A Love Letter To My Daughter On Her Third Birthday

51078369_10103073984926620_4062535618834464768_nDearest Hannah,

Every time I sit down to write one of these birthday letters I am conflicted. On one hand I am  overjoyed at having known you and loved you for one more glorious year. On the other hand, however, a piece of me grieves that yet another year has already passed us by. I know that the time we have together is finite, so I want to treasure each precious year for what it is worth: a priceless, fleeting gift. This was the only year in your life that you will ever be two; and for me, it is the last time I will have a child who is two. Today you turn three–THREE!–and together we will enter a whole new phase of your life.

I have noticed that more significant than the ages you are, you kids go through important stages. It’s easy enough to tell when you are in the throes of a stage, but the endings are somewhat more subtle. There’s Newborn Stage, marked by sleepless nights and endless feedings, and…well, that’s really all I remember because I think one of the defining factors of Newborn Stage is maternal memory loss. When you are in the middle of Newborn Stage it feels long and arduous and incessant, and then suddenly one morning you wake up and realize that you are actually now in Toddler Stage.

This was your last year in Toddler Stage as you learned how walk (and climb and run and jump and dance) and to speak (something you have learned quite WELL, my dear!). Toddler Stage was marked by daily new discoveries and growing into the little girl who we knew was inside that baby. And now, without hardly realizing it, you have shifted into the next stage: Little Girl Stage.

And what a remarkable little girl has emerged! You are perhaps the most persistent child I have ever met–once you set your mind to something you can not, will not let it go. You are kind. You are silly (you’re also the only girl I know who will have full-on “tooting contests” with her brothers while wearing a sparkly pink tutu!). You are incredibly smart and you have an uncanny ability to remember minute details (Thank goodness I have you to help me because I wold be lost without your reminders!). You love ballet and all things pink and your crazy big brothers and singing “Jesus Loves Me” and making espresso with Daddy and cleaning up messes and stroking your worn pink gigi when you want comfort. You are amazing. And you are you. And that is the best.

So now as we enter Little Girl Stage I can not wait to see who else you become. What will be your passions? What will drive you and what will make you stop in your tracks? Who will you choose for friends and what will you play together? What new places and new passions will you discover? The world will open up more and more to you each day, and I can’t wait to see the mark you make on it.

Our family and, indeed, the world has been better these last 3 years because you have been a part of them. Happy third birthday, sweet Hannah–and may this be your best one yet!

I love you always and forever,

Mommy

Too Old For Tutus

ballet3A few weeks ago I turned 35 and, now that I’m officially in my mid-thirties, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life. I’m more experienced, more confident of who I am in my own skin, more driven to achieve personal goals, maybe even a bit more wise. What I am not, this week has proven with certainty, is more athletic.

In my teens and twenties I was at the top of my physical game: I danced, I competed in gymnastics, I ran marathons. There seemed to be no limit to what my body could do with enough training and mental fortitude. But then something happened. I turned 30, popped out 3 babies, and my body decided that it had had enough. D.O.N.E. Done. My glory days are over, and it is time to settle the heck down. Old habits die hard, though, and I continue to think I can still act and do and move like I did a decade or more ago. Which is how I came into my present predicament.

Yesterday I decided to try out a new extreme sport: Mommy and Me Ballet.

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Mommy and Me waiting for our ballet class to begin

Why, you might ask, is Mommy and Me ballet an extreme sport? Isn’t that just a playful class of tiny dancers and their mommies twirling and hopping around a dance floor? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But somehow–somehow–I managed to turn this most innocent of toddler experiences into a death-defying physical battle and I ended up leaving the class in crutches.

How on earth does this happen? Well, let’s just say I’m too old for tutus.

The ballet class started out about as adorable as 8 little blonde two year olds in pink tutus can be. We twirled around the room to Disney music and practiced hopping on colored dots scattered across the floor. All fun and games so far. When we moved to the ballet barre, however, it all went downhill (for this nearly-over-the-hill mama, at least).

