The Blog You’ll Never Read

In my childless days before Oliver, I felt like I never had enough time to get it all done. Between work, the drudgery and obligations of every day life, and spending time with family and friends, my schedule was always packed. When Oliver was born and I suddenly found myself knee-deep in diaper changes and marathon feeding sessions,  I couldn’t imagine how I ever felt busy before. How much time I must have wasted, I thought. Watching television, spontaneous lunch dates with friends, lounging on the couch all afternoon in my pajamas—those were frivolities I could only dream of. If only I had the luxury of that kind of free-time in my new mother-of-one life.

Then I had another kid.

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If caring for one little being feels like a climbing Mt. Everest kind of feat, imagine strapping a twenty pound weight to each leg and keep going. That is life with two kids. Now I laugh when I think about how busy, how all-consuming caring for one child felt. I marvel at how I could ever feel stressed or pressed for time. This mother-of-two thing, this is hectic. Not only do I have to do so many of the things that made my pre-baby days feel busy, I now have to do it with two kids in tow. It can be overwhelming on a good day, panic-inducing on a bad. Simultaneously nursing a baby, cooking dinner, and reading Spot Goes to the Beach with your toddler—that requires some serious multitasking skills.

When you have two kids finding time to do anything for yourself becomes a challenge. A minute here. A minute there. Seconds carved out between feedings and naps and building Lego towers, all strung together into a few precious hours a week. That time is sacred. It’s essential. It helps to create an identity outside of “mom;” it adds definition and layers to a life that can feel very one-dimensional at times.

Knowing this will help you understand the story I am about to tell. Let’s call it “The Only Time I’ve Been Reduced to Tears Since Having Two Kids.” Or maybe “Sleep Deprivation and Hormones: The Perfect Recipe for Sweating the Small Stuff.”

This story is about a blog—one that you will never read. I wrote it last week, or more accurately, I wrote it over the last eight weeks in one or two sentence increments. Sometimes I wrote at night after both kids were asleep. Other times I wrote while nursing Parker in the carrier while Oliver played in the other room.  On the rare occasion when both Oliver and Parker would nap at the same time I’d tip-toe into the kitchen, open my computer and see how many sentences I could churn out before Parker woke up and decided the only acceptable place to nap is in mommy’s swaying arms.

After eight weeks of mini-writing sessions, I finally finished the blog. “I can have it all!” I chanted enthusiastically as I danced around my kitchen, arms fist pumping into the air. I can balance two kids with all the other responsibilities of a stay at home mom and still find time to pursue my passions. It might not be easy, but it is possible. I closed the computer, planning on doing a final read-through later that night before posting.

But my computer had other plans for that blog.

During a routine, automatic update, the blog disappeared. Poof. Gone. Vanished into thin air. I stared at my blank screen, bleary-eyed and on the verge of post-pregnancy hormonal tears, willing the auto-recovery to work. When it didn’t I called my on-call tech support husband and begged him to work his voodoo computer magic. When that didn’t work I resorted to less rational tactics—relentlessly tapping the keyboard, restarting countless times, blowing into various ports hoping to dislodge some evil, blog erasing dust. Nothing. The blog was simply gone.

I started to cry—big, ugly tears that were equal parts sadness and pity. It’s not a big deal, I told myself. It’s just a blog. You can write another one. But like most people on a downward spiral fueled by hormones and lack of sleep the irrational part of my brain took over. All that hard work for nothing, it screamed. All of your “me time,” wasted on something that won’t amount to anything. It’s not fair! (Note: nothing is ever fair to the irrational part of the brain).

I took a couple big breaths, paced the room and stomped around angrily like a toddler on the verge of a meltdown. I let out a big, loud, guttural groan.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” Oliver asked, looking up from the picture he was painting on the table.

I stopped in my tracks, my cheeks turning pink from embarrassment. In my frustration I forgot Oliver was sitting front row and center to my mini fit. I realized I could either lie or use this as a teaching moment.

“I’m mad right now because my special story I wrote is all gone. Sometimes when I’m mad I scream to let the anger out, then I take a deep breath and talk about it.” I gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back for my imagined parenting win.

Oliver stared blankly—a cricket chirp inducing stare. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. And back to coloring he went. I moved on to the growing pile of dishes.

