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Gosh, I can’t believe we are in 2024 already. Normally I try to post a little family update sooner, but life just seems to get crazier every year and I am just finally able to have a few moments to sit down and share.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Ours was packed full of family and fun. We’ve had various family (some all the way from South Africa) staying with us for the last week, which has been nice. From the week of Halloween through this week, it has just felt like one thing after another. Lot’s of fun and so little sleep, LOL. Sickness has also taken its toll at times, from sinus infections to stomach bugs (that I actually think may have been Salmonella, but hard to know for sure). All 3 kids are in school this year (preschool for McKenzie), so we had school parties to organize. I did Halloween in McKenzie’s class, Thanksgiving in Brooks’ class and Christmas in Ashton’s class. It was a lot to do back-to-back along with holidays, work and everything, but we got it all done. We also had McKenzie’s birthday and unicorn party in November, and my birthday on Christmas. And of course the holidays, which we usually host and have between 15 and 18 people. Now, the hubs’ birthday is next week and I have to get ready for the boys to turn 6 next month. The hubs and I had a little chat back at the beginning of November where he expressed that he’d really love for things to settle down and I looked at the calendar and said, “Well, that won’t happen until March. And by then, I’m sure there will be more.” So far, March is looking good, but we’ll see. 🙂
So, kid updates. Let’s start with the youngest, shall we? McKenzie turned 3 in November and is full of sparkle, all things girly, sweetness and just a touch of spunkines. She is truly so fun and so sweet. Earlier in the year (last year, now), she was still wearing pants (this comment will make sense in a minute) and wouldn’t wear bows without some serious convincing. But by the end of summer, she was ALL about glitter, sparkle, dresses and bows. I actually bought her some winter clothing that included pants and long sleeve shirts, with just a few dresses that were more typical winder colors (grey, cream, etc) and realized very quickly that I had done it all wrong. She wakes up every morning asking to put on a dress. Completely refuses pants. Pants are the end of the world. And the dress must be colorful and preferably sparkly. In fact, she sometimes just sleeps in her favorite and wears it several days in a row. Merely suggesting she should wear a nightgown or allow a favorite dress to be removed for washing is just the worst. Not because she throws a tantrum or anything, but because she puts her head down and cries. Parting momentarily with a dress is just so sad. The kids have gotten into the new-ish Mario movie and for Christmas we got them Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach costumes. They love dressing up all year long. Well, she is currently sleeping in Princess Peach and has only taken it off to go ice skating (which took real convincing) and to have me sew it back together during nap time, because it got seriously ripped in a couple places after playing and wrestling with her brothers. She even likes to stay in character and will answer to “Princess Peach” and plan her wedding to Bowser. She cracks me up and is so darn sweet.
Speaking of wrestling, she loves to play and wrestle with her brothers. She’s a super girly girl in a sparkly pink dress who is also quite tough and she loves to wrestle. And they all play quite well together – most of the time. Like all kids and siblings, they have their moments. But considering the age difference, the boys and McKenzie do awesome and are all besties. They do imaginative play together so well. It can be very sweet to watch them.
McKenzie was potty trained early last year. We did our best with the “Oh, crap” potty training method of not wearing underwear. It was a little different than with the boys, since it wasn’t when the world was shut down and we actually had places to go. But she did really well. She randomly had a couple setbacks through the year where she would all of a sudden not want to poop in the potty and would poop in her undies. It wouldn’t last more than a couple weeks and then she’d get back on track. The second time was actually after school started. She was the only one in her class that was potty trained and she told us she wanted to be like her friends and poop in a diaper, LOL.
Speaking of school, McKenzie also started going to the little church preschool this Fall that the boys have been going to for the last couple years. She’s there 3 days a week and loves it. She also is still doing her swimming lessons and is a great little swimmer. She loves dancing and jumping around, so I’d love to sign her up for some little dance classes or a gymnastics class, but life has been so crazy, we haven’t wanted to pile it on.
McKenzie doing her favorite rocker face
Other than that, she’s really just your typical little girl. She got to go to the beach, saw Disney on Ice for the first time, went to her brothers’ sports events and practices and munched on lots of snacks. She loves painting her nails and doing crafts, so there’s lots of that. She also had her first pedicure. It came up randomly when a friend invited us and she had a blast. She mostly munched on the free gummy bears, but they did paint her nails and she loved the massage chair. She was convinced that there was someone behind the chair that was beating on it. She giggled so cutely for a while and entertained everyone. It was pretty adorable.
She also started riding a bike pretty well this fall. The boys were given some very nice secondhand bikes from a neighbor that has two boys, so McKenzie got to use one of their older bikes. The hubs put training wheels on it and she did really well with pedaling. She had trouble getting it started, but did great and has great coordination with it.
