Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy 5th Birthday, Marla


Today (well, yesterday) you are five years old. I guess I'll start this letter out by admitting that a year ago, you turned four, and I didn't write you a letter. Sorry about that. I blame you and your sister, for making our lives so busy and so full. Hopefully this lengthy letter will help make up for it.

I'm a bit at a loss for words tonight. You are five?! This is hard for me, and I hope someday when you read this, you can understand why. Five means you're not a baby anymore. You're not a toddler anymore, and you're almost not even a preschooler anymore. You're a full-blown kid. You keep changing, and yet you remain the same. You are you, and you just continue becoming more YOU as time goes on. This year, you are even smarter, braver, kinder, funnier, crazier, and brighter than you were before. You have so much spirit and enthusiasm. Your inquisitiveness and energy exhaust me, but they also give me a reason to smile each day.

You have a thirst for learning that seems to grow all the time. You love to write letters and are always asking us to spell words and names for you. You take a notebook and pen with you almost everywhere, so you can draw pictures and write words and numbers. Sometimes you write down all 26 letters of the alphabet (both uppercase and lowercase) and numbers 1-100, just for fun. Your teachers tell us that your writing and vocabulary are exemplary, and that they expect you'll be reading on your own very soon. You're thriving in 4K this year, and easily surpassed all of the end-of-year benchmarks on the school district assessments just two months into the school  year. Unfortunately, you've inherited my perfectionism and tend to get easily upset and frustrated when you can't perform flawlessly on your first try. You are thrilled when you succeed, but you take failure to heart. I am hoping that you can learn to focus on the process of achieving results, rather than the results themselves, but to be honest... I've never had much luck with that myself, either. 

I am so proud of your academic efforts, but even more proud of your generous spirit. You have always been social and extroverted, and these traits are enhanced by the genuine pleasure you take in interacting with other people. You say hi to strangers on the street (literally). You make friends everywhere you go and have a way of endearing people to you. You continue to be an amazing big sister to Avery, including her in your play and going out of your way to make her laugh. You LOVE your friends and go out of your way to acknowledge them individually. This year, we're having your very first "friend" birthday party, and you insisted on  inviting every girl in your class, because you didn't want to leave anyone out. Your 4K teacher recently told me that all the kids in your class think of themselves as your special friend, because you make everyone feel so special. I admire your social exuberance so much, especially because it's grounded in love and affection for those around you.

You are sensitive and passionate, which means there's never a dull moment in  our home. You and your sister have begun arguing and fighting over toys and privileges more and more, and her indifference only adds fuel to your fire. You are quick to run off to your room in a fit of rage or tears, often for the smallest infraction: You wanted the purple cup instead of the pink cup. You couldn't brush through your Barbie doll's hair. Avery hit you and didn't say sorry. You  get the idea. Your fuse is short and your heart is big, creating an explosive combination.

Here are some of your favorite things right now: books, jewelry and accessories, anything Frozen, Barbie dolls, superheroes, princesses, make-up, monkey bars, wrestling and chasing your dad, dancing, ice cream, bedtime stories, pancakes on Saturday mornings, organizing your toys and trinkets, hide and seek, shoes, playing with my iphone, drawing, writing, arts and crafts, playing with your friends, singing, rhyming, going to plays and movies, picking out your own outfits (always bright, always a skirt/dress, and usually a top/bottom combination with competing patterns and colors), ordering your sister around, and being a goofball. You love excitement and adventure. You went through a six-month phase this year where I would pick you up from school every day and you would ask, "What are we doing today? Are we going on an adventure?" Some things you dislike: Brussels sprouts, sitting still (you haven't sat in your chair for an entire meal since you were in a high chair), matching clothes, listening to NPR in the car ("Can you turn on MY music, please?"), fighting for people's attention, sharing your toys with Avery, and conversation that doesn't involve you.

You love being part of the action and hate to be left out of it. You are sweet and compassionate and tenacious. You are courageous and kind. You are strong and curious and engaging. All  the adjectives in the world couldn't describe everything you are and everything  you mean to me. I love you more than I could ever express. Happy birthday, Marla Rae.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A year ago

Dear Avery,

Today you turned one year old. Despite how fast time seems to be flying lately, it's hard to believe this is only the first birthday we have celebrated with you. In many ways, it feels like you have been in our lives forever.

