Tag Archives: birthday

My Birthday Project – UPDATE

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This year for my 35th birthday I embarked on a project and committed to doing 35 intentional acts of kindness and giving the gift of myself to others – cuz that doesn’t sound conceited at all. Ha! As of today, three days after my birthday, I’ve completed 27 acts of kindness. I still have eight more things to go and I’m hoping to finish them all by December 31!

It’s been a really interesting experience. It’s been more intimidating than I ever thought it would be, especially for an outgoing person like me. How do you just go up to someone and tell them you’re going to do something for them without them thinking you’re crazy, rude or condescending.

My first shot at the whole thing was on Black Friday. “Perfect!” I thought. I loaded my purse with chocolate and intended to give it out to harried store clerks. My first stop was Starbucks for some coffee. I desperately wanted to buy coffee for the girl behind me, but she was giving off a vibe of “don’t talk to me,” so I didn’t say anything. She was the only person behind me, and there were only two people in front of me, but suddenly the whole store filled up with this gigantic line of people, all of them had angry eyes. They scared me. Seriously though, this one woman came in to pick up coffee for a group and she was going on and on about how she tried to come through the drive through first and a woman tried to cut her off so she flipped her the finger and dared the woman to hit her because, “You will see just what an impolite person I can be.” I nodded and gave a half sympathetic smile, but really I was thinking, “How sad!” This woman had an opportunity to do something kind and instead she chose to do the exact opposite. Ugh. So finally, when my coffee came up I half threw three Take 5 candy bars across the counter and said, “This if for you and the other baristas, I’m sure it’s been crazy!” The barista was super excited and sweet. Whew. But the people behind me still had angry eyes. Oh well.

On the Saturday after Black Friday I was in Target and caving to that unbelievable popcorn smell that I swear they pipe through the store. There was a couple in front of me counting out change to buy a bag of popcorn, a juice and a chocolate milk. I stood there for a bit trying to figure out how I could pay for their things when they were in front of me. Finally I just kind of went up to the cashier and said, “I’m paying for theirs, too.” And the woman and the cashier both nodded at me like they understood, but I could tell they had no idea what I was talking about. So I said again, “I’m going to get popcorn, but I’m going to pay for theirs as well. It’s my birthday in a few weeks and I’m doing kind things for other people.” The cashier couldn’t believe it and the woman said, “That makes me feel like it’s MY birthday!” Win!

One of my BFFs asked me what my favorite act of kindness was so far, and it’s still Lisa. Hands down. Lisa sent me a text on Sunday, Dec. 8 – one of the first days that we got snow this season. She said, “Yay for snow! I am trying out my new boots today.” It totally made me smile. I love thinking of her in those boots whenever it snows.

My experience with Lisa makes up for the awkwardness at the Dollar Store where I took the two older girls to help me place $1 bills around the store. I approached the teenage checker and explained, “I’d like to put dollar bills on items around the story as a project for my birthday where I’m doing kind things for other people.” Confused silence ensued. Finally, she said, “Um. I don’t know if we’re still doing that.” Suddenly, I was the confused one. Incredulously I said, “You mean, there are other people putting money on things for their birthday??” More confused silence. “Um, I don’t know. I’m new here. Let me get my manager.” The manager was nice, but still confounded by what I was asking to do. Finally she got on board, but the whole thing was just awkward and the girls were being seriously annoying and I just felt like my shouting at them in the store, “WE ARE HERE TO DO NICE THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE, WOULD YOU STOP GRABBING EVERYTHING,” was a little contradictory with what we were there to do.

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The items the girls picked out.

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The picture is deceiving. I was utterly annoyed with their behavior in the store.

A few other observations: it’s so much easier to do things that involve money. It requires less time and thinking. But I don’t necessarily think it’s better. I think it’s a good thing to spend a little time and thinking. You really mean it then, I think.

Which brings me to my second thought. A lot of my things have involved money because damn, my birthday is RIGHT BEFORE Christmas and there is NO TIME. The no time thing is the biggest reason I dislike having my birthday right before Christmas. You may remember I wrote about that a few years ago (OMG, I sound like such a brat). But seriously, there are so many other things going on, that it’s been difficult to devote as much time to thinking about cool things to do, and instead I’ve opted to go broke spend money. Not tons of money, but still.

Which brings me to my third thought. I guess what’s been to my advantage of doing this around Thanksgiving and Christmas is that there are naturally a lot of opportunities for giving.

My final observation for tonight is that this experience has taught me just how conscious of a choice it is to be kind. We can choose to engage with people, or we can choose to just go about our own business. Not that it’s rude, necessarily, to just go about your business, but the opportunities for showing kindness are pretty limited when you don’t engage with people. I’m not saying that we always need to pay for things for other people, but the simple gesture of smiling, making an accommodation, showing patience, engaging in a discussion – those are all worthwhile acts of kindness. And they’re free! But they’re hard. Because sometimes we’re just not in the mood, or we’re having a bad day, or it’s just EASIER to not say anything. My friend Sara thinks that as a society we’re conditioned to not pay attention to other people and just go about our own business. And it is easier. For sure. But I think it almost makes it more worthwhile when we do something kind when it’s not easy, right?

