parents, for sure. I know I am. I’ve been that parent for 4 years and I’m about to leap right back into Stage 1: Newborn, where I’m too tired for anything but a singularity of focus on sleep, diaper-changing, and nursing.

So just imagine this picture with one more baby in it.
So just imagine this picture with one more baby in it.

You’d think that feeling self-conscious would slow me down some, but a glance at my Facebook page any day of the week and it’s clear where my focus (mostly) lies these days. I’m not very interesting unless you have a penchant for mildly amusing kid quotes and little-boy shenanigans captured via Instagram. (Or, in the case of the past few weeks, updates on trying to get rid of MRSA, which, I’ll be honest, freaked me out a little).

On my good days, I win the battle in my head. On my good days I think the things Justin would say. Smart things like “Who gives a shit what anyone else thinks? We decide what works for us.” (My husband is sort of a walking “Look at all the fucks I give” meme. On any given day I’d pay good money for a lasting dose of his perspective).

On my bad days, not so much. I compare, compare, compare. I replay the snippets of complaints I’ve heard from folks in our longtime social circle about how we’re not doing it right because, since we’ve had kids, we don’t show up to watch them get drunk group events enough, or how we make way too big a deal over our kids’ relatively mild challenges.

I know not everyone feels this way, but it’s weird how big the sentiment can feel, how much it stings all the same. No one wants to feel like a bad friend, or even like a no-longer-fun friend.

I’d love to be the mythical cool parent who checks all the boxes — has a growing career, a vibrant social life, and a loved, thriving kid, who doesn’t miss a beat, who doesn’t seem like they’ve lost chunks of their time or their identity to parenthood.

And while the truth is that I have had more on my plate than I ever expected, the truth is that the “extras” aren’t an excuse. Even if my kids had been textbook normal, I’m not sure I ever was going to get the balance right. When had I ever accomplished that kind of rational balance, even before kids?

Miss a beat? Hell, I’ve missed years.

I work hard, but right now I take just enough projects to support my stay-at-home-mom habit. I take pride in the business I’ve built, in the income I bring in for our family, but I’m by no means the major breadwinner. When things go haywire with the kids via illness or therapy, my schedule is the more flexible one, so usually it’s me missing the work time. (For example, I spent all of last week’s office hours in the ER or at the doctor’s this past week, thank you MRSA).

Thankfully I have good clients who feel I write them well, and I’m probably still decently reliable as artist-types go, so they’re gracious with the occasional hiccup. Still, I have to say: these are not the years where I get to look like the consummate professional. And with another baby on the way, it’ll be a while before my studio reaches its full potential, if ever.

I’m interested in what’s going on in my friends’ lives, and am better than I used to be at asking how things are going. It’s definitely a work in progress. But when I’m asked what’s going on with me, chances are a lot of that is going to have to do with my kids.

That’s where I live right now. It’s most of my life. My kids are small and they are dependent and they are demanding. “Slightly crazy” is our midpoint, when everyone is healthy and things are working as they should. Life being what it is, even reaching the midpoint is a challenge sometimes.

A good morning:

Somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30 am I wake up to the older child climbing into bed with me. A few minutes later, the littler one will yell for me to come open his door. A will ask for the Roku remote to turn on a show. F will “snuggle” me, which means that he’ll cling to my head with his entire body, pausing at times to kiss me, a process that for some reason involves teeth. I accept this arrangement because a) this is F’s sweetest, most affectionate time of day, and b) it allows me 2-3 minutes of dozing at a time for a half hour to forty-five minutes until I’m a less hateful, angry individual capable of more patient parenting.

I dress the kids, then I shower (some days). F, who is in the middle of potty-training, often takes my unavailability as a sign that it’s a good moment to need to poop. As I turn off the water, he takes great pride in handing me my towel and congratulating me on another successful shower. “Dood job, Mom. Dood job. You did it. High five.”

I dress for at-home (yoga pants and a maternity tank) or public (jeans! fancy!). I brush my teeth (most days) between breaking up an argument that’s erupted over a not-important item like a hairbrush or a plastic toy hammer. Sometimes the little one just follows me around crying because he wants to be held while the other one yells “I’m hun-dry, Mom! I’m HUN-DRY!”

“JUFF A MI-NUTE! I AM BURSHING MY TEEF!”

Breakfast time it is. A’s cold. They both want the purple bowl. And a blanket. And honey-bear on their Cheerios. And juice. Immediately. Simultaneously.

Brush teeth. Wash face. Gel the hair. Socks, orthotics, shoes. Sweatshirt, coat, backpack. We wait outside for A to catch his bus. Then F and I come inside and play until the nanny rescues me (on work days) or until it’s time to pick up A from the bus.

