Sunday, December 31, 2017

Annual Reflections | 2017

As the year comes to a close and I look back, I realize that I have a lot to reflect on. 

Back in 2014, I wrote a post about that year being one of the hardest years of my life. I almost immediately received an incredibly rude comment from a complete stranger who criticized my negativity, and suggested that since my son was born that year, I did not have the right to summarize it in such a negative light.

  Well, I've always been one to tell it like it is, and I'm not sorry for being real back in 2014, nor will I sugarcoat anything here as I look back on the past year. Because as difficult as life was for me three years ago, 2017 was exponentially harder.

Life isn't automatically magic and rainbows and unicorns just because you add in a couple of tiny humans. Ryder and Kiley have brought me the greatest joys of my life, but raising two children is also the most challenging journey I have ever embarked upon. And my memories of this year will always be accompanied by loss of my grandparents, which was was a soul-crushing blow from which I will never fully recover.

But in between surgery recovery, grief, pumping, and countless sleepless nights, there were definitely quite a few bright moments for me in 2017. As a summary, here are my answers to 10 questions for a New Year's Eve reflection...

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

The birth of our daughter, Kiley Patricia, was without a doubt the single best thing that happened this year. She was delivered as planned via c-section on February 10, and welcoming her into our family has been an incredible joy. Before she was born, I experienced some apprehension about dividing my love and time between two children, but I quickly realized that your heart really does make room, and love truly is multiplied, not divided. Kiley has completed our family, and she filled in a piece of my soul that I didn't even know was missing.

2. What was the most challenging thing that happened?

I think the word "challenging" here is a bit of an understatement. The unexpected loss of my Grandma, followed by my Grandpa, was almost more than I could bear. I continue to think about them every single day, and my heart aches with the knowledge that I will never see them again. I took them for granted and assumed that they would always be there, because they have been a constant in my life since the day that I was born. Grandma died two days before Kiley was born, and Grandpa just two short months later. It has been extremely challenging to balance the joy of my daughter's birth with the death of my grandparents. Such is the circle of life. 

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

This past summer, my little sister and I began to rekindle our relationship, which had been neglected for the past several years. I had been desperately missing her friendship and advice, especially during these first few crazy years of motherhood. But her renewed presence in the family has been an incredible unexpected joy, and I have absolutely loved watching her develop wonderfully strong relationships with Ryder and Kiley, who both adore her. And it's so nice to have my sister to lean on again.

4. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

The universe decided to shine on me when several of my best girlfriends and I managed to have babies and take maternity leave at the same time. As we each navigated the ins and outs of parenthood, I realized that this stage of life is probably when you need your friends the most. I don't know how on earth I would survive without these amazing ladies. They helped me through an incredibly challenging year, and I will be forever grateful for their support, acceptance, love, and friendship.

5. What was the best way you used your time this past year? 

After Kiley was born, I took four whole months of maternity leave. Balancing my time between family and a career isn't easy, but I learned after having Ryder that taking a good chunk of uninterrupted time off work after having a baby is absolutely critical. This time around, I was transitioning to having two children, and I was able to entirely devote my time to both Ryder and Kiley as we all worked together to figure out how our new family of four was going to work. Stewart also took a significant amount of time off, which meant that we both had ample opportunities to spend quality time with both children, as a family, and with each other.   

6. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year? 

With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, I truly learned that if you put your mind to it, anyone really can do anything. I've also realized that the world, and America in particular, is a very different place than the one I grew up in. We are more divided than ever, gridlocked over social issues, race, gender, and the economy. I've learned that it is now more important than ever that we strive to teach our children truth, kindness, tolerance, respect, work ethic, compassion, and confidence. I am terrified, but also hopeful, about the reality in which they will come of age.

7. What is your biggest disappointment or regret this year?

Once again, we managed to completely over schedule ourselves this year. And even though we did some really cool, super fun stuff, I regret not slowing down a little. I wish he had spent more time at home enjoying our beautiful house and each other's company. I wish we had left room in our crazy weekends for impulsive hikes, bike rides, and trips to the zoo. I don't regret all the awesome stuff that we did get to experience, but I do regret the stress that some of those activities put on us in order to accomplish them. I'm vowing to work on slowing down and chilling out in 2018!