I donated blood for one of my acts of kindness and the tech who worked with me was pretty quiet ­­– straightforward, buttoned up, seemed like she was tired and maybe not having the best day. I could have just politely answered her questions, sat there quietly and donated. But I pushed myself to make small talk. I went out of my comfort zone to keep making conversation even though it made it harder for me. It turned out that we had things in common, including going to the same high school, and we even knew some of the same people. By the time I was done donating, she seemed happier, more talkative and smiley. So even though I’m not counting these types of engagements on my official list of acts of kindness, I am pushing myself to engage with everyone and it really is a choice and it really is HARD.

Here’s my list so far:

  1. Gave Lisa the boots
  2. Gave the Starbucks baristas Take 5 candy bars
  3. Gave the girl behind me in line at Kohl’s my extra $10 coupon instead of separating my purchases into two transactions and using it myself
  4. Bought five pairs of slippers for Dignity Bags that will be distributed to victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee
  5. Waved a driver looking for a parking spot into my spot at Target on Black Friday
  6. Gave a shopper my cart as I was leaving the store when there weren’t anymore
  7. Bought customers’ popcorn and drinks at Target
  8. Donated $30 to the International Justice Mission (the cost of an aftercare bag) on #GiveBackTuesday to help victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking
  9. Bought a $10 grocery bag for the food pantry 
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    Helping put the bag of food into the bin for the food pantry.

  10. Donated a toy to the Cardiac ICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in honor of dear Sadie
  11. Donated $5 to a college student who was short on his semester tuition and couldn’t ask his parents for help because his parents have disowned him for being gay
  12. Donated gloves, a hat and gently used toys to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission’s Joy House (the girls helped me go through all their toys and we ended up with a HUGE box)  
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    Gently used clothes and toys for Joy House.

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    Blankets, hats, gloves, books and art supplies for the kids at Joy House.

  13. Donated change to Coins for Caring at Peace Lutheran for a student’s mom who underwent a double lung transplant (the girls donated from their piggy banks, too)
  14. Donated new toys and new gloves/hat at Allenton Elementary for local families in need (the girls came with me to the store to pick out the hat and gloves) 
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    New toys for families at school.

  15. Donated blood Image
  16. Left 10 $1 bill on items at the Dollar Store
  17. Gave Take 5 candy bars to the workers at the DMV when I went to renew my license (the VERY stoic woman cracked a half of a smile)
  18. Complimented a stranger on her earrings (they were awesome)
  19. Went through our Christmas decorations and donated things that we weren’t using to a friend who was collecting things for her friend who didn’t have anything; I got word today that this woman LOVED the wreath that I donated. Yay!!! 
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    Box-o-Christmas decorations on their way to a better home.

  20. Left a special note for my massage therapist who has been going through a hard time for the last couple of years, and who I felt really needed to hear that she has value and that she is worth it
  21. Paid for a few groceries for someone who was paying with a WIC check
  22. Gave my mom flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having me J
  23. Gave my grandma flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having my MOM! (my dad rolled his eyes at the whole thing)
  24. Tipped our servers 35% on our family birthday pizza dinner outing
  25. Gave our servers some of the chocolate peanut butter brownie cupcakes my mom made and one of the servers said, “You made my NIGHT!”
  26. Donated my birthday gifts from family and friends to Exploit No More (I think the total is around $300)
  27. Upped the ante on my annual “Make my grumpy UPS man smile,” game and included a $5 Starbucks gift card with the usual holiday package of homemade goodies that I leave for him (really, it’s the least I can do given the number of things I’ve ordered from Amazon.com alone this year)

So, like I said, eight more things to go and 12 more days before Dec. 31. I have ideas for the remaining things, but let me know if you have suggestions!

Oh and P.S. I just realized it now, but I totally didn’t miss opening birthday presents. I really didn’t. I had a FANTASTIC birthday dinner with all of our family members, minus the ones who live far away, and my two best friends and their families. It was perfection.

 

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

Love wins. ❤

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate to Exploit No More for a Christmas Ornament

Donate to the International Justice Mission

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My Birthday Project

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I posted an ad on Craig’s List earlier this week for a pair of Nine West black winter boots in size 11.  I posted the ad a year ago, too, and never even got any inquiries. Probably because they’re a size 11, which is not a common size for women’s shoes. I bought them in hopes that they would fit my size 10 wide feet, but it turned out they were just too big. They were expensive – I think $90 – and they were my birthday present from Eric that year. I was bummed that I had spent so much money on them and then only wore them a few times, but not bummed enough endure sore heels. After putting them back in the box and storing them in the basement, I really didn’t give them a second thought. The money had been spent. It didn’t work out. Oh well.

