Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love on the Move...

Hope has been officially done with her high chair for a few weeks now. And yesterday I decided that I'm officially done with it, too. Tomorrow morning I will be bringing it to the home of a first time Grandmother of two. It makes me so happy to know that it will be going to a good home, as silly as that may sound.
Brian stood in the kitchen and started to tear up. "I'm going to miss that high chair! We had so many good times with that thing."

Me:  umm. huh? He seems to have quickly forgotten me on all fours picking up all the food that his sister catapulted from her tray at each meal. 

But he's right. This wasn't his or Gavin's chair. I got rid of those when we were "officially done" having babies and God "officially had other plans" and I had to turn around and buy a new one for Hope. But it still symbolizes a really special time in our life.

I remember why I chose this particular high chair. Not for ratings or reviews... or style, even. I chose it because I'm a romantic. The theme of ALL of our first baby's equipment was "Rainforest" which reminded me of Puerto Rico... which was the final destination of the flight where I was Ed's flight attendant the first day we met. We went back to Puerto Rico several times before we had Gavin and loved going to the rainforest there. So each time I looked at that silly Fisher Price Rainforest high chair - even to this day - I remember the love that brought us each of our children that sat in that chair. Sounds ridiculous and over the top and super-syrupy, doesn't it? But it's truly how I felt when I chose the theme - and truly how I feel tonight.

I remember the first time we put Gavin in his high chair... only to take him out and try again months later. It took him a long time to gain head control and trunk control. The day that he did finally sit in the chair was a huge event. I mean - we should have had a party. And when I learned how to puree all of Gavin's food and he started to eat - even though it was predicted that he wouldn't - it was a reason to celebrate all over again. That high chair was also the setting for lots and lots of therapy. He finger painted in that chair - he helped bake cookies in that chair - he had speech therapy and feeding therapy and bubble blowing and more in that chair. I have so many wonderful memories of Gavin in the kitchen in the highchair.

When Brian came along, we (and by we I mean I, of course) just HAD to have the same exact high chair for him!! No other high chair or theme would do!! If you can just imagine both boys, side by side in matching high chairs - oh, wait! You don't have to imagine it!! Here's an adorable video that, trust me, you will be really glad you watched...

When I was pregnant with Hope, I quickly considered a "girly" high chair - but then just as quickly dismissed the idea as ludicrous. How could I change it up now?!? If there were ANY time for me to be reminded on a daily basis about the love that brought each of our children to this earth and into a high chair - it was after the death of the child we chose it for in the first place.

This is just how my mind works - and how my heart copes.

It was a joy to watch Hope in this high chair from the first day as a tiny little peanut... to the last when she would climb in and buckle up herself. 

But surprisingly, I am ready to let go. As Hope moves on from her baby things, I find myself feeling a strange sense of relief that I didn't expect. I am happy for forward progress. I don't feel that longing that I used to feel in my heart - a tugging that we weren't done just yet. 

So tomorrow, the Rainforest high chair will have a new home. I hope they somehow can feel that this is more than a mere plastic chair. It's a symbol of love on the move. And just like love, my memories of those precious days will never die.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Blizzard in my Bones...

Perhaps you heard - there was a bonafide BLIZZARD where we live! The sky dumped close to 28 inches on our area. It was so fun to watch the snow fall outside our windows. 
And at one point, we even went out while it was snowing! 
It was windy! 
So windy that Brian almost blew away!
It was freezing! 
But it wasn't too cold for Hope to bring out her stroller and take her snowball baby for a walk! 
We laughed until our tears froze on our cheeks and then quickly rushed inside for hot chocolate. We waited out the storm by playing inside and crossing our fingers that we wouldn't lose power - which we didn't! While we were playing in the basement, I had to capture Brian and Hope's new party trick - Tandem Sliding. Ha!
When the snow seemed to slow down a bit, we got brave and decided to open the front door. It was an incredible sight!!
Ed was up much of the first night with our tractor that has a plow attachment and a snowblower to try to stay on top of the snow while it was still falling. Eventually, he had to throw in the towel. It was so cold and so windy that his face literally froze. An interesting alternative to Botox, but I'm not sure it's sustainable long term. But I digress....

