Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year and it’s made even better by spending it with my large, loud, and energetic family. This year both of my sisters and their families made it back to Iowa so we crammed into Mom & Dad’s house–all 22 of us–and there wasn’t a quiet space to be found. (Except maybe during the little kids’ nap times when the big kids went to the basement and the adults lounged in the living room watching football and dozing.)
The weekend was packed with family time–and unending amounts of food–and I was so sad to see it all come to an end.
I do not know why this doll doesn’t have any clothes.
We had our gift exchange on Christmas Eve and, as always, was kicked off with Dad reading Luke 2. Then we start from youngest to oldest with gift opening. The biggest (literally) hit of the gift exchange was Ashton’s gift from Uncle Jordan (that enormous box you can see below). Ashton loves taking things apart so Jordan got him his own tool set and some old junker electronics, but wrapped them in a dryer box.
Old family movies on super 8 film spools came out sometime in the evening and we laughed and laughed at the silent antics flickering on the wall.
We spent Christmas morning at our house before going to church. Henry took forever to open his gifts, but mostly because he’d get sidetracked with each one. We had to pry him away from his new cozy coupe firetruck to open another gift (his tracker & wagon), then pry him away from that to open his next gift. And on and on. If we wouldn’t have encouraged him to keep moving along, he’d probably still be opening gifts today.
After nap time on Christmas, we headed back to Kalona for more festivities, including the grandchildren’s Christmas pageant. The older grandkids were great sports, but not super interested in participating. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the youngest grandkids (uh-hum, Henry & Winston), were not really sure what they were doing, but were cute none the less.
My favorite shepherd.
And by now it’s 2017, things have quieted back down, the weather has turned absolutely frigid as it does this time of year, and I’m thankful for photos to help me remember the magic of Christmas.
Two years ago on this day, I finally saw your beautiful face for the very first time. It was surreal and wonderful all at the same time.
When you were born, you didn’t cry. People say that babies should always cry when they’re born; that’s how you know they’re okay. But you just looked around, eyes wide, strangely calm and curious about your new world. Someone—a nurse?—placed you in my arms and we looked at each other, you and I, as I quietly introduced myself: “Hi Henry. I’m your mama.”
Those beautiful moments in the first few hours gave way eventually to sheer exhaustion, hormonal tears (even uncontrollable weeping at times), an achy, healing body, and a fear that I could never be all that you deserved. Those first many weeks are a hazy memory, a foggy time in my life where I remember very, very little except that I was so tired all the time and my even my brain hurt to try to think.
Hitting the 12 week mark was huge for us. You started sleeping through the night, my body felt normal again, and our routine was fairly smoothed out. I finally felt some confidence in mothering and that made a huge difference in how I approached each day.
I now have 2 solid years of mothering under my belt and I wish I could go back and tell the early version of new mama self that it would get better. It gets so much better. Sure, we are now entering the stage of tantrums and big emotions and a strong will, but this is still far easier for me than the newborn stage was. Back in the beginning, I remember having swings of panic thinking, “What have we done? I can’t do this big, important job. Is this how the rest of my life will be?” And I’m not at all perfect at it now, but I do know that somewhere along the way it became truly fun. And when my mentality changed from my new role being a burden to being a joy and an honor, I allowed myself the freedom to truly let go and mother you in the best way I could.
These past couple of years, particularly this last one, have been the best of my life. I remember feeling like we hit a huge milestone a year ago. One year old! So many things became easier. But if I felt relieved to hit one year, I feel sad to hit two. You see, this past year has been so wonderful that I don’t even want it to end.
You do so many things now that make me think you’re far older than you actually are. You have a tendency to walk around with your hands clasped behind your back and it makes you look like an old man out for a stroll in the gardens. You love to lay on the floor on your stomach with your hands propping your chin up while you read books or play with your toys or watch a show. You look like a teenager when you do that. The other day, you were watching your favorite kid’s show (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) and suddenly I couldn’t see you on the floor anymore. When I finally spotted you, you were sitting on the couch, propped up among the pillows.
