We Went Camping and I Survived

This essay was previously published on Parent.co.

We went camping for the first time as a family this past weekend. I went camping for the first time this past weekend. Like at a campsite, in a tent, in sleeping bags, on the ground, camping. 

Travis had wanted to go camping for some time. He wanted it to be “our thing.” He wanted our family to be a camping family. He was putting a lot of stock into this dream with a wife who had never camped before and the unpredictable nature of the weather app. 
“I’m going to take Anna camping for her birthday,” he told me back in September. Secretly I was relieved he didn’t invite me on their father/daughter trip. I wasn’t so sure I was ready to be among the bugs and the dirt and sleeping on the hard ground just yet. 
He made reservations at a campsite at a nearby lake. Anna’s third birthday came, and with it, a storm that was to last all weekend. They moved their camping trip indoors and set up the tent in our tiny living room. She had a blast. She had no idea this wasn’t real camping. 
But Travis did. He was ready for the real thing. He longed to be sitting by the fire roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, falling asleep under the stars, and waking up to the birds chirping and the cool air filling his lungs. And he wanted to experience it all with his family. 


Owen Lazarus's Birth Story

When I woke up on April 4, 2017, I never would’ve thought Owen Lazarus would be joining us that day. Even though I was six days overdue I resolved in my mind that I would eventually have to be induced later that week. He seemed awfully cozy in my belly and the early labor, that was really just a nuisance and exhausting, wasn’t giving any hints. Losing more of my mucus plug and the incessant contractions were a tease since beginning a few weeks prior.

My due date was March 29, and once that came and left us without Owen in our arms we told Travis’s mom, Terri, to come on down from Ohio. It was nice having her here to help with the kids while I rested before the big day.

The morning of the day he came I was so over being pregnant. I really shouldn’t complain. It truly is a blessing, being pregnant and all. But by the end, and especially since I was almost a week late, I was so tired of being uncomfortable and so tired of being tired. I knew nights of interrupted sleep would continue after Owen came but I found solace in knowing I would finally be able to sleep on my stomach and not have to carry 40 extra pounds around my midsection.



It's funny what adding one more kid to the mix will do to a family. In ours Baby Owen has brought joy, excitement, and wonder. He's also brought with him higher loads of laundry, less sleep for me, bigger messes from all, and more discipline for the older two. Talk about sanctification! Then there is this new ability I've acquired this time around to let things just slide off my shoulders.

As I recently skimmed through old posts I wrote following the birth of Theo I couldn't help but want to give my former self a huge hug. I didn't want to tell her everything was going to be OK and to cherish the moments because that wouldn't have helped. Those were hard times. Going from one to two kids was really, REALLY tough. It was one of the blocks I put in place as we contemplated having more. I remember how bad my eyes burned from the exhaustion of not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time while attempting to console a fussy baby night and day. I was drowning in laundry and dishes and to-do lists. And looking back now I know I didn't savor all the sweet and new things that come with a newborn. I say that because I don't remember any of it. How could I? I was running on a few hours of sleep here and there. I was just ready to move past it all and get back to a normal routine.

After giving her that huge hug, one thing I would tell my former self is to give grace. Give grace to yourself. Give grace to Theo. Give grace to Anna. Give grace to Travis. Grace upon grace upon grace. As I read those words from two and a half years ago I sensed so much guilt from that new mama. Guilt for not having the toilets cleaned, for dishes stacked high, for laundry still sitting in baskets--clean, but still unfolded and not in drawers. Guilt for not having memory books written in and toys not placed nicely in their correct homes. Guilt for the time I wasn't spending with my older one because I was too busy with the new one. Guilt for not knowing how to console my son who was in obvious pain and wishing I had an "easy baby".


Since we welcomed Owen I haven't cleaned the bathtub or vacuumed the floors, most days dishes are stacked high, I currently have a load of towels in the dryer that need to be folded and two other baskets of clothes that need to be put away, not to mention the clothes sitting in the hamper that need to be washed. Memory books still sit untouched. I'm writing from the YMCA while my older two are in the child care and we left the house with Legos strewn all over the floor. Travis and I tag team to console Owen during his 8-10 pm witching hour every evening all the while the older two raucously play in their room refusing to go to bed.

And I've resolved to not let it bother me.

Owen is an infant, he's going to cry and spit up. He's going to need to be nursed in public and a passerby may just happen to see a boob. He's going to poop all over the changing table and have blow outs that cover his entire back. He's going to need to be held to be comforted and straightening my hair is just going to have to wait--or maybe it's not and he's just going to have to wait because he's not going to die from crying a few minutes longer.