By late Saturday afternoon the snow stopped. We spent all of the day hanging out inside. We watched a movie (Ice Age, ironically!), played some games and I even started to take down some Christmas decorations. I know, I know - it's early to take down the Christmas tree... but I thought I'd get a jump on it. (ha!) After the kids went to bed, Ed and I went back out to attempt more snow removal. I did my best, but I had to give up after about an hour outside. I was worried that I would wreck my body and joints before the next day which I knew would be all about playing in the snow with the kids. Ed ended up hiring someone to plow - thank God. Our new driveway is long - and I didn't want to sit inside worrying about him.

The next morning, Brian woke up and was stunned when he looked out his bedroom window. He's never seen that much snow in his entire life. I knew this was going to be a weekend that would be embedded in his memory forever. I wanted him to be able to look back and remember "the Blizzard when I was in first grade" as super fun!! Hopefully, he will.

Round one outside was during Hope's nap in the morning. I wanted him to be able to play with us without either of us being pulled away to help Hope. I loved watching him make snow angels!
Also fun? Watching him attempt to get up afterward.
He made what he called a "castle and these are the guards, Mom - and can you stop singing "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman now, please?" 
Well, he told ME!
He built a tunnel with Ed...
And we went for a little walk...
Oh, and he climbed a mountain. No biggie. Ha!
After lunch, it was Hope's turn to go outside. As I expected, she was completely fearless and up for anything! Our driveway still had snow packed on it so I took advantage of the hill and sent her on her first sled ride! As you'll see at the end of the video, she was definitely into it.
Brian got in on the driveway fun, too!
We did it again...and again...
and again.
Hope even took ME for a sled ride!!
She also took me - and the sled - but not me ON the sled this time - for a walk down our quiet, empty street.
There was so much snow lining both sides of the street that she couldn't even see over them to find our house!
Brian couldn't wait to show Hope his tunnel and insisted that she crawl through it.
Not going to lie - I was a little afraid she would fall into a snow drift and I wouldn't be able to get in and pull her out! But she made it through and came out smiling, as usual.
Hope went on the sled a few more times before Ed took her inside. I thought she had been out long enough.
 It was really cold! But she is so tough, I'm sure she could have hung out a lot longer than I let her. But worrying is my job!
Brian and I stayed out for a little while longer. I loved watching him sled down our front yard. His laugh is always contagious.
All of this - this whole post - seems like the picture perfect scene, doesn't it? Blizzard! Family time! Playing in the snow!!

But the reality is - I literally could have burst into tears at every turn. I never know when my Rheumatoid Arthritis will flare up - or if something I do will trigger or exacerbate it. Unfortunately, Sunday morning I woke up feeling like my bones were crumbling. The pain was so bad - and the swelling, too - that I started a round of Prednisone along with pain medicine to help. (It didn't yet) 

Having RA is what it is - I can't change it. I try to approach it like I do everything else in my life - with a positive outlook. But I have to tell you - it can be very depressing. I have a chronic, progressive disease. I try not to complain on a daily basis - or bring it up much at all to Brian, especially. I do this because it will only get worse. If I can't hack it now - or show up in all areas for my kids, especially physically - then I'm screwed!! More like THEY will be screwed. I feel like I need to create a lot of long lasting memories of an active, engaged, fun, happy Mom now just in case it gets to the point that I really can't do as much down the road.

If you know even a little bit about me - it crushes my spirit to even think this way.

So, when it's especially painful - like it was on this glorious snow day - this possible "once in a lifetime blizzard" - I go into a place mentally where I can block out the pain and focus on being with Brian and Hope. Does that work? Well, not really... but sometimes I can distract myself from feeling. I get them in and out of all the layers of their snow gear - not an easy feat and it takes me quite a while. I play outside and try to avoid climbing into the snow where it takes up a lot of my energy to trudge through the deep drifts. I help pull Brian onto his sled and hold him there until he counts down for blastoff. I know I end up paying for it later, but that's okay. It's okay - at least to my heart, not my body - because creating a lot of long lasting memories of an active, engaged, fun, happy Mom now... just in case... is just as much for me as it is for them. And if they don't remember, it's written here with photo proof. 

"Mommy survived the blizzard in her bones during the blizzard of 2016 - and she was so happy to make memories with both of you."

(p.s. - Not looking for arthritis advice. I'm holding off on any RA meds as I'm still nursing Hope... and I'm under the care of a fabulous rheumatologist.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hope Rising...

