almost but not just yet five

Ethan is almost five.


For some reason, this is the birthday that is hitting me like a ton of bricks. Don't get me wrong, I collapse into a puddle of tears more than once with each birthday that comes, each bit of baby shed. But five? Five is a whole new ball game. It's a new, frightening territory and descent into boyhood. Of course, it is my greatest privilege to watch Ethan grow up. My heart swells with joy over thoughts of his many milestones to come: his first love, the day he gets his driver's license, first jobs, graduations, seeing him starting his own family (if he so chooses). Watching him grow up is my greatest adventure, my greatest joy and the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon anyone. But five? This one is a doozy.

We decided to redshirt Ethan a couple of years ago. What that means is that he should be in Pre-K this year and beginning Kindergarten in the fall, but he will be a year behind and thus starting (very part-time) Pre-K this fall and Kindergarten the next year. He will be among the oldest in the class instead of the youngest. While we had many reasons to make this choice, the biggest factor was knowing Ethan. He wasn't ready. We fully embrace following the child and knew that a natural progression towards beginning separation would happen on his own terms. Over the last three to four months, the strangest thing happened: he became ready. He began to ask me to drop him off at his drop-off classes, not just be the sole parent sitting inside the room. He never wanted me to go far, and at first asked me to check in every couple of minutes. And then less, and less. I caught myself sitting in the courtyard, sipping on a Coke and waiting the hour and a half to pick him up from art class and my stomach tied itself into knots. We had followed our child into independence, on his own terms, and here we were.

Five. Did I mention it's a doozy?

Sometimes when it's quiet, when Carmen is asleep and the house is dark, I stay up and I try to replay all of the memories we've packed into the past five years. The busy mornings, the adventure filled afternoons, the zoo trips and museum visits and breakfast dates and enrichment classes. I can close my eyes and still see him, sprawled across his tummy time mat as I lay next to him on his bedroom floor, wriggling and cooing in his newborn newness. I catch myself often saying something along the lines of "and then I blinked and he grew up," but I realized lately why that never sits right in my heart once it comes out. I didn't blink, because then I would have missed something. As I reflect back on our five years together, I know in my heart that I fought blinking with all my might. All of it. All of the chaos and growing and living, I feel it with all of my might. I don't know that I truly existed before he breathed the life into my world.

Sometimes I wonder how this little boy could have fallen so beautifully into his role as big brother. It had been, for all intents and purposes, just us for so long. From the moment Carmen arrived, he welcomed her with the compassion, love and warmth that is so uniquely Ethan. He is the pacificer finder, the hand holder, the lullaby singer. Today I stepped out of Carmen's room, her on her play mat and Ethan on the rug across from her, to throw a dirtied cloth diaper into the wet bag in the laundry room. As I walked back towards the room, I heard Ethan singing her Riptide by Vance Joy in a soft, soothing voice, stroking her cheek so lovingly. Sometimes I can't believe he's only four. Just this afternoon, he spent forty-five minutes crying over the death of Selena.

The birthday invitations have been printed. In just a couple weeks time, they will be stamped and sent out in the mail. In a little over a month, his friends will gather and sing him happy birthday and he will blow out the candles and be five and it is so obvious by looking at him. Five.

It's been a good reminder to keep fighting against blinking. Even when the days are long, when they are hard and when I am so tired. There's not a second of his life that I want to miss.

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carmen's heart.

On a whim a little over two weeks ago, we learned that Carmen had some very mild issues with her heart. I want to preface this post by saying that I am grateful for how minor her issues were and how fortunate we are to know that surgical intervention is highly unlikely. However, I am a mother who found out -- on a whim, nonetheless -- that her deceased child was dealt a fatal set of congenital heart defects and there is something to be said about such a trigger. Even knowing what I know now, I can still feel the twisting, suffocating ache of feeling like your grip on your beloved baby is coming loose.

Ethan had a sore throat, which is how it all started. He was miserable. I brought him in for a precautionary check-up to rule out strep and any other such yuckiness as a precaution since we had a newborn at home. We were to see a newer pediatrician who we don't see often, but who was young and fresh and kind and fun. For some reason, Ethan -- who typically begs for throat cultures because he's an odd duck that way -- decided in that minute he did not want one. Cue screaming. Cue stress. Cue me just wanting to grab my children and leave. Still, I asked the patient pediatrician if she would mind looking over Carmen as a precaution. My neurosis knows no bounds, thanks in part to that time in May 2014 when I arrogantly plopped my pregnant self down on an exam table with annoyance only to learn my baby was going to die. It has taken me some time to even be able to watch when they listen to Ethan's heart on normal check-ups. The dread and fear in my stomach prompts me to believe they're going to tell me I'm going to lose him. The same fear and dread carried over into Carmen. My eyes dodged in the opposite direction as the doctor listened to Carmen's heart. She was listening to her heart for quite some time, but I blamed that on Ethan whining and yelling in the corner of the room. "I hear an irregularity," she said gently, knowing nothing of our past or of Wylie's brief existence -- and then I lost my mind.

I lost my mind because here we were again. I don't even remember what happened next. Ethan was escorted to the front desk to color, Carmen was safe in the arms of a nurse and somehow my mom and husband were making their way to the pediatrician's office to meet me so we could walk over to the adjacent cardiologist's office. The doctor we saw when Wylie was first diagnosed. The doctor who had the unfortunate disservice of breaking to us the worst imaginable news.

The initial exam was horrific. I was barely functioning. "I'm sure it's fine," my mom urged me and I didn't want to -- I couldn't -- hear it. It was all anyone regurgitated to me the first time when things were, in fact, not fine. I noticed the exam taking forever, with Carmen sat atop the same table I sat on for my fetal echocardiograms with Wylie. "I found something," he said, and that was all it took. I don't even remember the rest of the day. I don't even really remember the few days following that day.

Carmen had three very minor and common congenital heart defects. She would not die, the doctor assured me. Not even close. She likely wouldn't even need surgery. They would likely all heal on their own, or at least enough to avoid surgery. It was good news and, yet, it wasn't. I simply wanted to hurl myself on the floor, kicking and screaming about how unfair it was as all of my friends with healthy, easy to conceive and come by children tried to comfort me with reminders of what great news this all was. The bitterness stung at my throat. I worried that she would die in her sleep. The doctor assured me there wasn't a chance of that. I worried about the car being too hot, too cold, the music too loud, the bumps in the road to hard.

We saw Carmen's cardiologist for her check up and he was amazed -- smiling with joy -- that her heart has healed a lot faster than he believed it could. Her heart was looking fantastic and we are to return in a month to hopefully hear that it's all an issue of the past. While it's hard to consider the painful trigger and flashback and unfortunate scenario good luck as many want me to, I am grateful for the mild issues they wound up being and the progress her heart has made on it's own. I won't lie and say something to insinuate my worry is gone. I won't lie and say that I won't be up vomiting with anxiety before her check up in June or any routine visit thereafter. I won't lie and say that my bitterness has been erased completely. For two days, Ethan would ask me at all hours of the night if Carmen was going to die and that alone speaks volumes about the path we've walked and the heavy burden we all carry. The hard-pressed optimist in me knows that our strength is greater because of it and that we can lift Carmen through whatever she needs, even if that winds up being surgery (which it very much likely won't be).

We are probably out of the woods, but we still have to waltz ourselves back into the cardiologist's office to confirm or deny this and I'm unable to put into words what that feels like, having been through what we went through. I could live forever without having to step inside a cardiologist's office again waiting for news on my children's hearts, even if statistically speaking we're going to be receiving good news. It's all very confusing at best.

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two months

Carmen turned two months old on Wednesday! The first thing Ethan wanted to do when he rolled out of bed was take her "birthday photos" and so we did just that. He offered his input and expertise on prop placement and other behind the scenes opinions and that in itself sums up so much as to how he is as a big brother. Aside from one initial stint with jealousy, he is hands-on and involved and engaged. He is loving and caring and patient -- and so is she, because no matter how much he's driving her nuts, she's always all smiles to see her big brother.

Carmen had her two month check-up yesterday and is weighing in at 8 pounds, 11 ounces and she's 20.5 inches tall. She's still in some newborn outfits but also starting to move (slowly) into some 0-3 month clothing. She's wearing size one Seventh Generation disposable diapers which seemed like such a milestone, having moved up from newborn! We are trying to work with her on eating and gaining, which is something new for me because Ethan never had such issues (according to his baby book, he was wearing 3-6 month clothing and eating 7-10 ounces per feed at this age). When Carmen can polish off 4 ounces in a feeding, we celebrate the rare victory. She had her first set of vaccines yesterday with no reaction and slept her longest stretch at night yet -- four hours and ten minutes!

We have Carmen's cardiology check-up today (which is another update for another time).

At two months, Carmen loves the car, being worn in the Boba wrap, music and listening to her brother talk. She is giggling more often, too! She is a pacifier fiend which is another new thing for us seeing as how Ethan never took one.

Perhaps my favorite milestone was that she had her first class at My Gym on Wednesday as well! Her big brother began his My Gym classes at the same age, two months old, and this time he got to accompany her to her class. (The cuteness and sweetness of this deserves it's own post, too. Bear with me.)