Five minutes later, my hands immersed in soapy water, Oliver came up to me wielding a pink sheet of construction paper.

“I write you a story,” he said, proudly presenting his scribbled paper. I took the paper, feeling tears welling behind my eyes again.

“Will you read it to me?” I asked. “What does it say?”

Oliver looked at me contemplatively, smiled really big and yelled, “poop!” He laughed. I laughed. I wiped away a stray tear and gave him a hug, marveling at how far my arms had to stretch to reach around my no longer little baby. It was a very real reminder of just how fleeting this phase of motherhood is—how, by the time I stopped to note how quickly these first two years passed, they were already gone. And it got me thinking.

Yes, motherhood is stressful, hectic, and overwhelming, especially with two. At times it truly does feel like I can’t possibly handle anymore, like “me time” is my one life-line to sanity in a never-ending cycle of diaper changes and crying spells and sleepless nights. For most parents who are lost in the haze of the baby stage it feels like it will never end. But it does, often without us noticing. Oliver is proof enough of that. One day all too soon that completely dependent baby will turn into a toddler who is capable of independent play, a toddler who can feed himself, walk on his own two feet, a toddler who needs his mommy just a little bit less than he did before. Life will once again settle into a predictable pattern and from that pattern, free-time will emerge. Maybe it’s not as abundant as before, but it’s there, a few hours of calm in the midst of the chaos.

Yes, losing my blog was unfortunate, but it’s not as tragic as it initially felt; it’s not a moment really worth my tears. There will be time for writing in the not so distant future, in a time when both my babies don’t need me as intensely as they do now. And it’s in that moment, when I’m alone with my computer and the thoughts in my head that I’ll finally understand that the moments really worth crying over are the ones lost because I didn’t realize how precious they were until they’re gone.

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A Trip to the Apple Orchard

Oliver likes to pick things. The specific sippy cup his juice will go in. What vegetable he’ll eat feed to the dog during dinner time. The shirt he’s going to get dirty before we leave the house. Even his nose from time to time. And much to my husband’s dismay, Oliver loves to pick the not-quite-ripe tomatoes and peppers off the plants he spent all summer nurturing from little seedlings.

We can’t seem to shout “Nooooooo” fast enough. One second the little red tomato is sucking up water, blowing in the breeze, the next it’s flying over the balcony as a smug 2-year-old laughs from above.

So what to do with an overly zealous picker of fruits and veggies? Take him to the one place where he is allowed to pick all the apples he can carry, which turns out to be quite a lot when it’s daddy carrying them in a half-bushel sized bag.

When we proposed the idea to Oliver, he instantly caught on to what we would be doing and ran around the house shouting “pick apples” over and over. This is where we learned our first lesson. Don’t propose any idea to a toddler until you are about to do it. Or better yet until you are doing it. There was a week lag-time between when we suggested going and actually went, which meant a week of listening to Oliver say “pick apples” in the whiniest toddler voice he could muster.

Yea, I guess we deserved that.

The day of the apple picking trip was all blue skies and sunshine. We headed out early in the morning to beat the crowds and had almost the whole orchard to ourselves—a good thing when your toddler’s preferred method of picking fruit also involves chucking it through the air the second it leaves the tree.

Other interesting things I learned about picking apples with a toddler:

1) The apples out of his reach are inevitably the ones he will want to pick the most (thank goodness for a tall husband!)

2) Toddlers do not discriminate between large, perfectly shaped apples and tiny, spotted, brown ones.

3) Instead of placing the apples in the designated bag, it is much more fun to toss them on the ground and watch mommy and daddy retrieve them.

4) Eating apples is just as fun as picking them.

5) But not as fun as eating the homemade donuts the orchard also sells.

6) And any trip to an orchard can be improved by a subsequent trip to the park.

We left the orchard with enough apples to make every apple recipe ever found on Pinterest, assuming the apples would stay fresh through December. (And I possess a Martha Stewart level of craftiness). Thankfully, Oliver’s unique picking style is also matched by his unique eating style. He takes two bites from an apple, hands it back to mommy and demands a “new one.”

Maybe those apples won’t be lasting so long after all.