When I realized - and then it was confirmed - that I was pregnant with another baby on the very day that Gavin died, I felt every feeling you can imagine. My biggest concern was what it would be like to grow a baby under a broken heart. I was so afraid of losing her if I succumbed to grief. Between that and parenting a little boy who missed his brother, it was quite a challenging time. 

We made it through. 

I didn't give much thought to what it would be like once she got here and started growing outside of my body. I'd done this parenting thing - how different could she be?

Very different, as it turns out. In all the best ways.

I am definitely not used to a child who insists on doing things alone - that's a new one for me. Hope has a confidence and desire for independence that seems past her young age! 

But what do I know, really. I only have my own parenting perspective to go on. Gavin's milestones were delayed - and Brian was calm and quiet and very happy to let us do things for him! It could be that Hope is my first "typical" child!

All I know is this. The days and weeks and months and now close to two years following Gavin's death could have been so much worse. Suddenly we found ourselves grieving and anticipating. Mourning what was and planning for what would be. I think that time would have been - could have been - and still can be so much harder if it weren't for the gift of this child.

In many ways, Hope has a LOT in common with her brothers. She is very sweet, incredibly affectionate and loves her family. Every morning when I open her door I hear her say "Hi Mommy!" before she sees my face. I am always greeted with a big smile and a hug. Then she instantly asks for her Daddy and Brian - wanting to know where they are. At night, she heads off to bed like a dream. I have been saying the same little "ditty" to my children since Gavin was an infant. I whisper, "!" Hope can say it along with me now, but then she insists that I do it a few more times. Once for Daddy, then for Gavin, then for Brian. And she would never dream of going to bed without hugging and kissing her brother and her parents. 

We have a blast together during the day when the boys are at work and school! While I'm getting dressed (on the days that I decide to get out of my pajamas, ha!) you can find Hope rooting through the "Hope proofed" drawers of my jewelry box or trying on my hats in front of the mirror.
We always have fun in our basement playroom. She loves to color at the art table or on the new easel that Santa brought. But she's busy!! She colors and then moves on... plays and then she's off. There's too much to do and so much to see!
She loves to put on sunglasses - big and small - but gets very concerned that you won't know who she is behind the tinted lenses.
I made the mistake of calling her "cool" and, as you'll see, she quickly corrected me. (I love this video!)
Don't worry, Hopi - we know it's you.
This girl LOVES to be outside, too. Thanks to her cousin, Sean, who had Hope for pollyanna this Christmas - she has a new shopping cart that she can use to cart around sidewalk chalk, rocks, name it!
One thing I love about Hope is her pretend play. It's so cute to watch her feed her baby in a highchair just to turn around and be the doctor to her lambie.
Speaking of highchairs...

Last week I brought Hope down from her nap and told her I was going to make her lunch. I pulled out the bread and started making a sandwich and happened to see something out of the corner of my eye. I laughed so hard. Hope had climbed onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table and was sitting there patiently waiting for her lunch with the biggest smile on her face. Her first "happy meal" was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on raisin bread.
It's clear she's been watching from her highchair this entire time. As soon as she was done, unprompted, she got out of her chair and carried her plate to the counter just like Brian does! I'm glad my floors are clean (at least they were at the filming of the video - ha!)
Brian is thrilled to have her at the table! 
I have never liked the expressions that are attached to ages - like the "terrible twos" or the "train wreck threes" (I made that one up, but you know what I mean...). Whenever I start talking about how Hope is so busy and is into everything and has me chasing her everywhere - I am only speaking from a place of exhaustion (at 45 years old!) and wonderment. I'm just not used to such an active child!! She's not being "naughty" - she's being Hope! She is a good listener - and can sit still, like she does for her haircut...
...and doesn't pitch fits at all. But she can be busy - and curious! I always tell people this: when Hope does something wild or is SO curious about something she HAS to get it or expresses herself when she has a need... I remember. I remember that I had a little boy who I prayed would do something "wild" or work hard to get into something he wanted or was able to express himself when he needed something. I don't take anything for granted because of Gavin's life - not because of his death. And I remember that everything is a phase that is necessary for growth. So when Hope does something that might frustrate me in the moment, I remind myself that if this were Gavin in front of me, I'd be throwing a party about that exact thing.