Anna and Theo are kids, they are going to disobey. They are going to test us when we say no just to see how far they can get. Anna is going to whine when her brother takes her baby doll and Theo is going to throw a fit when I tell him he can't have another "bip" (chip) when he's already had 20. They are going to wake up earlier than we would like and spill their milk on my bible while we're eating breakfast and insist on putting on their own shoes as we are running late for church. But they are also not going to forget to ask to give Owen a hug and kiss before bed and beg me to "nuggle" and sing them our song as they fall asleep. And always I will be happy to oblige.

It's only natural that the more you add the more challenging it gets. More hands to hold, more things to remember, less time to devote to each person in the family, less sleep. But there are more giggles and more kisses and more love to go around. And there is more grace. 


A few nights ago I stood in the doorway watching the gloomy clouds cover the sun setting behind our building. The older two were playing outside while Owen lay peacefully in his bouncer at my feet. Anna pedaled past us on her purple bike, Theo played with a stick and a rock he found a few minutes before. Any other night I would have rushed the kids inside upon seeing the looming clouds. I wouldn't have wanted them to be caught in the rain and then trample the water and mud through the house. I wouldn't have wanted to get towels to clean up the mess and then have to change them out of their wet clothes into dry, clean clothes. I wouldn't have wanted to do more laundry than I needed to. Plus dinner was almost ready and it would have kept us from sitting down to eat in a timely manner.

But I let it happen. I waited for the clouds to open up and allowed the torrential rain to pour down on their little heads. They squealed and looked to me half expecting me to call them inside. 

"Go! Play! Get wet!" I shouted.

The giant droplets soaked their clothes. They jumped through the puddles that quickly pooled next to our front stoop. Mud splattered across their legs and they both looked up to the sky, mouths opened wide to drink up the falling rain. Soaking up the moment, I delighted in their giggles. A moment that only lasted a few minutes but one they will remember for awhile and one I'll remember even longer.

I had a friend the other day ask me what my favorite thing is about having a newborn in the house for the third time. 

"Noticing all the little things again." I told her. It's allowed me to stop and cherish Owen's fuzzy ears and the way he tries his hardest to smile at me first thing in the morning at only 5 weeks old. I've taken in Theo's growing hands and feet that are more like a little boy's and less like a baby's, and Anna's sweet and hilarious songs she makes up on the spot and her big beautiful eyes that continue to pierce our souls. 

This whole parenting thing is still so hard. It's always going to be hard because we're dealing with tiny, broken human beings who become big, broken human beings, when we ourselves are broken--and clueless. But grace. Grace allows us to let things slide off our shoulders much easier. And thanks be to God, our newest addition has brought that with him. 

Photos by my wonderfully talented sister, Stef


A Love Letter to My First Son

Dear Theo,

It feels like yesterday when I first met you, peering down over my still round yet quickly deflating belly, the same belly that held you carefully for 9 months. My legs were raised in the stir ups as Jan, our midwife, held you high so I could see your tiny arms and legs extending for the very first time.

And all I could say was, I love him so much! – my first words to you.

I never imagined having a little boy. Growing up in a family where the estrogen ran high I was unsure of how I was going to handle the nonstop energy of the opposite gender. Two years later I’m still scratching my head trying to figure you out. You’re loud, you like to believe you can jump from any height, you’re already talking about poop and calling everyone “poop”, I’m finding rocks in the laundry that you’ve collected in your pockets, and you always want to wrestle.

You’re such a boy!” I yelled out one day after you came inside covered in mud. As I stripped you down to your diaper at the door I immediately contemplated how much Oxyclean solution I was going to have to use in order to remove all the stains.

“You can’t say that like it’s a bad thing,” your father called out to me from the other room.

He was right. You are a boy, and that is the most wonderful thing. You’re going to get dirty, you’re going to think farts and pooping are funny, you’re going to hide rocks in your pockets, and you’re going to see how high you can jump off the playground. You may even break a few bones along the way. And that is great.

You know what else I’m learning about boys through you though? You love to cuddle and you love your mama.

While you were still in my belly I prayed you would come out as a baby who didn’t want to ever be put down. I should have listened to the old saying, “be careful what you wish for”, because I got exactly that. The months after we brought you home tested my strength as a mother and my faith in God. Most nights were spent nursing you, snuggling you, and burping you, not to mention sleeping in an upright position with you on my chest to help with your reflux. You didn’t finally sleep through the night until after your first year. Many days I regretted saying that prayer for a cuddly baby.

But it has paid off.

