Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Big Apple in Beantown


I'm sure that title is throwing some of you for a loop, so I'll cut to the chase and tell you that, no, New York City didn't somehow end up squeezing into the much tinier Boston...but the Big Apple Circus did find its way into town!

If it weren't for my sister and her husband I probably would have been oblivious to the circus coming to town and would have missed out on it entirely. However, my sister told me about the radio ads she had heard and her husband (who was raised in New England) informed her that he grew up seeing this circus perform and thought it would be fun to take our children to. Before I knew it, my sister had gathered some friends and family, picked a date, and we found ourselves with weekend tickets to Gabriel's very first circus show!

There are many great things about this circus that performs in NYC and New England, but one of its main selling points is its size. They do a one-ring show which means that even in the "nosebleed section" you'll find yourself no more than 50 feet from the ring.

We were in the very last row yet were still this close!

I think this is a big deal with young children - because who wants to waste money on tickets to a show that your little one(s) can barely see or focus on? I think three rings would have been overwhelming at best and scary at worst for Gabriel, who is not quite a 21-month-old.

As it stands, Gabriel thoroughly enjoyed himself and while it was a lot of excitement for him, he wasn't overwhelmed. My husband and I also enjoyed the show, but I think some of my favorite memories include seeing Gabriel's reactions to it all. I almost died laughing when a gymnast accidentally slipped, I said "oh no," and Gabriel proceeded to yell and point, "Oh NO!" throughout the rest of the segment. Nor did it ever get old seeing him happily join in the applause with the rest of the crowd.

We saw an 11am show, which meant that it ended right around Gabriel's nap-time. He was definitely greatly in need of a nap and was too tired to smile in any of the family photos we took, but don't let that fool you. There's no doubt that he has a blast!

Why yes, I am 8 months pregnant. How could you tell?

If you find yourself in New York or New England when Big Apple Circus is touring, I certainly recommend them as a good, family-friendly show - especially if you have young children (even my 4-month-old nephew handled it like a champ!). Bonus: they have autism-friendly shows, they are a not-for-profit circus, they regularly do free shows for children in hospitals, and they only use positive reinforcement training with their animals!

"Precarious, life is. A flying leap. A sweep of hand. A star flung across the night. A lucky catch in this whirling juggling circus act."
-Rivera Sun

Monday, April 27, 2015

Big Brother "Training"


Ever since my baby bump began showing, I've spent a lot of time wondering how much of this process Gabriel will be able to comprehend and what kinds of things might help "prepare" him for the day when he's no longer the only child living in our home.

Honestly, I think it's really great when you can mentally prepare a child for the arrival of a sibling - but I'm also realistic about how vastly different that can look depending on a child's age. Gabriel is 20 months old and will probably be right around 22 months when his brother is born, so I recognize that there are plenty of things he won't fully comprehend until it all happens...and that's fine. I'm not going to sweat it.

However, just because our son doesn't fully comprehend his brother's impending arrival doesn't mean there aren't things we have tried our best to do to naturally ease the transition a bit. Some of these things are entirely within our control and others are definitely not - but combined I can already see how they've been steadily working to help Gabriel be better prepared and (hopefully) happy about his new baby brother.

Here's a list and summary of the top 3 things I think have helped prepare Gabriel to be an older brother:

1. We've been talking about babies (and families). More specifically, I began asking him over and over where the baby is and he began to point to my growing belly - which I think was a good general building block. In the months since then I've begun to tell him more about his baby brother, but have stuck to simple concepts like, "when he comes home with us you can hold him and hug him and give him kisses."

Going hand in hand with all the baby talk is what I've tried to convey to him about family structures. There are plenty of books and toys that show mothers and children, so he naturally began picking up on identifying which one is the "mama" and which is the "baby." I've used photos of families (in his books or library books) that better parallel our own family to help him identify the mommy, daddy, brother/sister, and baby...and have recently started following up by telling him that when his brother is born our family will consist of Daddy, Mommy, Gabriel, and baby ____ (I can't wait to share his name with the world!). How much of this does he understand when I connect these photos of other families to our names? I have no idea, but I do it anyway.

2. We bought Gabriel a baby doll (and later on, a toy bottle for his baby boy).

Not every child is guaranteed to show interest in baby dolls, but in my (limited) experience both little boys and girls tend to be fascinated by other children...especially babies. After witnessing Gabriel carry around my nieces' dolls while visiting my sister's place on multiple occasions, I began to see that giving him his own had a lot of potential as a fun toy with the added bonus of introducing him to more baby-related concepts.