You have always loved reading. We’ve been reading you books since you were a baby. And though you now beg to play with technology (iPads, phones, the TV…everything), you still love reading books. When we go to get you up from your nap, we’ll often find you laying in your bed, quietly “reading” books that you’ve pulled off the shelf and into your crib. You go in spurts where you’ll obsess over one book for several days, begging to read it over and over and over until we are all sick of it. Currently, it’s “Bread and Jam for Frances”. Interspersed with sing-song rhymes about jam, we read other favorites like “The Snail and the Whale”, Little Blue Truck”, “Dancing Feet”, “Click, Clack, Moo”, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”, “Giraffes Can’t Dance”, “Sheep in a Jeep,” and “The Pout Pout Fish.”
You aren’t talking yet aside from a couple of words (“cookie” being your first and favorite), but one of my absolute favorite things that you do now is say “yeah”. You say it with such grown-up confidence, like when you bring me a book to read and I say, “Do you want to read this?”, you respond with, “Yeah.” You use different tones for it too so sometimes it like “yay!” and sometimes “duh” and sometimes “okay”. But always “yeah”. I love hearing you talk and I find your little voice to be the most darling sound I’ve ever heard.
We keep your scooter in the house and you ride it around like a champ, careening around the corners like a crazy person, dinging your little bell. You finally like stickers, though it has just been in the last few weeks that you’ve come to terms with them. (They used to freak you out; probably something you got from me as I cannot stand them to this day.) You love going to the farm to visit your grandparents; there’s just so much to do and see there. After a lifetime of coaxing, you finally road the tractor with your grandpa and discovered, oh hey, this is fun! You love all dogs and try to pet them all, even ones that don’t want to be touched. You love to play with anything with button—the remotes, calculators, etc.—and the GoPro recently caught your eye. You held it to your eyes and said “cheeeeee” with a fake smile plastered on your face. It made me laugh so much.
While there have been a few times that either your daddy or I were gone over night, earlier this month was the first time that we’ve both been gone from you at the same time. While we were in Colorado, you stayed with my parents and, aside from a 20-second FaceTime gone wrong, you were (so we’re told) a really great kid, eating well, sleeping great, listening and obeying, and mostly, having so much fun. My heart ached being away from you, but I was so happy to know that you were having a good time. We got home on a Sunday night and drove straight from the airport to their church to pick you up. You were playing on the floor in the back of the church and when you spotted us walking in from across the foyer, you hopped up and started running to us saying, “Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!” I couldn’t hold you tight enough.
We recently weaned you off of your pacifier during the day. It was during a course of a few weeks when you were chewing apart the pacifier wub-a-nubs and I refused to keep spending money on them when you’d tear through them in a day. (Gah, teething isn’t fun, kid!) In a full-sweep effort, we ditched the wub-a-nubs completely and gave you a plain pacifier without the animal attached while at the same time, asking you in the morning to leave your blankie and your “giraffe” (pacifier) in your bed. With theatrical dramatics, you lifted them really high then dropped them down on the mattress and left them there. We haven’t looked back. You still find comfort in having them when you go to sleep, but it’s a relief to be able to leave them in your bed.
Politics have been heavy in the world lately and all of it has made me so much more aware of how intentional we must be as you grow up. I need to be an example for you to follow; I want you to learn what’s right and what’s wrong. I want you to be gracious and loving; kind and forgiving; gentle and patient. You must know that it is never okay to bully someone. It is never okay to talk down to someone, even if they are different than you or different than most people around you. My prayer for you is that you will know God and love people. You will not fail if you do those two things. Your life has so much purpose and I’m so excited to see how it all unfolds.
Henry, you’re the joy of our lives and being your mama is hands down my greatest privilege. I love you so very much.
Happy birthday, my beautiful boy.