She’s such a fun little girl. We have a blast with her. She can sit for hours doing crafts, shop with her mommy like a champ, hang with daddy, charms everyone at the grocery store and can wrestle with the boys. She’s also quite smart and can have quite a conversation with us already. She understands concepts well and remembers everything. And she’s still a great sleeper. If she isn’t sleeping well, it usually means she’s about to be sick. She’s still not a great eater. She’d love to exist only on applesauce and goldfish. There’s not a single vegetable she wants to eat and fruits are very hit-or-miss. But she seems pretty healthy, so I don’t worry about it too much. She gives the best hugs and tells me she loves me all the time, which I love. She impresses us all the time and we love her like crazy.
Sometimes I feel like I should separate this out and have a section for each of the boys. Even though they are twins, they are separate people with all their own things. But even though they are different in many ways, much of what happens with them over a year is very similar. So for now, they will share a section. They’re used to sharing. It’s ok. 🙂
These two are still crazy boys! They are constantly on the move and there’s never a dull moment. But they’ve also matured a good bit over the last year, especially since starting Kindergarten. I mentioned in my last update that they fight over toys quite a bit. While that still happens, it’s far less than it used to be. They’re getting much better at working through things, which is neat to see.
Speaking of Kindergarten, school feels like it was a big thing this past year. They were at the church preschool for year 3 and 4 and graduated preschool! And then we assumed we’d send them to the elementary school for Kindergarten. The church preschool also has a Kindergarten program, but it’s just been one class and this year is the first year they have a second class. After talking with Ashton’s teacher towards the end of last school year, we decided to keep them in the smaller environment with the slightly shorter days for one more year. We were lucky and they had one spot left in each class, so we were able to keep the boys in separate classes. I know all twin parents handle this differently, but it’s definitely better for our boys to be in separate classes. It frees them from the distraction of competing with each other. And also the distraction of playing with each other. And it just gives them some space, which they seem to need sometimes.
It’s been cute to see them with all their friends this year. Many of the kids in their classes are ones they’ve been getting to know over the last couple years, so they’ve developed some really sweet friendships. And since parents have to pick kids up, we’ve also gotten to know some of the parents and it’s been really nice. We will be really sad to lose this next year. Most of the kids will be at different schools next year, so that’ll be a bummer.
All that said, I’m so proud of how far the boys have come this year. They have done so well. Previously, learning and sitting still to do crafts/work of any kind had not been something I’d had much success with. But this Kindergarten program is no joke. From week 2, we started with homework. They pretty much have a worksheet to complete each night that goes over sight words and practices letters and/or numbers. Brooks also has a tiny little book he has to read aloud to us each Thursday. He has to then fill out the reading log and have us sign it to bring back to school the next day. It’s amazing to see the progress. Ashton’s class reads the same books, but they do it in class, instead of bringing them home. All that to say that they’ve gotten pretty good about sitting and doing homework, and aside from when they need help with reading instructions or need a little guidance, they do it on their own and do a great job. Brooks can sometimes get a little more frustrated with homework than Ashton. It was funny one day on the way home from sports practice, Brooks was upset when I said they had homework to do and Ashton’s response was, “It’s ok, Brooks. Homework is how we learn.” It was so cute.
They also received a list of sight words at the beginning of the year that they work on in class, but also have to work on memorizing at home. There are 11 lists of 10 words each that they have to learn and be tested on by the end of the year. It’s a lot of words, but we’ve gotten better at learning them as the school year has gone on. I feel like kindergarten was a learning curve for all of us. I don’t love the whole idea of memorization, but it’s part of things, so we have to go with it. We also really work with them on sounding things out at home though. That has helped a lot with learning the sight words.
I also mentioned in my last update that the boys were going to be starting speech therapy and they did finally start in early spring. It takes forever to get evaluations done and there are waitlists at every step of the process. But they’re still in it and doing well. We can definitely tell there’s been lots of improvement. They don’t have the same issues communicating with other kids that they seemed to have before. They just had several letters they needed help with and they’re still working on some. Getting those right is helpful for sounding things out as they’re learning, so it’s helpful for both speech and learning.
