Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Friday, May 13, 2016

This Stage of Life? It's Hard

The blog post, This Stage of Life? It's Hard was showing up all over my friends' Facebook walls recently.  Maybe that's not surprising given that many of my friends fit the demographic the author addresses - 30-something moms with two, three, even four kids, ages newborn to seven or eight.  But what was surprising was realizing how many of my friends feel the same way I do. Because my friends are awesome and all superwomen in my eyes. And there they were publicly admitting that this stage of life is damn hard. 

I need to remind myself that it's okay to admit that and I'm not less of a mom for it. I've proven I can handle a lot, but that doesn't mean that these little parenting and life challenges, when all added up, leave me feeling pretty depleted.  So that's why on Mother's Day, while seemingly all the other moms were posting pictures of themselves with their children on Instagram and Facebook, I did what I often do on Mother's Day, and that's spend time without my children. Acknowledging that this stage in life is hard is the first step in working on not just surviving this stage, but enjoying it, and for me, that means I need to learn how to recharge.  Without a plan for the day, I ended up on my bike and headed towards the river where I laid in the sun, read a book and actually accomplished something I'm not very good at - relaxing.

Even though I was pedaling uphill on my way home, the exercise, outdoors and time to myself had started to recharge me and this stage in life felt a little less hard. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Goodbye to Our German Family

After a long wait at the airport with four inpatient children scanning the faces of everyone who walked through the international arrivals security checkpoint, out finally walked Oma Heidi and Mama Danny.  It was a tearful reunion for Mama Danny, who could not stop touching the daughter she hadn't seen in nine months, our au pair, Celina.  And Oma Heidi could not wait to get her hands on my four little ones, the children she'd only previously known via Skype. This is the woman they had come to know as the one to keep us well-stocked with German chocolate and Nutella, thanks to her frequent care packages, and here she was in person and larger than life. 
The evolution of waiting for Oma Heidi and Mama Danny
I can see where Celina gets her personality from after meeting Danny.  Both are quiet and calm and quick to flash a friendly smile. She was as eager to accompany on a trip to Target as she was to sightsee with four children in tow.

Oma Heidi was a hoot! She wanted to kiss and hug everyone and treated us instantly like family.  Like Danny, it was her first time in the U.S. and she embraced all the new sights and experiences with gusto. It didn't bother her that no one spoke or understood German.  She nonetheless chatted it up with anyone and everyone. 

Back at our house in St. Paul, the nine of us crowded around the dining room table for a simple dinner of soup and bread before our guests crashed for the night. They would need their rest because we were going to wear them out with early mornings, sightseeing, and the chaos of a house with four young children and three other adults under one roof.

Celina had previously committed to attending prom with some American friends on Heidi and Danny's first Saturday with us, so I played tour director on her behalf.  I was more than happy to do this because I love showing guests around my adopted state and bringing them to places my au pairs might not think to visit, or even know about. In the case of our German guests, it was also an opportunity to practice my German and get to know my au pair's family.

So that Saturday morning, Kiera and I drove Oma Heidi and Mama Danny over to Minneapolis where we enjoyed the view of the Stone Arch Bridge and Mississippi River from the perch the Guthrie Theater's "Endless Bridge."  We walked through Mills Ruins Park and along the bridge, and then tried some clothes on inside a "mobile boutique" (think food truck parked on a city street, but instead of serving food, they sell clothes).  We also visited the Basilica of St. Mary and the famous "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture in the Walker Art Museum's Sculpture Garden.  Road construction forced me to take the scenic route home, which lead us around the Chain of Lakes and its parkland and $1,000,000+ homes. 

In the afternoon we attended a birthday party for two friends of the kids.  Mama Danny and Oma Heidi were great sports.  They played with the kids and helped them on a scavenger hunt to find all the Hershey's Kisses hidden in the garden. 
Our reflections in the blue glass of the Guthrie Theater.
On the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater.  It overlooks the Mississippi River and the Stone Arch Bridge.
At the Basilica in Minneapolis
In front of the famous "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture
Hunting for Hershey's Kisses at a birthday party
Oma Heidi and Mama Danny helped out in the hunt for Hershey's Kisses.
On the way home from the party, we made a stop at the Adirondack chair for a photo op.
Bright and early the next day, I hauled everyone down to southern Minnesota to visit Forestville/Mysterious Cave State Park, which is a two-hour drive from St. Paul. I'm a big fan of our state park system, yet had never heard of this particular park until about two weeks prior. It was an opportunity to get out of the city and show Oma Heidi and Mama Danny rural Minnesota.  They said the countryside reminded them of Germany.

