Today, my babies, you are small. Even you, Ethan, who at five is nearly as tall as I am and who now purchases clothes in the section clearly marked for big kids. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the toddler section across the walkway and remember when you were small enough to fit into shorts with false buttons. I may or may not have cried for fifteen minutes the other night upon the realization that all of your pants now have actual buttons -- real buttons! -- but I digress.

Please grow up, babies. Please get bigger and trade in your onesies for shorts with real buttons. Even if I cry. Even if I make you listen to long, meandering stories about the time it seemed you'd never, ever grow out of size newborn (I'm looking at you, Carmen).

Never stop growing.

Turn into school-aged children who grumble as you throw your backpack into your bedrooms and fling yourself onto your beds with perfected apathy. Turn into preteens who don't need me to rock you to sleep or hold you close or breathe you in at nighttime even if it breaks my heart a little.

Please grow older.

Please grow into teenagers who fall in love and, if I'm making requests, please let me hold you and rock you and breathe you in when your heart breaks for the first time. Please finish school and bask in your independence and the frightening realization that adulthood is tapping at your door. You will do great things, I just know it.

Please turn into little people who decide what clothing you want to wear and a clear preference on which stores you like to shop in. Please trade your bare feet and disheveled hair for pink or purple highlights and flat irons that fry your hair to an unmanageable pile of frizz.

I want these things for you as much as my eyes tear when you reach milestones that make it clear your infancy has slipped away all too quickly.

You see, babies, my life began when you entered this world and switched off my autopilot and held my eyes open to see the world for what it is. You'd be amazed at the pride a mother can feel when her baby gains a few ounces or tries a messy spoonful of pureed green beans for the first time. I can't promise that I won't feel sad at the closure of these phases because it's always hard to say goodbye to a season of life that holds such fondness and beauty. It's always hard to move on from a place where you feel so comfortable and blissfully happy underneath the exhaustion.

But here's the thing about being your mother: deep down inside I know the next season is just as beautiful. I also know the pain of knowing that one of your children will never grow up and the hurt of wondering who she would have become. Imagining doesn't cut it nearly half as much as watching the two of you does.

And so grow up, babies. Grow up big and grow up strong. Make mistakes and get messy and learn, babies. Learn about the world until your head spins at night with the wonder of it's greatness. Fall in love with music. Soak in the lyrics to a song that gives you goosebumps and makes your eyes tear up like mine do when I watch you do something new for the first time -- and then, inevitably, for the last. There is no bitterness in the sweetness of watching you grow and, babies, I can't promise I won't wonder out loud (again and again and again) where the time has gone. But, please, my loves, feel the vastness of your opportunities and reach for the stars. Feel my encouragement and support in all of your endeavors, even the ones I don't understand. I love learning everything you teach me.

And so grow. Grow and thrive and rock the world with your greatness. Know that I will always be behind you -- likely sobbing over a time when you wore jeggings and shorts with elastic waistbands -- soaking up every ounce of your lives with pride.

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kids in the kitchen: homemade cheese crackers

Ethan and I admittedly love browsing Pinterest and finding fun ways to occupy ourselves during Carmen's naptimes. I mean, Carmen naps. With joy and without protest. This is not a reality I'm used to as He Who Never Sleeps (ahem, Ethan) never napped with such grace and bliss. So, Ethan and I have been trying to find fun ways to spend some one-on-one time together while Carmen naps. Pinterest for the win.

Ethan saw the post about homemade cheese crackers and we decided to try it. He's always loved cooking and baking but lately he's into taking over. I guess he's at an age where he can sort of figure out how to measure out what the recipe calls for and with me helping him read the steps, he did everything on his own. (Minus putting them into the oven.) I went with child-led over perfection so our crackers are misshapen and some are too big and some are too small, but Ethan was just beaming with pride when they came out of the oven.

Not going to lie, they're pretty delicious.

You'll Need:
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1/2c butter, softened and chopped into pieces
1 1/2c all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease your baking pan.
2. Place all ingredients except milk into a food processor and pulse until combined.
3. Slowly add milk and pulse until a dough forms.
4. Roll the dough out into a big ball with your hands and then flatten with a rolling pin -- or your hands, if you're 5. I hear it's the only way to do it.
5. Using a pizza cutter, cut your squares. Or whatever shape you feel like making.

6. If you feel like getting fancy, you can sprinkle on some sea salt or use a straw to make the famous Cheese-It hole in the center of your crackers.

7. Transfer crackers to baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. They'll be nice and crispy when they cool!

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carmen fable: five months

Carmen is five months old today! It's so hard to believe, but it's also been wonderful watching her grow.

At five months, she's mostly in 0-3 month clothing. Some 3-6 clothing will do the trick thanks to her cloth diapers. She is still cloth diapered exclusively during the day and I do use disposables at nighttime.

She's eating 5-6 ounces of formula every 4 hours, which is a lot for her! Her reflux is still being exclusively controlled by Gelmix -- just like her big brother! (Funny how that works.) Carmen has napped in her crib the last 3 days and seems to enjoy it far more than her bassinet, which is where she's still sleeping at night. She sleeps through the entire night most nights.

Carmen can roll over from front to back as well as back to front and loves to scoot all over the place. She really enjoys tummy time but lately has been just using it as an opportunity to roll all over the living room floor. Her favorite, however, is trying to sit. She is always trying to pull herself up to a sitting position and she is happiest when held in a sitting position. Tiny but fierce, this one is.

She wakes up giggling, she goes to sleep giggling and she's just such a joy. Her big brother can make her laugh hysterically and she loves to watch him play. This month she's also been in the pool for the first time (four times and counting) and really loves the water. She's also really beginning to love bath time as well. She's a pacifier baby which Ethan never was, but seems to be relying on it less the older she gets.

It's been such a crazy five months, but in the best kind of way.

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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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