The four of us were at one of Gavin's favorite places for Ed's birthday a couple weeks ago. Arnold's Family Fun Center. 
I am sure he was with us and was just as amazed as we were at his sister's bravery. She has been pretty timid about going onto the inflatable bounce houses and slides with Brian - as much as he has encouraged her to join him. But on this day? All bets were off. I was STUNNED when my little two year old climbed the inflatable (and steep!!) ladder and went down the big (HUGE - AND STEEP!) slide!! 
The first time she went down with Brian. I'm not sure who was the most excited! Listen to the reactions... 
The second time they went down together again and I filmed it in slow motion to get the full effect of their reactions. This girl has no fear!! 
After that, she was confident to go up and down over and over all by herself. We were cracking up!! And, as you can see by the amount of photos - we were pretty obsessed with this new milestone. I'm feeling confident I have another ride buddy when we go to amusement parks!
 Hope and I have a special bond, for sure. We are joined at the hip from morning until night and, much to my own surprise, we're still nursing at nap and bedtime! But the minute Brian or Ed are in sight - I'm toast. I think her favorite times of the day are when the school bus arrives home in the afternoon - as you can hear by her reaction to seeing him... 
...and when her Daddy comes home. 
And I am sure, in the dark of night or in the quiet sunlight, she has her favorite times with Gavin, too. It's clear that she knows him. 
Yes, I definitely feel it would have been much harder if not for the gift of this child. And as all of us, Brian included, are raising Hope... we can feel our own hope rising.

Life is so unpredictable.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Changing the World...

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is mind boggling that there are still racial injustices and blatant discrimination in this country so many years after Dr. King's assassination. If you are a parent, you may have had the conversation about what this day means and the history of slavery and discrimination with your children. And, if you're like me, you were met with stunned faces, disbelief and sadness. Brian can not wrap his brain around the fact that people were and, quite frankly, are treated differently because of their race. 

"That is so not fair," he told me today. "We're all the same because we were all made by God and he made us all different and special."  Preach it, Brian!

This afternoon, Brian participated in a service project and cooking workshop at HomeCooked. He and a group of kids made a dinner to bring home to each of their families - and each of them made another one that will be delivered to local families in need. It's so important to us, above many other things, to raise our children to be kind and compassionate and to have an understanding of what is happening outside of their comfortable, happy life. Brian seems to understand that in a way that impresses me for his age. On the drive there, the two of us were talking and I asked him, "Brian, do you think you - a seven year old kid in the first grade - can change the world?" I was really surprised by his answer.

"Yes! Of course I do!" he confidently replied.

I smiled and said, "Really? How is that?"

"Well, you can change the world by not throwing cans in the water and by respecting the Earth and by recycling. And also by being a good person so other people see you being a good person and they want to be good people, too." he explained.

"Wow - that's a great way of looking at it, buddy! Kind of like a chain reaction! If you are kind and good and respectful of the Earth and the people that live on Earth with you - then others will see that and want to be like you... and then other people will see those people and so on and so on and so on..."

"EXACTLY!" he exclaimed. "That's exactly how people can change the world!"

"Even a first grader!" I added.

"Yes! Definitely a first grader." And with that, we pulled into the HomeCooked parking lot and got ready for his world changing afternoon.

Coincidentally, Brian was paired up with a young boy named Gavin - just a little bit older than him. I stuck around for a little while and it was definitely bittersweet to hear things like, "Brian, can you help Gavin hold the bowl?" or "Gavin, you and Brian are in charge of..." 
You could say it was a little bit emotional...for both of us.
Brian came home with a delicious Mexican Tortilla Lasagna, a cheesy mexican rice casserole and chocolate chip caramel bars for dessert. He made all of this himself! It was an incredible dinner and Brian was so, so proud at the table as he served us.

 It seems like a perfect day to wrap up his St. Jude Children's Research Hospital "Mathathon" fundraiser! (The fundraiser officially ends tomorrow when Brian hands in his Math worksheets and his donation page.) This was Brian's very first Fundraiser and he was really excited about it! I was on the fence about helping him or letting him do it all on his own. In the end, I decided to post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - but he was in charge of writing the message on his personal page and also writing the thank you notes to the donors. He was excited to raise money and decided to donate any prize he would win back to the children at St. Jude's. I gave it a lot of thought and decided to help him because I wanted his first fundraiser to be big. I was hoping that a very successful first experience will put the "bug" in him to continue to want to do altruistic things down the road. I want to model what it looks like to care about others almost as much as or even more than we care about ourselves and our comfortable life.