I'm glad I insisted on packing a cooler with lunches, because there was nowhere around the park to eat.  We had to drive on multiple dirt roads to even access the park and were so deep into rural Minnesota that I was surprised to find a modern visitor center at the end of the road.  We quickly ate our lunches so that we could join the 12:00 p.m. tour. Well, almost all of us joined the tour.  There must have been something lost in translation because it wasn't until we were in the visitors center and Oma Heidi saw the pictures of the cave that she realized what the word meant in English and she wanted nothing to do with it. I'm terribly claustrophobic myself, but the park ranger promised he wouldn't turn the lights out on us, so off we went. 

After a very informative hour-long tour, we emerged from the depths of the earth to see sunlight again.  We moved on to Forestville, which is a small pioneer village operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Think Colonial Williamsburg on a micro scale.  Unfortunately, we were a week too early for the historical reenactors and tours of the buildings, so we only got to walk around outside.  Danny and I took Soren and Matteo on a hike up to the top of a ridge. The boys were so spent by that point that Danny and I had to carry them on our backs most of the way back down. As I had predicted, Matteo was asleep before we even exited the park.
Anywhere there was a stream or standing water, beautiful blue wild flowers blanketed the bank. 
Matteo and Soren were the only ones to join Mama Danny and me all the way up to the ridge line.
I had planned to stop in Northfield, an adorable college town, for an early dinner, but the kids were so tired and cranky, or as the Germans would say, fix und fertig, that I aborted that plan. I didn't trust that their behavior would be suitable for even the most casual of restaurants, so I skipped the scenic route, put the minivan on cruise control and headed straight back to St. Paul.   

Because I had to work during the week and had a couple evening commitments, I saw less of Oma Heidi and Mama Danny the rest of their stay. But I still got to enjoy their cooking!  As the one generally responsible for all the meal planning, food shopping and cooking, let me tell you what a very rare treat it is to come home from work and have dinner ready. We enjoyed some really relaxing evenings during their stay thanks to relieving us from cooking. 

Even though I didn't get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked, it's more important that they got to spend time with Celina and experience her life here. Both her mom and grandmother told me they never doubted Celina's ability to be an au pair, yet to see her manage my four rambunctious children and the day-to-day tasks of our household must have had a profound impact because they radiated with pride.  

It was sad to say goodbye because we enjoyed Oma Heidi and Mama Danny's visit and we don't know when we'll see them again.  However, I told Danny that I hope we will be able to come to Germany to attend Celina's wedding, whenever that may be. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Badass

I've always said having a c-section is not the "easy way out" (no pun intended) with it being major abdominal surgery and requiring what is sometimes a slow and painful recovery.  After two c-sections, a surgery for a ruptured ovary and Fallopian tube following an ectopic pregnancy honestly felt like a walk in the park. Yet it's seldom you hear women who've given birth by Cesarean described as amazing or courageous or tough. Those words seem to be reserved for women who have un-medicated, vaginal births. 

As much as I speak up about the Cesarean birth experience in an effort to reclaim that experience from those who try to portray it as an inferior birth experience, I've never thought about the positive things a cesarean reveals about a person.  Instead, I've spent my time defending the experience and trying to put it on an even playing field with the vaginal birth.  It was only after reading the essay My Wife's Cesarean Makes Her a Total Badass that I truly identified with being tough, or "badass" as the author describes his wife. And even though Chris would never be so public about his feelings, I could kind of hear his voice in this essay, which made me teary-eyed when I first read it.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Drowning in Laundry

I used to like doing laundry.  Seriously.  Despite how otherwise untidy I am, I was fastidious about my laundry.  I found it greatly satisfying to have an empty hamper and a neat stack of clean, ironed and folded clothes.

Then I became a parent and now I stand around with other parents complaining about laundry and how children, whose clothes aren't that big, create so much of it.  That satisfaction I once got from doing laundry dates back to when I did two loads (one lights and one darks) every one and a half weeks.  Our washer and dryer now runs every single day.  Sorting clothes has become a luxury.  Everything is washed together in cold water.