We were asked to raise up to our tippy toes and then plié…up, down, up, down, up, down. Basically we were doing pretty calf raises. As we were doing our pretty calf raises, however, I heard a strong snap in the back of my right leg–almost like a sudden and severe charlie horse that wouldn’t go away. By the time I got down from my tippy toes I realized that this was bad. This was very, very bad.

I spent the remainder of the class hopping around on my good foot since I couldn’t straighten my right foot or put any weight on it. And, because I was too prideful and embarrassed to sit out for such a ridiculous injury, I carried on. After all, I have over 10 years of advanced ballet dancing under my belt and I should be able to finish out one measly toddler ballet class, even if I am too old for this mumbo-jumbo. I managed to struggle through the rest of the class while Hannah had the time of her life twirling with scarves and bopping out to a Frozen medley.

When we got home I knew that I’d messed up my leg in a “not getting over this any time soon” kind of way. I texted Jon and let him know that he should plan on bringing home whatever he needed to work from home the next day if I was still immobile. I also sent out an SOS to my go-to guy in these situations: my Dad.

Lucky for me, my dad is a Physical Therapist with 40 years of experience helping people recover from injuries such as Mommy-and-me-ballet-induced torn calf muscles. Within an hour he was at my door, crutches and an air cast in hand. He taped up the offending calf and gave me instructions for proper icing, and a few hugs for good measure. If anyone ever tells you that you’re too old to need your parents, they are absolutely 100% wrong. I’ll remind my children of this often.

Doctor Dad coming to the rescue!

So, here I am: an invalid in my own home. Jon took the day off of work today so he can help drive the kids to their activities and make sure our family doesn’t fall apart while Mommy is out of commission (I’m sure he had a comical conversation with his boss explaining why he had to miss work today). I’m getting around alright with the crutches my dad left me with, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually easier to crawl than to crutch. I repurposed Ace bandages as knee pads, and I’m good as gold. Now if that’s not ingenuity, then I don’t know what is!

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Crawling: it’s what the cool kids do

I’ve learned an important lesson about not pushing my (limited) limits, and today is already the “someday we’ll laugh about this” day. Perhaps they’ll write me up in the newspaper for being the first person ever to suffer such a fate from a toddler dance class. At any rate, it’s quite the story! And now if you see me on crutches this week you’ll know where my battle wounds came from.

Tutu or not, I am a warrior!

A Love Letter To My Daughter on Her Second Birthday

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Dear Hannah,

Happy birthday, baby girl! Or can I even say that anymore? Because two is hardly a baby…no, it’s official: my baby is no longer a baby. And, while part of me is grieving that you’re no longer the tiny infant you used to be, the whole of me is excited for who you are now and who you are becoming.

This has been a year of incredible growth and change for you. This week I was looking back at some photos of you from this past year and I couldn’t believe how much you have grown in 12 short months.

You went from being a tiny bald baby who was just learning how to crawl (and by crawl, I mean that adorable little mermaid scoot that you used to do!) to a bright-eyed toddler in her mis-matched outfit that she picked out for herself, running after her brothers with her pigtails bobbing. You went from tasting your first mashed-up foods to out-eating me at most meals (which is really saying something!). You went from spending 90% of your time getting carried to and fro in your Ergo to an independent little girl who can’t stand to sit still for more than two seconds (which made for a very interesting and exhausting trans-Atlantic flight with you a few months ago). Every day I look at you I see a bit more of the girl you are becoming, and it’s beautiful.

Your personality has grown with you this year, too. You are incredibly caring and your favorite thing to do is dote on your “babies”. Whether it is a doll or an injured brother, you have a tender compassion that helps everyone feel loved and comforted (Sidenote: when yo

And as sweet as you usually are, in the last few months we have also seen your feisty side come out (Hello, hair-pulling and itty-bitty-fingernail pinching!). You are bold and adventurous and definitely able to hold your own. All I can say is, good luck to anyone who messes with you! Between your over-protective father and two big brothers–and your ability to take down a full-grown adult with your “slams”–nobody should ever give you any trouble! I’m also pretty sure that you’re not going to be allowed to date until you’re in your 30’s, but we can have that conversation later.

