best days.

My Ethan. My first baby. The one who made me a mommy.

Lately, I can't get you off of my mind. You start Pre-K in the fall and although it's only part-time (and although you are excited), I am struggling. I can remember the very moment your father and I decided we wanted to have children. I can remember the very moment we learned you were on the way. My pregnancy with you was hard and in so many ways a proper introduction to you, my little one who has always kept me on my toes. I remember the first time I held you and those exhausting, long days when your father went back to work. I remember meandering afternoons in between naps and bottles of just staring at you. Trying to get to know you. And then five years happened. Five years of you and me. Of our routine. Of our daily grind. Of a relationship that was once so new and scary and fresh to one that is my comfort zone. You are home. Your laughter, the way your chin forms a dimple as you throw your head back with giggles, is my happy place. Throughout the bumps in the road, the pain, the heartbreak, the newness of welcoming Carmen into the family -- you have guided me through it all. You are wise beyond your years. You are calm despite the chaos.

You ask me questions I don't know how to answer: questions about the layers of the ozone layer, the make-up of the layers of Earth. You ask me about the evolutionary process and scientific reactions and about war and peace and unity. You say things like "oh, I believe the Play-Doh has already begun to harden, unfortunately," and I wonder if you know that you're only five. "Barely five," I'll tell you to make myself feel better. "Mommy, regardless of what other words you use, I am five." You keep me in check. You keep me in line. Your joys are vast, your anxieties are deep and your ambitions are infinite.

Your mind never stops. In that regard, you remind me of me. I hear you talk and scribble in your journal and I can close my eyes and remember what it feels like to be a teenager. "I think I'm already a teenager, sort of," you'll say. "Or maybe I'm just an in-dult." There are still those words you say wrong ("my brain is thinking too fast and my mouth can't keep up," you rationalize when you catch yourself) and I cling to them because they are the last bits of baby that I can spot on a regular basis.

You are stubborn. You are headstrong. You have no issues expressing when you've been asked to do something that you don't want to do and while it's not exactly a joy wrestling all 56 pounds of you out of Target to the entertainment of the other shoppers in the store, I secretly want you to never lose that trait.

Sometimes you ask me if I'm sad about watching you grow. I try to explain it to you as best as I can, the bittersweet feeling of time passing but pride in who you're becoming and admiration for who you already are. From the first day you came home from the hospital, I whispered "I had the best day with you today" in your ear before bed. I've said it to you every night since, even on the days when we're both shattered and ready for sleep. Five years of best days and I don't know how to properly put into words my gratitude for the life you have given me.

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what makes a family

I've been quiet on the blog more than I like. I'm chalking it up to a busy life and an even busier summer but that doesn't help the feeling that I have so! many! things! that I want to say. So many words just dying to come out. I've been busy on Instagram but that isn't the same.

Tonight I'm making peace with the chaos in my head, the words that are fighting for their chance to come out. Tonight I'm letting other things fall on the back burner for a minute because I need to speak on behalf of my daughter for a minute.

My daughter is black. Well, half. Her blackness doesn't need an apology. It doesn't need you to feign colorblindness and act like you see my skin tone in hers. Families don't have to match. Of all the things that makes a family, nowhere on the list is looking alike. My daughter doesn't look like me and that's okay, because she's my daughter and at the end of the day, our physical likeness plays no role. My daughter is black and her blackness is beautiful and wonderful and nothing that should warrant a stranger to say "maybe she won't get so dark" after inquiring about her ethnicity.

My beautiful sweet baby girl is only four months old and already I've lost count of the comments when I'm out with both children. The stares. And when my husband is with us, oh, the "that poor guy doesn't realize what his wife has been up to" giggles and whispers. When you see a white mother clutching her two babies -- one white, one much darker -- please don't walk up to her and ask her which father she's currently with. Please don't nod and ask "different dads?" with the casualness of someone asking how the weather is outside. Please don't learn my daughter is adopted (a story that Ethan loves to tell) and speak of her as if she's not really mine -- "so, is she addicted to any drugs? Was she, like, okay?" should never leak from your lips. That's my daughter you're speaking about. That's my baby. We are very open about Carmen's adoption and would love to shoot the adoption breeze all the live long day, but please, don't look down at my five year old son and then back up at me and ask me if her birth family can still "come get her if they want." Don't ask if there weren't any white babies available, or if I would have preferred a baby that shared my son's bright, blue eyes and mess of straight brown hair.

My daughter doesn't look like me. She doesn't look a thing like her brother, either. But you should see them together, the way he smiles and baby talks her with a "here I am, Carmie Parmie. Here I am, here's your bruh bruh" in the mornings and the way her face lights up in response. That is what makes a family. The love, the love so thick and powerful, the love that permeates through every inch of our home. That is what makes a family.

