advent this year

I’ve always loved the season of advent, though my experience of it has varied pretty widely since I became a parent. Some years it was more sweet than I ever could have imagined, like Luke’s first advent or the year I was pregnant with Gracie. Other years it was chaotic and rich with grace. This year I think we are somewhere in between. It’s been a joy watching the kids anticipate Christmas through their advent routines each day, but I haven’t felt as grounded in my own personal anticipation. Quiet mornings of solitude have been hard to come by thanks to a couple weeks of 5:30am kid wake ups (WHY, children? It’s the darkest time of the year!). Nevertheless, advent marches on, and I’ve tried my best to prepare room in my heart for the coming of Jesus.

This year I decided to incorporate four advent activities into our daily routine – each day the kids would get to take the lead on two of them, then they’d switch the next day. In the morning, we take out a new character in our nativity advent and then unwrap a Christmas book.

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This nativity calendar was a new gift, and it has been a big hit with both kids. It’s a little tricky to me, because how do you put things into order? It seems like baby Jesus should be last, but it’s a little awkward to have everyone – including the wise men! – showing up before him. Alas, that’s what we did. I think it’d be too confusing to run this calendar mid-December through Epiphany, so it is what it is. And as you can see from the picture, the kids have fun playing with it and rearranging it each day anyways.

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Also new this year is our book advent. I realized that we had accumulated a bunch of Christmas books that I put away each year, so it’s pretty exciting when they come out. I decided to make it a little more special by wrapping each one so that they could take turns opening one each day. I mixed up the order in the basket, so Luke has to find the right number each day, which is good practice for him. Some are simple board books, but they’ve all been well received. I didn’t quite have 24, so I supplemented with a few dollar store coloring books and stickers for a few days. We’ll definitely be doing this again, the kids have loved it.

In the evenings we focus more on the true meaning of advent. After a couple years of trudging through “family” advent devotionals that were still going over Luke’s head, I brought it down to a better preschool- and toddler-friendly level.

Before dinner, one of the kids helps light the advent candle(s) and opens the door on our little Precious Moments advent calendar from my childhood. Each day gives a snippet of the Christmas story – 1: “Long ago in the city of Nazareth…” 2: “Lived a young woman named Mary.” It’s perfect for little ones.

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After dinner, we read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. This has by far been my favorite part of advent this year. My kiddos have always had a hard time with “Bible reading” – as soon as they see their Bible, they ONLY want to read the Noah’s Ark story. Not even joking. But suddenly we’ve had a shift, and they (well, mostly Luke) are engaging in each story. A big help in that has been coloring sheets. Each day I print out a related coloring page, and they color it while I read the story. It helps to have busy hands, and Luke got interested in coloring about 5 minutes ago, so the timing has been great. Hearing him ask questions and seriously coloring his page has filled my heart. And the Lord knew I’d need that, because Luke always has a really rough growth spurt around his half birthday (December 10). His behavior and emotions have been a roller coaster, but doing this Bible reading together has been a true sweet spot. Often he wants to keep coloring after the story is finished, so I sit and color with him, which is bliss.

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Zondervan Publishing actually offered free printables for the the advent reading plan this year, so it’s been fun to use them. The kids take turns pulling the next one out of the basket, and after our reading is done, we hang it up with a little clothespin. I love the Jesus Storybook Bible because they make such an effort to clearly show how each story “whispers His name” – getting to dialogue with Luke about this, and starting to expand his understanding of Jesus’ birth has been awesome.

So that’s what we are doing this year, with Luke at 5.5 years old, and Gracie at almost 3. I’m excited to see how our celebration will grow and evolve over the years!

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a big girl bed

It has been a few weeks now, but Gracie is officially in her “big girl bed.” We moved her about 6 months later than we did with Luke, but not intentionally. It mostly had to do with the fact that I wanted to make her quilt first, and I didn’t create space to do so until a few weeks ago. It turned out just as I hoped, and with minimal mistakes on my part (a rarity in my sewing endeavors). Sentimentally, it was hard for both Ian and I to see the crib come down (the one both our babies used) and finally be transformed into a toddler bed.

This almost-3-year-old was excited and proud, though at bedtime the first week she said she missed her crib. And bedtime has taken longer – she wants the security of my presence much more than she did with her crib. But overall, she is doing great. And when the two kids wake before it’s time to get up and want to snuggle, it’s a lot easier for Luke to move to her bed than when he had to haul all his blankets up into her crib!

adoption finalization – five years later

Around 2am this morning, Luke called for me, as he does most nights. He wanted to move to “daddy’s bed” – weeks where Ian works the late shift make this boy crave extra time with his daddy. So I settled him with Ian and crept off to the guest room to get more sleep.