Besides the personal growth that you’ve done this year, you’ve also experienced so much change–and you’ve handled it all like a champ! On your birthday last year we were living in sunny California and spending our weekends at the beach in Santa Cruz…and this year we’re in Washington, surrounded by family and pine trees and the occasional snowflake. And even when your whole world has changed around you, you’ve carried on: brave, happy, and ready to embrace any adventure that comes your way.

And speaking of adventures, can you even imagine what adventures still lie ahead?! This year, your third year of life, will bring so many new opportunities. This year will bring preschool (WHAT?!), potty training (Which means we will officially be a diaper-free household–sweet Jesus, pinch me if this is real!), our first multi-word conversations, and so much more. Hannah, I just can’t wait! Life with you is so exciting!

Thinking back on how far you’ve come in two short years, I can’t help but be amazed. It feels like just yesterday we were welcoming you into the world, and yet at the same time it feels like you’ve always been a part of our lives. And maybe that’s true. Maybe a piece of my heart has always belonged to you, even before you were born–it just wasn’t until I met you that I knew who that piece belonged to.

Well, Hannah, I am so glad that my heart belongs to you. You bring so much light, laughter, and love to our family, and I still can’t believe that you’re mine. Happy birthday, baby girl. Two down, and many more to go!

Much love,

Mommy

Hannah’s Birth Story

IMG_1220If there is one lesson I have learned as a mother it is this: I am NOT the one who is in control. I am repeatedly reminded of this basic fact as I live out my motherhood journey, and it is never too soon to learn this lesson anew. Starting, for instance, at birth.

None of my children have followed the birth plan I laid out for them. I don’t want to boast, but they were excellent birth plans. They were detailed and specific and research-based plans. I’m fairly certain that these birth plans would have set all of us up for both short-term and life-long success–my kids probably would have grown up to be president if they’d just followed the dang plan. And yet. They had their own plans. I am NOT the one who is in control. So begins the story of Hannah.

After having two long, difficult labors with my boys that both ended in emergency C-sections, we decided to cut straight to the chase with our third baby and schedule a C-section for her birth. None of that painful labor business, thank you very much. Considering how much planning I had done for both of my previous births, I was quite proud of myself for relinquishing control on this, our final birth. After all, I already knew that I could not control how the labor and delivery would turn out so I was willing to put it all at the hands of my fully-capable doctor. At least then, I thought, someone I trust will be in control.

We went ahead and scheduled the delivery for 11:45 on Tuesday, February 9th, one week before my due date. David had been born nearly two weeks late, and Jacob had been born a week early, so we figured this would give us a good window of time to get the baby out safely (and with none of that painful labor business, thank you very much).

The week leading up to our scheduled delivery was, in usual Allison-style, quite busy. Since I knew the exact hour our baby would be born I was overly-excited and needed some distraction. The boys and I “did school”, we went to Playhouse on Wednesday, and spent the whole day on Friday at Happy Hollow riding the rides and petting the animals and painting our faces.

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On Saturday Jon and I snuck out for a little date (pedicures for my choice, and the liquor store to restore Jon’s masculinity). Then there was this little thing called the Superbowl that was being hosted a few miles from our house the Sunday before our scheduled delivery. The boys and I drove out to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to pose for a few photos and see where all the action would be going down.

On Sunday we went to church and small group, then came home to tidy up a bit before heading over to our neighbor’s house for a Superbowl party. We had a great time Sunday night “watching” football (and by watching football I mean the kids played outside on our neighbors’ new playground while the grown ups ate copious amounts of food and chatted with the TV running in the background).

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My mom flew into town from Seattle late that night and Jon picked her up from the airport a bit after 11:00 PM. I was able to relax a bit knowing that Mom was finally here–she was going to be our primary caretaker for the two wild banshees (David and Jacob) when we went to the hospital later that week. Everything was going exactly to plan.