I've spent the day reminiscing about a year ago today. It's strange that we didn't know you back then. We didn't know how sweet and loving you would be. We didn't know you weighed over nine pounds. We didn't even know you were a girl. When you were born, you didn't have a name for the first couple of hours. And the biggest thing? I didn't know was how I was going to make space for you in my heart. I didn't know how to love two children, how to divide my attention, how to be a mother to more than one child. But you fit into our lives like a missing piece of a puzzle, and in the first moment I saw you, I just felt like I knew you. And there is so much to love about you.

You remind me of myself in many ways. You are calm and watchful, but stubborn and quick to lose your temper. You have a laid back demeanor, but underneath the surface I can tell you are thinking and reflecting and observing. You didn't crawl until just a week ago. When Marla started crawling, she strained and twisted, toppled and stretched and rolled around. It took her a while to gain balance and control. But when you started crawling, you did it slowly and perfectly. The same has been true for a lot of milestones in your life. You seem to study and process things before you dive into them. You have a practical approach and need to understand the purpose and benefit of a process before you participate in it. Prime example: you almost never put toys (or anything else) in your mouth to taste and/or chew it unless it's food. And you make connections that seem beyond your age: you draw with a piece of sidewalk chalk, you try to brush your hair with a brush, you hold a spoon up to my mouth, etc.

I can already tell that you are growing out of your babyhood. You can sign "more," "all done," and "eat." You can clap your hands, wave, point, and (this is a fun one) pull your sister's hair. You have begun pulling yourself up on things. Sometimes you seem to be talking (or yelling) in your own secret language. You suck your thumb when you are sleepy and have an odd obsession with the tags on toys, rubbing them between your fingers and dazedly "singing" to yourself for long periods of time. You love to swing, go for walks, sit in the Barbie Jeep and play the radio, ride your dinosaur rider toy, drink from a sippy cup, and flip through books. And you LOVE your big sister. You light up when she walks into the room. She loves to perform for you and you love to watch her. Lately, though, you are gaining independence and have become quite headstrong. I predict you'll have an iron will and won't let Marla take advantage of you in the slightest.

I could never express how grateful and proud I am to be your mom. I feel like I hit the jackpot after I gave birth to you. A year ago, my life was full. But I had no idea what I was missing until you came along. I love you, sweet Avey Baby.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Easter 2014

Easter was a lot of fun this year. Marla really got into it and the weather was actually not horrible for a change. The festivities began early in the week when Marla colored eggs. This was a hit!
Once again, we braved the Eau Claire Easter egg hunt in Carson Park on Saturday morning. It was insane, but everyone kind of clears out after the hunt, so we got to spend some time playing in the bouncy houses and visiting the Easter Bunny.

Marla loved the Easter Bunny. Before this, she has been pretty wary of people dressed up as animals/mascots, but this year is a totally different story.

Playing with the photo booth props.

Avery passed out sometime after the hunt.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Jeff's mom's in-laws' home. They always do a massive egg hunt for the kids, so Marla stocked up on even more goodies.

Sunday morning Easter baskets!

After church, we hosted dinner for my family. I made a ham for the first time ever and didn't screw it up! (I have been told that it's hard to screw up a ham, but I was nervous nonetheless.)

Sporting masks from Grandma Pam. Happy (belated) Easter, everyone!

Tiny dancer

Marla has always loved to dance, which you probably know if you've ever watched her at a wedding reception. For some reason, I have a lot of opinions about dance classes for little girls, the main one being that they get far too expensive and intense too early in life. I'm a firm believer that kids should be able to explore many different activities without committing to any particular one, at least before high school. So I hesitate to enroll Marla in any of the area dance schools, which all seem to require a 9-month time commitment and cost upwards of $35/month.
However, my friend Jodi tipped me off to a "Dance Buffet" class at the Eau Claire Indoor Sports Center, which runs for just six weeks and offers instruction on "basic dance moves along with an emphasis on listening and following directions." Perfect! I got Marla into the class and she LOVED it. Here she is in her leotard and tutu.
We were excited to discover that Marla's friend Greta was enrolled in the class too. They had so much fun together each week.