The day after we started the fundraiser I couldn't wait for Brian to get home from school. As soon as he sat down for his snack, I broke the news to him that he had raised over $300.00. He was STUNNED. Here was his reaction...
As of now, he has raised $1,505! He is over the moon about this and it has definitely inspired him to continue to do nice things for others. Here is a personal thank you to everyone who has donated with a speech that Brian wrote himself:

If you would still like to donate - you can check THIS LINK to see if it's still operating. It should be open until the end of the day on January 19th, 2016. Thank you!

We're very proud of our son. 

"We are bound together in a desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.
We are bound.
And we are bound."

Thank you to James Taylor for those words from one of my favorite songs, "Shed a Little Light."
Thank you to Martin Luther King, Jr. for absolutely changing the world.
Thank you to all the researchers and doctors and hero patients at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
And thank you to everyone who is changing the world - especially those seven year old first graders just like Brian.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Picture Never Changes...

Lately I have been making the big commitment - that is, hanging things on the walls of our new home. I'm taking it slow - making sure I don't hang things "just to hang things," but giving thought to what should go where.

Some of those things are photos. I created a wall that has profile photos of all three children with current photos beneath that I will change as I get new ones. Except for one...
I love this little arrangement, I do. But each time I turn the corner it is a tough reminder that there is one picture that will never change. Gavin's last school photo.

Brian will grow and Hope will grow and we will get older... but in our hearts and minds, Gavin is frozen as a 5 1/2 year old boy. It stings. Every single time, it stings.

I created another wall. I wanted to hang a family photo and individuals of the kids - but I hate the feeling that I'm leaving Gavin out. Usually I try to represent him in some little way - even if no one can notice. But in this family photo, I hadn't done that. So I decided to hang one of my favorite family photos with Gavin in it and make it an all-canvas wall. Once again, the photos will change... but the portrait with Gavin won't. 
(As it turns out, it's not easy to take pictures of pictures!)

This past weekend we hosted my family for our annual Christmas party. My sister, Meg, from New Hampshire stayed at the house most of the weekend. My brother, Mike, came up from Virginia. And Tom and Bean came with their families and Granny. There were 29 of us. Unfortunately, two of my nieces and my nephew and his wife couldn't make it. And, of course, Gavin wasn't there. But boy - 29 of my 34 favorite people were there and our home was filled with love and laughter and playing and great food.

I'm grateful that we have so much space in our new home and I was able to create my "dream table." One long table that included everybody. There was no kid's table here - all of us were one unit and all the ages were all mixed up. Uncle Mike chatted with Brian and Isabella. Granny was surrounded by her adoring teenage nephews. Ed was across from his nieces. I grabbed my nieces "selfie stick" - got a quick lesson - and then promptly put my brother, Mike, in charge!
We were able to celebrate my great nephew's first birthday after dinner in a sweet way. William, the son of my oldest niece, Emily and her husband, Josh, just turned one! We all sang Happy Birthday and Brian accompanied us on his guitar with his cousin, Isabella, by his side. Those two were inseparable all day!
Before dinner, we all opened gifts from Granny (she loves to spoil all of us) and the kids opened pollyanna gifts from each other.
And the kids all gathered around when we gave Granny a photo calendar with all of her children, grandchildren, great grandchild...and another great on the way! We gave her other things, but this calendar was a big hit. She can look at all the people who love her every single day!
They all posed with her and I found it so hard to believe the beautiful little girl I carried around at my high school graduation is now a married mother... the babies I once held are now men... my nieces all stunning young women. I can't imagine how my Mom feels as she looks at each one of us!
But it was the huge group picture that I organized that still puts a lump in my throat. I set up my tripod and snapped a photo of all 29 of us. Later when I looked at it, I had to hold back my tears. Not for the missing nieces and nephew - because I know they'll make the next one. I choked back my emotion for the little frozen boy who will never again be part of pollyanna... and playing with his cousins. I'll never see him excited around all the chaos and fun... or break into a grin at the sight of his Granny. And he'll never again smile for a family photo.
But then I looked up. At the top of our tree, above all of his Aunts and Uncles and cousins and family sits the custom made angel that I had made after his death. It holds so much symbolism - the green and blue swirling together like the ocean he so loved... the starfish in her hair... the shells on her skirt. It's not the same, obviously. But it reminded me that he was there that day. I just forgot in my busyness to stop and see. But he was as there as Brian's giggles. He was there as baby William's determined crawling. He was there in our singing. He was there in our love.

