The Chairs That Kept Coming Back

Flashback to 1978. My paternal great-grandfather was a retired Methodist pastor. He and my great-grandmother lived in a little old house in New Jersey, where my mom and dad would come visit from time while they were still dating. Whenever my mom and dad came over, Great Grandpa would pull out from the closet two small, folding rocking chairs for their guests. They would sit and rock and talk and sit and rock and talk. These two chairs were solid wood rockers, with upholstered seats and backs, and a bit of carving at the top. They were low enough to the ground that the two recent college graduates had the awkward sensation of their knees being propped up a little higher than was comfortable. But spending time with grandparents is important, and it was a small price to pay. Great-Grandpa was always full of stories and wisdom, and Great-Grandma could sing any hymn on the spot – all the verses, word for word.

Fast-forward to April, 1979. My parents were married in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where they would both be working for IBM. Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Wilson came to the ceremony, proudly delivering their wedding gift – a new set of identical folding rocking chairs.

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It’s too bad my mom wasn’t the biggest fan of those chairs.

But they took their dutiful place in the closet, ready to be taken out and used if company ever came and wanted to sit and rock and talk.

Twelve years and two kids later, my parents were getting ready to move from the Hudson Valley to South Florida. In the process of cleaning out the house, they held a large garage sale. The two rocking chairs did not make the packing list, so out to the driveway they went. They were purchased by an older couple from our church, affectionately known as “Papa” and “Mama” Tatsche.

Great-Grandpa’s uncomfortable rocking chairs had been conveniently done away with, or so we all thought.

It wasn’t too many years later that Papa and Mama Tatsche also moved to Florida. Our family drove over to Naples to visit them in their new apartment, and had a wonderful time catching up with them. My sister and I were in grade school by now, and were as enthralled by the chance to be in a new place as we were by the jar of candy that sat on the coffee table. As we were about to leave, Papa Tatsche caught us in the foyer and said, “You know, we live in a smaller apartment now, and we need to get rid of some of our belongings. However, I just can’t bear to part with those chairs we had bought from you all. We’ve decided that you should have them – you can store them away and give one to each of your girls as a wedding present one day.”

I’m sure my mom must have inwardly groaned as she cheerfully and thankfully loaded the rocking chairs into the van for the journey home. My sister and I were pretty indifferent to the situation…if anything, it just seemed weird that someone would give us back the chairs that we hadn’t wanted in the first place.  Those ridiculous, uncomfortable chairs just kept coming back! How could my mom get rid of them now?

So, the infamous chairs that kept coming back were dutifully stored in our guest room closet for two more decades and two more cross-country moves, waiting for my mom to find an appropriate, dignified way of disposing of them.

Fast forward to this summer. Mom and Dad had re-modeled their bathroom and put in a brand new walk-in closet. In the process of moving into their new space, they took the opportunity to sort through the contents all of the closets in the house, which they had lived in for almost fifteen years by now.

The time had come for the dreaded chairs to make their final departure from my parents’ thirty-four year marriage. So, into the Goodwill pile they went.

And there they sat.

And sat.

Because nobody could quite conveniently bring themselves to drop those ancient chairs off at the thrift store.

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Change of Scene: At about this time, my little eleven-month-old was going through an anti-crib phase, where she was suddenly refusing to nap in her crib. She would sleep there fine at night, but during the day, it was a different story. Even if I nursed her to sleep and softly crept up the stairs, as soon as I crossed the threshold of her room, Julia would wake, arch her back, and loudly protest any attempt to put her in the crib. She would rather stand in there, gripping the rails, and yelling her little vocal chords ragged for an hour, than actually lying down and sleeping in her crib! I tried everything. In the end, the only thing that started to have some success was to actually nurse her in her room, wrapped in her blanket, with the sound machine and fan on full blast. That way, I just had to tiptoe a few steps before gently placing my tightly-wrapped bundle in the crib, and although she usually opened her eyes, she was comfortable enough to fall back asleep on her own. (Babywise mamas: Don’t hate. These are desperate times.)