Chris' career goal is to make enough money so he can pay someone to do our laundry.  Until then, laundry doesn't wash and fold itself.  Therefore, this is the average state of our mudroom.  
I cannot stay on top of the laundry.  A neighbor once said that life is too short to spend trying to match kids' socks.  Unfortunately, habits die hard.  Thankfully the kids will be old enough to do their own laundry someday. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kiera is Off and Pedaling

The first time Kiera hopped on a tricycle, she road it around like she'd always known how to pedal, even though we knew that was far from the case.  So it surprised me that she could not figure out how to ride a bike with training wheels.  She would pedal half a revolution and then push the pedals backwards and engage the brake.  Kiera is persistent and would want to keep riding, so I'd help push her feet forward and every single time, she'd pedal half a revolution forward and press her pedals backward.  Every single time.  Locked into place, our stubborn Kiera would continue to slam her feet backwards on the pedals until she'd start crying in frustration. I was out of ideas for how to teach her to pedal forward and her perpetual frustration wasn't productive either, so I ended up no longer letting her ride the bike with the training wheels and made her ride the balance bike.  

Then one day our seven-year-old neighborhood offered to teach Kiera. She patiently pushed on Kiera's legs to force her to pedal and then pushed the bike by its handlebars so Kiera could learn that that pedals work when you push forward.  After only a few minutes and a couple trips up and down the sidewalk, Kiera was pedaling on her own.  I couldn't believe it!  And Kiera was so proud of herself too.  She rode up and down the block and each time she passed by me, she turned and flashed me a huge smile.  If she hadn't know she's not allowed to ride past the house on the corner to the south of us and Halifax's old house (the 110-pound Bernese Mountain Dog) to the north of us, I think she may just have pedaled off into the sunset.   
 Oliver, who had recently relearned to ride a bike without training wheels, was not so impressed.  He wasn't sure what the big deal was or why I cheered encouragement to Kiera every time she pedaled past me.

I refrained from reminding Oliver that even though he now knows how to walk or eat with utensils, we cheered for him when he took his first steps and when he managed to connect his spoon with his mouth instead of flinging his food into his face. Rooting on our children when they experience a success, however small, is what parents do.  And for young children, it's developmentally appropriate.  When we smile and talk baby talk back at a babbling baby, they are motivated to keep "talking" until they eventually say something that means something. And then we cheer some more. 

We don't know if Kiera had anyone cheering her on when she said her first word or took her first steps, or if she felt like anyone cared.  But we do know Kiera is a little girl who needs lots of encouragement. Almost daily we witness Kiera experience a situation similar to not being able to pedal not the bike and not being able to ask for help and then getting frustrated to the point of tears.  To watch her work to figure something out was such a proud mom moment.  We don't know much about her past, but as she rode by me and made sure I was watching her and that I was excited for her, she knows she has parents who cheer for her unconditionally. 


Monday, April 11, 2016

Soren Update: 4.5 Years

Many nights I read bedtime stories to the kids in my bed and once we're finished, Soren wants me to carry him to bed. I pick him up and carry him like a baby and pretend to rock him and tell him how I remember when he really was a little baby and I carried him in my arms all the time. I try to lay him down just as gently as I did when he was a newborn and I'd lay him in his crib, except he's so heavy that as I lean over I end up dropping him into bed. He soaks up this tender, loving "babying" type of attention. 

Soren is a sensitive kid.  Celina usually gets the kids dressed in the morning, but so often Soren holds out and demands that I get him dressed.  I asked him why he wanted me to get him dressed so badly when he could do it himself and he shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his feet as if he were embarrassed.  He clearly couldn't articulate why, but I think it's just comforting for him. 

He has a routine every morning where he has to wave to me "from the window and the sidewalk."  I hug and kiss him goodbye and as I leave out the front door, he races the couple steps up the staircase where there's a little window that looks out onto the porch and he waves at me furiously.  I stand on the porch and wave back and blow kisses. When I get out to the sidewalk, I've got to stop and repeat the waves and kisses. In one last frantic goodbye, Soren races out onto the porch and props open the storm door and yells, "I love you and I miss you and I'll see you at dinnertime!" 

So this is the routine every morning, except if Chris happens to be home.  Then I'm chopped liver from Soren and his brothers.  At least Kiera still pays me some attention.  But Soren? He's like his brothers and is a total daddy's boy.  He's often Chris' sidekick helping him on projects around the house.  When Chris needed to replace the frame around our storm door, Soren accompanied him to Home Depot and then helped him measure the lumber.  I was folding laundry in my bedroom and looked out the window into the backyard and there was Soren helping Chris carry a piece of lumber from the garage. Chris could have easily carried it himself, but patiently let his four-and-a-half-year-old helper carry half the load.   