I have a system down, but I don’t have a system down that doesn’t slightly exhaust me. I’m not a routines person — and nothing requires routine like small children. Even when I complete all the steps, inside I often feel messy and stressed.

And yet. I love being mother to these kids. I love watching them learn and grow. It’s hard work and totally overwhelming, but for me it really is the good stuff, the beautiful stuff, the stuff that makes a life. Stress and wonder come in equal measure right now.

When I hear or read things like “You never seem to have much room for anything in your head other than your kids,” all I can say is, “YOU THINK?”

Narcissism? I’ll allow that some of that’s fair. I think there might be some sort of vital evolutionary programming there that makes us feel like our kids are (to us) the most hilarious, interesting, adorable little humans . . . as Michael Lewis says, when you provide regular care for something, you begin to love it. We get obsessed. We focus inward.

But it’s also something else.

Nothing has ever felt as important as getting this right. Nothing.

(Pause to say that my marriage is just as important. But because in marriage I’m partnered with a grown, independent adult as opposed to an unformed, vulnerable child that I carried in my own belly, the feelings around it are different. They just are. Justin does not depend on me to keep him alive, to help him understand the world, to learn how to operate in it with respect and kindness. Justin doesn’t need extra time and practice to learn how to speak clearly. My kids do).

I also don’t mean to say that “getting it right” means that my success as a person is reflected in how my kids turn out. They aren’t my masterpieces. I directly influence them for a season only, and so much of their lives depends on them. I just mean that I put a higher value on trying to be a nurturing, attentive, instructive mother than most other things. I’m far from perfect, but I know it’s up to me and Justin to help them get a loved-up, secure start in the world. That dictates a lot of our decisions in terms of how we spend our time — and most nights, we choose getting them to bed on time.

While I know of no one who feels they’re checking all the boxes perfectly, I know there are people who are so much better at the balancing act, whose friends are far less likely to complain that they’re in kid-land. And while I’m jealous, I don’t resent them or get all smug, thinking that they’re putting less in.

A lot of it just comes down to personality, I think. I’m an idealist through and through. Every. little. thing. feels like it matters. I have big feelings that don’t compartmentalize well. Few things bring out those feelings, that sense of “this matters” like my children, so they get a lot of the oomph that isn’t contractually required by work and other necessary tasks. I can’t be good at everything right now, so please! God! Let me be a good mom.

When I fell for Justin, you’d have been hard pressed to hear anything else from me. I was caught up in one of the great adventures of my life, and I think even then I knew it. My family and closest friends would have been annoyed (or more annoyed) were they not quite happy for me. They were patient and gracious and gave me time and space to figure out my new identity — still me, but me as half of my new family. That grace is why we’re still close today.

There’s an article floating around right now called “What happens to a woman when she becomes a mother.” “What scientists do know, Feldman says, is that becoming a parent looks—at least in the brain—a lot like falling in love. Which helps explain how many new parents describe feeling when they meet their newborns. At the brain level, the networks that become especially sensitized are those that involve vigilance and social salience—the amygdala—as well as dopamine networks that incentivize prioritizing the infant. “In our research, we find that periods of social bonding involve change in the same ‘affiliative’ circuits,” Feldman said. “We showed that during the first months of ‘falling in love’ some similar changes occur between romantic partners.

I’ve said more than once that I get mama-highs from loving on my kiddos. Now that they’re a little bigger, I also have small heart explosions when I see them be loving toward others:

—F cries his eyes out and thrashes and spits every time we have to force his antibiotics down his throat. It’s an ugly battle. For the past two nights, A has quietly grabbed the iPad and set up F’s favorite movie to watch to help distract him from the yucky taste. He holds the screen up so F can see — no matter what crazy contortion F has achieved — and says comforting things to his brother.

—F tells me “Dood job” every time I successfully use the big potty.

—A told me I’m a really good helper today after I put up his sun-shade in the van.

Mama pride — off the charts.

***

All that to say: my life probably won’t always look like this. I hope it feels a little less crazy as my kids grow and become more independent. I’d like to think I might eventually have time for more reading and writing and occasional evenings out. I might eventually have more interesting things to say, things completely unrelated to parenting.

But my brain is different, my heart is different, I’m different. My calendar may change, but somehow I don’t think my priorities are going to.

The greatest brain changes occur with a mother’s first child, though it’s not clear whether a mother’s brain ever goes back to what it was like before childbirth.”

My kids come first.

It’s not selflessness and no one’s looking for any parenting martyrdom awards here.