We ended up giving him the doll before we left for Hawaii in hopes that it might be a fun, new, comforting toy to make it a bit easier on him in our absence. I think the timing of the gift coinciding with our trip did wonders to solidify the baby as his new comfort object (sorry, monkeys!) and before we knew it, "Baby" was never far from Gabriel's sight.

Carrying around his baby doll has already taught Gabriel how to be gentle with a baby, how to give him nice hugs and kisses, and it's been an excellent tactic for keeping him off all the baby gear that has been reappearing in our apartment as I get deeper into "nesting mode." The first day we brought the baby swing back out, Gabriel immediately wanted to hop inside - but thanks to his baby doll he quickly stopped and began to view it as a place to put a baby...all because I suggested he put Baby in the swing instead. Ever since then he hasn't tried pushing on it or climbing in, but you'd better believe he gently places his baby inside and even rocks him on a regular basis (be still my heart).

Another benefit from all this is that the baby doll gives Gabriel his own baby to hold whenever I'll be busy nursing or holding his brother. At the end of the day, though, I've never approached the baby doll as just a "teaching tool"; it's first and foremost our son's toy that he gets to love and goof around with. It just so happens that there are conveniently lots of things he has learned about babies in the process. ;)

3. This one is entirely beyond my control, but my sister had her third baby less than a week after we moved near her. Seriously...there's no better training to be a big brother than having a real, live baby in the family that he sees on a regular basis!

Fortunately, Gabriel has always been sweet with his new baby cousin so we haven't had to referee him too much (although he quickly had to learn not to poke babies in the eyes). He's always bringing him his pacifier or little toys to look at, but this past week he did something entirely new: he requested to hold his baby cousin! It melted my heart to see how excited he was to hold him for the first time and made me that much more excited to see his reaction to the birth of his brother. 

I mean, just check these little dudes out and try not to grin at their cuteness together.... 

Less than 6 weeks to go until all this intentional (and unintentional) preparation goes into action...and I couldn't be more excited! I truly cannot wait to see how our boys interact and hope they will be the best of friends someday.

"Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you'll ever have."
-Jeffrey Kluger

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pregnancy Photo Timeline


...because who doesn't find it fascinating to look back on a growing baby bump?

Before I dive in, I'd like to take a brief moment to acknowledge that it's National Infertility Awareness Week and ask you to please pray for all couples carrying the cross of infertility. As we celebrate the joy of this baby boy's life and his impending arrival, let us also offer our support and prayers for those who find themselves in a very different boat. For more about infertility (whether it comes in the form of difficulty conceiving or pregnancy loss), I recommend checking out this list of 9 Ways to Support A Couple Experiencing Infertility or A Blog About Miscarriage. No matter a couple's circumstances, I hope we can all agree that fertility isn't small talk meant for strangers because those seemingly harmless questions about someone else's family planning deal with immensely private subject matter. Here's a beautiful piece explaining how we can all be more sensitive to others' experiences with fertility and infertility alike.

Now let's look at this little boy's growth, shall we?

These are almost all the random weeks I've remembered to take a photo this time around. Sorry, kid! I've just been more laid-back with you than with your brother. ;) 

If you had asked me towards the start of this pregnancy if I would be posting photos of myself in the third trimester I would have responded with a resounding, "heck NO." That just goes to show that you never fully know what to expect from each pregnancy until you live it. 

This time around I've done a far better job of learning how to look and feel more like "myself" well into the third trimester, so I actually don't mind the photos thus far...and I have no problem sharing that I owe lots of that to 4 crucial factors:
1) eating at home (Michael and I were so guilty of eating out too often when I was pregnant with Gabriel - especially in the 3rd trimester),
2) regularly working out in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters,
3) NOT chopping my long hair off, and
4) wearing my favorite lipstick a few times a week. 
Seriously - never underestimate the power of a good lipstick. I learned this valuable lesson somewhere in the midst of my postpartum days (months after Gabriel was born) when I realized how put-together and like myself a little lipstick made me feel, regardless of the last time I had a good night's sleep or washed my hair (moms, you know those days). I was never a big lipstick-wearer prior to this past year, but it's currently that quick, harmless, little thing that gives me an extra pep-in-my-step boost of confidence so I've embraced it with open arms and haven't looked back since. Whatever that thing is for you, I say "do it."