Are there any fall activities you like to do with your kids? Looking for a great mom-approved apple recipe. We tried and loved these cinnamon apple muffins by Rachel from Add a Pinch.

Pregnancy Update: 20 Weeks

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How far along: 20 weeks

Total weight gain: 14lbs, 4 more than I gained by the 20th week during my first pregnancy. Although I started this pregnancy at a slightly lower weight so I’m still under where I was at this point last pregnancy. (Not sure that really makes me feel any better).

Maternity clothes: Yes! I’ve been rocking the elastic waist bands since week 10, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. In fact, I often donned my maternity jeans in between pregnancies because they are so dang comfy. (and stylish…?)

Stretch marks: No! Although I think this one has more to do with genetics than my healthy eating and exercise habits (which have not been up to my normal standards this time around). Don’t ask me about cellulite and varicose veins. Eek!

Sleep: Much better than expected. I wake up about every 90 minutes, toss and turn for a while, but eventually fall back to sleep. And that’s with all this horrible side sleeping business that I just cannot seem to master. My pregnancy pillow and I are still on non-speaking terms after the last round.

Fetal movement: A few kicks every couple hours, and they are growing in strength. The baby kicked so hard just this morning that I could see the movement from the outside. Although Brad has yet to feel anything because the baby stops kicking the second Brad touches my stomach.

Food cravings: Soup! Panera Bread is going to bankrupt me. Normally I don’t make it at home because Brad calls soup of “waste of stomach space,” but I’ve decided to play the pregnancy card and start making it for dinner anyway. If you have a favorite soup/chili recipe, leave it in the comments! Crock-pot recipes are especially welcome!

Exercise: Thankfully I came into this pregnancy in great shape having run the Toledo Marathon in April. I’m now conducting an experiment to see how fast I can lose all that fitness. Just kidding—sort of. Morning sickness was worse this time which kept me from exercising intensely during the first trimester. I’m finally getting back into the swing of things now though, but sadly no running.

Miss anything: Yes! I want an Angry Orchard hard cider…or a nice margarita…or a glass of white wine. I think there is a theme emerging. I find this odd since when I’m not pregnant I have at most one drink per week, usually wine. I also miss back sleeping, a bladder than can hold more than a thimble’s worth of pee, and running.

Feeling sick or queasy: Only if I take my pre-natal vitamins in the morning instead of at night.

Anxious about: The future. Brad is graduating with a PhD in computational physics in December and has been applying to jobs all over the country. We don’t know when he will land a job or where it will be. Thinking about moving eight months pregnant or with a newborn is daunting.

Excited about: The future. As anxious as the uncertainty makes me, we are ready for a change. Having more to live off of than a graduate student stipend won’t be so bad either!

Belly button: Dangerously close to being an outie, and that’s saying something since before my first pregnancy I had the Mariana Trench of belly buttons.

Best moment this week: Anatomy scan. Seeing the baby again is always exciting. We did learn that he has something called fetal pyelectasis (enlargement) in one of his kidneys so we will go back for a follow-up scan at 28 weeks. I was worried at first, but after a lot of googling, I’m feeling much calmer. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time a google search for a medical condition hasn’t convinced me that I have a brain tumor.

Dad weighs in: The last 20 weeks have gone incredibly fast. “I’m buggin’ out. Does anyone want to give me a job?” (Author’s note: I don’t think he is kidding about that. Check out his Linked in profile here: Hiring Brad Hubartt will be the best decision you ever made.)

Oliver’s reactions: Oliver knows there is a baby in my stomach, and that when the baby gets big enough he will come out. We told him he will get to hold the baby after he is born so now anytime you mention the “baby” he shouts “hold, hold, me.” And then my heart melts. Although not to be outdone by his little brother just yet, this is how he chose to participate in my 20 week photo shoot. Perhaps he’s trying to tell me something…

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Want a more in depth update? Check out the video below.

Oliver’s To-Do List

If Oliver were to make a daily to-do list, one that covered all the most important aspects of his day, it would look something like this.