On a whim, I reposted my Craig’s List ad on Tuesday. I was asking $25 for the boots. On Tuesday evening I had an inquiry from Lisa. She was interested in purchasing the boots this week. She didn’t live near me though, and we agreed to meet in Menomonee Falls on Friday when I would be out shopping after Thanksgiving. But then I found out that she actually worked in Brookfield, near the mall, and would be trying to make it to Menomonee Falls and back to work again on her lunch hour on Friday – on her lunch hour on Black Friday, from one crazy traffic shopping mecca to another. I just didn’t think it was going to work. Lisa and I talked on the phone this morning and I realized that I was taking the kids to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum today and could meet her even closer to her work – today, instead of Friday. She sounded stunned when I offered to meet her today so that she wouldn’t have to drive so far. She said, “Really? Are you serious? That would be so awesome.”

Then she went on to tell me that she just really wanted to get these boots because she had been looking for winter boots for two years and these were really nice quality for such a reasonable price, and in her size (!), and she was afraid that if she waited longer to get them from me, that another person would buy them before she could.

I was thinking that I doubted that anyone else would have wanted to buy the boots given that I got exactly zero inquiries last time I posted them. But she so excited about them.

I hung up the phone and immediately knew what I was going to do. I was going to meet Lisa, and I was going to give her the boots. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I sensed that Lisa didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t need that $25. I decided it was going to be the first thing on My Birthday Project list.

About nine months ago I discovered a group on Facebook called The Birthday Project. The group was founded by a woman who decided that on her birthday she would give the gift of herself to others. The project has exploded (more than 20,000 people like the page), and all over the country people are celebrating their birthdays with intentional acts of kindness and by loving others. And, you don’t even need to go out of your way for someone on your birthday. The group encourages people to be intentionally kind and to love others whether it’s their birthday or not. It’s kind of an amazing group. Gratefulness, kindness, love. All things our world could use more of. The project wants to change the world one birthday at a time.

This year is a milestone birthday for me, I guess – 35. It seems like it should be a milestone, anyway. I decided nine months ago that on my next birthday I would do 35 Intentional Acts of Kindness.

And today was the first one.

It was amazing.

I met Lisa in a parking lot and right away she started opening her wallet. I said, “You probably should try them on just to make sure they fit, right?” And she said, “Oh, okay. I’m sure it will be fine.” She tried one boot on and said, “Yep, they fit!” As she was putting her shoe back on, I bent down to put the boots back in the box and stood up while Lisa was going through her wallet again.

“Lisa, don’t worry about it. I just want you to have these.”

Her face. Stunned.

“Are you serious?”

I told her that my birthday was coming up and that I had decided that I was going to do intentional acts of kindness for others.

I said, “You were just so excited about these boots when we spoke on the phone and I just felt like you were meant to have them.”

And then she gave me the biggest, hardest, longest hug I’ve ever received from a complete stranger. And then she hugged me again.

I told her that she could pay it forward some day and she said, “I will! God bless you.”

After I pulled away, I got a text from Lisa: “I’m just in shock Jen, that anyone would do such a generous thing for me. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. I have been looking for boots for so long.”

To be able to do something like that for someone else and have them appreciate it so much, makes me feel amazing. I’m getting teary right now thinking about how grateful Lisa is to have warm boots on her feet and I’m so happy that I was able to help her.

In keeping with my birthday theme this year, I also decided a few months ago that I wanted anyone who would normally have purchased a birthday gift for me to instead donate it to a worthy organization. I had a short list of organizations, and then a few weeks ago as I was sitting in a church committee meeting, I knew. Exploit No More.

The State of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, has one of the highest recovery rates for child victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Yes, sex trafficking is a horrific problem in poor foreign countries like India, Congo and Iran. But it’s happening here, in Wisconsin. And it’s not just an urban issue. It’s happening in every county in Wisconsin. Including here, in Washington County, because no one is looking for it here. Sex trafficking is roughly a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide.

The traffickers make very strategic moves to form relationships with vulnerable girls. Many times the girls feel like the pimp is their boyfriend. The girls are manipulated to think that their pimp is the only one who loves them and that the girl’s family will never want them back once they know what they’ve done. The pimps regularly ply the girls with alcohol and other drugs because they don’t want the girls to be thinking much about what they’re doing.

Again, it’s not just an urban issue. There are websites and message boards where pimps brag about their ability to lure young affluent white girls.

The youngest girls get the highest price.

Girls as young as 10 or 11.

It just makes you sick.

I started following this issue on an International level about a year ago, and when my church started a committee to address the issue locally I felt like it was something I was meant to be a part of.

Exploit No More was formed in May 2013 by a number of Milwaukee-area churches wondering how the church could impact local children affected by sex trafficking. This summer the group hired its Executive Director. She is the only paid staff person. You can read more about all of Exploit No More’s goals, but their biggest effort right now is to raise funds to purchase a home for long-term residential aftercare for girls rescued from sex trafficking in the Milwaukee metro area.