As I lay awake in the middle of the night, I thought back to this day five years ago: Luke’s adoption finalization. I was up at the same time, feeding Luke a bottle. After he finished, I jumped in the shower and got ready for the day. Luke was born a few hours south of here, so that was where we had to go to finalize his adoption. It was an early morning for sure, but an exciting one.

I remember being nervous about how Luke would do – putting him in the car so early, and having to stop on the way for another feeding. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot and fed him in the car. He was so super smiley and happy – it’s one of those moments that I’ve tucked away in my heart for forever. I remember his soft jammies and his fuzzy bib. His gurgly smile and bright eyes. I remember thinking that no matter if he screamed in the courtroom, this was our happy boy, giving us the gift of a perfect family moment.

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Now that baby is five. I was never sure how or if we would celebrate his finalization anniversary each year. We have always been open with Luke about his adoption, but thus far he hasn’t been super interested. And that’s fine. We’ll keep bringing it up now and then, so if/when he is ready to explore that part of his story, he’ll know that he can ask us.

So today I remembered that special day on my own, and thought about how far we have come. How we know our boy so much better than we did back then, and how we’ve grown into parenthood with him. Often friends or family say something like “God knew you were the just the right parents for him.” So often I feel unsure of how to parent our bright, spirited boy that their statement feels untrue. But I do trust that God wanted to call us to grow into the parents that Luke and Gracie need us to be. The promises that we made in the courtroom five years were just the beginning of this calling, but it was a day that will always be tucked away in my heart.

 

 

farewell, summer

20160824_162705My facebook feed has been flooded with back-to-school photos for weeks, my son starts back at preschool next week, and we’re a good week+ into September. I admit that I was not ready to end our summer, but it seems that the weather turned cool and fall-ish the moment we switched the calendar to September, so now I feel more ready. But what a summer it’s been.

We didn’t doing anything especially cool or unique – no family trip (we had an awesome trip to Maui last January), no big events – just lots of full, rich summer days. I admit that last spring I felt a lot of trepidation heading into a summer with no preschool and lots of days that were blank slates. My sweet boy is pretty much the exact opposite of myself when it comes to social needs. Since he was around 18 months old, he wakes up every morning asking “Who are we seeing today? Where are we going? Is anyone coming over?” While I don’t relate, I recognize his need to be with people, and I have done my best to meet those needs (for everyone’s sake) as he’s grown up. Preschool has been a great way for him to connect with friends and have some independence from me. Last spring, it seemed like his social needs were increasing, and I worried how our summer would go. I prayed and I plotted, and what I came up with was the weekly calendar:

20160826_190034A sheet of dry-erase poster board that hangs on the kids’ door with a full view of the week ahead. Each Sunday morning, the new week is revealed, and Luke has been known to ask about it as early as 2am in the morning. With our highly spirited boy, you just never know how an idea like this will go over. We’ve done visual schedules in the past, but he’s never fully embraced them. But this one was a winner. And it has greatly reduced the number of meltdowns regarding “What are we doing?! I don’t want to stay home! Who can come over?!” Now he can see the mix of outings and friend time and time at home, and is more accepting of the big picture. Which is not to say that I never heard him complain about wanting more social time, or asking “Is this a ‘down day,’ mom?” with a sarcastic tone (gotta admit, I feel a glimmer of pride that I can almost hear his use of air quotes – soon I’ll teach him my signature eye roll) – but overall, it has been a great success for both of us.

And we were busy. So many fun outings and playdates. Parks, berry picking, hikes, zoo days, riding the bus, spray parks, camping locally with my parents in their camper, the marine life center, and tons of picnics – just lots of fun enjoying our lovely PNW weather.

These two kiddos are at such a fun age for all these little adventures, it was really a blast.

And when we were home, I tried to sprinkle in some “scheduled” activities, which made Luke feel better. I’m a big fan of open, self-directed play (especially now that Luke and Gracie are such awesome playmates), but mentally Luke likes more structure. Often, he would get so caught up in playing that he would forget about what was on the calendar, so we would just skip it. If the kids were having a hard time playing together, it was nice to already have a planned activity to whip out and turn everyone’s attitudes around.

Mostly we did “craft time” and “school time.” Crafts were easy – the kids love painting, so we’d do that a lot. Chalk paint was a big hit for everyone. School time was my way of sneaking in extra OT work for Luke. They would each get ~15 minutes of tablet time with the ABC Mouse program, which was super exciting for them because they didn’t even know we owned a Kindle. While one was working on that, I worked with the other one on a hands-on project. I got so many great ideas from my friend Stacie’s Fine Motor ABC book, and the kids usually loved getting to do this part of school time. It was fun to come up with different activities (like the awesome 50 cent lacing cards I found at a garage sale!) and surprise them with it.