1) Watch as many episodes of Daniel Tiger as I can get away with
2) Poop
3) Play with mommy’s I-Phone
4) Hide mommy’s I-Phone to maximize play time later
5) Eat suckers, two at a time
6) Move all the toys in my bedroom to the living room floor
7) Do dishes, inadvertently wash kitchen floor
8) Poop #2
9) Eat popsicles, mine and daddy’s
10) Play baseball
11) Drink milk from special milk cup
12) Decide which cup is the “special milk cup” after mommy makes milk in wrong cup
13) Pee on carpet after daddy removes diaper for bath time
14) Take shoes off repeatedly throughout day, bonus if it’s while in the car
15) Make mommy sing Wheels on the Bus for minimum of one hour

When I make Oliver a to-do list, it looks a little more like this:

Because if there is one way to feel like you’ve accomplished a lot, it’s to make a to-do list of things you have already done. Yup, that’s parenting at its finest. And if Oliver helps and cooperates with new baby care as well as he cooperated when making this video it will only take about three hours to change a single diaper. That’s the magic of editing—not to mention a husband willing to play personal assistant (read wrangler) to one demanding toddler actor!

Keeping the House Clean With a Toddler: The Sisyphus Problem

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Ready for your Greek mythology lesson of the day? Once upon a time there was a king named Sisyphus. Because of his deceitfulness, the gods forced him to spend all of eternity pushing a large rock uphill, only to have it roll back down again. Sound familiar? I’m pretty sure in the modern telling of that story, Sisyphus could be played by an parent who has a toddler, and cast in the role of “rock,” any toddler.

So is it possible to keep your house clean when you have a toddler? If you asked me, the answer would be a resounding NO. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t too great at keeping the house clean before I had a toddler either.

When Brad and I had company pre-baby, cleaning meant a quick sweep of the house to gather all the clothes, dishes, and personal effects that had found their way to the living room. (Code for we dropped them there and never bothered to put them away). I’d pick them up, push them into the bedroom and close the door. Our visitors were none the wiser.

But with a toddler, there isn’t a bedroom large enough to hold the deluge of toys flooding our floor. Nor is there, to be quite honest, as much of an incentive to pick them up. You see, when you spend an hour organizing, it would be nice to get at least that much time where the clutter stays off the floor. With Oliver on the loose, I’m lucky if I get five minutes.

Cleaning up after a toddler is a lot like trying to bale water out of a boat with a hole. Only the hole is a size of a bowling ball, and I’m stuck with a thimble instead of a bucket. By the time the last block gets tossed in the basket, the container of crayons are littered across the floor. By the time the crayons get put away, the cheerios are crunching their way into the carpet.

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It’s never-ending.

I turned to the internet for advice once and came across a website where the blogger suggests dividing your home into cleaning zones. She then goes on to suggest an order to clean each zone for maximum efficiency (read—hair pulling insanity) and a list of extras you should try to tackle at least once a week—you know normal things like dusting the top of your refrigerator, rinsing off your plants, and cleaning the upholstery on the couch. Huh.

Normal people, do you really do these things?

Because really, when I’m having trouble keeping the sink and laundry basket from overflowing, I have the time to think about the top of my refrigerator.

Before coming to my senses, I tried to follow the advice for one whole week (Note: don’t ask my husband for confirmation as he wouldn’t have noticed, see boat analogy). You know what happened? I spent a lot more time with the bucket of cleaning supplies than I did with Oliver. And while I’m for fostering independent play, my primary goal as a stay-at-home mom is to spend time with my son, to get out and experience the world through his eyes, to do things and go places that will stimulate his imagination.

Not crawl around on my hands on knees with a sponge and a bottle of Clorox.

So I made up my mind—housework will always come second….or forth when I really think about it. Having time to spend with my husband and “me time” also trump cleaning.

I was a little worried when I decided to throw in the err…sponge, that I would spend the day fretting the dreadful state of my apartment. That all that clutter would leave me feeling like my life was in shambles. After all, I’ve read enough articles to know that the state of your bedroom reflects the state of your mind. Or is it your car? I can’t remember.

Thankfully, whether room or car (and yes both are fairly messy at times), my life seems to churn on like the organized chaos that it is. The absolute essentials get taken care—we have clean dishes to eat off and dinner and underwear to put on in the morning. And the rest, we get to when we have the time. So the floor looks like a mine-field of Legos. So the windows are covered in mini handprints. So the top of the refrigerator is dusty.