What Exploit No More heard most from law enforcement was, “Why should we keep rescuing these girls if they have no place to go afterwards. They just end up going back because they don’t know what else to do.”

Exploit No More is hoping to change that. Exploit No More wants to have a safe place where these girls can live and recover for at least 18 months. A place where the girls can be deprogrammed and learn that they are loved and they do have value.

I realize this is an awful issue. Everyone involved realizes it’s an awful issue. It’s not easy to talk about. Certainly not something to discuss at your Christmas party or the dentist’s office.

But my God, I just cannot imagine a world where my three daughters could end up victimized and enslaved that way. I just cannot imagine it. And I don’t want anyone to have to endure it.

Which is why this year I’m asking all my friends and family members who would have gotten me a birthday gift to instead donate that money to Exploit No More so they can get their house and start helping girls.

When I was thinking about doing this, I asked myself – “Are you really sure that you want to give up the fun of getting gifts for your birthday? Are you going to be disappointed?”

Because believe me, I’m no martyr. I love my birthday. I love getting gifts. Who doesn’t?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized – I have everything. I don’t need anything. And with Christmas right around the corner, would I really rather stockpile gift certificates for massages and facials, more jewelry and scarves, over giving some girl a warm bed and a positive person in her life telling her she is loved? No. I would give up all the facials in the world if it meant someone could be freed of sex trafficking and taught that they have value.

If any of my friends or family members who wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten me a birthday gift feel inclined to donate to Exploit No More, that would be wonderful. In fact, right now they’re giving away these awesome Christmas ornaments to everyone who donates a minimum of $25.

I really wish there was a way to track the donations people are making on behalf of my birthday, but unfortunately there’s no way to do that unless I use an outside organization that would take a percentage of the donations. I think it would be fun to know the final tally, so if you donate and you feel inclined, send me a Facebook message or email at jenovotny(at)gmail.com and let me know so I can keep track!

I still need to make up the rest of the things on My Birthday Project list. I have a few ideas and I’m going to scour The Birthday Project Facebook pages for other ideas. If you have any idea for me, let me know!

I know sometimes I feel like the problems of the world are so overwhelming. That there’s nothing I could possibly do to change or impact anything.

Exploit No More’s Executive Director left us with this quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

When it feels overwhelming, I will remember Lisa’s face and her hug. I will think about her wearing those boots in this cold and snow. I will remember her gratitude and how easy it was to make her feel valued for nothing more than the fact that she’s human.

Love and peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. Literally, just as I was proofreading this and getting ready to post it, I got an email from Lisa:

Jen,

Still in such amazement. Just got home from work and looked at my new boots again. Wow. I believe it must be the Lord God you hear leading your heart to be so generous. You really understand every syllable of “thanks” & “giving”.  May He return the blessing 7 fold.

Hope you & children had a terrific afternoon at the museum.

Lisa”

Love wins.

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate for a Christmas Ornament

A Monkey Turns Four

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A Monkey Turns Four

1. What is your favorite color?

Orange and purple

2. What is your favorite toy?

Baby dolls and my strollers

3. What is your favorite fruit?

Strawberries

4. What is your favorite TV show?

Team Umizoomi

5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch?

Smashed potato (with butter, ham, cheese, peas and corn)

6. What is your favorite outfit?

Dresses!

7. What is your favorite game?

Candyland. And I want you to buy me a Dora game, too. And if you find any Team Umizoomi games

that is going to be super fun, because we love Team Umizoomi.

8. What is your favorite snack?

Cheetos and pretzels and goldfish and strawberries

9. What is your favorite animal?

Fishies

10. What is your favorite song?

Taylor Swift (Also, on a separate occasion she told me that she wants to play all the instruments that Taylor Swift can play: banjo, guitar and piano)

11. What is your favorite book?

A Team Umizoomi book or a Dora book

12. Who is your best friend?

Braelynn

13. What is your favorite cereal?

Reese’s Puffs

14. What is your favorite thing to do outside?

Swing

15. What is your favorite drink?

Chocolate milk

16. What is your favorite holiday?

Easter! And I love Christmas too.

17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night?

Petey and lovey

18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?

Pancakes! And strawberries.

19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday?

Hot dogs

20. What do you want to be when you grow up?

A mama and a girl fire fighter. Can you be three things when you grow up? Then I want to be a mama, and a girl fire fighter, and a teacher.

(sigh) I just love her so much. I’m so proud of the person she’s becoming.

Birthday morning surprise.

She was especially thrilled that the bike had a basket for a baby.

Totally spontaneous smile. Iconic.

Friends party at the Y!

Pure joy.

They love each other so much.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Monkey!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooo

Belated

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It’s almost two weeks late, but I didn’t want to let my Bean’s second birthday go by unmarked.

She is such an interesting child. She is so determined. I think her biggest daily goal is to keep up with her big sister, and it doesn’t EVER occur to her that she won’t be able to do something that her big sister can do.

Whatever Monkey does, Bean does. When Monkey runs, Bean runs. When Monkey jumps, Bean jumps. When Monkey climbs, Bean climbs. When Monkey screams, Bean screams. One time Monkey jumped up in the air and Bean mimicked her so instantaneously that I couldn’t help but laugh.

A few weeks ago we went to a local indoor activity gym with a giant climbing obstacle. Bean ran right in there after Monkey and Monkey’s friend, and managed to climb up the first few obstacles by herself. Eventually the spaces between the levels got a little too tall for her legs and she cried while I looked on from the floor level. She wasn’t crying because she was scared though. She was crying because she was mad. Monkey had gotten so far ahead of her and she couldn’t keep up.

Monkey, bless her heart, came back and gave Bean a boost at each next level.

The girl has no fear.

This past weekend we went to the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, which has a gigantic indoor water park. In the center of the park, was an expansive multi-level kids play area with slides as tall as 20 feet.

This is what it looked like.

Kalahari's Leopard's Lair. Bean scrambled to the top of this gigantic kids play area to go down those green and yellow slides you see on the left. (Copyright: Kalahari Resort)

We no more than walked over to it, and Bean was already making her way to the top. The very top. Like, I was literally running through this thing to keep up with her. She got all the way to the top, pushed past the line of 5-, 6, and 7-year-old kids waiting for the tallest slides, and stood expectantly in front of the lifeguard who nodded at her and motioned her over towards the yellow slide to which she casually walked over, sat down, and went. I got there just in time to see the lifeguard nodding at her (did he not see her push past all the other kids waiting in line??), and incredulously watched her go down like she had done it a hundred times instead of her first. I frantically started waving to Husband who was 20 feet below that she was on her way down. The pool at the bottom of the slide was only six inches deep, and the slides were okay for kids as young as her, but still! She just took off and didn’t wait for anyone’s approval or permission.

A little too brave for her own good, if you ask me.

She also followed her sister up this rope wall without any hesitation, and mastered it after the second attempt.

This is the rope net that Bean tackled as soon as Monkey approached it. (Copyright Kalahari Resort)

I think her favorite word is “Me!” As in, whatever Monkey says she wants to do, or we tell Monkey she can do, Bean is right there to echo “ME!” because she wants in too.

I think Bean will be the type of child who constantly is emulating her big sister. And given that Monkey is a natural leader, I think it will be a good thing. I feel very blessed that their “short” age gap (just under two years) has led them to be the best of friends. They’re always looking out for one another.

Bean remains loving and empathetic as she tends to her babies, and while she can be very cuddly and clingy, she won’t give up kisses and hugs when she’s in a stingy mood.

She has more interest in reading books (by herself), and still wants to color and draw like her big sister.

She’s never been a real big “entertainer,” like her sister, but we do notice her laughing and trying to make us laugh more often. I know that sounds weird, but she was never that baby who would just laugh and laugh at your silly antics. It was only six months ago that this was still her face du jour:

This was Bean's emotion du jour for the longest time - the pout; aka stink face

And she continues to challenge us in ways different from her sister. After reflecting for awhile, I think that Bean is more strong-willed than Monkey, but Monkey was no cake walk either. Monkey was the child who, when transitioned to a big girl bed, was an ABSOLUTE TERROR. Ev-er-y single night she would rip ALL of her clothes out of her drawers, scatter her books all over the room, and tear the diapers out of the box in her closet. Every night. FOR MONTHS. Bean has not done that even one single time. She mostly stays in her bed and the “worst” she’s done is gotten out of bed to read books.

Bean seems to have more of a desire to control things, have things her way, and is less willing to listen and cooperate than Monkey was at the same age. Maybe this is because she’s the second child and is constantly “keeping up” with her sister, rather than getting to choose things for herself. Maybe she wants to leave her own mark. She also seems to want to experiment with pushing the boundaries more than I recall Monkey doing. Latest case: after being potty trained for a month, she’s majorly regressed. After ruling out a bladder infection and constipation, her pediatrician and I think it boils down to peeing in her pants because she can. Because she wants to gauge our reaction. She wants control. I find it highly unlikely that she forgot her body’s cues because she still proactively asks to go to the bathroom for No. 2 and hasn’t had any poop accidents.

I have to say, that I may be putting on my rose-colored glasses when reminiscing about Monkey’s Terrible Twos. I mean, at the time I certainly remember thinking she was *extremely* challenging. I wonder now if I’m forgetting some of the most challenging parts, or if Bean really is more challenging; or, like I said, that they’re just challenging in different ways. 

I’m hopeful that as her vocabulary is starting to expand, she’ll be more apt to communicate with us so we can reach compromises, rather than just throw fits and/or run away when we want her to do something.

One thing I know for sure — she is one smart kid.

Her pediatrician just reminded us this week that the traits we find most challenging — her stubbornness and desire to control, will translate into really good things later on. She definitely has a strong sense of self.

Finally, here’s a fun little thing I saw on Pinterest that I thought would be fun to do with the girls every year on their birthdays. Technically, you’re supposed to start when they turn 3, so Bean is a little young for this, but here goes:

20 Questions with Bean — Age 2

1. What is your favorite color? Pink

2. What is your favorite toy? Baby doll

3. What is your favorite fruit? Um. Nothing. The kid doesn’t eat fruit. She eats vegetables. Preferably green beans

4. What is your favorite TV show? Sesame Street

5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Mac and cheese

6. What is your favorite outfit? Nothing in particular, except she has to pick it out

7. What is your favorite game? Trouble (because she likes to push the bubble)

8. What is your favorite snack? Cheese, Goldfish crackers, pretzels

9. What is your favorite animal? Dogs

10. What is your favorite song? Mr. Bassman (Laurie Berkner)

11. What is your favorite book? Duck and Goose: How are you feeling? (she loves to make the “angry” and “happy” faces)

12. Who is your best friend? Monkey

13. What is your favorite cereal? None

14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Climb, swing, slide (but without getting her hands dirty)

15. What is your favorite drink? Milk

16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas?

17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Blanket, lovey and Curious George

18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Eggs

19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? Mac and cheese and green beans

20. What do you want to be when you grow up? TBD

Letter to My Three-Year-Old

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When I looked at you in the rearview mirror this morning on the way to your Nana’s house, you somehow looked older. Your hair was all curled up thanks to the layered haircut you got last week, and your bangs were swept to the right side and held by a magenta flower hair clip. You were looking out the window and I felt like I noticed a difference from yesterday when you were two, to today when you’re officially three years old.

I glanced at your sister on the other side of the car, who was looking out the opposite window, and felt like you just looked like that — it seems like yesterday when you were 14 months old.

Monkey, 14 months

14-month-old sunbather

THREE YEARS. It’s been three years since my life changed in the most wonderful and miraculous of ways. It simultaneously feels like less and more time has passed.

Monday, April 21, 2008, 12:30 a.m.

You were born at 12:30 a.m. after an hour and a half of pushing. It took your daddy two tries to cut the umbilical cord and then they laid you on me, all bloody. It was what I wanted. I remember feeling absolutely amazed at what had transpired. I couldn’t stop saying to your daddy, “I can’t believe we made her.” It was truly the most remarkable and miraculous thing to happen in our lifetimes.

There really was no hope of sleeping after you were born. By the time we made it up to the recovery room, it was 2 a.m. The the nurse gave you your first bath and we didn’t try to go to sleep until around 3:30 a.m. Your daddy fell asleep immediately, but I couldn’t sleep. I just kept staring at you and touching you to make sure you were still breathing. I was on such an adrenaline high.

One-day-old Monkey

Monkey, you are such a joy. Your personality is SO BIG. You are exuberant. You are alternately sensitive, yet defiant. You want to be heard. Things always have to be done a certain way. You are stubborn. You are empathetic and concerned about the well-being of others. You are confident in your own opinions. You want to feel included at all times. You are caring and nurturing.

You get many of these traits from me. While it has been challenging for me at times to deal with my own personality, I think I’ve got it figured out, and I think it will serve you well, too.

You love Dora, chocolate, ice cream and anything sweet. You love to be outside. I think I could push you on the swings for three hours until my arm fell off and you still wouldn’t be tired of it. You want a dog. You want to help with everything, including making every meal. You ask to help wash the dishes every night and you want to help with the laundry and unloading the dishwasher. You take great pride in your accomplishments and you basically want to do everything by yourself. You love to bake with me. Your curiosity is unbridled. You have an amazing memory. You’re creative and want to draw, color, paint — and your latest — cut with a scissors. You still love to cuddle, and sometimes when we lay down with you at bedtime you ask to hold our hand. (I heart this).

You probably are one of the funniest people I know. Obviously, I’m biased, but you make me laugh out loud on a daily basis. When one of my aunts sees pictures of you, she says, “I can just see her thinking, ‘I’m so funny’ because you probably tell her that every day.” And I think I do tell you that almost every day.

You are learning how to identify and express your emotions, and you communicate in such a way that it makes me feel like you’re older than you are. You listen to everything we say and ask questions about difficult subjects that I’m not sure how to explain.

You continue to become your own person and I’m in awe of the process. I’m also a little nervous. Because from the moment you were born and every day since, you’ve taught me how to be a parent. You’ll always be my first born, my test case, the one I make the most of my mistakes on.

It was a slightly terrifying time to be a first-time mother, feeling overwhelmed and incapable, and in typical “you” fashion, you didn’t make it any easier on me. That’s okay though, because you force me to be my best. And I want to be my best for you. We’ll keep figuring it out together. So far, I think we’re doing a pretty good job.

I am so happy to be your mama.

She looks so big here that it kind of takes my breath away.

April 21, 2011 - Someone's sister wasn't interested in a birthday morning photo shoot.

Happy third birthday to my great big girl.

Birthday Girl

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Happy First Birthday to my Bean!