But even more seriously: I owe all my gratitude to the Lord for blessing Michael and me with this baby. Far more important than what my (thankfully positive) pregnancy experiences have been like is the simple fact that I have been blessed with a baby. A baby with his own unique body and soul and his very own guardian angel (I just love that image of being surrounded by my guardian angel and his while he grows, don't you?). What a gift to our family and the world he will be!

Today I'm officially 34 weeks pregnant, so I'm over-the-moon excited to meet this little boy in (hopefully) less than 6 weeks! Thank you again to those of you that have been keeping our growing family in your prayers.

"If I am thinking correctly," said Pooh, "a new baby is probably, undoubtedly the grandest gift that could ever be."
-A.A. Milne

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Sickness & In Health


If you're all caught up on our Holy Week and Easter Sunday then you already know that our little Gabriel battled his first stomach virus...and then passed it to us a couple of days later.

I thought battling a mere cold during pregnancy was miserable, but in case you weren't sure I'll go ahead and tell you that dealing with a stomach virus while pregnant is far worse. Every time I got sick my thoughts immediately went to all of the women of this world that deal with morning sickness for weeks (sometimes months on end) during pregnancy. How insanely blessed am I not to have had those firsthand experiences?

Long story short, stomach viruses are miserable.

Oddly enough, though, there were some beautiful things that came from all of this that were just too good not to write down.

When Michael first got sick I was already feeling very queasy so I stayed in the other room out of fear that I may start to gag, too. However, the first time I got sick my husband immediately ran into the bathroom behind me and stayed by my side (fortunately we had already gotten our toddler to bed). He asked if there was anything he could do and at one point he even gently brushed my hair back to make sure it was out of my face. In that moment I realized that my husband is an amazing caregiver. And he continued to prove this to me time and time again over the course of the next couple days as we both recuperated.

Just a cute photo of my husband being adorable & loving back before we were even engaged

It might sound ridiculous for me not to have known this about my husband sooner, but I think that's a personality trait that you can't fully know about unless you've had reason to experience your spouse taking care of you. Michael and I are both pretty healthy individuals which means that in our 2.5 years of marriage we honestly haven't had too many opportunities to care for one another through illnesses or injuries beyond the common cold. I'm overwhelmingly blessed to have experienced two healthy, smooth-sailing pregnancies (thus far - 33 weeks and counting!) without morning sickness or the need for something like bed-rest. I am apparently weird and have never even experienced pregnancy "cravings" to the point of requesting my husband go out of his way to pick up a special food for me.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't secretly wondered what kind of caregiver my husband would be if the need ever arose for him to seriously take care of me...and now I know. I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit surprised (in a good way!) at how great he was at caring for me. It's not that I doubted his love for me or anything of the sort, but I'd simply never seen that side of him before and he rose to the occasion in ways I didn't expect.

It sounds a bit twisted, but experiencing this brief illness and witnessing my husband doing his best to care for me gave me a sense of confidence that (God forbid) should the need arise for him to take care of me in a more serious capacity as we age he will do a fabulous, loving job. And it inspired and reminded me to care for him better, too. 

Sometimes pregnancy requires us women to focus on our health and our needs because it also impacts our growing baby...but that doesn't mean I should ignore opportunities to take care of others if I'm well enough to do so. After all, it's impossible to show my husband too much love. So why not do my best every opportunity I can? That's the kind of wife I want to be.

So here's to being reminded that I can always strive to do better at living my promise of a lifetime loving and honoring this man. In sickness and in health.

"I (name) take you (name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
-the Catholic wedding vows we promised on our wedding day

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Easter Sunday 2015


After surviving Gabriel's first stomach bug that hit during the Holy Triduum, we were so looking forward to getting out of the house, celebrating, and spending quality time with family on Easter Sunday.

Christos Anesti! On our way out the door to church

When we rolled up at our parish for the 9am Easter Sunday mass at about 8:58am I knew that finding a seat would be a struggle - but there was basically no way we could have made it sooner with our toddler in tow. Thankfully, at 31.5 weeks pregnant I stood out amidst the crowd of others standing around the back of the church so that when an usher found a seat for 3 it was promptly offered to us. Honestly, I feel bad that so many people who arrived well before us had to stand...but aside from my semi-crazy and ambitious third-trimester decision to wear heels (yes...heels!) to church that day I'm no fool. So we gratefully accepted everyone's kind gesture and found ourselves with a wonderful view from the second pew.