None of these things are as important to me as spending time with Oliver, my husband, or when I’m tired and need the break, my personal Netflix queue. We all decide what we will prioritize in life. What works for me may not work for you.

Over time I’ve come the conclusion that it makes me happier to spend my time living with the mess, than living to clean it.

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Want some (Not So?) helpful hints for keeping your house clean with a toddler. Here are my favorites that I’ve read and my take on them.

1) Clean while your toddler naps.

You know how I said I prioritize spending time with Oliver over housework? Same with “me time.” I mean when else would I find the time to re-watch every episode of the X-Files. And this blog surely doesn’t write itself. Is it selfish? Sure. But so little of what we do as parents is so I take advantage when I can.

2) Get your toddler to help alongside you.

This one is nice in theory but horrible in practice. Take doing the dishes for example. Oliver loves doing dishes. But for Oliver, doing dishes means splashing in the water for a minute or two and then dumping cup after cup of water onto the floor. Which means for me, doing dishes means getting soaking wet, wiping up puddles from the floor, changing Oliver’s clothes, and then maybe if I’m lucky, washing an actual dish. I still encourage him to help me clean up as I think it’s an important lesson to learn, but you can’t expect a toddler’s methods to be comparable to your own.

3) Contain the mess to a single room.

Sure, if you live in a large home this one may work. But in our apartment, the single, central living room has no other choice than to serve as the living room, dining room, office, and play room. I’ve tried moving all of Oliver’s toys into his room, but you know what happened? It became a game to carry each bin out into the living room and dump it on the floor, thereby spreading the mess out even more. Once he’s older this might work, but in toddler world, contained messes are as rare as unicorns and leprechauns.

4) Clean as you go throughout your day.

I can see picking up the occasional food item or dirty bowl, but this seems like a classic case of spreading yourself too thin. Besides, how am I supposed to notice Oliver getting ready to do a belly flop off the couch if I’m focused on cleaning up the latest mess he’s made.

5) Get up before your kids and clean

Um…no. I need to amend my earlier statement. Cleaning is not forth on my list of priorities, it’s actually fifth. Without enough sleep I turn into a moody, weepy mess that make Oliver’s tantrums look tame.

What other advice have you heard that had you shaking your head? Have you found anything that truly works for you?

What NOT to Say

You said what?!

You said what?!

I’ve been seeing a lot of parenting and pregnancy related lists showing up in my Facebook newsfeed lately. Most center on what NOT to say.

Top ten things NOT to say to a pregnant woman. Top ten things NOT to say to adoptive parents. To a woman with multiple kids. To the parents of an autistic child. To someone dealing with infertility. To the woman who pushes her Chihuahua around in a baby carrier pretending he is a human baby.

Okay, so that last one I made up. I’ve yet to see that list, but I’m sure if I search the internet hard enough, it’s out there, lurking in some obscure corner along with all the other articles that let me know just how easy it is to royally tick someone off.

After reading through many of them, I’m convinced that a master list needs to be made for those who don’t have the time to read hundreds of Dos and Don’ts. If I made that list it would look something like this.

Number One Thing Never to Say to Anyone

1. Hello

Reading all these lists, I’m starting to feel like the only way I can avoid saying something that someone won’t like, is to say nothing at all.  It’s a spin on the old advice “If you can’t say anything nice.” Now it’s, “You can’t say anything nice, so don’t bother trying to say anything at all.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about trying to be sensitive to another person’s feelings. If someone expresses to me that something I say or do makes them uncomfortable, I will stop, even if I don’t understand the discomfort. If you are one of the pregnant women who, according to the Top Ten list, hates for people to ask her how she is feeling, I will not ask you how you are feeling next time I see you, whether you look like you’re about to keel over from third trimester exhaustion or not. Or let’s say you’re one of the women with multiple kids who hates to be told “I could never do that,” I will politely pick my jaw off the ground and keep my opinions about your super-human status to myself.

But what I fear will happen, the more I see these popping up in my newsfeed, is that eventually people will be so worried about saying something offensive that they won’t bother trying to say anything at all. They’ll stop trying to make new connections with people.