8. What did you accomplish this year that you are most proud of?

I could not be more proud of our amazing son, Ryder Steven, and all that he has accomplished this year. He has done such an incredible job navigating and adjusting to the excitement, jealousy and immense changes of having a new baby sister. He has learned to sleep in his own bed in his own room, he is potty trained, and he started pre-school. He turned three years old in May, and I can't help but marvel at the amazing little person he has become. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting there rocking my sweet firstborn child, overwhelmed by how difficult things were at the time. Now he is an intelligent, articulate, fun-loving little boy who is such a joy to be around, and I could not be more proud of who he is becoming every single day.  

9. What do you wish you had done more of this past year?

I wish I had gotten some SLEEP. Chronic sleep deprivation has really done a number on my mind and body. Fatigue, irritability, clumsiness, weight gain — I feel like I'm just stumbling through life in a complete haze. I know that sleep loss is part of the reality of having a newborn, but our little monkey has really given us a run for our money. I don't think she slept more than an hour at a stretch for three whole months starting in September (though thankfully she's finally starting to chill out and sleep through the night). I also wish that I could have found or made the time to concentrate on my own health this past year. In addition to not sleeping, I never exercised and rarely made a healthy diet a priority. I wish I had drank more water.

10. What are you most grateful for this past year?

I don't think I'll ever be able to properly articulate how grateful I am for my amazing husband, Stewart. He was already such a good dad, but after Kiley was born he has stepped up in even more incredible ways than I could have imagined. He has been right there with me to endure the poop and puke and blood and snot. I know it hasn't been easy for him, and I haven't always been the most fun person to be around. But through it all I've fallen, impossibly, more in love with him. His love and support make me a better mom, and I'm so grateful that we're on the same team as we work to build our family together. He is my rock, and I don't know how I would manage this crazy life without him.

So there you have it — 2017 in a nutshell.

Looking back, it was definitely a very difficult year. There were a lot of tears, but also a lot of laughter and joy that I think would have made my grandparents very happy. I learned a lot about life and about myself, and I hope to take those lessons, leave the bad stuff behind, and move forward with optimism and gratitude for all the amazing gifts that life has given me.

I'm hopeful about what the new year has in store, and I'm thankful for the amazing family and friends who I get to share it with.

Let's do this, 2018.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

White Christmas

For the first time in probably my entire life, this year graced us with a true White Christmas.

It started snowing in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and by the time we left for church later that evening it was coming down hard. By Christmas morning the world was covered in a blanket of fresh snow, creating a magical winter wonderland that seemed almost too beautiful to be real.

It was fantastic to have the whole family together for the holiday.

On Christmas Eve, for the first time, Ryder understood that we needed to leave milk and cookies out for Santa.

And after we finally got the kids into bed, it was time to haul out a truly disgusting display of presents.

Then we spent the evening playing games and admiring our commitment to consumerism.

When the kids got up the next morning, Ryder could hardly believe his eyes...

I honestly think he would have been entirely content with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures in his stocking.

Kiley's stocking gift was a magnetic wooden block set.
(Have you seen these things? Super cool). 


The frenzy of gift opening went on for what seemed like an eternity.

Ryder was super excited about his gifts, which included a Hot Wheels race car track, Star Wars light sabers, and nerf guns.

It's possible that his favorite gift may have been the nunchucks from Auntie Erin.

Kiley was really more interested in the paper, bows, and boxes than anything else, but she did have a blast riding around on her new Radio Flyer trike from Nana and Papa.

It was sweet baby Kinley's very first Christmas!

We of course staged a photo shoot in our family Christmas jammies.


And we spent the rest of the day hanging out and playing with the kids and their toys.


Many thanks to Uncle Mark for taking such great photos of the kids!

There were so many good ones I couldn't decide which to post...

At one point Ryder became so overwhelmed by all the presents that he decided he didn't want to open anymore. So we started piling them up, and he unwrapped another gift every hour or two whenever he wasn't feeling overloaded.

Finally, late that afternoon, we were ready to take him out to the garage to see his main present from Santa...

A Power Wheels Jeep!

Again, he was a little overwhelmed and hesitant about driving it, but we're confident that he'll love it soon enough.

This was our first Christmas without my grandparents, and their absence definitely left a gaping hole in the festivities. But I know they would have loved the looks of joy on everyone's faces as we gave and received gifts. 

We got some pretty awesome presents this year, but Ryder and Kiley are definitely the most amazing gifts we could ever have asked for. Watching their delight during the holiday season has made each moment magical.

We are so fortunate to have this incredible family to celebrate with.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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