After mass we breezed through the city so we could caravan with my sister and her family to my brother-in-law's parents' house in Rhode Island. Upon arriving Gabriel and his cousins were all gifted adorable little Easter baskets; even though we didn't let Gabriel eat the candy that day out of fear the sugar could upset his just-recovered-tummy, I thought it was a very considerate gesture on my brother-in-law's parents' part to include him along with their grandchildren (my sister's kids). I thought they were kind enough simply to invite Michael and me (considering I'm the sister of their daughter-in-law), so the candy gifts were just added icing on the cake, so to speak.

Chocolate bunny on the left for Michael & me, Easter basket for Gabriel on the right

The remainder of the morning and afternoon were spent leisurely enjoying each other's company as the men hid the dyed Easter eggs in the yard, the children had fun hunting them down, we ate delicious food and drank good wine, and (of course) enjoyed some Easter treats.

Look who collected SIX eggs on his first-ever Easter egg hunt!

Even though most of my family is spread out geographically, times like this past Easter make me so grateful that our most recent move brought us closer to some very important loved ones. To be able to celebrate with one of my sisters and her beautiful family (including all of Gabriel's cousins thus far!) is a huge blessing that I aim not to take for granted for one second.

Gabriel happily hugging his aunt & Godmother

All the Easter excitement kept Gabriel from napping despite our best efforts, so we decided to head back north towards the end of the afternoon. In a huge way this was a blessing in disguise because the timing of our departure from family was just enough to get us back home before the unthinkable happened: within 5 minutes of walking through the front door Michael and I simultaneously got hit with Gabriel's stomach virus. But let's not dwell on that misery right now....

My favorite family photo of the day

Getting hit with a stomach virus was not a fun way to end such a joyful day, but I'm pleased that everyone was well enough to partake in the festivities. Easter Sunday 2015 was basically the calm before the continuation of the storm we thought had already passed us by...but for that radiant break amidst the clouds of illness surrounding our household I am very thankful.

Although the Easter octave has already passed us by, we are still knee-deep in the 50 days of this Easter Happy Easter! May your families be blessed by these joyful days of immense mercy and hope.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

-Pope Saint John Paul II

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Lent & Triduum I Least Expected


Oh hi. It's been a little while, hasn't it? Happy Easter!

When Holy Week rolled around I could hardly believe it. What happened to those daily readings I had planned to carve out time for during the Lenten season? I used to be so good (at the very least) about reading the daily Gospel and finding a few minutes to start my day in prayer in addition to offering up various prayers throughout the day.

Prior to Lent I was frustrated that I found myself in an unnecessarily prolonged season of forgetting to pray and/or opting to spend what little quiet time I had to myself to clean, nap, or read anything but that which could help me grow spiritually or intellectually beyond a few blogs or news articles. Sure, I'm pregnant and raising a toddler and need to take care of myself when I get the chance, but part of this includes taking care of my spiritual life...and in this I found myself in a season in which I was sorely lacking this discipline.

Cue Lent: the perfect liturgical season to get myself back on track - right?! That was my hope anyway.

Except suddenly I found myself in Holy Week still not in any sort of daily routine. In all the obvious ways I had "failed" at getting closer to the Lord...but if there's anything I've learned over the years it's that He often works in subtle, mysterious, and - quite frankly - unexpected and somewhat peculiar ways within our lives. So, I entered the week with new resolve to hopefully do at least a little bit better before Easter.

Wednesday night Michael and I were both able to go to confession (always the best way I know to start anew and refreshed in my relationship with God)...and then the Holy Triduum happened.

Let me tell you - when I began the week resolved to do whatever I could to grow in holiness leading up to Easter Sunday I had no idea what He had in store for me....

Michael was fighting off a cold all week long and felt too drained to go into work on Holy Thursday, so we were blessed to have him work from home that day (probably amazing God-incidence #1 in this story). My mom radar should probably have gone off when I saw Gabriel doing this for an extended period of time:

He's at an age where he'll frequently flip through books on his own, but laying down as he does it? Clearly this is unusual, which is why I thought it was adorable and noteworthy enough to snap a photo. 