Anyway, all that to say, there was not a chair in the nursery for me to sit in during this process of getting Julia to fall asleep. And since, in my mind, this was just a temporary solution to fix a temporary problem, I didn’t want to exactly go out and buy a piece of furniture. What could I use to rock my baby to sleep, besides the awful step-stool I was currently using to sit upon every day?

And that’s when I remembered the infamous chairs that kept coming back!

By this time, one of them was in complete disrepair, but the other was holding together just well enough to make it through this last mission. It has been sitting humbly in the nursery corner for a week now, where I go several times a day with Julia to sit and rock and hold and sit and rock and pray. Until she drifts off to sleep soundly enough that I can put her in the crib without a catastrophic reaction.

And since I’m only five feet, two-and-five-eighths inches tall, it’s okay that the seat is so low to the ground. I need my knees a little propped up anyway, to hold my little bundle without killing my arms. And it’s okay that the upholstery is sagging in the bottom, because it’s a reminder to be thankful that I’m not sitting there on a stepstool.

And it’s also a reminder that this is a temporary arrangement. Julia will not hate her crib forever. She won’t wake up in the middle of the night forever. She won’t be teething forever. She won’t have to be nursed to sleep forever. This too, shall pass. And then, it will really be the end of the line for Great-Grandpa’s rocking chair.

But just as it will be with much reluctance that I say good-bye to that old chair, as uncomfortable as it was, it will also be with some sadness that I move past even the difficult stages of Julia’s life. Because as uncomfortable as it is at the moment, I have to remember that one day I will look upon those nap time nursing sessions with great fondness and nostalgia.

In the meantime, I think Julia’s Great-Great-Grandpa would be proud.

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8 Ways to Turn Your Infant Into a (Musical) Genius

I’m turning up my music nerd side today, big time.

You’ve been warned.

Participation in music makes people smarter. I’m not just saying this- they’ve proven it! Babies love music for a reason – it stimulates their brains. The earlier you can get your child learning and experiencing music, the easier it will be for them to develop more advanced musical skills in the future, and the smarter they will be. This is why scores and scores of people sign themselves up for mommy and me music classes like Musikgarten and Kindermusic almost straight out of the womb! These classes are fantastic and I love them. But, they can be cost-prohibitive. I want to give you a few ideas that will help your baby develop her musical intelligence without costing you a cent.

Disclaimer: Despite the title of this blog post, I am making no guarantees that by following some magic 8-step plan, your baby will be the next Mozart. I am, however, a professional musician, trained music educator, and new mom, who has been trying all sorts of music-related activities with my 7-month-old based on what I know about music and how it affects the brain! Probably, after I have more kids and they’re all grown up and I actually see what works and what’s pointless, I’ll read this blog entry and say, “What was I thinking?” But until then, I will wallow in my ignorance and spew out a whole slew of ideas that may or may not actually be effective. And of course, if you have done some things with your little one that you have found to be fun, post it in the comments section! This list is by no means exhaustive.

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First things first – let me explain WHY music makes people smarter. Studies like this one have shown, time and time again, how playing and making music creates new kinds of connections in the brain that other activities can’t create. For example, you’ve probably heard of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left brain is our verbal center, where we use logic, reason, and math. The right brain is our creative and artistic center, where we get our intuition. The two hemispheres are connected by a group of neurons called the corpus callosum. Although many day-to-day tasks in life mostly require the use of only one hemisphere at a time, you need a well-developed corpus callosum in order to do things like solve big problems, make decisions based on varied information, and anything else that might use both sides of your brain simultaneously. To use both sides at once, you need a well-developed corpus callosum so that the two hemispheres can communicate. As you might guess, making music is an activity that develops is set of neurons. In fact, research like this has shown that the corpus callosum is far more developed in musicians than in non-musicians. So, that’s one way that music makes a person smarter!

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If the neurological evidence wasn’t enough to convince you that your child should learn music, the practical evidence will surely win you over. People who participate in music as a child end up with bigger salaries as adults, regardless of their career choice. I’m not even kidding – here’s proof. They do better in school (partly because they’re smarter, as we’ve already discussed), are more likely to attend graduate school, gain all sorts of communication and collaboration skills, and end up making more money!