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Loves: cheese & milk (and anything dairy-related), “giraffe” & blankie, reading books, being outside, watching & petting dogs, playing at the park, anything with wheels, technology of any kind, crawl-through tunnels, washing hands, and playing with trains
Wears: 18-24M in clothes, size 4 diapers (size 5 overnight)
I‘ve considered doing mini sessions in the past, but could never line my fall schedule up with an open weekend. Or, if I had an open weekend, it was the only weekend sandwiched between many weekends of weddings and I knew I’d need it reserved to rest. So this year, when I saw that I had two weekends off in a row, combined with peer pressure from my past couples to please take their family photos, I decided to go for it.
As a wedding photographer, I don’t often get the chance to photograph kids as my main subjects. And while I don’t have the desire to switch to family photography full time, I’m so glad I got to step out of my comfort zone and hang out with little humans for a day!
So much of what I do is to photograph people on “the most beautiful, happiest day of their lives”, but after photographing several of my past clients, I think that saying doesn’t apply to weddings. The wedding is the most beautiful and happiest START to the rest of their lives, but this right here? Seeing my couples go from lovers to parents is the most beautiful thing. Seeing their partnership weather some storms and continue digging deeper roots? That’s beauty.
Sure they’re not wearing a designer gown or have professionally applied makeup or hair perfectly curled, but the love that flourishes between them over time is something that no makeup brush can do.
After getting settled in, water sliding, eating really gross smoothies, and zip lining (all in part one here), we were ready to go hiking on Saturday! Carla volunteered to stay at the house with the toddlers (Henry & Winston) while they napped so the remaining crew headed over to Old Man’s Cave. It was absolutely beautiful there with little creeks, a waterfall, and lots of foliage and rock formations.
Back at the house, Winston napped like a champion and my typically great napper Henry woke up about 10 minutes after we left to go hiking. (Sorry Carla!) There was a stroller-friendly hike at Ash Cave so we went back to get Henry, Carla, and Winston and head back out for a quick, easy hike before dinner. Sadly, I left my camera at the house for that one, but really could’ve used it because there was a small wedding going on in the cave and there was no photographer. Had I had my camera, I would’ve taken some photos for them!
After dinner Saturday, we headed outside for some much-needed updated family photos. Megan took the reins on it since she’s much more skilled with family photos, but I kept my camera handy so we could swap off. You know what’s really awesome about our family gatherings? Having two professional photographers on hand. I’m embarrassed to say our standard for vacation snapshots has gone way up.
That evening, we started a campfire and pulled out the necessary ingredients for s’mores. I should mention that we had the most wonderfully perfect weather while we were there. It was warm (but not as hot as expected), but the nights were cool and I was glad to have thrown in a long-sleeved shirt.
As I mentioned before, the next-door property was a wild life hunting preserve. There were plenty of natural wildlife roaming around our house (non-threatening animals like deer, frogs, lizards, etc.), but beyond the fence were wild boars among other scarier animals.
So as the evening turned to night and the conversations turned to scarier stories (why do we tell scary stories at night outside??), we started getting really jumpy. At one point a mouse ran across the brick and we all screeched. But it was nothing compared to when a cat jumped out of the bushes nearby (with those beady eyes!) and sent us scattering. It was midnight by then so bedtime was looming anyway, but that cat did it for sure. (My younger brothers had also gone to bed by that point and we were leery they had ulterior motives to sneak back out to scare us.)
Vacation ended Sunday afternoon. We spent the morning slowly packing up, having a short devotional, and then playing games in the rec room. Henry went down for a nap and we waited to leave until afterwards. He had done really well in the car on the way out (albeit with an iPad in hand and Super Simple Songs on repeat) so we were hopeful for a successful trip back home as well.
We stopped for dinner about 2 hours into the trip, then he fell asleep around 8:30 that evening. Our plan was that if he fell asleep, we’d try driving the whole way back home (instead of grabbing a hotel room). Kevin blazed the trail (bless him and his driving skills) and we made it home around 11:45 Sunday night. I carried Henry in and laid him in his crib and the kid sprawled out with all the love of finally being in his own bed again.
The vacation I had anticipated for so long is over, but I’m truly so grateful for the wonderful memories with my family. I just wish we didn’t live so far apart.