The final class was a recital for families. Here she is on recital day.

Here's one of the numbers they performed. It doesn't get much cuter.

Locks three years in the making

This post has been a long time coming: Marla's first haircut! Yes, I waited until she was three years old to cut her hair. But can you blame me? Just look at those beautiful waves.

We took her to Nicole's Salon downtown Eau Claire, where I get my own hair cut. They made a really big deal about it being her first cut, which was sweet. Here's the first lock, complete with a curl. 

Marla was pretty excited about the whole ordeal, until we got her into the chair. Then she got really serious. She didn't cry, but she sat stone-faced throughout the whole haircut and didn't smile again until she was done.

We didn't do bangs and just stuck with a shoulder-length bob. It has since grown to its previous length and hasn't lost its waviness! Unfortunately the curls of her early toddlerhood only pop up in extreme humidity.

First haircut on the books! She came away with a sucker and a certificate, and I came away misty-eyed with a lock of her hair in a baggie. Success!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cliff's Notes: Winter 2014

No, I didn't give up blogging or drop off the face of the earth. I just got sidetracked for a bit (like eight months). I have a lot of guilt about this for various reasons, but mostly because I've dropped the ball on updates of Avery's babyhood. I plan to do a more in-depth post about Avery soon, but here's a synopsis of January through April in the Schmidt household.


I went back to work on December 2 after a 3-month maternity leave. Jeff took over until the end of January. He got busy bonding with Avery and being active outside in the middle of winter. More power to him.

I was recognized for five years of service at CVTC. It was actually six years in February (I started in 2008), but they were recognizing based on the previous year.

Jeff turned 33 years old! Marla is excited that now both her parents are "three like me!"

Avery started taking baths in the big tub.

This feels very long ago, but the significance of the below picture is still huge to me. When I went back to work, Avery refused to take a bottle. She put up a good fight, which created a lot of stress and frustration for both me and Jeff. We tried seven different bottles/nipples, different milk temperature, different holds and methods of distraction, different people feeding her... NOTHING worked. I came home every day at lunch to nurse her and she'd go the rest of the day without eating. I was feeling a lot of pressure as the only food source, particularly during a busy time at work. I was always rushing home to feed her, rushing back to work, rushing back home again, etc. One evening about three weeks into this ordeal, our babysitter informed me that Avery had taken a bottle without a problem in her bouncy seat. After that evening and a few tweaks (we ended up having the most success putting her in front of the TV... desperate times call for desperate measures), she began eating from a bottle like a champ. The Bottle Battle was over as quickly as it had begun. I can't describe the life changing effect it had. I could stay at work a full day. I could rest easy knowing she wouldn't starve while I was gone. Jeff could rest easy knowing she wouldn't fuss through the day. Never again will I take for granted the complicated task of feeding a baby as a mother working outside the home. Fortunately, things continued to go smoothly and she was able to switch from bottle to breast without a problem. Here's Marla pitching in by feeding her sister.

When Avery went to daycare, she adjusted very quickly to the routine and classroom. She also promptly developed a chronic runny nose/cold which lasted until about, oh, a month ago.

Marla had her first visit to the dentist! She did a great job and had no cavities.

Later that evening, she got serious about flossing.
Grandma Pam took us to an awesome production of The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Minneapolis Children's Theater. Here's Marla meeting one of the stars after the show.

Marla let me put buns in her hair. They lasted long enough for me to get a couple pictures. She hasn't allowed me to do it again since.

Avery just kept getting cuter and cuter.