As a stay-at-home mom who spends 75% of her time with a toddler, I often feel isolated from the adult world. Many days the only conversation I have with another adult before my husband gets home is the casual conversation I have with the pregnant woman in line behind me at the grocery store or the dad pushing his daughter on the swing next to me at the park. Those small connections are meaningful, even if they never move beyond small talk, beyond me asking that mom-to-be how she is feeling, when she’s due, or if she knows the sex of the baby—all of which are considered insensitive according to one list or another.

When dealing with Oliver, who is well into his terrible-two stage of tantrums , I always ask myself something before rushing to anger or frustration over a tantrum. Why is he upset? If I can uncover the source of the distress, it’s much easier to address and then accept it. I would ask you to do the same thing the next time someone says something to you about your parenting or your pregnancy that you find offensive.

Ask yourself what is the intention behind the question. Is the asker just trying to be friendly? To show she cares? Is the question stem from an experience she had herself? My guess is that 9/10 the asker does not mean to offend. If that’s the case you have two options. If it’s someone whom you don’t know very well I suggest you shrug it off and move on with your day. If it’s someone whom you care about and are close to, a friend or relative, then tell them their comment is hurtful and explain why. Those people want to know and will likely alter what they say in the future.

Better yet, why not create lists of things TO SAY? Tell people what you would like to hear. Something like this—

Top Five Things to Say to Parents

1. You’re doing a great job.

2. Your kids are such a joy to have around.

3. You should do whatever works for you and your family.

4. How can I help?

5. Your kids are so lucky to have you as a parent.

Because if you only tell me what NOT to say, I might not say anything at all. And I hope it’s not just me who thinks that’s a shame.

Making the Cut

Oliver got his first haircut, oh, about 4 months ago now. I wanted to write about it then, but I was too traumatized by 1) the disappearance of Oliver’s gorgeous blonde locks, and 2) the immediate realization that my baby is not really a baby anymore. Seriously, when did that happen? I had to wait until his hair had grown back a little before I could tackle this post without PTCD flashbacks. That’s post traumatic cutting disorder for those not in the know on my made up lingo.

The actual haircut, like most activities outside of Oliver’s comfort zone, was met with its fair share of (adorable) tears, whimpering, and ultimately resignation. I think it helped that he has an acute awareness that scissors are sharp and potentially dangerous, and it’s best to sit still when said scissors are inches from your face. It also helped to have Grandma there to distract him. Never underestimate the value of a well-placed Grand Parent to help you through a potential meltdown.

When all was said and done, Oliver left the hair salon (can I call Great Clips a salon?) as happy as can be, and thanks to his toddler brain, probably has no recollection of ever going at this point. I, on the other hand, left the hair salon feeling so devastated I’m thinking of starting a support group for those with “cutter’s remorse.”

I feel like I walked into the salon with a chubby-cheeked baby and walked out with a little boy—one who will soon be too old for kisses and hugs and cuddle time with his mom.  And while I’ve always known this independent streak would come one day, something about cutting off those few inches of hair made that day seem so much closer.

On good days (the only ones I can seem to remember anymore), I used to wish that Oliver could stay a baby forever. Now, with a fun, spirited toddler on my hands, I find myself glad to be out of the baby stage and wishing to stay in the toddler stage forever. It seems like whatever stage we are in, I just want it to last a little bit longer than I know it can, like clinging to the last grains of sand as they fall between my fingers.

What I’m learning though, is that I can choose to stare at my empty hand, wondering where all the sand went, or I can look ahead, far down the beach, and see that there is so much more.

Out of necessity, motherhood has been a crash course in embracing change. And while I can’t say I always welcome it gracefully, I am learning to accept it, let it settle in, and then reassess. I’m learning that if I keep looking back, I’m going to miss a lot of the present. And missing out on the present will only create more longing for the past when this stage flies by too.

When we got home from the salon, I stuck Oliver’s hair clippings unceremoniously on the kitchen counter. At some point they unknowingly made their way to the garbage. I’m considering this the ultimate lesson in letting go. And not to ever stick anything of value next to the garbage can.

Thankfully I still have the real thing to run my hands through. And while it’s not full of baby curls and surrounding the chubby cheeks of my itty-bitty baby, it is attached to the head of one ever-evolving big boy who is brimming with his newfound personality. And that’s one change I am grateful for.