This year has been an amazing journey, Bean. I can’t believe you’ve only been with us a year, because I can’t remember a time when you weren’t here.

I was so worried for so long about how things were going to go with two kids. How we were going to handle it. What it was going to be like. And then suddenly you arrived, and life was changed completely. Changed for the better.

In this last year you have taught me, even more, to expect the unexpected. To not sweat the small stuff. That these phases, indeed, are short. That it all goes soooo fast. Especially the second time around.

I can’t profess that I know you intimately yet. Sometimes I think you’re still somewhat of a mystery to me, but it’s becoming clearer every day. I think it’s harder for me because I don’t think you wear your emotions on your sleeve like your sister and I do. You seem more like your dad — harder to read, slow to anger but then it takes you awhile to get over it.

We thought you were laid back. Your dad and I have a good laugh about that now. Oh how wrong we were.

You appear fiercely independent. You experienced tremendous initial shyness, and then starting around month 6 until month 10 you suffered terrible bouts of separation anxiety.

Now you’re a flirt. Laughing and giggling and playing peek-a-boo with just about anyone.

This week there was a day when you wouldn’t nap for us. We think it was teething. I got to hold you like I did when you were a newborn. We rocked and you slept with your head on my chest and your legs tucked up underneath you. I cherished it because I know that those times are becoming more and more unlikely with each passing day.

When you were a newborn you liked to raise your eyebrows and show us your wrinkly forehead. You also used to furrow your brow.

You’ve always pushed your bottom jaw forward and stuck your bottom lip out. Your dad says it reminds him of his grandpa K.

You’ve always laughed by sucking air in.

You’ve always liked to make blowing noises with your mouth.

You’re highly amused by your sister and the two of you play well together. You need to know where she is at all times — including when she’s in a time out for pushing you over.

Speaking of your sister, you have much better balance and coordination than she ever did. You surprised us by hitting milestones — like crawling, walking and putting toys through slots — at different times than she did. And your teeth have emerged in a completely different order.

You and your sister look remarkably alike, yet different. You each have your own special characteristics and unique traits.

Your sister says you are her best friend.

She loves you so much.

And so do we.

Thank you for enriching our lives.

Happy Birthday sweet girl.

A Baby Story

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It was a Tuesday at my 39+ week appointment when my doctor advised that it might be a good idea to schedule an induction. With Bean’s size expected to be at least 8 pounds, and my amniotic fluid a little low, the doctor though that it might be better for Bean to be born a little sooner rather than a little later.

Oh, and I was already 5 cms dilated and not in labor. Go figure.

As one of my cousins said, “I can’t even believe a woman can be 5 cms dilated and NOT be in labor.” Hey, you and me both.

Especially because at my 39-week appointment with Monkey I was all Fort Knox up there. Not dilated or effaced AT ALL. Not even a little bit. Not even enough to let my doctor strip my membranes. I burst into tears at that appointment.

So it was pretty surprising to be 5 cms dilated and not in labor with Bean.

We scheduled the induction for Friday, February 5, 2010 — one day before my due date — and hoped that she would come on her own.

It was an EXTREMELY weird feeling to have an end date. With Monkey, every day during the last two weeks was spent wondering, “Is today THE day?” To actually know the day was a little unnerving.

I spent the next three days exercising my Type A personality — aka “I know when I’m going to have a baby and I’m going to clean the entire house and do everything I possibly can before she comes.”

If given the opportunity to control a situation, I take it.

I even put over 700 photos in albums. In one night. Yeah, I kind of let that get out of hand. I hadn’t printed photos since Monkey was four months old. WHOOPS!

On February 4, I planned a special day of errands, shopping, and lunch with my good friend A. It was the last day I knew I would have any time at all for myself, much less time out of the house, so I made sure to wear a cute outfit and do my hair and makeup. My friend A remarked, “I can’t believe you’re all dressed up! You look so calm! You’re having a baby tomorrow!”

It was kind of fun to be running very last-minute errands at Babies R Us and Old Navy, having the clerks ask me when I was due and replying, “I’m having the baby tomorrow.” I even played the “I’m having a baby tomorrow” sympathy card and convinced the clerk to honor a coupon that wasn’t valid until the next day. I’m pretty good at convincing people of things. It’s a Type A thing.

Of course I also had to finish folding laundry, fill the car up with gas, shave my legs, put my bag in the car, pack Monkey’s bag, and glance at the labor and delivery info again. I was ready.

That morning we woke up early to find that Monkey had fingerpainted with poop in her bed. Nothin’ like some added stress as you’re rushing around thinking, “OMG I’m going to have a BABY. TODAY!” Ultimately we got off to the hospital on time and made the short drive in mostly nervous anticipation.

My birth experience with Bean was completely different from my experience with Monkey.

With Monkey I went into labor on my own around 2 a.m. and labored at home until 2 p.m. before leaving for the hospital. My contractions slowly gained in intensity and duration over 12 hours. When I was admitted to the hospital I was only 3-4 cms dilated. Monkey was born at 12:30 a.m. the next morning after 1.5 hours of pushing. She was a very average 7 pounds.