As you’ve grown older and been sleeping through the night regularly, your desire to cuddle hasn’t faded. When we read together you don’t pull away to sit by yourself. You always choose my lap as your go-to seat. When you’re sad you don’t run off licking your wounds by yourself. Instead you reach up, arms open wide, saying, “hug, hug.” And my favorite part about all of this is when you get hurt the first person you call out for is mama.

I don’t ever take this lightly.

And do you know why?

Because I won’t always be the one you call out for. There will be someone else someday who you’ll choose over me to cuddle with, to hug when you’re feeling sad, to call out to when you need to be comforted. And I’ll have to be OK with that.

Lately it’s been more of a challenge to carry you around, to hold you when you reach your little arms up to me. It’s because of your baby brother growing inside of me. My arms get tired, my belly contracts as it’s nudged by your knees wrapping around me. I ask if you would rather be held by your father and all you say is, “Mama, hold you.”

“Ok, buddy,” I say because I remember I won’t always be your favorite person. There will be someone else.

So in these moments when my arms are tired and my belly contracts more than it should and a part of me just wants a moment alone I’m going to endure and hold you for as long as I can take it.

I love you my sweet, cuddly boy, more than you’ll ever know,



Soft Curves

My second trimester was lovely. I felt great, I slept great, I breathed easy walking up and down stairs, and my bump made the perfect soccer ball shape under my maternity clothes. Most days I forgot I was pregnant. Ok, not really, but I had no complaints. 

And then the third trimester came in with a vengeance. Sleeping has become incredibly uncomfortable. With every waddle I feel the extra weight that's been added. The weeks leading up to when we'll finally meet our little guy seem never-ending. My clothes continue to get tighter, and I feel like a whale most of the time. I've been told more than once that I look like I'm ready to pop. And whenever I tell people I'm not due until the end of March they respond with "oh, you poor thing".

At the gym last week one of the front desk attendants told me I'm a lot bigger than I was with my other two. 

"Thanks! I still have two months," I responded with a fake smile. 

Then I watched as she floundered like a fish.

"But you still look great, like really great! You look so cute! I'm so glad you're here, it's so good to see you!" she said back pedaling her compliment--or insult, I'm still not sure which one it was.


I thanked her again, but this time for real. I felt bad that she felt so bad. I know she didn't mean to make me feel larger than life. I ran upstairs--and out of breath--to the elliptical vowing to not stop until I sweated off the pancakes I ate for breakfast that morning.  


It's Another Boy!

Poor, sweet Anna. We opened the pizza box together, and before our eyes, the ultrasound photo taped to the inside lid revealed what we had been waiting to find out for weeks.

"It's a boy!" Travis and I shouted together. 

Then Anna's little voice cried out: "But I don't want another brother!" I immediately looked down and saw her face drop and the tears begin to well in her eyes. My heart so full of joy broke a tiny bit for my first born who so desperately wanted a sister. It was as if she never wanted anything more in her life. Her own baby sister to hold and nurture and dress up in the sweetest little girl clothes. A sister to begin her huge family of sisters just like little orphan Annie--her ultimate dream. I hugged her and kissed her and told her what an amazing big sister she is to her little brother and will be to her new baby brother. I thought of all the things I could tell her to convince her that it's ok she's the only girl (for now). You'll get to have your own room someday. You'll be mommy and daddy's favorite girl. You'll get to keep all your dolls to yourself. 


All I Want for Christmas

The past few months have been a whirlwind. Fall is already crazy in itself. Three birthdays to celebrate, a soccer season to fill our Saturdays and at least one night a week with practices, and a new school year schedule to get accustomed to, not to mention Halloween and Thanksgiving, plus Christmas to prepare for right around the corner. And then on top of all that, this year we had a big move. Well, maybe not a big move, we only moved three buildings down the street, but a move nonetheless and our first with kids. They tell you it’s not easy moving with kids, but it’s one of those “you never really know until you’re in the throes of it yourself” type of ordeals.

I feel like we’re finally catching our breath in December, but even then we have all the festivities that come with Christmas, and as a mother to two young kids I want Christmas to be magical and special and include every activity that goes along with it. We have an advent calendar and a Jesse Tree; we’ve already baked cookies, watched at least 10 Christmas movies, and listened to Christmas music every day since Black Friday. I have it on my radar to visit Santa, see the singing bears in uptown and walk through the nearby Christmas village, take a carriage ride through the Billy Graham Library lights display, and watch still at least 20 more Christmas movies. Plus there are the parties to attend and the Christmas cards that need to be printed, addressed, stamped, and sent. Oh, and then there are the gifts; gifts for the kids, gifts from the kids, gifts for parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends…