Sunday, November 3, 2013


Dear Julia,
Last night as I tucked you into bed you asked me to tell you a story.  You have moved out of the fairy tale phase and you want to know about the people in your life.  A few weeks ago you wanted Mimi to tell you stories about when she was little and more specifically when she did something bad as a child.  It’s funny to you that Mimi was once your age and mischievous.  Because Mimi and Papa are in Italy you asked me to talk about why Italy was important.  I told you about your great-great grandfather, Poppop’s daddy who was from Italy.  I talked about why the culture is important to us and how when his family came to the United States, they worked hard, were dedicated to their family, and cooked good food so that everyone could gather together.  We talked about how this was important to me because when I was growing up we always went to Grandmom and Grandpop’s house for homemade spaghetti and sauce.  You loved that this was the one time each week that I would get to drink Ginger Ale.  I told you about how she dried her own tomatoes and I used to think that it was fascinating to see them hanging in the basement.  From this story, you wanted to know more about the people who were important to me as I was growing up.  We talked about Babci’s husband, Beeb.  I told you that we always called him Beeb because that’s the name the Papa picked out for him when he was little because he couldn't say “Poppop” so he said “Bee-bop”, which was shortened to Beeb.   You told me that you were sad that Babci was still living without her husband.   Death is not an easy concept for anyone, let alone a four year old who doesn't understand the finality of death and why someone just wouldn't come back if they tried hard enough.   As we continued to talk, there was a desperation to your voice as you tried to understand why Mimi’s daddy wasn't living.  The concept of living without a daddy or husband was harder for you to take in than it was to understand that those people were no longer with us.  The funny thing is Julia, I do this all the time for my work.  I talk to kids about death when their loved ones are at the end of their life in the hospital.   You make me think about the words that I say and how children are impacted by them.  I want to answer your questions.  I also want you to be a carefree preschooler.  I always tell families, “children won’t ask if they don’t want to know” when something serious is occurring within a family unit. I’m often caught off guard by what you want to know - you rewrite the textbooks on the workings of a 4-year old's mind.  I want to be the best mom to you.  I want your tender heart to seek the answer to these questions while I also shelter you from the intimacy of death.  I pray that it’s a long time before you experience what we inevitably all face in the wake of loss.  You were content with the shift that we took with our little chat.  I told you that the best way to remember the people that we love is to see their qualities in others.  I talked about Papa’s gentleness and how we can know Beeb through Papa, Babci and mommom’s stories and how Papa does things (and now we see some of this in your brother, Charlie).  You live out the Cirillo tradition of gathering when we visit family and you’re excited to see that this tradition started way before you were alive.   You excitedly want to know when you will learn to make sauce and homemade spaghetti (which I admit, I need to learn too!)  You are kindhearted and inquisitive like your daddy's grandmother, Mary.  You now love the name Mary and find peace in hearing stories about her. You were enthralled to know that Grandpop Herold was an amazing artist.  You even put together that your own creativity must be from him.  With tears in my eyes, remembering his quiet confirmation of his love for me, I told you that he would be very proud of you – you added, “Yes, he must love the way I draw hearts!”  Yes, and how you love nature and have an appreciation of good food. 

This morning we celebrated All Saints Day at church – it is a service of remembrance for all of the families that have lost someone this year or members of the church that have died.  I love this service because each person’s name is read and I recognize some of these names from the hospital.  I have stood by these families as they have said good-bye.  This service is a wonderful way to honor them and to reflect on the people in my life who have died.  You and I brought a flower to the front of the alter as the music played, but before this I leaned in and talked to you about our conversation from last night.  I told you our purpose for offering the flower is to remember.  We will do many things to remember, but today we will think about our loved ones and offer a flower in their honor.  You were so proud of this task.  You asked me to hold your hand as we walked down the aisle, which you rarely ask to do.  When we arrived at the front all you were required to do was hand your flower to the pastor and walk away, but you kneeled down and then placed your flower as if you were offering a prayer as you gave it.  It was a moment that I just wanted to bottle up.  I would have given anything to know what was going on in your mind at that moment.  Without knowing these important people in your life who loved you before they even got to know you, I wonder if in a spiritual, childlike way you could see them in your mind?  After this was the children’s message – Pastor John pulled together every piece of our discussion by talking about the people that we are thankful for.  You put your hand in his face and demanded that he call on you.  You proudly told the whole congregation that you were thankful for “Mimi and my friends!”  He expanded on this by saying that we can also be thankful for the people in our lives who have died, who we cannot see.  By remembering them, we can continue to feel their love and impact in our lives.  When Pastor John asked why we are thankful for this you said, “I am thankful for them because they are thankful for me”.  Yes, they are.  I see each of them in you and I am in awe of the gift of life passed on from generation to generation.  I am thankful for these qualities that allow me a glimpse of the important people in my life.  Having you is the greatest way of remembering.  
Love, mom.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One month learning curve

Ooh child things are gonna be easier
Ooh child things'll be brighter.
-Beth Orton

In the weeks leading up to Henry's arrival I spent those frustrating sleepless nights laying awake thinking about all of the things that I should be doing.  The only thing worse than insomnia is the added component of the knowledge that things are about to become difficult and all you can do is think about it.  A few days before delivery, I mustered some energy, emerged from my paralyzed state and set to work on a project.  I decided that I was going to make "coming home" outfits for the kids.  Henry needed something neutral to come home in (at this point, his gender was still a mystery) and I thought it would be a cute photo opportunity for the kids to match on that first day home.  The final product was adorable...adorably unrealistic.  A few hours after Henry's birth the kids arrived - Julia was wearing her pinafore "Big Sister" dress with Charlie's "Big Brother" shirt underneath of it (something about the Big Brother writing should have tipped off my well meaning mother-in-law or the fact that the 24-month shirt looked like inappropriate attire on a 4-year old). Julia, fresh from cutting her own hair, was barrette-less to pull this whole image together. Charlie was dressed in mismatched attire with a crust of his latest sneezes all over his face.  I looked down at Henry in his pure, newborn state and I wanted to shield him from this disheveled crew that was about to interrupt his sleep.  It was perfect.  The perfect reminder to throw away the "coming home outfit" mentality and just get by from here on out.
Having your third child is a far cry from having your first.  I learned this the last time around.  It's tough to reenter that blissful first child world that we experienced 4 years ago.  The world where Julia slept on my chest for the entire day while I wondered how I would ever be mobile again.  I miss those days, but I also worried a lot more then and I invested my time and money in things that didn't really matter.  Now I know what Henry needs.  He needs to sleep on my chest, but he will also do just fine in a sling or wrap or in the swing.  He doesn't need anything new.  He will be just fine if he cries a little bit.  We can wing it for bath time and dip him in with the kids.  I don't have to fret over pumping and when to introduce a bottle.  Julia decided that she wanted to feed him the other day and so I pumped and we all found out that he was just fine.  Recently I read an article that highlights the preparation involved with parenting.  It emphasizes lowering your standards.  Once these standards are lowered, lower them some more.  In full embrace of this concept, until further notice, there will be no matching outfits, no beautiful pictures that I can capture of the three of them (I will leave that up to the professionals), there will be no gourmet dinners that I've cooked with my own hands, we will rely on the amazing kindness of our community (which has fed us for the month and has added a freezer stash for the weeks to come).  Pajamas can be changed at noon (sometime soggy diapers too).  The fact that milk is seeped and spit into my clothing helps me to rationalize my constant rotation of yoga pants.  Henry can use pink bibs if that's what is available, and Scout can lick his face a time or two.  It's okay that I can't remember what we named him for the life of me, especially when on the phone with our pediatrician.  I feel like I'm on Jeopardy and the answer is right at the tip of my tongue.  In my defense, I usually get it right at the buzzer.
I'm okay with all of this.  I really am.  So is Henry.  He is so laid back.  He doesn't mind if Julia kisses him incessantly or that Charlie wants to give him a Dr. kit check up (under close supervision!).  He has remained immune to the billions of germs that have entered into and permeated this house over the past month.  We've both even called a truce on the wake-up calls every 2 hours that have not let up - we've decided that this is our best chance at time together and we're going to live it up!
The part that's hard is the complete shift in dynamics within our family.  Our independent little girl has become increasingly independent.  Though this is developmentally appropriate, I just want to put her in a sling to force a cuddle or two.  She is so grown up!  Charlie is really struggling with this transition.  He was once unphased by much and now is very much aware that he's not the baby. Though I was getting antsy in the hospital post-delivery, I sometimes transport myself to that place in my mind.  The place where it was the nurse's job to make sure everything was okay and the only thing that you had to worry about was documenting the last feeding and diaper change.  I laugh at the simplicity of it.
The stark reality of the first month at home is that it's not easy.  Blending little personalities and needs with post-partum recovery and sleep deprivation is an interesting concoction with a variety of crazy outcomes. Though I've heard statements like "you look so good" or "so put together" (and I use them myself when encouraging a new mom), those words seem overwhelming to me.  What does good really look like?  When you're living from feeding to feeding with tantrums abound and attempting to keep up with a schedule that feels overwhelming if it involves any type of transition but just as overwhelming if there are no plans on the horizon, it seems impossible to be anything more than functioning.  On most days I laugh at how I have reworked standards that I never thought I'd be okay with.  I am pretty proud of how we're doing despite a lack of structure.  Maybe we will never abandon this idea of lower standards.  Who really set these standards anyway?  Yes, there are some non-negotiables, but for the most part these "standards" are ones that I've set for myself - doing the things that I think make me a good mom and give me some sort of sense that my children will be well adapted, eat from a variety of food groups, and will experience enough freedom to guarantee that they won't be living in my basement at age 40.  Pure sugar for breakfast once in a while won't thwart this plan.  Neither will the fact that Charlie is dressed like a princess by his sister instead of allowing them to get outside a bit more.  In fact, in the long run, the lowering of standards will make me a better parent.  I will never again be the mother who dotes on every detail as I did as a brand new parent.  I am more relaxed now.  It doesn't all have to get done, it doesn't all have to look "good".  I hope that my kids look back someday and realize that during even the stressful times, they remained well loved and that having a sibling made their lives better.  I think they will.  And the good news?  Even if they need therapy in a few years to recover from the lack of structure, I'll at least have one child who remains unphased by this whole ordeal.  As you can see in the photos below, throughout our month of transition, Henry has slept through it all.  
And another tip on having multiple children: enlist help.  Whether it's the grocery store clerk who offers to load your groceries, the amazing friends and neighbors around you who offer home cooked meals or a quick "reality check" visit, or family who is willing to enter into the lion's den of your home for a few days to survive this chaos with you...say YES to it all!  
Thank you to everyone who has kept this family going! 
And now onto month TWO...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Welcome! Welcome!

After a much anticipated arrival, baby Gray is a BOY!  
Henry John (named for both of his grandfathers) arrived on Sunday afternoon, September 22nd, 2013.  He weighed in at 7lbs 12oz and was 19 1/2 inches long.  
It all started with a fairly bumpy hay ride at a local corn maze on Saturday the 21st.  Contractions started up again later that night and they finally crossed the threshold of being hospital-worthy.  The only advantage to having weeks of contractions was that I was ready for them when it was actually "go time".  The experience of labor was completely different than Julia's or Charlie's and with the help of Charles and my mom, I had an amazing and life-altering unmedicated birth experience (Disclaimer: the end product was absolute perfection, but I wouldn't want to relive those final moments of labor again!)  Since his arrived, he is the source of peace in a crazy home.  We've added a 7lb tiny being to our world, but somehow it has shifted the dynamic enough to feel pretty overwhelming.  This part will take some time, I'm sure.  I told Henry that he's probably not going to experience a quiet home until he is an only child again in 16 years - when Charlie goes off to college.  In the midst of post-partum recovery, I am learning to sit back and take in the noise and recognize that life will always be loud.  Life will be filled with 3 little loves who will grow together and always have eachother no matter what.  And this is just the beginning...
And we're home!
No, there are no other children on the horizon, the fourth little pumpkin is for Scout.  
Our family is complete.  We are feeling so blessed and giving thanks for this precious gift.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


In middle school I had dreams of becoming a basketball star.  Those dreams were dashed one day during my freshman year in high school when my team played a school that was completely out of our league.  As we were warming up, I realized that there must be something in the water in that town- these girls had hit their growth spurts and towered over most of our team.  They were big and fierce and they were still just warming up on their own side of the court.  I can remember praying that I would't play in that game and that I would survive to live another humble, freshman, JV day.  Well, I don't remember much from that game.  I do know that we lost that game by a large margin and my basketball days were numbered.  I decided shortly after that experience that it may be in my best interest to move on to other activities.  
I was thinking about that game recently when I was talking to a friend on the phone and telling her that I feel sidelined during the final trimester of this pregnancy.  Due to some issues that indicated a risk of preterm labor, travel was out of the question and I had to rethink many of the activities that I tackle without thought on a daily basis.  When we first found out we were pregnant with our third child, there was a small fear that our friends with 2 children were off and running.  Well established in their routine and able to travel on a whim without bags and gear, we realized that we were going back to the trenches again - sidelined for a while as we readjust family life.  As I said "no" to countless opportunities and (more importantly), traveling home to PA to visit family and friends, I was feeling overwhelmed by what I felt I was missing out on.  This was reframed as I was reading a book to prepare for childbirth (ha, prepping for childbirth..we shall see about that one).  One of the chapters expands on the experience of "nesting" by explaining that this is a time of preparation - a time of innate emotional and physical energy that focuses on preparing a space for our transforming family. How appropriate that this comes at a time when we're fresh from the move.  There is so much to do!  As I think about my statement of feeling sidelined, I realize that sometimes this can be very freeing.  Sometimes you're praying that someone will just take you out either to take a break or on a larger scale, to realize that this game is to big for you to be playing.  Sitting it out provides a wonderful opportunity to focus on the details that matter, regroup, and realize how to change your gameplan.  My gameplan involved less travel and more time to unpack.  It involved time on the couch watching movies with the kids and making up games in the backyard rather than running around from activity to activity.  When I was feeling guilty, I realized that this time is so sacred.  It will never be like this again.  As we countdown in days the arrival of Baby Gray, I am reminded of how temporary this is.  I will get back in the game.  There will be days of endless activity again.  Patience is not a virtue of a 9-month pregnant woman, but I truly am thankful for the opportunities of the past few months.  It has been different and humbling, but it will all be shaken up very soon.  I will jump back into a whole new game.  Are we ever really prepared?  No, but I must say that without a mandatory sideline break, it's hard to gain perspective of how far you've come.  
Here are some of our quieter moments over the past month:
Loads of fun in the backyard treefort.
Our last weekend away-Maine in July
Endless hours spent in the pool.  
Julia is quite the fish and is just about swimming on her own!
Charlie would prefer to play golf...
Hanging out with Papa during a visit
 Getting creative (and naked 99% of the time) in the backyard
Smoothie mornings
 Reupholstering 10 chairs!
 Celebrating the little things - like organized spaces
And wearing ourselves out!
And now for more sideline action, we wait for little one to arrive this month...
life is about to get interesting!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our own little fairy tale

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” 

Whenever my wedding ring flashes a prism in the car we say that Tinkerbell is visiting us.  This morning as we were driving to swim lessons, Julia whispered, "Mom, I think Tink wants to tell me a secret about how much fun we had when we saw her in Disney!".  That magic is precious.  In the most mundane moments, I am transformed by the ways in which my children interpret their world.
In the midst of our whirlwind lives (a move and a baby brewing) we took our summer vacation to Florida.  Yes, this was planned before we knew we were moving!   This trip included some wonderful time with family and a little stint in Disney. While I'm wildly skeptical about contrived fun (I grew up in the country where you didn't wait in line to have fun - you went outside, played in the dirt and life was based on Little House on the Prarie and less about finding prince charming), I was converted by the magical experience of Disney.  
Maybe it's because I was 7 months pregnant at the time and had a low tolerance threshold, but I will offer the perspective that probably many parents have when they are entering those magical gates...(mind you, it took us 2 hours on a  Monday morning in June to get from our car into the park).  During those sweltering two hours I had to repeat over and over to myself, "Abandon your annoyances, this is for the kids!"  Luckily Charles and I were joined by my parents who could fill in with the fun-factor that I was lacking.   As we entered the gates, I watched Julia become captivated by everything around her - the princess castle straight ahead, sidewalk singers as we walked down Main Street, princess gear abound, and enough magic to leave a child speechless.   It's as if you become transformed, maybe softened a bit.  Though the heat was still fierce and we had yet to enter the lines for rides, I was repeating my mantra a little bit less.  
The part where spouses compliment each other well came through loud and clear.  Charles figured out the "Fast Pass" approach to the park within minutes and by the time we hit our first ride, he had strategically thought through the entire park, which cut the waiting time significantly.  Within the first hour, Julia had conquered Thunder Mountain Railroad and in my mind she matured a ton!  By lunchtime we were doing Disney - really enjoying it! We had it mastered and there was a skip to our step as we met Princesses and mapped our way through the park.  We learned that Charlie REALLY enjoyed these pretty girls, but was terrified of the characters.  I was amazed that there was so much for him to do and expierience. Julia's ride choices reinforced that she's is not only adventurous, but fearless and up for anything!   She had stars in her eyes as she took in her surroundings.  The next day we did it again and it was even better.  We walked straight into the park thanks to a Breakfast with Pooh reservation an hour before the park opened.   After breakfast we met Tinkerbell in a small, intimate setting where Tinkerbell knew Julia by name and spent a considerable amount of time talking to her about life in Neverland.  Julia was smiling, Charlie was smitten, and I was sobbing.  
Twenty four hours into the Disney experience I was converted.  I hold strongly to my belief that little ones need to be encouraged toward great ambitions and I want Julia to know that she is beautiful without a princess outfit, but I learned that Disney isn't taking that away from them.  Every child has a gift of fantasy and make-believe.  This place was where make-believe became real.  Where she can see that the magic exists - we can find it anywhere and enjoy it!
Thank goodness that I have children.  I might just be a cranky person who believes that everyone should just grow up and act their age.  Instead, I get to sit on the floor and have tea parties, I am privileged to sing every night before bed, I reminded each moment that the world is bigger than just my small perspective, and I even get to go to Disney!  
Will I spend every vacation here?  Heck no, there is so much of this world to experience with my children.  Though Disney may have a good market on the "fairy tale", these tales are all around us waiting to be captured.  Sometimes they pack a 2-whole day punch full of magic, but mostly they are in the prisms shimmering in the car - a little reminder from Tink to gather some perspective and enjoy this fantasy around us.
The whole crew
Noah's first big adventure.  This is my most favorite picture!
The Julia experience
The Charlie experience
She is pretty cute, huh Noah?
Charlie would have abandoned us to run away to Neverland with Tink if we didn't drag him away...
Julia and Tink
Splash mountain
Fun with Mimi and Papa
Julia and Donald 
And since we spent a total of 10 days in Florida (only 2 1/2 were in Orlando), here are some of our other favorites from our time in Palm Harbor with Aunt Kirstan, Uncle Greg and Noah and during Charles' conference in Naples.