And can I just say? My boy has come so far in the last 6 months! It’s probably a post for another day, but I am just so thankful for our time in occupational therapy. Not many people know about Luke’s challenges because they are so easily masked by his super energetic and social personality. But he has to work so hard in a lot of areas – most fine motor tasks like writing and cutting are really challenging for him, as well as some gross motor planning (he wasn’t even able to pedal a tricycle or use a balance bike until a couple months before his 5th birthday, which I’m sure would be super surprising to a lot of people). I am so proud of how far he’s come, and how hard he has worked. “School time” was a big breakthrough for us, because previously he had been unwilling to work on these often frustrating tasks while at home with me.

Overall, it has been a great summer. I love cozy weather, so moving into fall is not too sad for me, though I will miss this particular season – the sweet sounds of my 2.5 and 5 year old playing together, and finding delight in the simplest activities. So long, sweet summer.

sIt WIISave

we have a five year-old

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How this boy got to be five years old, I don’t know. He was SO excited about his birthday this year. He had his first “kid party” with some of his friends from preschool and church. We had a “wild animal” theme (no surprise with this kiddo), and everyone had a blast. It was just Ian and I leading a dozen kiddos through animal activities, so I didn’t have time to take any photos!

We made him a lycra hammock for his swingset, because he loves the ones at his OT sessions. He and Gracie love it and have already spent a lot of time hanging out in there.

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On facebook I posted this on his birthday:

5 years old! I don’t know what is crazier – how much you have learned and grown into the boy that you are now, or how much I have learned and grown over the last 5 years in being a mother to you. You are a flame that burns brightly – sometimes it’s a flame that dances joyfully and lights up the world all around you; other times the power of that flame overwhelms you. My own flame tends to remain pretty steady, and you’ve challenged me as we’ve learned how to tend to your fire; rejoicing in your zest for life and your love for others while learning when and how to quiet the flame when it grows too large for your little body and mind to handle. We are in this together, and we learn more together every day. Happy birthday!

It’s a work in progress, learning to parent this little boy who is so different from myself. The day after I wrote this, he had his party. His party that he had been counting down to for a month, and talking about even prior to that. His party that he had planned and wished for and was SO excited for. And I think it was close to everything he imagined. He was so happy to be surrounded by all his friends.

His pure joy is electric, his smile is contagious, and his giggle is one of my favorite sounds. His highs are so high; they are thrilling. And of course the flip-side is that his lows can be pretty low. We knew he would come down pretty hard from his party, and he did. There wasn’t even much sugar involved, but the excitement of it all took a toll on our sweet boy, and the rest of the day was one big roller coaster of emotions. No amount of hammock time or running on the track or reading on mom’s lap could make it right. The day finally ended with him laying in bed, a cool washcloth on his forehead, surrendering to sleep as Ian sang “Trust in the Lord,” the song we’ve sang to him at bedtime since he was an infant.

This last year of him being 4 was hard. 3 was hard. 2 was hard. His feelings are so big, and sometimes his body sends him mixed signals about things. We are learning alongside of him how to regulate these feelings and sensations. I am thankful for his occupational therapist, and the great insight she has into what may be going on inside his little body. And immensely thankful for the grace that Jesus has granted me as his mama, and for the work that he has done in my own life amidst these challenges.

I do see so much growth, and so much potential – I feel like we may be at a turning point in his development. Or soon, anyways.  I feel relieved that he can do one more year of preschool; I want him to go into kindergarten feeling confident of the skills he will need there. Most of his classmates wrote on the cards they included with their presents – seeing their wobbly handwriting made my mama heart sink a little bit. Not because I’m sad that Luke isn’t there yet, but because I know that he notices that they can write their letters. He told me one day that he knew he couldn’t go to kindergarten because he didn’t know how to write his name (I know, not true – clearly something that another kid told him) and he said it with such sadness. I’m glad that he’ll have another year to practice skills like this that seem so difficult for him.

Our boy is so exuberant and social that most people don’t realize his own personal challenges. As his parents, we get to see the full spectrum, of course. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a change in how I view his behaviors and emotions. For so long my internal reaction was often, “why can’t he just…” whereas now I often – not always, I’m not perfect! – feel empathy towards him and think, “it looks like he needs…” Instead of wanting to shut down and distance myself from him, my mantra is “get closer.” And it has really paid off in our relationship.

So here’s to this next year of parenting a 5-year old. May we grow more, reach new stages, and find meaning and joy in this season.