So, are you sold yet? Now, this post is mainly geared toward parents of babies, since I am one. Obviously, my little girl has a long road ahead of her before she is able to even begin to play an instrument, read notes, understand music theory, and all of those wonderful things I can’t wait to teach her. But even though she’s only a half of a year old, I can start getting her ready to understand music right now. Just like you wouldn’t send a kid to 2nd grade without knowing the alphabet and expect her to be reading chapter books by October, you can’t expect a grade-schooler to be able to learn music notation in 2 weeks of music class without having had any previous structured musical experience.

Readiness. It’s what makes the world go around.

(At least according to my music ed professors in college. If you went to school with me, you know EXACTLY who I mean. 🙂

Music has two aspects: the rhythm side and the tonal side. In laymen’s terms, rhythm has to do with the beat and the pulse in the music, and the way the notes are timed in the big structure of things. Tonality has to do with the pitches, and how they relate to the center (key) as they make up the melody and the harmony and the accompaniment and all that stuff. In making your child ready to understand music, you have to treat rhythm and tonality separately. So, I’ve separated my activity ideas into those two categories – rhythm and tonality.

The good news is that people learn music the exact same way that they learn language. Babies start off learning a language by repeating back the little patterns they hear – “Ba ba ba” and “gooo gooo goo” etc. Soon, they start recognizing words (like their own name) and associating some of these syllables with actual meaning. For example, we’ve just gotten to the point where little Julia has started saying “Ma ma ma” when she is hungry. It is years later in the process when a child learns the symbols associated with the words they already know (letters and written words.) In the same way, learning music doesn’t start with learning the written notes on the staff – that “symbolic association” skill should come very last. Learning music starts as simply as hearing and feeling rhythmic and tonal patterns, and then (maybe) repeating them back. This might be as far as you can really get with a 7-month-old, but it’s vitally important in their musical development! So let’s face it. Julia is not ready to compose a symphony. BUT, here are some little things I can do with her to develop her corpus callosum and get her ready for the big stage one day:

A. RHYTHM

1. Keep a Steady Beat – This is the most important thing. Ever. Now (before age 1) is your window of opportunity to help your child learn to internalize a steady beat. They have to FEEL this beat, not just hear it. So, whenever there is music playing, bounce, tap, or move your baby to the beat. I’m not talking about the rhythm of the words, but the BEAT – the steady pulse that keeps going through the whole song. Put them on your lap or between your legs, and let the bouncing begin! I’m not kidding when I tell you that I started teaching Julia how to keep a steady beat before she was even born. When there was loud music that I knew she would hear in the womb (and my hands weren’t busy conducting or playing the piano), I would often tap my belly to the beat so that she would feel that dependable pulse upon which all rhythmic meters are based. Steady beat is that important, I tell you.

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2. Move, move, move! Music is supposed to move us – literally. Our bodies help our brains focus and make sense of what we hear. When we use our whole bodies, it is easier to “feel” the beat and the form of a song. So, dance with your baby! Move their arms and legs in time with the music!

3. Focus on the Form. As you are moving to the beat, think about the different parts of the song to which you’re listening. Is there a repeated phrase or melody? If so, do the same thing with your little one every time you get to that section. For example, if you’re bouncing along to the beat of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” wave her little hands in the air every time you get to “E-I-E-I-O.” Doing the same thing with her arms when she hears the same thing with her ears will help your child pick up on repeated patterns.

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4. Stick with classical and folk (children’s) music. I love pop songs, but most melodies written in the last 30 years have syncopated rhythms, so the accents in the words often don’t fall on the main beats. This can make it confusing for a child who is trying to feel a steady beat for the first time.

B. TONALITY

5. Match pitch – When your baby makes those super-cute natural vocalizations, try to find where she’s “singing” with your own voice! You may find yourself singing pretty high, but that’s okay – those tiny vocal chords make high pitches a lot easier than our grown-up ones do. When you’ve found the notes that your baby is making, try singing something up there. Even if it’s just a little “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” your baby will start discriminating between pitches, and be encouraged to keep making singing noises. This is how how all famous singers got their start, right? Your little one will start hearing the difference between high sounds and low sounds, and will begin picking up on some of those tonal patterns – the “words” that will eventually make up her tonal vocabulary.