And then. I’d been having a hard time sleeping Sunday night–at 39 weeks pregnant I had to get up every hour or so to visit the restroom, and then when I went back to bed I couldn’t get comfortable and my mind was racing with all the thoughts of what was about to come. Plus, all that spicy food from the Superbowl party wasn’t settling too well. At least, that’s what I thought at first when I started having abdominal pain a bit after 5 AM that Monday morning.

However, when the abdominal pain started coming and going in waves every 4-5 minutes I realized that this was not due to spicy BBQ pork or chili. No, these were contractions. Holy moly, I was in labor.

By 6:00 the contractions were coming every 2-4 minutes and getting stronger, and I decided this was actually happening and figured it was time to wake everyone up to share the news. Jon (groggily) jumped out of bed to take a quick shower and pack his bag while I tried to get in touch with my doctor. Since we already had A PLAN, however, I did not have the necessary after-hours phone numbers to contact my OB. I called the hospital and they told me to just come straight in and they’d get in touch with my doctor for me.

I went downstairs to greet my mom (I’d already gone to bed the night before when she arrived) and let her know about the recent turn of events. While I was chatting with her in her room the boys woke up next door and I went in to tell them the exciting news: their sister was coming TODAY!

At about 7:00 Jon and I loaded into the car and took the 10 minute drive down to the hospital. The morning commute had already started but, thankfully, rush hour was nowhere near in full force at that early hour as we made our way as quickly as legally possible down Highway 17.

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When we arrived at the hospital I went to the patient registration area because that’s what I remembered to do from our hospital tour that we’d taken a few weeks earlier. When I sat down at the registration desk (ID and insurance paperwork in hand) ready to go through the necessary paperwork, the representative just gawked at me and said, “Are you in LABOR?! You have to go straight up to labor and delivery!”. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten–this was one of those parts that was NOT part of the plan.

Jon went to move our car to a legal parking spot while I found my way up to the correct floor of the hospital. Since I’d already called to notify them that I was coming in, they were ready for me and whisked me straight to a L&D prep room. I changed into a glamorous pink gown that had so many holes in it I couldn’t figure out where to put through my arms–turns out the breast-feeding holes were NOT the correct place.

Once we were in the prep room, things moved very quickly. My labor was progressing rapidly–after only 2 hours I was already 4 cm dilated, fully effaced, and having contractions lasting for about a minute every 2 minutes. Since my previous labors had lasted 24 and 48 hours, I was surprised at the speed this baby was coming. I was progressing so quickly that the nurses asked me if I wanted to try for a vaginal delivery, but that was NOT THE PLAN. I declined their offer and told them I wanted to stick with the C-section.

Shortly after we arrived at the hospital, my OB (Dr. Kilkenny–she’s Irish and I love her and would truly like to be her friend) arrived. Mondays are typically her day off, and she had just gotten up to meet with her personal trainer when she got the call to come straight to the hospital instead. Over the past year I’ve developed a strong relationship with Dr. Kilkenny–we’ve been through a lot together–and I was so glad that she was there to be the one delivering our baby.

Just after 8:00 I was prepped and set for surgery so they wheeled me down to the OR. Once in the OR I got my spinal and was ready to go. It was time to get this baby show on the road.

At 8:39 AM on Monday, February 8, 2016, our daughter made her debut (and for those of you who are the stat-seeking sorts, she weighed 7 pounds and was 20 inches long). Hannah Doreen entered the world, gorgeous and perfect, without so much as a squeal of greeting–she was wide-eyed and curious, simply taking in this amazing new world in which she found herself.

Alrighty, quick time out here–I have to make a note about Hannah’s name.

Sticking with the Biblical name tradition we already had going with our children, we chose Hannah. I have always found inspiration in the Biblical story of Hannah–she had great faith and obedience to the Lord, and she found great favor in His eyes. The name Hannah means grace, which is fitting for the circumstances we find ourselves in welcoming a child into our family.