It's impossible sometimes to navigate life after losing a child. It's the worst possible thing that can happen to someone, really. But somehow the great big love that we shared with him helps to melt our frozen, broken hearts. 
I can still see all of us together in my mind - the love, palpable. And that picture will never change.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Christmas Break of 2015...

Remember me? I had a nice, long Christmas break. This was the first time I didn't write a Christmas or New Year's post - but there was a great reason. Three great reasons, actually. Over the last two weeks, I got lost in love and play and sing a longs and books and even learned a few new things about Minecraft. Yesterday, Brian went back to school and I truly hated to see him go.

There is so much to share so I'll let the pictures tell the story...

Right before the break, Brian's school had their annual Christmas Pageant in Church! It was beautiful, as always... maybe even better than last years. Brian was an angel (in real life AND the show!) and Ed and I were happy to be able to leave Hope sleeping with a sitter so we could thoroughly enjoy the performance.
Brian was hidden behind a classmate during his part of the performance, so this is the only shot I got of him while he sat in the pew waiting to sing!
Don't even try to look for him in this mess of a video - just enjoy the adorable song. Thanks to Brian's constant practicing at home, I knew all the words!

Actually, I think my favorite part of the evening was listening to him practice on the way to church. He's always singing in the backseat!

We were so proud of our rising star.

We spent the lazy days leading up to Christmas doing fun things like "Paint Maker"...
...baking lots and lots of cookies and a pumpkin pie with gingerbread streusel.
Brian and I (but mostly Brian!) created a Gingerbread house during Hope's nap time. (Maybe next year, Hopi!)
We even took some cold weather hikes in the back yard. 
Hope painted for the very first time and loved it! 
Her first work of art was a Christmas gift to her Daddy. Lucky guy!
On Christmas Eve, all the stockings were hung with care. The kids were excited... even Hope, who just vibrated energy from everywhere!
She expended a LOT of that energy at Christmas Eve Mass. We assumed our usual position - in the vestibule watching it on TV. We left a large donation in the tiny box that is attached to the pamphlet and book display for obvious reasons. They were, ummm, slightly rearranged.
We took the long way home so we could look at Christmas lights and sing carols. Then, as soon as we got inside Brian helped me set the dining room table. We were dining in style for the occasion! Brian made us very fancy place cards and we even lit candles!
Before we sat down - and Hope's dress would suffer a terrible fate - I took a photo to remember how beautiful they looked. I just wish I could freeze time with my lens, too!
Ed made a delicious chicken and rice dish that is always a big hit with all of us. But no one's mind was on the food...
SANTA WAS ON HIS WAY!!! We discussed what Brian should write in his note by the cookies and he decided he wanted Santa to take a selfie. 
He asked me to leave my phone by the note and everything.
The kids sat on the stairs on their way to bed for some quick pictures.
Brian was explaining to Hope that he's been able to hear Santa's bells outside since he was "little." That the year before she was too little to remember. That they better get upstairs NOW!!!!!!!
But he knows better than to rush Mommy when she's holding two cameras.
Sure enough - WE HEARD THE BELLS THAT NIGHT!!! I was reading with Brian when it happened. I had to run across the hall to Hope's room to grab her out of her crib. She was already snuggled up for the night and had no idea what was going on! We rushed to Brian's window and flung it open...
Hear for yourself!!

Brian kept repeating, "We HAVE to get to BED!" And Hope kept repeating, "Wow! Wow!" Mission accomplished.
I snuck down late, late that night and was so happy to see that Santa had made it!! I knew the kids would be really excited to see what presents he left for them.
Christmas morning Brian patiently and sweetly walked slowly down the stairs with Hope.
He was so close to making it to the end... but once he saw all the presents, see ya Hopi!!
The big reveal...
Santa is so considerate. He knows that I am stiff with arthritis in the morning so he has many of the presents already assembled and ready to play with!! I got to sit back, take photos and take in all the joy.
Hope was really good at opening the wrapped gifts!
Brian was so excited and grateful for every single gift. 
He was THRILLED to get a guitar - the top item on his list.
And every Minecraft item was a huge hit!
My pictures aren't great - but you can't blur his happiness! 
Hope gave Brian a zip-up Minecraft jacket that he saw in Target and desperately wanted. That Hope - she knows just how to please! Brian was over the moon.
And Brian chose a wooden block train that you can take apart and put back together because it reminded him of the one he and Gavin shared. Hope LOVES it! And I love how sentimental Brian is.
Suddenly, Brian remembered his NOTE!! He rushed to the dining room table and started reading.
Here he is reading the note and checking out what Santa left on my phone. (Excuse his stuffy nose!)
Here is the full video that Santa's elf took on my phone!