6. Experiment with timbre. Everything makes a sound. Ever notice how babies are fascinated by anything that makes noise? That’s because their little ears are learning how to listen! Listening skills are vital to music and to life in general. As a parent, you can help your baby listen critically by letting her experience slight variations in sounds (we call this “timbre”). Give her a plastic bowl to tap with her hands, and show her how the sound changes ever so subtly when she hits another part of the bowl. Take the same toy and let her tap it against various objects around her – most likely, she’ll be fascinated. And by all means, let your kid bang on that piano! There’s no better way for her to experience tonality and timbre hands-on as she bangs up and down the keyboard. Go ahead and use words like “high” and “low,” “loud” and “soft” when you are talking to your baby through these activities.

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7. Sing to your baby! Do I even need to say this? It doesn’t matter if you are a professional opera singer or a self-proclaimed tone deaf…SING!!! All the time!!! First of all, the more you sing, the better YOU’LL get at singing. But more importantly, your baby needs you, the most important person in her life, to model the tonal and rhythmic patterns that make up the world of music. You talk to your baby so that she learns language, right? Well, you have to sing to your baby for her to learn music! Sing your favorite songs. Sing your mom’s favorite songs. Sing that commercial jingle that’s stuck in your head. Sing made-up songs. And you may find yourself singing the same things at certain points in your routine, and that’s good. Long before Julia could recognize the sentence “Let’s change your diaper,” she recognized the little song I sang every time we were at the changing table. Music can help your baby make sense of her world.

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8. Listen to repetitious music. Okay, maybe you’ll end up wishing to do something cruel and unusual to whatever sick person decided to put those ninety-nine bottles of pop on the wall. But by listening to music that has catchy, repetitious melodic elements, your baby will easily start picking up on the tonal patterns that make up western music. They learn the meaning of words by hearing them in all sorts of different sentences, right? Later, when those musical patterns show up in piano lessons or music class at school, your child will recognize them quickly because she will have been listening to them all her life! She’ll be READY. And it’s all about readiness, remember.

That’s all for now, folks, so let the commenting begin! I’m sure you have some more ideas about how to develop your baby’s brain through music. So if you’ve tried something, and it was fun, leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

To the Beach!

A couple of weeks ago, we took Julia to the beach for the first time.

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Despite growing up a bike ride’s distance from the ocean, I don’t get out to the beach too much these days. I think I’d forgotten how much I love the salty air and wide-open expanse of God’s creation.

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I was never a fan of the actual water, though, and Julia seemed to take after her mom in that regard.

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She was like, “Mom, this is COLD!”

We went with my parents, which brought back memories of evening walks on the beach during the summer. The setting sun makes the sand look golden, the tourists have gone in for supper, and the crashing tide imposes its will upon the shoreline.

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Of course, this being such a momentous occasion, Dad brought his ginormous video camera, and both my mom and husband had their DSLRs. So, it was a very well-documented event.

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In fact, my Dad put together a little montage of our outing! Hope you enjoy it!

Going Bananas

Today, we decided to go bananas.

Mashed bananas, that is.

My milk supply has worried me ever since Julia got sick, and then I got sick. Because then I got the world’s worst sinus infection, tried two different antibiotics and a decongestant, and still couldn’t hear out of one ear. Julia’s diminished appetite during her cold followed by my illness was a recipe for a decreased milk supply, and I knew it. And then there’s the fact that she is approaching 6 months, when milk simply isn’t enough to get her all the way through the night. So, sure enough, Julia has started waking up to eat in the middle of the night again.

Which means it’s time to start adding “real food” to her diet.

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I’m a believer in exclusive breastfeeding as long as possible, and had planned on waiting until 6 months to introduce food. But we’re only 2.5 weeks away, and with the sickness and medication and the waking in the night, I didn’t want to starve my baby for 19 more days just because the calendar said she wasn’t 6 months old yet! I did a little research and chose to give her bananas as her first food, given her age and my tendency to lean toward foods that God created ready-made, as opposed to processed rice cereal. Plus, we had ripe bananas on hand already.

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Julia wasn’t quite sure what to think. It was a puzzling experience for her.

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She was more interested in eating the spoon, and not so much the banana.

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I think she swallowed a total of 3 good spoonfuls, tops, before she started getting squirmy and wanting out of the Bumbo. I knew it would be a messy endeavor, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much was going to end up on her clothes, her hands, the Bumbo seat, the tablecloth, her feet (?), not to mention her face and bib. Certainly, there were more than 3 spoonfuls of casualties. The biggest problem, I think, was that Julia didn’t understand the need to actually open her mouth. So, most of the time, I was trying to push banana into her closed lips, which was a pretty comical endeavor.

She sure liked getting her mouth wiped at the end!

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So, we have a bit of practicing to do for both of us, I think. I’m not sure that she ingested enough banana calories in the morning or at dinner to make a difference in her evening routine, but we’ll see. Should I try rice cereal next week? What times of the day should I give her food? Should I mix the banana with breastmilk? How do I keep banana from getting smeared all over my house? There are so many things I don’t know! I’m so thankful that every day, I can seek counsel from the One who created my little daughter to begin with. How I need His wisdom!

Mr. Poole took a video of Julia’s first few bites of banana today. Ironically, what cracked us both up SO hard when we watched the video later was not so much Julia’s expressive toes, or even her expressive face – it was MY face! Julia gets her demonstrative facial expressions from her mother, and it is nowhere more evident than in this video, where you can see me doing with my face what I’m trying to get Julia to do with hers! It’s really quite embarrassing. I’m posting this video at the risk of my own reputation as a normal human being.

In totally unrelated news, tonight while Mr. Poole and I were eating dinner, we put Julia in her Bumbo and put her little piano in front of her, right with us ON the dinner table. As she banged away to her heart’s content, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “It really doesn’t get any better than this.” In my soul, I asked, “Can I just ask for one leeeeetle favor, Lord? Can you just possibly maybe let time stand still for the next 70 years? I want to enjoy this moment for the rest of my life!”

But then 20 minutes later, after the dishes were done and Mr. Poole was holding Julia on his lap, sharing the piano bench with me while I rocked out to some Chopin, I thought again, “No, THIS is the moment that I want to last forever.” We were a little family, all cozy and snuggled up next to each other, enjoying each others’ company, and chuckling when Julia reached out with both hands to press the keys. It made my eyes get all watery.

Little girls won’t be little girls forever! They grow up into bigger girls who want to crawl out of your lap and do gymnastics and wear make-up and go to prom and study abroad. But I want my little five-month-old Julia to stay a five-month old for always! They tell me, “It only gets better as they get older!” but I don’t know how it could be true. Life is pretty much as awesome as it gets right now.

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What I Learned from Julia’s First Cold

Well, we made it to five months. But the inevitable, even for a breastfed baby, finally did come to pass. Julia got sick. We survived almost two weeks with Mr. Poole’s family, amongst the colder weather, sniffling, and sneezing coming from all sorts of family members and friends, but then three days after coming home, that suspicious-sounding cough appeared, and within two days, not only was Julia’s cold in full swing, but I had it, too! So, it was an extra-special challenge to take care of a little cranky sickness monster, when I was feeling achy and fatigued myself.

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But we persevered. When she got to the point where she couldn’t breathe through her nose (making nursing extremely frustrating), and I desperately needed sleep, I called the hubby at work and he was home within 30 minutes. What a blessing! Side note: When I was considering marriage, I have to admit, I mostly just thought about what kind of a husband Mr. Poole would be. But in God’s providence, I also landed a guy who would be the most wonderful father I could imagine! End of side note.

We’re still in the thick of it, although I’m hoping we’re on the upswing. So without further ado, here are the lessons I’ve learned thus far.

1. You don’t have to go to the doctor the first day she coughs.

I did, which I suppose was the typical, safe, first-time-mom thing to do, but I wish I’d waited to spend my $20 copay until her symptoms were more than a little gunk in her nose. Later, after she’d thrown up a lot and was running a fever, that would have been a better time to take her in.