Checking into the hospital with Bean, on the other hand, was completely surreal compared to what it was like with Monkey. For one, I wasn’t in labor. I didn’t tell the nurse examining me, “I love you,” after she concluded that I could be admitted.

It was all very polite and punctual, with our suitcase and camera. Like we were tourists checking into a hotel. We strolled up to the labor and delivery floor. No rush, no urgency.

My doctor came in to break my water and then have me walk the halls for three hours. What a waste of time that was. I was sending emails and updating my Facebook status from my Blackberry, telling everyone how surreal it was to be induced.

By the time my three hours was up, I was experiencing infrequent and inconsistent “stop in your tracks and breathe” contractions. I was 6 cms dilated. The nurse hypothesized that she must be in there spread-eagle style. No freaking kidding.

At 12:30 p.m., the nurse administered pitocin. At 12:40 p.m., I was in full-on, angry raging labor and 7 cms dilated. Wowie.

The nurse called for the anesthesiologist right away.

Now here’s the part where I wish I would have done things differently. At the hospital where I delivered Bean, I had the option of receiving a “walking” epidural. I don’t remember the specifics, but apparently the anesthesiologist would administer a first drug that takes some of the edge off but still allows you full use of your legs because they want to encourage you to stay up and moving so that your labor continues to move along.

Well, clearly that was not going to be a problem for me. So the anesthesiologist just administered the full epidural right away. I wish she hadn’t. I wish I would have known how fast it all was going to go. But I didn’t know, and it turned out completely unlike my slow and steady labor with Monkey.

With Monkey, by the time I was ready to push, my epidural was wearing off and I could feel my body telling me exactly what to do. I still had pain relief, but I felt more in control of my body.

With Bean it was not like that at all. Within two hours of receiving the epidural it was time to push. And I couldn’t feel a thing. I wasn’t experiencing what my body wanted me to do. Don’t get me wrong, I had a vague sense to push, but I was pushing all wrong. And I knew it. The whole experience just felt completely out of control. Especially at the point when Bean’s head was out and the doctor was trying to maneuver a shoulder and a nurse jumped up on a stool and starting frantically pushing on my belly to get her out. It was a panic moment for me to be perfectly honest. Thank God they were able to free her shoulder in what probably was seconds, but felt like an eternity. (I’m really sorry if I’m scaring you, my pregnant friends.)

Thank God I only had to push for 15 minutes. I honestly couldn’t have sustained the type of “wrong” pushing I was doing for much longer.

In the end, it turned out there was a good reason Bean got a little stuck. She was 9 lbs 6 ounces. Upon the doctor laying her on my chest, I immediately exclaimed, “Oh my God, SHE’S HUGE.” And that was before I even knew her official weight. I could tell just by looking at her that she was SO BIG. Especially compared to the first time I laid eyes on Monkey — who honestly was a peanut with super skinny legs and arms. But Bean — she was gigantic. She already had big baby rolls on her arms and legs. She looked like a one-month-old.

It was funny, I remember when I held Monkey for the first time I just kept looking at her, thinking that she would look familiar to me. I expected to look at her and think, “I know that face.” But I didn’t feel that at all.

The second time around I thought, “Now this time the baby will look familiar to me because she’ll look like her sister.” But at that moment when I held her for the first time, Bean looked NOTHING like what Monkey looked like as a brand new baby. Again, such a weird feeling to expect to look at this baby and see something familiar, but not. Within just 24 hours though, the girls’ resemblance started to show.

I was much more emotional after Bean’s birth. I wept when the doctor laid her on my chest. My mom was in the room this time. Watching her cry as she watched her brand-new granddaughter look at me for the first time truly was special.

With Monkey, I was elated, but I really didn’t cry. The second time around I think I understood better the significance of the event. I could appreciate the BIRTH of OUR BABY and understand completely the joyous occasion that it was. I knew exactly how our lives were changing for the better.

With Monkey, I had no idea how truly awesome motherhood would be until I was actually experiencing it. It’s one of those things that you can’t fully appreciate, no matter what everyone tells you it will be like, until you’re actually doing it.

My two very best friends were pregnant with me while I was pregnant with Bean — one of them with her first. I teasingly told her that I thought I was more excited than she was. But only in the sense that I already knew the joy that was awaiting her, and I couldn’t wait for her to experience it. It’s just indescribable. There are no words.

If we have another child, I don’t know if I would elect to be induced again. I definitely don’t think I would take the “full” epidural again, given how fast everything went. That aspect of Bean’s birth was honestly quite traumatic for my Husband and me. So much so that shortly after she was born we both looked at each other and said, “I don’t think we’re going to have any more kids.”

Thankfully, I no longer feel that way. But if we have another baby, I know I’ll want to do some things differently.

In the end, it’s all worth it.

364 days ago, it was one day before the birth of my second child. My beloved Bean.