My oldest child came home from school with a permission slip for his first ever field trip. "I don't want to go," he says, "because you're supposed to get on a bus without a parent. I want to go if you take me." The weight of this field trip with it's taunting permission slip that sits on my table unfilled out (as there's no way I'm putting my Kindergartener on a bus and sending him off on a field trip without me) -- well, it's crushing. I stop thinking about it just long enough to watch my 18-month old pull a stack of paper onto the floor, following it up with an avalanche of crayons that never made their way back into the container in which they were supposed to be put back into yesterday. My youngest is more independent than my oldest ever was, even now at eighteen months when she'd rather eat ice-cream with her fingers than ask me for help with the spoon that keeps getting stuck in the thick, white scoops of vanilla Ben & Jerry's. My oldest remains more attached still, just slightly seeking out enough independence to give me anxiety in that "what do you MEAN you don't need me to walk you all the way into your classroom?" kind of way. My oldest would sit and paint for hours, even as a toddler, but my youngest will humor me with a fifteen second crayon drawing before moving on to color the floor or walls or whatever is closest by. I'd say they're a perfect balance but maybe only if you replace the word balance with chaos and throw in a lot of love and laughter and high-pitched shrieking because that's apparently my toddler's favorite tone to speak in lately.

Still, the bassinet that I carefully picked out when my Kindergartner was an embryo inside my uterus sits in the garage. I've humored my husband that I'm going to sell it, listing it for way more than it's worth and acting surprised when no one bites. We could use the space in the garage, of course, and I'm sure there are new parents out there who could use a bassinet but I cannot part with it. For most other mothers, this often means "we don't know if we're finished having babies yet." It's probably the hottest topic of playground conversation: how to know if you're done having kids while surveying other moms to figure out who still has reproduction on the table. The thing is this: we're done having babies. We're done having babies because life told me I had no choice but to be done having babies, whether from my womb or someone else's. The extra room I always said we would have a closet built into to turn it into a bedroom will forever remain some mixture of a playroom, Lego workshop and Room To Keep Clutter. We'll never get to pluck any of the baby names we've stuffed up into our brains and see them in print on another birth certificate. We'll never get to decide who gets to make the bottle and feed the baby at 2 a.m. and soon, before we know it, I'm sure, we will never buy another box of diapers.

I've been thinking about this a lot: the lasts. When did it become the norm for my oldest to walk alongside the grocery store cart and not ask to ride? When was the last time he sat in the cart, balloon in one hand and cookie in the other? When was the last time he wore a diaper, even? The lasts all blend together underneath the mess of the chaotic days and eventually you adjust to the sleep deprivation and you just sort of accept the new normals as they come. I'm there now, facing my issues of permission slips and field trips and open houses while juggling a toddler's dance classes and gym classes and no-longer-monthly well-visits. Never will I ever bottle feed a baby again, or have that moment where I get to see my baby for the first time and think this is it, here you are. Never will I ever get to sit through another mommy and me class with infants sprawled across blankets as tired new moms discuss milestones and how much (or how little) sleep they got the night before. That phase of my life is over, even if by no choice of my own, and as much as this phase of life is beautiful and wonderful and perfect, I will always be able to feel the ache.

I will forever miss the normalcy that was robbed from me when my baby wouldn't make it. I will miss the children we never got to have, the ones I had in mind when I insisted upon bench seating for our larger than life dining room table when we were just twenty-one years old. And, I know, one day I will look back and miss -- with the same dreadful ache -- the Kindergarten years, the toddler years, the high-pitched dance parties to DMX and Andrew McMahon in my living room while dinner burns in the oven. I will miss permission slips and field trips being my biggest worries. I will miss having to clean crayon off of the walls and the floor and the mirror and the side of my car (I'm still not sure how that happened). The ache will be there, buried underneath the memories from this phase of life, too. I put a lot of stock into being present in the moment but I'm realizing each day just how very valuable memories themselves are.

Onward. With the unbelievable joy, the laughter, the chaos and the aches that become a part of you -- onward. Because that is the greatest gift life can give you.

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hurricane days

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, schools are closed in our county through Monday. Ethan was devastated to hear the news, wishing instead that he could be back at school with his classmates and his teacher and having specials ("I didn't even get the full week of art class!"). He was excited to turn in the sentences he'd written at home and he wanted to return The Polar Express and check out a new book at the school library. He is a serious Kindergartener now, of course, and I think he feels a little frustrated for this bump in his sweet, enjoyable Kindergartener day. A break in routine is hard for kids, which I know. He was finally into this wonderful groove at a new school and making new friends and, bam, hurricane. Selfishly, though, I am loving having both kids home. It would be a little more interesting if things were open -- like the zoo, museums or even the parks, which are all closed save for one -- but we're doing the best with what we've got.