Her middle name, Doreen, was the name of Jon’s beloved grandmother who passed away this November. Gramma Doreen played an integral part in our family and it is no stretch to say that Jon and I would not be where we are today without her care and support. She loved our children deeply and it was her greatest desire to meet her first great-granddaughter before she passed. In addition to the personal connection we have with this name, we also discovered that the name Doreen is of Irish origin (another place we have a deep personal connection with) and one of it’s meanings is gift (which, of course, she is). Little Hannah Doreen, our grace gift.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled birth story.

While a nurse and Jon took Hannah next door to clean her up and take her vitals, the doctors completed my surgery and got me stitched up. It was then that I learned Hannah had been Frank Breech in my womb, basically doing a gymnasts pike position instead of diving head-down ready for delivery. She almost certainly would not have been born naturally. I was grateful all over again that I decided to stick with our plan for a repeat C-section and hadn’t changed my mind last-minute to give V-BAC another try!

Once I was all stitched up I rode on a hover mattress onto my recovery bed (I also had a robot clean my bathroom at the hospital. True story. Welcome to Silicon Valley.) and was wheeled next door for 2 hours of bonding time with my new daughter. We were immediately placed skin-to-skin and she began nursing straight away. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and tiny and perfect she was. Oh my, I was in love.

Our next stop was our new home-away-from-home: our own personal recovery room in the maternity ward. We were in room 271–a perfectly functional space with a hospital bed for mom, a rolling cart bassinet for baby, and a too-short fold-out chair/bed for Dad. Plus, there was a nice view of the parking lot two floors below (Daddy liked being able to keep an eye on our car, so this was an actual perk).

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Over the next two days we mostly hung out in our room, nursed a very mouthy baby around the clock, scorned the nurses who woke us up every two hours to check my stats, and took infinity photos of our precious baby.

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We were not alone in our stay in the maternity ward–in fact Hannah was born right in the middle of a baby boom. Turns out her birthday was the first day of the Chinese New Year (year of the Monkey…quite fitting for our family of little monkeys!). Since it is considered good luck to be born during the New Year–and we live in an area with one of the highest-density Chinese populations outside of mainland China–it was a very popular day at the hospital for scheduled C-sections and inductions.

The boys and my mom were able to come by for a few hours each day for little visits with their new sister. I have never seen David and Jacob so excited and gentle and affectionate–it was love at first sight for them, too. On Hannah’s birthday they brought a gift for their new sister: an adorable stuffed pink pig, swaddling blankets, and HEADBANDS (oh my goodness, I’m going to have to buy stock in headbands before we go broke on my shopping binges). Hannah is such a thoughtful baby that she also brought gifts for her big brothers: a new movie and balloons that they could blow up and shape into animals and swords.

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Our visitors also brought cupcakes so we could have a little birthday party for Hannah. The best part of the cupcakes, though, is that they were actually frosted cornbread muffins. In my rush to leave the house that morning I had spouted off instructions to my mom to take the cupcakes out of the freezer and frost them to bring to the hospital…only she went to our second freezer and took out corn muffins instead! No worries, though, because–as always–the Funfetti frosting saved the day.

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Unfortunately I couldn’t eat the cornbread-cupcakes that first day because the anesthesia I’d had for my surgery was making me nauseous. After throwing up a few times that morning–and getting some good anti-nausea medicine in my system–I felt much better and was quickly on the road to recovery.

I was able to get up and start walking around my room by the end of day 1 and, despite what the doctors had expected, we were ready to go home on day 2. We got our hospital discharge papers on Wednesday, February 10–still 5 days before my February 15 due date–and went back to our real home sweet home.

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We are settling in well to being home again, this time as a family of five.

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I still can’t believe that we have three kids–that this will be our new forever life. It is so much more wonderful than I could have dreamed of, and infinity better than I ever could have planned. So, even though this birth did not exactly go according to plan, it was exactly as it should have been. This is our life, and we are abundantly blessed.

Welcome to the world, little Hannah. We are so glad you’re here!

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