But neither is it selfishness or narcissism.

It’s love. Love, and lots and lots of oxytocin.

on leaping part 2

leap

Deciding to have a second child didn’t even seem like a real decision to be made. Both of us knew we were on board for 2, so there wasn’t much hemming and hawing. We simply got overly nostalgic the week of A’s first birthday and took the leap into a second pregnancy.

It was a little hasty, but it was fun.

A third child, however — that’s a whole other kind of decision. Or at least it was for us. We discovered lots of very logical reasons not to. Buy-one-get-ones don’t work evenly anymore. Restaurant booths aren’t built for 5 people. Airfare anywhere becomes a nightmare. You create a middle child. Add another college tuition. You have to get a bigger car. Etc. Etc.

And in our case, a third child represents more than the simple time and expense of another child (not that it’s ever simple, not really). In our case, we know there’s at least some possibility that we might be adding another set of feet that need orthotics, or another several years of speech therapy. (That not counting the other surprises that are also possible with any new child, the things you never know to think about until they happen). I worried more than once that people would judge us for having another child when our first two have some “extras.”

Since F was a year old, we’ve talked about a third kid. Shelved the conversation. Talked some more. Shelved it again. We had each had moments where we thought “maybe”, but we just weren’t sure.

And yet.

When our ultrasound technician said, “Yep, that’s a penis,” at F’s 20-week screening, I was elated. Two brothers, so close in age . . . I loved the idea of raising little boys. (Still do, though I’ve seen quite enough penises, thankyouverymuch). But I have to admit that it left a strange question mark out there that was probably a little more pronounced than if we’d have had one child of each gender. It’s hard to know if we’d have felt the same either way, but all I know is that I didn’t feel done.

It probably didn’t help that as we sat there in the ultrasound room, my darling husband said, “Somehow I just think we’ll be back here again,” in a moment of loved-up fatherly insanity that I definitely took too seriously.

A few weeks after F’s arrival, I had to go back to the hospital to drop off my nursing pump. I had a visceral moment there in the elevator as I headed up to the birth center: I knew in my gut that someday I would be back. The tears came then. I was hormonal and crazy and sleep deprived, yes — but my heart was sure.

How dangerous those moments become. And how quickly. I worked to bury that moment, knowing that you can’t base life-altering decisions on your guts. (Never mind that I had leapt into marrying Justin — my best decision — on just such a sense).

I remember how relieved I felt when, after talks with geneticists, we were told that, while we were likely to have kids with slightly low muscle tone (so: kids just like us) and there was the possibility of mild temporary issues, we had no more risk than anyone else does of having a child with severe challenges.

“I’m just so relieved to know the door isn’t closed,” I said on the drive home. That crazy hope quickly resurfaced.

I once heard a woman announce to our entire small group that she and her husband’s new year’s resolution was to get pregnant that year. She confided to us women later that “Well, I’ve got him at about 80%.” I didn’t have children yet, it wasn’t even a thought yet, but I remember thinking: there’s no 80% when it comes to kids. I knew that I didn’t want to ever have kids unless we were both on board.

For a long time Justin was not so sure about becoming a family of 5. I felt bad — for the both of us, but mostly for him. There’s nothing that’s fair about a conversation when one person wants something so huge and the other person has all the burden of saying yes or saying no. It wasn’t fair and we openly acknowledged it.

I should have guarded myself better, but the truth was that, somewhere in that year of talking about it, a third child had somehow become more than a hypothetical question. It was more like a potential person — another member of our family — was hanging in the balance. I started thinking things like, “Well, it’s not like a minivan would be so bad. And how often do we even fly anywhere anyway?”

Again: it’s so unfair to put that decision on someone. But I also knew I loved my husband more than I loved a possible third kid. It had to be both of us or none of us. And I knew that if he asked me to, I’d let it go. It was just that, after over a year, I needed to know there was a time coming when we’d have come to a decision and I could either let my heart go nuts or I could grieve some and move on. The not knowing was almost harder.

The internet being the font of knowledge that it is, I actually googled — a couple of times — “having a third kid.” One site said: “The number one reason to have a third kid is so you can stop talking about whether or not to have a third kid.” I have to agree.

I’m almost too ashamed to write what helped us land. The first was a sort-of joke: I told Justin that most of our board games are 5 player games, which he said was the most compelling item in the “pros” column. The second was an example of just what kind of man I’m married to and frankly, it humbles the shit out of me.