Later that afternoon we all headed outside to run some errands only to discover that a UPS delivery truck was temporarily blocking my car. Michael seemed a bit irritated, but I assured him that we wouldn't be waiting long and I - strangely at peace - set Gabriel down on the sidewalk next to my car (incredible God-incidence #2 that I know of!). Less than 30 seconds later, Gabriel experienced a massive "hiccup" that was immediately followed by him vomiting all over the sidewalk, one of his shoes, and part of his outfit. Thank the Lord for that UPS man and his timing so that we at least didn't have to deal with cleaning out my car!

This was Gabriel's first time throwing up ever and my heart broke as I watched our sweet little boy look so sad and confused as he simply shook his head whining, "" because he didn't like what was happening to him.

Even though we had never dealt with this kind of situation as parents, something inside me clicked right into patient, care-giving mommy mode as I scooped him into my arms, soothed him, and headed straight back inside to get to our apartment and take care of him.

People always talk about how parenthood and the little sacrifices and loving actions you willingly offer up for your children are a way to grow closer to Christ and His love (and suffering)...but this hit me in an entirely new way as we navigated Gabriel's first stomach bug. After all, do you know how difficult it is to get a rightfully distraught almost-20-month-old to throw up into anything without much mess or fuss?

There I was, holding him in the bathroom when he vomited the second time.

I tried to hold him over the toilet, but he was so upset about it and was distressed to the point of whining "no" over and over as his tiny, less-than-20-pounds body shook with I quickly gave up on containing the mess and simply hugged him to my body. He leaned in and gripped me tightly in his toddler embrace as he continued getting sick...all down my back. And I didn't care. All I wanted to do in that moment was be with him, make him more comfortable, and love him fiercely through this scary, new situation he was experiencing. 

Thankfully my awesome husband was around for everything, so we were able to tag-team what needed to happen. We divided and conquered - often with me staying put with a miserable, clingy Gabriel and tending to his needs while Michael swiftly handled the logistics of cleaning out bowls, starting laundry, and bringing me whatever Gabriel needed.

The entire stomach bug situation was mercifully quick, with the first 4 hours being the worst and everything looking significantly better in under a day and a half. Our boy was still suffering on Good Friday, but that morning he began holding down Pedialyte and Saltines which was a huge turning point in recovery.

Suffice it to say that our family experienced a Holy Triduum unlike any other. We were blessed that Gabriel recovered quickly, but Holy Thursday evening and all of Good Friday provided us plenty of opportunities to grow closer to the Lord as we watched our little boy suffer and did our best to care for him. I tried my best to use every small chance I had to show love and to do so patiently and selflessly - even if it was in the midst of doing another load of laundry or busting out the baking soda after cleaning up a mess on our carpet. I'm certainly not perfect at doing these small things with great love in everyday life, but a child's illness can undoubtedly help us to develop these habits or characteristics more earnestly than we may otherwise.

Clearly my obvious Lenten goals were unsuccessful, but tending to our sick child unquestionably helped me make up for some of my other Lenten "failures." Not only that, but something else had slowly been happening within our home throughout the previous 40+ days. After literally months of me telling my husband that I wanted to solidify some consistent family prayer time, Gabriel's development and our family habits lined up perfectly with the Lenten season so that he began to take an interest in prayer!

Honestly, creating a real, consistent family prayer time is bigger and better than what I had initially hoped to gain spiritually this past for this gift I am extremely grateful and at peace with how everything played out. It was unfortunate that our baby boy suffered an illness in the midst of Holy Week, but I'm thankful that it at least provided Michael and me a chance to do better, to love more, and to suffer in some small way alongside our Lord during the Holy Triduum. We did the best we could to find the positive and the Lord seems to have flooded us with grace so we could keep our cool throughout a trying situation. 

It wasn't the Holy Triduum we hoped for or expected, but in an odd way it ended up being sort of beautiful. Not beautiful enough for me to ever hope to repeat it, but beautiful nonetheless.

"The Easter Triduum – the Pope said – is the apex of our liturgical year and it is also the apex of our lives as Christians. We begin the Triduum – he continued - by celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as we recall Christ’s offering of his body and blood to the Father, which he gave to the Apostles as food for their nourishment, with the command that they perpetually celebrate these mysteries in his memory.  He said we also recall the Lord washing the Apostles’ feet, through which he showed that the “purpose of his life and passion was to serve God and neighbour, a service which we are called to imitate by loving one another as he loved us”."