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carmen's nursery reveal

Alright, anyone who knows me knows that room decor is serious business in my world. Also, I may or may not be a total control freak. Given the whirlwind nature of Carmen's adoption, I've had to try to function knowing that her nursery wouldn't be complete for a while after her arrival home. Today we put the finishing touches on her nursery and it feels so good. Like, take-all-the-pictures good. I mean, she won't be sleeping in her nursery for a few more months but it sure does feel like a relief having everything set up! Without further ado (and because once she is in her nursery it won't look half as pristine as it does now), introducing our sweet girl's nursery.

We decided on a minimalist (well, my take on minimalism -- it's a work in progress) twinkle twinkle little star themed nursery. Grays, yellows, gold -- and some glitter. (Ethan and I decided collectively that his sister deserved some glitter.)

Carmen's closet has some built-in shelving which has been awesome and spares me having to put in a dresser as we did with Ethan. To the right is our little cloth diapering set up which I'm eager to use once my petite preemie stops being so, well, petite.

I hate headbands and bows, but I am a little bit obsessed with turbans and headwraps. Girl can pull it off like her mama sure can't, I have to say.

This box is closed for the sake of her privacy, but is usually open and contains photographs of Carmen with her birth mom and siblings. It also has some letters they've written her for when she is older and hospital trinkets -- bracelets, copy of her footprints, etc.

Pillow by Wire & Honey

Watercolor birth announcement print by Sara Gourley Art

Carmen's beautiful letters were handpainted by Designs by Jessika

Her beautiful mobile is from Lovefelt Mobiles. Gisele, mama extraordinaire and maker of all these beautiful mobiles, may be the most kind, helpful and patient maker in the universe.

My little sister painted some small canvases for Ethan's nursery before he was born. We had Ethan carry on the tradition and create some artwork for his sister's nursery. Allegedly these are an abstract version of aliens and the cosmos. We'll go with that.

This changing table belonged to Ethan, but the hamper had broken in storage. I fell in love with this patterned hamper from Target and so all became right in the world again.

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strength in numbers.

I have debated making this post, or when to, or how to. I'm an oversharer by nature and people tend to notice when my social media activity tapers off even ever so slightly. Tonight I feel calm (and drained) enough to decide that I wanted to put it all out there. Today was one of the hardest days I've had to endure, but in the end I'm told that our worst case scenario is a best case scenario in it's own weird way. I'll just put it all out there:

Today, by a total fluke, Carmen was diagnosed with a couple congenital heart defects.

Ethan told me he had a sore throat this morning and so off to the doctor we went. (He's fine.) Before we left, I asked the doctor to look at Carmen just to make sure since I'm a little bit wacky when it comes to germs and neurosis (if you haven't noticed). As she held her stethoscope up to Carmen's heart, I saw her expression change to one of slight concern. And then there it was. Lately I've struggled to remember the exact pain, the exact panic, the exact feeling that washed over me when Wylie was diagnosed with a CHD. This morning at the pediatrician, I had no trouble rediscovering and reliving that terror. Ethan was swept off with the receptionists to color some pictures while I crumbled to pieces clutching my beautiful baby. Not again. Not this again. Not me. Not Carmen. Not again. Why? Why? Why? I struggled to breathe. I struggled to form coherent sentences. I managed to somehow call both my mother and husband to get here right now and the cardiologist, the same one we saw with Wylie, cleared a space in his schedule immediately for us.

The waiting hurt. It physically hurt. Even though now, at 11:15 p.m., I know the diagnosis, I can't unfeel the pain of waiting, of watching Carmen laying there for her echo-cardiogram in the same room where we learned Wylie probably wasn't going to pull through.

Carmen is okay. She isn't going to die. She isn't going to go to sleep one day and not wake up. They are minor defects, ones that likely and hopefully will heal on their own without surgery. We just need to keep waiting and monitoring, hoping we will hear the magic words that her issues have resolved and she won't need heart surgery. Our very worst case is that she will require surgery, although that is apparently very unlikely, but it was made clear to us that it isn't a major surgery. Of course, it's still surgery. Of course, I'm still a mother who has lost a child to a congenital heart defect and then here I was, two years later, listening as a doctor found flaws with our baby girl's heart. No amount of "but they're such minor, common defects" will ever alleviate that pain.

But they are minor, common defects. I am grateful for that as much as I am bitter, saddened, terrified, beside myself with the injustice and sadness in my heart of hearts. In three weeks we will be back at the cardiologist where I had hoped to never step foot again, finding out what we can. I let myself fall apart today. I drowned my sorrows and fears in queso, gangsta rap and unrelenting tears. I allowed myself to fall apart and now I pulled it together because we are going to fight this. We are going to fight this for daughter.

Now, we stay strong for Carmen.

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