At the end of each day, I scroll through Facebook and read the combative posts debating the existence of racism in America. The next morning, I will get up and wait for the next stranger to stop me and inquire if I'm the nanny, or which of my two children is really mine.

They're both mine.

They're both my beautiful, incredible babies. They're the reason that my heart continues to beat each day.

And what makes a family, please believe, is the love that is shared between us. The unbreakable chains of unconditional love and joy and renewal and hope.

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the road to carmen, or: navigating infertility

Our road to Carmen hasn't been easy. While I've been particularly vocal about my pregnancy with Wylie as well as her death, I've yet to really go into our infertility struggle in depth. Mostly this is because there isn't much to say, but on the other hand, there is so much to say. Sometimes when they find out about our infertility issues, people respond with something along the lines of "I'm lucky I have no issues conceiving." It takes all I can to smile and nod. I don't find their words particularly callous, but that's probably because I was diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility. That means that I, too, was fertile -- until I wasn't. For both Ethan and Wylie's conceptions, I never tracked my fertile dates. Heck, I didn't even know when I was supposed to be ovulating at all -- not even a ballpark. My periods had never been too regular -- always off by a few days -- but it never seemed to matter. I didn't put much stock into trying to figure it out. Both times, we said "let's have a baby" and did, on the first try. I can recall a time in particular during my early days of Wylie's pregnancy when a friend was struggling to conceive month after month and I, in all of my empathy and intended compassion, began my statement of reassurance with "I have no issues conceiving but..." Foot in mouth. Foot still lodged in mouth, all of these years later. That's the thing about unexplained secondary infertility -- you can conceive 46 babies on the first try, but that 47th? It may not happen. And the hardest part, to me, was that there was seemingly no medical reasoning behind it.

Our infertility journey began with fear. By the second month that I wasn't pregnant, I began to panic. My husband thought I was crazy. My OB thought I was crazy, but her gentle smile never broke even over the phone when I called to voice my concerns. By the third month, I caved and purchased a package of ovulation tracking strips off Amazon. By the fourth month, I was ruled by these test strips. By the fifth month, even my OB was starting to get concerned. After all, our past fertility history was pretty, well, impressive. It was month six when we were officially referred to a fertility specialist. "It's because you're not relaxed enough," everyone said.

That, right there, I need to discuss. Can we not completely trivialize infertility? Can we not act like no one in the history of the Earth has procreated successfully while under stress or even while grieving? Can people not bounce their babies on their knee while lecturing infertile people about how "it'll happen if you just relax?" That would be great.

Anyway, the reproductive endocrinologist (that's the fancy term for fertility specialist) was gentle and kind. The nurses were holding me and wiping my tears after appointment one, which I attended alone because no one really knows how to act around people who are infertile so they avoid you or the subject entirely.

Infertility is test after test being run. Blood tests of every imaginable kind, pelvic exams that leave you reeling in pain and sure your flesh has just been scraped straight off. Biopsies and ultrasounds with wands rammed up inside of you that make you scream out in pain even when you've had them done five times already in the past week. Shots in your stomach. Pills that make your stomach turn and make you throw up and fall to your knees in cramps that make the entire situation feel even more unbearable. Even your husband gets subjected to his own levels of pride-killing humiliation.

And results that come back totally fine in every way. That's always the kicker.

Ever since we were teenagers, we had planned on having two children and adopting two children. Adoption has always been on our radar, but maybe as something farther away. All you ever hear about adoption is the cost associated and the hurdles and hoops to jump through. But then you're $10,000 in the hole with fertility treatments that are wreaking havoc on your stability. There was one day in particular that I had to have my period induced and had to leave a playdate (in which many of my friends were sitting on my sofa nursing their little ones and talking about birth stories) to go have my insides dug at while sitting on the always humiliating puppy pee pad -- that day had a hard recovery period. And soon that day became the new normal because your days become consumed by the schedule the reproductive endocrinologist has you on and being hurt by everyone else living their normal lives and each time your results come back perfectly fine and no one can tell you anything except that your life, you're sure of it, is over and will never be righted again.

Anyway, one day I came home from one of those appointments to find out the treatment hadn't worked and I wasn't pregnant and I fell onto the floor in front of my bed and sobbed until I threw up and my husband held me and together we decided it was enough. In my heart of hearts, I didn't want to be pregnant. We wanted to grow our family and nothing made sense less than doing so biologically and so we decided that we would stop our infertility journey and focus instead of finding our baby. He or she was out there, or would be soon enough.

There's somewhere I'm going with this, a post brewing in my brain, but I felt like it needed a preface. Carmen gave my life back to me. She blew the wind back into my sails. She breathed new hope into our family, and some kind of normalcy back into a world that had been rocked to it's very core. She made me feel like I was a mother again, like I could mother again. She showed me that I am not broken.

Can I conceive naturally? Maybe. However, we have made the choice to take that option off the table. Loss and infertility has rendered us unable to have the "how many children do you plan on having" small talk that most mothers share on a regular basis. Much of what it is to be normal and a parent has been skewed by the cards we were dealt, but it has been Carmen to has created our new path. In all of her petite preemie presence, she has changed our lives in such a big way. She is a massive force of hope and purpose.

"I want to adopt when I'm a grown up," Ethan said the other day. "Carmen is supposed to be here in our family so we had to get her. When I'm a grown up I think my kids will be somewhere else and I'll have to bring them where they belong, too."

(To be continued, or something like that.)

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carmen fable: four months

This little muffin turned four months old on the 27th. Time certainly is flying by but I'm trying to hang onto every moment.

At her four month check-up a few days ago, Carmen achieved a big milestone: she was finally on the curve for height and weight! This was a relief for me because I'm admittedly nuts about how small she is, seeing as how I'm so used to Ethan who has been on the top of the height and weight percentile charts since birth. Carmen is 11.5 pounds (did I mention Ethan was born at 8 pounds, 4 ounces at 36 weeks gestation?) and is still in mostly 0-3 month clothing. With her cloth diapers, she can also pull off certain 3-6 month outfits depending on sizes. Speaking of, she is still cloth diapered during the day and we are still using 7th Generation disposables at night. (Around the clock cloth diapering mamas, I salute you!)

Right now, Carmen goes to sleep at around 9 p.m. and sleeps through the night until around 5 a.m. She will then have about 2-3 ounces of formula, get a fresh diaper and fall back asleep until around 8 a.m., which manages to make the morning grind a lot less chaotic. For sleep, she's still in her bassinet beside our bed and in her amazing Magic Sleepsuit. She's a cat napper and dozes off here and there throughout the day rather than take longer set naps. She's also eating about 5-6 ounces of formula per feeding, around every 4 hours or so.

She loves tummy time, being read to and listening to music. She is developing such a big personality and is always giggling, babbling and smiling. She rolled over unassisted for the first time today and is determined to be a mover and a shaker. She tries so hard to pull herself up into a sitting position on her own and gets so frustrated that she can't. She loves to be held in a sitting position and I'm pretty sure she's going to be one active toddler -- which is new for me because Ethan refused to crawl until he was 1, and began walking a few months after his first birthday (he was in no rush). I'm just enjoying the day by day this time around. She's on no one's schedule but her own!

She is still her big brother's biggest fan and loves being on her playmat just watching him play. He still takes her (well, with my help) to weekly mommy big brother and me classes at My Gym. Ethan wants me to add that her favorite part is the swings.

Over the months so far...

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Ethan's 5th Birthday Party: The 5th Birthday Experiment

Adorable invitation by Sandy Ford Design

Ethan had his 5th birthday party yesterday! If you know me, you know parties are my thing. I felt like turning five deserved pulling all the stops, but at the same time it seemed a lot more chill than years past -- maybe because I finally figured out a good system (and not waiting for the last minute to execute all my ideas). Ethan requested a science party this year. The venue was a no-brainer -- My Gym Coconut Creek, our home away from home. Ethan has been taking weekly classes there since he was eight weeks old and has his parties there each year. What better place to celebrate turning five than his favorite place and with his favorite teacher (thank you, Mr. Lee)?!

(You can take a glimpse at parties of years passed here.)

I made these lanyards for each of the little doctors in attendance at Ethan's party. What I didn't think of ahead of time was that it probably isn't the best idea to hand out little lanyards to go around the necks of small children as they run around a kids gym. (Oops!) My friend handed each child their lanyard when they entered the gym -- and then the parents held onto them during the duration of the party.

For the party favors, Ethan wanted to send his pals home with something "science-y and fun!" We decided on homemade slime kits. We made these little direction cards and sent each kid home with some glue and Borax to make their own little slime.

Every year I make a photobooth set up. For this one, guests got to pull down the frame and pose next to the scientist hall of fame, which features Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Ethan -- per Ethan's request.

Every year, I also make a slideshow that streams on an iPad featuring Ethan's year. We must have watched his 5 year birthday slideshow 100 times the last two weeks -- and I'm pretty sure I cried each time. FIVE.

Ethan sent letters to Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Miss Frizzle from Magic Schoolbus. To his surprise, Miss Frizzle showed up! He was so, so excited!

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