This one particular morning, I knew he’d landed, but I wasn’t sure what he’d say. He took a deep breath and said, “The truth is that I was already 75% on board anyway. Our kids are cool. But our life is already crazy. And with another newborn — that’s such a rough time. But when I was thinking about it, I realized it would be easier for me to run the gauntlet with another baby than it would be for you to let go of another person in our family. I’m in.”

“…I do have conditions though. This. Needs. To. Be. Our. Last. Kid. You need to feel done this time. Also, are sexual favors on the table? I’m kidding. Kind of.”

A few months later, when I was sure he was sure and our children were more reliably sleeping through the night, we took the leap.

My pregnancies have always run like clockwork and I already knew to be grateful that somehow I’ve avoided the heartbreak of losing a child in pregnancy. But this third time, we had a scare early on and I had to go in for some tests. My hcg levels were really high but they couldn’t see an actual baby yet, which concerned them. They said I’d need to wait a week, and on the next scan we’d see if the pregnancy was viable or not.

It was a long week. I didn’t sleep. I learned how quickly I get attached.

I discovered — and wept to — a newer song of Regina Spektor’s in which she sings, “the piano is not firewood yet/ they try to remember but still they forget/ that the heart beats in threes just like a waltz/ and nothing can stop you from dancing . . .”

The way it worked out, I had to go to the second scan by myself, since Justin needed to stay with the boys. I listened to that song on repeat all the way to my appointment.

The ultrasound room had a big computer monitor mounted up where I could watch the scan. There was no keeping it together when she said, “There’s your baby. And it looks just like it should.” I’ve had blurry eyes at each of my scans all through my pregnancies with both boys — can’t help it — seeing them is magic — but this time I was an absolute mess of relief. The tech had to hand me a tissue or 5, but I didn’t care.

She told me I’m due Mother’s Day.

Baby girl and I are now 22 weeks along. Once this is all over, I know I’ll say it went fast, but it doesn’t feel fast. I’m tired. Nothing tastes good. My sleep is garbage. Heartburn and headaches rule my days. And I know too much about how amazing it is to meet the baby to really revel in being pregnant like I did the first time. There will be no photos of me holding fruit next to my belly in my Facebook feed and I have been too busy taking photos of Ash & F to stop and take a bump photo yet.

Every now and then when I’m particularly miserable and sick of pregnancy I think: I must have been crazy. But then I remember Justin’s prediction at F’s ultrasound. I remember me in the elevator. I remember the morning Justin leapt to 100%. I feel the baby kick, as she does often these days.

Yes. We are crazy. No one sane ever does this a third time. But she is and has been so very wanted. I’ve been dreaming of her a long time and cannot wait to finally meet her.

Til May, little girl.

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a new year

2014 was a good one, all things considered. A few highlights:

—In January, A had his second surgery to remove his tonsils. Recovery was a bit rough, including an overnight ER visit where we discovered that he has bad reactions to morphine. We also learned how to pin a child to force them to take their pain meds. But his breathing and sleep are SO much better now and the long few weeks of having a child on my lap nonstop were worth it.

A few weeks later, A began developmental preschool through the district. We had to fight a little to get him in, since he was denied at first, but I’ve never been more glad we asked a second time, went to some meetings, sent some emails. School, more than anything else, has been a huge boost for A’s speech and social development. At his parent/teacher conference, his teacher said he’s completely able to interact and communicate with the other kids. He comes home telling me the name of his new friends. And academically, he is already where they like to see kindergarteners by November (and he still has all of next school year in preschool), so he’s definitely thriving.

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Speechwise, he’s come miles from this time last year. Where we still struggled to understand words last year, we’re getting full phrases and sentences. It’s such a joy to be able to know his thoughts and feelings! We still have a long way to go, but he’s doing great. I no longer stay awake at night worrying . . . I know he’s going to be more than okay.

—In February, our beloved Hawks won the Super Bowl. I don’t mind telling you, there were some teary eyes among the menfolk in attendance at our SB Party.

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—In March, I began work on my tattoo over at Seattle Ink & Oil. Two months and roughly 27 hours later, my Bird-by-Bird piece is complete. I still can’t get over how beautiful it turned out, how much meaning it carries for me.

o

I also attended a women’s art retreat that helped me connect not only with other women, but also with the benefits of taking time to work with my hands as a way to slow down and encourage myself. I hadn’t been away from the kids for more than an overnight before, and the break was really helpful.

—In May, we began painting the downstairs! It’s going to be awhile before I can get to the upstairs, but in the meantime I have an amazingly bright green kitchen and I LOVE IT. Special thanks to Justin, who allowed me to buy more paint when I had an idiot moment at Home Depot and, in a moment of panic, second-guessed my original choice and bought the wrong green. That’s love, folks.