2. It’s okay to actually call the pediatrician if you’re worried.

I’d never called an actual doctor before (as in, “press 2 if you’d like to receive a callback from a physician”) until the night I went into labor and was calling to ask when I should go to the hospital. And I honestly hadn’t thought about calling Julia’s pediatrician about her fever until someone on facebook recommended it. I ended up calling because although I’d taken her in earlier in the week, she’d since then thrown up big time on several occasions and was running a 100° fever. Talking to the doctor who’d already seen her was great peace of mind. And there was no copay involved.

3. Buy baby tylenol before your baby actually has a fever.

The lady you saw frantically running into Walgreens at 6pm searching the shelves for the one remaining bottle of baby tylenol? The one who was hurriedly calling her mother on the way home to figure out what dose to give her 18-pound baby, who was meanwhile throwing up all over her daddy at home? Yeah, that was me.

4. Sick babies who are crying really hard sometimes start coughing really hard. Sick babies who cough really hard throw up really hard.

It’s a fact of life. And then, the medicine and milk you just tried to give them is all over the crib, and you have to wash and dry the sheets and the mattress cover before they can lie down in their bed again. And you have to wonder whether or not to give them more medicine. And you have to give them an early bath to get the vomit out of their hair. So do WHATEVER it takes to get them to stop crying and you won’t have any of these problems!

5. Let sleeping sick babies lie.

I run a pretty tight schedule around here, and this involves occasionally waking Julia up if it’s time for her nap to be over. But when a baby is sick, just let them sleep. They need more sleep for their little bodies to fight the germs wreaking havoc in there.

6. Your baby might not eat as much at each feeding, but she’ll want to eat more often.

This was a surprise. Julia is a champion eater, as evidenced by her 96th percentile standing for weight. I wasn’t expecting her to get tired from eating so quickly at each feeding. But then it made sense for her to go from eating every three hours to every two and a half during the day.

7. Be prepared for your previously perfect schedule to go nuts.

This is kind of a result of lessons five and six. Last night, Julia decided to stay up until 11:15pm, and then wake up at midnight again. And then, she was awake (as in, playing, wanting milk, talking, and crying, but not acting sleepy) from three until five am. Thank goodness for Mr. Poole – I took the first hour shift, he took the second. And then she slept in until nine, and would have slept longer if I hadn’t woken her up. Okay, so I broke rule #5 there, but I was afraid of having another horrible night if we let the madness continue!

8. Pray for wisdom and peace.

I feel like I do a lot of this these days – “Lord, I need your wisdom!” and “Please give me peace in this moment!” I’m so thankful that God answers these prayers!

9. Ask facebook for help.

Note: since I posted this the first time, I switched around the order of these last two. Prayer comes first. Asking facebook comes second. But I tell yah, there’s no better human advice than that which comes from the mommy friends in your life! I actually have a friends group called, “mommy friends,” and so when I posted a status asking for wisdom about what to do about the throwing-up-the-medicine problem, I only made the post visible to my friends who might actually have wisdom to give. That way, I don’t spam my entire friends list with baby questions. Also, I belong to a few mommy groups on fb that have people asking questions and giving answers all the time, but I instead preferred to hear just from my actual friends. Within a few hours I had almost 30 responses from some pretty amazing ladies. It was such an encouragement, and I felt so much better about the whole situation!

10. It’s okay to just sit in front of the computer and let your little one watch a baby video.

I am not a fan of TV. I think I have personally turned on our television three times in the past four years. I definitely don’t want my child growing up addicted to media. But when she’s just sick and cranky, all she wants sometimes is to snuggle up next to mommy and watch a video. And that’s okay. I’m learning to enjoy these precious moments, however difficult they are!

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Having a sick little girl is harder than I thought it would be. But I remember that “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 1 Corinthians 4:17

Cousins on the Couch

“Here I am, chilling with cousin Kate.”

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“Hey, what’s that cool thing she’s playing with?”

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“Maybe if I move my hand over just a leeeetle bit, she won’t mind.”

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“Ooooh! I’ve almost got it! I just want to touch that screen!”

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“Hey, how did that happen?”

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“Here’s my silly cousin Luke. He makes me laugh.”

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“I like it when Luke gives me big hugs!”

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“Okay so maybe this hug is too big.”

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