As attached as Soren is to both Chris and me, he's showing signs of independence.  He now joins Oliver to play at the neighbor's house, something he's until recently been terrified to do given their exuberant and forever young Labradoodle.  Soren still wants to keep sweet Lulu at a distance, but he now trusts that Lulu will be kept away from him until she can calm down and leave the kids alone.  He's starting to be able to play on Oliver and Paloma's level and they seemingly welcome his company.

Soren has generally liked going to preschool, but lately he really looks forward to it. I don't know if it's because Oliver talks so positively about his own school that his excitement has rubbed off on Soren, but regardless, Soren is pretty jazzed when he finds out it's a preschool day. 

Soren is still into Legos, of course, but also enjoys riding his bike, coloring, building with Magnatiles and playing with Kiera's dollhouse.  He might play with it as much, or even more than, Kiera.  One day he was spent and kept saying he was tired and wanted to go home and play with the dollhouse. 

Soren continues to be a relatively picky-eater and if Oliver gets going on not liking something, he can bring Soren down with him.  Luckily, if left with no other options, Soren will eventually try what he had previously refused to touch. 

With the changing of the seasons, we also changed out Soren's wardrobe.  He's still in size 4T shirts, but can fit in some 5T's and is now wearing 4T pants.  Chris took him shoe shopping a few weeks ago and I was shocked that he's now in size 10.5.  (Also shocked, because he walked into the shoe store wearing size eight shoes on his feet.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Matteo Update: 3.5 Years

With his super stylish glasses and a personality that makes an impression upon everyone he meets, Matteo elicits adoring comments from just about everyone. His can-do attitude and eagerness to please is just so darn endearing.  

In the coming weeks we need to make a decision about preschool for next year.  Matteo's September birthday means that he's not eligible for Pre-K along with Soren and Kiera, but he likes learning and we want something that will be challenging enough for him and fun all at the same time. 

We're super impressed by how many letters Matteo knows and he likes to point them out to us, especially the letter M!  Chris took Matteo and Soren to the boat show and while Soren's main interest was climbing aboard every boat, Matteo's favorite activity was to look for the license number decaled on each boat and pointed out if he saw any M's or 3's.  (He's very proud of being 3, so of course that's his favorite number.)

My only nervousness about schooling of any kind, even preschool, is that Matteo's speech is still very difficult to understand, if you can understand him at all. We're hoping that this is the reason he doesn't try to talk much unless we actively engage him. 

We hit a milestone recently when Matteo tattled on his brother.  I was downstairs getting ready for work when I heard Kiera crying.  I ran upstairs and found her sitting on her bed crying, but she was unable to tell me what had happened.  Matteo, however, was very eager to speak up for her.  His speech was still very difficult to understand, but Matteo was able to communicate, "Oliver hit back" and pointed to Kiera's back. Yup, when you have a child with such a profound speech delay, you get excited about any form of verbal communication, even in the form of tattling.  

Matteo loves swimming and was fearless jumping in the water at the Y. He didn't even plug his nose like his mom still needs to do.  He's a pro at his tricycle, and is now just barely big enough for one of his brother's hand-me-down bikes, which he immediately got the hang of and cruised down our block. 

The one thing he has feared has been dogs, but slowly (very slowly), Matteo is warming up to them.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law's exuberant Goldendoodle, Watson, is still a bit much for Matteo, but Celina is having luck helping Matteo grow to like dogs by hanging out with her friend's Great Pyrenees puppy, Gustav.  Although Gustav will quickly outgrow Watson and seems like a odd choice to bring around a kid terrified of dogs, Great Pyrenees are pretty chill dogs. He's clearly growing more comfortable because when I asked a guy at the park walking two Great Pyrenees if I could pet his dogs, Matteo ran right up and voluntarily gave each dog a quick pat on the back. One turned and licked him in the face and while he wasn't thrilled about that, he didn't shriek in terror. 

Between preschool, speech therapy sessions and all the things Celina keeps him busy with, Matteo is tired by the end of the day. He doesn't nap anymore, but if we drive anywhere farther than Target, he falls asleep in the car.  Because he so desperately needs at least a catnap, we sometimes plan a post-lunch drive to give him a chance to sleep.  The only problem is that Matteo is GRUMPY when he wakes up.  

I'm not sure what's fueling that little body of his because he's getting a little pickier with food and for the most part won't touch vegetables.  However, he'll still eat vegetables if they're chopped up and mixed in a dish.  He's not the type of kid to refuse to try something new and if there's nothing else for dinner he likes, he'll eventually eat what's being served.

Whatever Matteo is eating, he's still growing.  He very recently moved up from 2t pants to 3T, but is in 3T shirts for the time-being.  I can see him being in 4T shirts by mid-summer.