We had to put Betsy down on February 15, the day after Valentine's Day and exactly seven years and four days after we adopted her and brought her home from a foster home in Siren, WI. I plan to dedicate a full post to Betsy at a later date, but here's a quick summary of what happened.
We noticed that Betsy was holding her head at an odd angle for a month or so prior to bringing her into the vet. She seemed normal otherwise, but began to get clumsier and fell down more and more. The vet did an x-ray and found that her spine looked ok, but she was favoring one side of her neck, most likely indicating a damaged disk or something similar. We tried steroids, pain medication, and laser therapy, but the condition got much worse very quickly. Within a few weeks, she could barely walk. When she tried, her legs would buckle underneath her and she would fall. She held her head very gingerly and hardly moved her neck at all. She began to have accidents in the house on a regular basis. She was obviously in pain and, according to the vet, becoming paralyzed. The nerve damage was worsening and was unlikely to get better with treatment. Our only option left was an expensive MRI to determine what the actual problem was, which would most likely be followed by an even more expensive surgery. If surgery was possible as a treatment, it may or may not have stopped the nerve damage, but the doctor was doubtful that it would lead to a full recovery. If we could have had more of a guarantee that more extraordinary measures could have saved her, or if money was not an issue, or if she wasn't in so much pain, we would have done it without thinking twice. But we knew the only realistic decision was to put her down. Just a couple of days after we came to this conclusion, she had a decent day, followed by a horrible night, sleeping very little and whining off and on. The next morning, she only walked far enough to get from her crate to her blanket in the living room. She wouldn't eat and stayed in the same spot for several hours. She was not herself. I couldn't bear the idea of putting her or us through any more agony, so we brought her to the vet that day. Both Jeff and I were with her until the very end. It was devastating, to say the least. I don't regret our decision, but continue to be plagued with guilt, wondering what we could or should have done differently. She was such an energetic, healthy, vibrant dog and her absence in our home and as a member of our family is palpable.
This picture was taken the morning of the 15th, just before we left for the vet's office. It is the last picture I ever took of her.
We continue to talk about Betsy nearly every day. Marla understands that she is "in heaven" but still talks about her as if she's part of our lives. I like that we can talk about Betsy and don't have to hide the fact that we miss her. At the same time, my heart breaks for my sweet Bets. It has gotten easier over time, and not having a dog has certainly made our busy lives less complicated, but we miss her so much. I know that no other dog will ever quite fill the space she created in our hearts.
This is one of the first toys we ever got for Betsy. Somehow, after years of abuse, it survived countless acts of brutality while lesser toys were left in shreds. It currently sits on top of the box of Betsy's ashes in our bedroom.

The day Betsy died, I was putting Marla to bed when she brought out a stuffed dog that plays music. Marla whispered, "I'm going to play you some music so you don't cry for Betsy in heaven." I am glad that she understands that a pet like Betsy was not simply a dog, but an integral piece of our lives and family. Here's one of many drawings she has done of Betsy. Don't act like you're not impressed by the seven legs.
Whew. Let's move on to some happier times in March, shall we?    
We bought a new car! Well, new to us, anyway. After getting stuck on our street and driveway multiple times this winter, we finally took the plunge and got an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Our Chevy Traverse (aka Travis the Traverse) has seating for seven passengers, captains chairs for the girls' car seats, a whole bunch of airbags and safety features, and handles MUCH better on ice and snow. Needless to say, the extra space has come in very handy too.
This photo doesn't document anything specific in March other than how adorable the girls are together.

Avery started eating solid foods! Here she is with a pancake, made expressly for her in the shape of a letter A, by Grandpa.

Marla began drawing "people" that are faintly recognizable as human beings. This is a picture of me, in case you're wondering.

We visited Govin's lamb barn again. This year we found an actual lamb to hold, rather than a goat.

Avery began sitting up unassisted.

Marla got yet another massive bruise on her face after falling into a garbage can at daycare. Sigh.

We visited Jeff's friend's maple syrup camp. The entire process was fascinating. Unfortunately, Marla was tired and cranky and threw an ongoing tantrum upon arriving, so we only stayed for an hour or so. I'm looking forward to going again next year with happier kids.

The girls had their first wagon ride together!

Avery had her first swing ride. So began a love affair with the swings that is going strong yet today. (You're probably wondering why it's April and there's so much snow on the ground. I was wondering the SAME THING.)

I brought the girls to the CVTC Early Childhood Education program's annual puppet show. Marla loved it. Here she is meeting the puppets after the show. Yes, of course they sang "What Does the Fox Say?"