Brian watched the video carefully a few times. Then I watched him walk over to where he knew Santa had knelt and put his hands on the floor. He told me that the carpet was still a little bit warm. "It must have been where Santa's sack was sitting," he declared. 
I love this boy and the magic of Christmas.

He ran down the basement to see the "bonus" present that Santa had left for him. I think it might have been just a little too heavy for the elves to carry upstairs to place under the tree. It was a punching bag with boxing gloves! He loves it.
We literally stayed in our pajamas that entire Christmas day and played with all the toys. And when it came time for bed, Brian honestly would have slept with his guitar if I had let him. He stores it carefully under his bed each night. I'm looking into a free lesson to really gauge his interest. For now, he loves to strum the strings and sing - and I love to listen.
A couple days after Christmas, we all travelled to New Jersey for Ed's Aunt Ann's 80th birthday party! Ann's children treated everyone to a generous, never ending, Dim Sum and Chinese dish feast. It was incredible. We don't get to see Ed's family as often as we'd like so it was such a big treat to see his sister, Kat...
His cousins (more like brothers!) Gary, Glenn and George...
His cousin, Leni and her daughter, Melissa...
And of course Ann's entire family - daughters in law and grandchildren and even a great grandchild...
Ed's family is so nice.  
So nice that they didn't even kick us out when a certain little girl stuck her finger in the cake. Oy.
We had a lot of laughs (when I wasn't chasing Hope around the restaurant!) and can't wait for another opportunity to visit with them.
The rest of Brian's Christmas break was so much fun. I just love to watch Brian and Hope play together. He's so sweet with her! One night I found the two of them in his bedroom reading...

We had fun dressing up...
We laughed (I mean, really laughed) our way through a delicate game of Operation...
Hope tended to her Baby Alive (which fascinated all of us, to be honest!)...
And we played some rousing games of Pie Face!! Brian was a good sport!
We also spent some cold days playing outside. Hope will let you put her on the swing seat, but then she demands that you go away while she actually tries to pull and pump herself to swing. It cracks me up!
We also assembled and played on the big gift that Ed and I gave the kids for Christmas - a climbing dome. It's ultra cool (and way bigger than I thought!).
Hope enjoyed pushing her stroller all around the back yard. It was too cold for her baby, apparently.
The big news of the break was the night Brian lost his tooth!! 
There is nothing more adorable than a toothless grin. Oh wait - there is. That toothless lisp!!
That night before bed, he wrote his note to the tooth fairy. He wanted to be sure that she didn't take his tooth!
The next morning he woke up to a nice note from her, a rolled up dollar bill, and a few small Minecraft figures. He was thrilled!
Here he is reading the note...

I am super excited that I get to leave all of my Christmas decorations up for another week - maybe more. This coming Saturday we are hosting my family for a late (read: relaxed!) Christmas party. This will be our first time hosting in our new home - there will be 29 of us! 

But for now, we're back to the regular routine. Brian and I are up early at 6:05 to get ready for the bus at 7am. Hope and I spend our days playing and napping and, oh... now we added something new to the list. Making sure she doesn't climb out of her crib! She climbed out for the first time the other day. I'm pretty sure she's too scared to attempt it again - but if not, I have a plan.

The video monitor I have has the option to speak into a microphone that she will hear in her room. During nap time if I see her even THINKING about it, a booming voice will fill her room. "HOPE LEONG. GET DOWN NOW." She will also start wearing "wearable blankets" - which makes me very grateful that she was considerate enough to do this in the Winter. Ha! The blankets make it a little harder to swing a leg over the side. I learned that from Brian's climbing days - which shockingly, were MUCH sooner than Hope's!! I will not be moving her to a bed anytime soon unless I have to. No. Thank. You. Brian didn't move into a bed until he was three! I realize I was very lucky...and I'm hoping that luck continues with his sister.

It has been a delightful break and I was happy to spend the time I would have on this blog doing other things. As in - nothing. I did nothing. Lots and lots and lots of nothing while eating Ben & Jerry's. I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season!!

(If you're wondering why I didn't mention New Years... we were asleep by 10!!)

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