It's hot out. Everything is closed, the traffic lights are out and a bubblebath is basically the best idea for fun around here these days. Carmen, however, is loving having her brother home and despite his deep concern for being out of Kindergarten all week, I think Ethan might be having fun, too. In so many ways, he is like me: a planner, down to the last detail. He makes lists and schedules and spontaneity kind of freaks him out. All that said, I'm pretty proud of him and how he's gone with the flow on our post-hurricane week at home.

Carmen has been waking up early, seeking out her brother from the moment her eyes open (usually hours before his). The bond that they have is unbreakable and, if nothing else, it gives me a little bit of peace as a mother. I'm enjoying this week of downtime and sibling bonding and making our own fun out of backyard treasure hunts and finger paint projects. I always think of how long I believed Ethan would never get to be a big brother and then now, here he is, being the big brother dreams are made of. That feeling is one I've gotten to carry close to my heart all week, and it's been the peace my days are rooted in.

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To my children:

I will love you every one of your days. The bad ones, when your heart aches and you haven't showered in days and your hair is matted and sweaty and unkempt. The good ones, when you land that new job or win that trophy or any of life's little victories that make you beam in the wonder that is your worth. I will love you for these and for all of the days in between: the mundane, routine days of wake and dress and school and bedtime and repeat. I will love you when you fail, when you falter, when you make mistakes that in hindsight you knew were mistakes all along. I will love you through all of these things because I have breathed in your wonder, because you are my children, because there is nothing in life more incredible to me than you.

You both have needed me to feed you and hold you and rock you to sleep and help you learn to sit and walk and read; for so many years, I have been so very needed by you. It has been me who holds the power to kiss away your boo-boos, to hold your hand when you visit someplace new; it has been me who gives you the bravery to sleep in your room at night when it seems too dark. You have needed me for so long that some days I feel depleted from being needed so much, the fullness of every moment of every day stinging at my eyelids until they simply must close. This being needed fulfills me and fuels me as well. Motherhood is complex and intricate because it matters more in my life than anything else in the world. You, my children, matter more in my life than anything else in the world. But one day you will not need me as much and I know this to be true, even if it's a truth so very far from my current reality.

When you look back on me, your mother, I hope you see strength. I hope you remember someone who never settled or made excuses. I hope you remember me as having fight in me that I struggle to find most days but know is there. I know it's there because of you. I've never felt particularly strong and I cower more than I stand up for myself in most situations but all I need to do better is remembering that you're watching me and that, as intimidating as it may be, I am the example you base your entire lives around.

When you are grown up, in the days when you don't need me quite so much anymore, I hope you are who you are because of your childhood and that that is a good thing. I hope you are happy and free and proud of your truest selves because of your childhood and the roots I gave you, the dreams I helped you form and the wings I insisted you soar with. I hope you are the strong, well-rounded, kind souls as adults that you are now as children because of your childhood, not in spite of it.

Tonight you both sleep soundly, the hum of your sound machines permeating from underneath your bedroom doors into the quiet of the living room. Tonight I hope you both dream with every bit of your imagination and heart. I hope you wake with not a care in the world and know -- truly know -- your worth as people. I hope you never question your talent or beauty or intelligence or grit or that you have what it takes to move mountains. May you wear that confidence and love in the same places I wear my own scars of insecurity. May your smiles always beam as bright as they do now, your eyes twinkling glimmers of hope into a world that feels dull more often than not. May you always run to me the way you do now, falling perfectly into my arms and knowing my embrace will hold you even when you're adults who are bigger than I am. I hope you go to sleep each night knowing that you are perfect the way you are, that you are unique gifts to this world and that we as a society are better for the dreams and kindness that you bring forward into this world. May you know that mistakes are worth making and that your stumbles give way to stepping stones that will take you to places greater than you could have ever imagined, but places that I've always known were meant for you. You have amazed me, both of you, since the days when you slept swaddled in my arms and slept for three hour stretches. You have amazed me since the day I became fortunate enough to be your mother and it is my greatest wish that you never stop amazing yourselves.

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Hurricane Irma made her way slowly through Florida over the last couple of days. For us here in Southeast Florida, her impact wasn't as scary as originally predicted. At the very last minute, she veered west and we were spared of most damages short of downed trees and light poles. When we still expected the storm to hit as a category 4 or 5, we packed up the kids, the pets and our valuables and headed to my parents house about ten minutes down the road.

Packing up your stuff is hard. Deciding what to take and what to leave is tricky when there's a good probability you'll return to ruins, or close enough to it to forever scar your children. I spent most of the days leading up to the storm packing up the kids rooms and worrying they would return home to floods and debris. Ethan decided all he needed was his teddy bear, a ball he won at Monster Golf and a box of graham sticks. For a child prone to anxiety and worry, I was surprisingly pleased with how carefree he remained through the entire ordeal, even going to sleep without mentioning the wind that was howling outside the window.

We came back home to no damage and we still had our power on. The west coast of Florida, the Keys and the Caribbean weren't so lucky. My heart breaks for all of those who have returned home to ruins, who have lost their loved ones or their belongings in this horrible storm. I've heard a lot of people complaining about no power or superficial water damage or even branches that have dinged up a car on the driveway, but we were spared. We are lucky. And over the next couple of days when everyone's yards have been raked and the uprooted trees have been removed, it's our job to help others who weren't as lucky in Irma's aftermath. Onward, South Florida.

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unicorn bark

Both kids are sick, it's a long weekend and we are holed up in the house trying not to spread germs or drive each other totally nuts. Unlike during the week when I make myself crazy trying to get something that resembles dinner on the table so that everyone gets to bed at a reasonable hour (hello, school days), I now have some more time to try out recipes. As it turns out, I still loathe cooking even with all of the time in the world to properly measure out ingredients without worrying someone will fill up on veggie straws in the meantime. But the silver lining in it all is I had some more time to figure out the fun stuff, like snacks I can make for the kids since snack time is their favorite meal time, duh.

I made this unicorn bark without using any food coloring, just fruits. It was easy and fun -- except for the whole waiting-for-it-to-freeze part, which my six year old let me know was ruining his afternoon.

You'll need:

Yogurt (I used Stonyfield's organic vanilla yogurt)
Fruit (I did blueberries for the purple, strawberries for the pink and peaches for the orange)
Sprinkles for the topping (well, you don't need this, but I kind of think sparkles and glitter when it comes to unicorns)

I colored the yogurt by adding 2/3c of yogurt along with the fruit in the food processor. 2/3c yogurt + 1 handful blueberries, puree, pour into a bowl. 2/3c yogurt + 1 handful strawberries, puree, pour into a bowl, and so on. I added fruit until I got my desired shade of colors.

Add each color yogurt one heaping spoonful at a time onto a cookie tin lined with parchment paper. Don't forget to add some plain vanilla yogurt for the white! Once your colors have all been added, use a knife or a toothpick to pull the colors together and marble them, a little.

Add your sprinkles on top! If you want.

Cover the tray in plastic wrap and pop it into the freezer for a while. Ours took about 40 minutes to get fully frozen. Once frozen, break the bark into serving-size pieces.

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I created this blog the month we decided to try to have our first child. My first entry came shortly thereafter, when I learned I was pregnant. That was how life worked then: obnoxiously according to plan. There was nothing I couldn't plan and nothing I didn't know about pregnancy and childbirth. Of course, life happened and our little world and family spun a bit off course (to put it a little softer, anyway). I stopped being able to plan for anything at all and now, six years into this blog, that kid who began as a couple pink lines on a test is now an elementary school student.

Like most things in my Life As I Now Know It, I worried about elementary school for a myriad of reasons. There were the articles shared like wildfire on social media about the horror of school, of course, but there was also the fact that this sweet little precious baby was my baby and how am I supposed to bottle up six years worth of bonding and memories and fun and pass him off into the next phase? How, life? How?! Despite digging my heels, this one had an easy answer: because he wanted to go, and I had to follow him. Kindergarten came and in walked Ethan to a beautiful classroom in an incredible school with a magnificent teacher and he felt at ease. He goes in with a smile and he leaves with a smile and if I'm really lucky, I get a "guess what I did today?!" the moment our eyes meet at dismissal time. And that six year old? That tall, beautiful, incredible six year old boy who I had the privilege of spending six years teaching, nurturing, caring for? He's still my baby.

Kindergarten has been a lesson, for me, in soaking in the transitional period of childhood. That scary time when your toddler-preschooler hybrid loosens your grip and slowly begins morphing into an actual child who isn't as reliant on you as they once were. You see, there's still so much to take in during this phase. It's not all woe and sadness and longing for the meandering afternoons of cuddles and stories you've read again and again and again (and again). At this phase, I remember his Dallas Clayton hi-top Vans and the way he still needs me to tie them for him. I remember the after-school smell of sweat and the way he asks me to add things to the grocery list all of the time now ("next time you go to the store we definitely need more of this peanut butter"). While I miss the nights of laying with him until he fell asleep, which ended with his sixth birthday, I don't want to cry too much and miss the way he still needs me to check on him every few minutes until sleep comes. "Come back in one minute," he will say. Or "three minutes this time." Eventually I peek in and whisper I love you and he is fast asleep. At this stage, he loves puns and writing stories and asking questions that make you feel as if you're part of an interview of some kind ("what is the second best day of your life?" "Which do you like better, The Lumineers or Iron and Wine?").

Parents of older children are always assuring me that each stage is priceless. As each stage comes to an end, it seems so hard to believe that anything will be as precious and sacred as the phase we are about to leave behind. But that's the thing with children: they are made of magic, and every phase simply fades into a new one just as beautiful as the one that preceded it.

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