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We also turned 34 together. One of my favorite weeks of the year.

Justin also took me to my first Symphony — a performance of music from Tim Burton films. It was such a great night — I was teary eyed a few times as I took it all in. What meant the most, I think, was Justin showing me he understands me and wants to cheer me on in the things I enjoy.

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—In June, I threw my back out. The night before our first getaway from both kids. That part was not so much fun — I have never been in so much pain, except maybe after my car accidents — but we managed a good time anyway, complete with long rambly conversations, movies, a Food Odyssey through Bellingham, and trips to our favorite used bookstores. Our bed and breakfast in La Conner was beautiful, and we bought way too many books, many of which, I am sad to say, I have yet to read.

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—In July, we rented a beach cabin in Westport and went on our first family vacation. Justin and I went in with low expectations — worried about how the boys would sleep mostly, but it was a ton of fun and more relaxing than I anticipated. The boys were ecstatic and high on adventure the whole time, and they slept really well after long days spent on the beach.

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—August brought a family reunion on Justin’s side, and we loved having Roger (Justin’s brother) and Jenny and their friends come stay with us! We took in a Mariner’s Game, the menfolk cooked for us, and we enjoyed one of the nicest meals I’ve ever eaten at the Salish Lodge. Can’t wait for them to visit again. I always eat good food and drink good wine when Rog and Jenny are around! 🙂

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—In September, we decided that whole 3rd kid question.

A went back to school with the world’s best preschool teacher.

We also began speech therapy for F, who also has Apraxia of Speech, though he has a much milder case. Working with a therapist was a challenge for him — he fought it hard, but we realized he will work with me — so for now I’m putting all I learned with A into being F’s speech therapist. He’s growing, little by little. I’m excited for six months from now when we’ll be able to understand a lot more of what he’s saying. In the meantime, our playful, strong-willed second-born finds plenty of ways to let his wishes be known.

—In October, this happened (A was Wall-E, F was Buzz Lightyear):

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—November brought us to our 8th anniversary — and I got some special news that day. We found out we are expecting a little girl!

I also went on a writing retreat for 3 days in Port Townsend. Still working on creating the time I need to write, but I’m getting there little by little.

—December was busy and just fun. The boys are at a great age for Christmas, and for the first time we got smiles on Santa’s lap.

Oh, and I said goodbye to my Explorer — my high school dream car — and we joined the mini-vanned masses. I want to get a bumper sticker that says “I used to be cool” but the truth is, I love the thing. We bought it used (but barely) with low miles, and plan to drive it to death. For now, I’m feeling fancy with the bluetooth and power doors. And the travel mugs I demanded of our salesman.

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All in all, 2014 was a good year. Much less of the scary stuff this year — it was less learning about our kids’ challenges and more a matter of continuing to be intentional with the boys on their therapies. We’ve seen tremendous growth and know that good things are ahead. Forget that — good stuff is happening now. They’re smart, funny little boys.

I got a little better at creating some space for myself. Being a stay-at-home-working-mom with kids who have appointments 3 or 4 days each week, it’s easy to let the to-do’s take over. I did projects that were deeply satisfying. I had friends over for Art & Wine nights. I got away for a few days. I got a giant tattoo. And though I felt a little selfish, I also felt parts of me coming back to life that had been dormant since the trauma of A’s early days and the emotional challenges that followed.

Justin made all that happen for me. When I’d bring up retreats, not really knowing if it was feasible, he said “Go!” before he even knew the details. He cheered me on at every turn when I was getting my tattoo done, though it meant long afternoons after work with the kids. He kicks me out of the house if I haven’t been out of the house alone in a few days. He asks me — often these days — if I need a nap when he gets home. Goodness, what a man.

Speaking of him, the other major thing this year: we’re also learning how to be more intentional with each other. Marriage is a whole other game when you’re in the midst of raising littles and I think it’s easy to feel like 2 ships passing, to not appreciate your partner like you should, to feel unappreciated yourself. This year we made time for hard conversations. We had the freedom, thanks to grandparents, friends and a trustworthy nanny, to go out and make good memories together as much as possible. We kept in mind that with #3 on the way, we’ll have less freedom next year, so we’re making the most of this time.

LIfe is messy, imperfect. But I dearly love the people I get to live it with. And in a few months I’ll get to meet the newest (and last) addition to our family. Gratitude isn’t hard to manage these days and I find myself genuinely excited for the year ahead.

Happy 2015, friends. Whether 2014 was an amazing year or a tremendously tough one, I wish you bright days ahead.