Outside of school, they’ve had lots of fun. They played soccer in the spring and fall and really seem to enjoy it. We had them on separate teams in the Spring, but went back to the same team in the Fall. Sports is one place that competing with each other works out kind of ok and they actually push each other to be better. Plus, they have way more fun doing it together. And, it was a little tough to have the two different game times in the Spring. But the difference in maturity was really evident with the two seasons of soccer. In spring soccer, they still seemed pretty unsure of what to do and mostly ran around. But this fall, they were like brand new kids. They were so into it and all of a sudden it just clicked. They’d run down the field to try and score and then run all the way back to the goal and try to defend it, even though that’s not actually part of what the coaches were teaching them to do yet. But they just get it and wanted to defend that goal. They did great and we were very proud of how far they’ve come. They had a great time.
They did swim team in our neighborhood for the first time this summer and did great. All those swim lessons paid off. They are strong simmers and loved it. We haven’t had them in swimming since then, but they recently expressed wanting to get back into it this winter, so we’ll see.
They also still play tennis. The hubs grew up playing tennis and played in college, so he helps with some of the coaching. At some point we’ll have to decide what sports to focus on. For now, we are trying lots of things. They would also like to try basketball. Again, we’ll see.
Outside of school and sports, which all of a sudden seem to take up so much time, they still love many of the same things. Imagination and pretend play is big. Costumes are still loved, but I do think they may be growing out of it just slightly. They love jumping on the trampoline, wrestling (this is a big one!), playing board games (this has become something they really enjoy too) and are really getting more into sports. We have a basketball goal and soccer goals now. And for Christmas they got rollerblades and have been on those a ton. They also enjoy riding their bikes. It’s just very hilly in our neighborhood, so sometimes we take all our bikes to the park and ride where the trails are a little more flat.
They also love camo, fast cars, are starting to get into video games (though this is definitely limited), playing with each other and McKenzie.
Some other differences between them:
Ashton: Right-handed, likes briefs and wears them up high on his waist, favorite meal is peanut butter and jelly (but just in the last week has been wanting just peanut butter), uses ketchup reasonably, and is a little snuggler. He’s my little snuggle bug. He’s often hanging onto me and loves hugs and physical touch.
Brooks: Left-handed, likes boxer briefs and wears them lower on his waist, recently has started wanting only jelly on his sandwich, goes through an entire bottle of ketchup weekly (no joke), loves hugs and such too, but is a little more independent.
Health-wise, things are fairly normal. I mentioned last time that Ashton had lost his front teeth because they ended up loose after various hits (thank you, wrestling). I was surprised Brooks hadn’t lost his. Well, in the Fall, they got loose so I took him to the dentist. To my surprise, they were loose simply because he was about to loose them. So we let them do their thing. He now has lost both top front teeth and one bottom front tooth (the most recent being the day after Christmas). The other bottom front tooth is also quite loose. Ashton was already missing the top front two, and now his bottom front two are loose. So we have more visits from the Tooth Fairy coming, I’m sure.
Aside from that, we have lots of sinus and ear infections. We haven’t ever gotten to the point where they’ve recommended tubes though. That said, over the summer it became clear that we needed to get Ashton looked at. He was constantly clearing his throat and even after an antibiotic for a sinus infection, the congested would pretty much continue non-stop, even with allergy medicine, etc. It got to the point where he really started feeling frustrated because people were getting upset with him for clearing his throat all the time. It was brought to his and our attention by his speech therapist and he told us that it’d been an issue at school. We even picked up on our nanny noticing it. It would even simply interfere when we all watched a movie together. Nobody could hear the movie over the constant loud throat clearing. I talked to a few other moms about it and tonsils and adenoids were brought up, so we thought it might be good to see an ENT. We needed a referral, so we started at the pediatrician.
Initially the pediatrician gave him antibiotics to try and clear up a sinus infection. She had him do two rounds and then stopped. At that point she tried to convince us that he had formed a habit of clearing his throat and we needed to work on that. After a week or so, the hubs took him back to the doctor and told them he wasn’t leaving without a referral to the ENT, which is what we’d wanted all along. They gave it to him and I made an appointment. I called 3 places they gave us referrals to and all had crazy long waits. So it took 2 months for him to be seen. At the appointment, we were told that he had two things going on and that the throat clearing was real (not just a habit). One issue was reflux. He asked if Ashton had issues with reflux as a baby and I’ve mentioned before in previous blog posts that their reflux was INSANE. Well, even though the boys stopped spitting up crazy amounts after the first year, apparently they still have reflux. So that’s been causing pain and issues and he said that Ashton may be clearing his throat when that comes up, literally. The other thing was his adenoids. They are apparently so swollen that the doctor said his throat is 95% closed! 95%! It makes all kinds of things make sense now – night time wakings, etc. and the doctor said it all fell in line with what he’d expect based on what he could see in Ashton’s throat. While we knew something didn’t seem quite right, we had no idea and our pediatrician had been no help. Unfortunately, it’s another 2 months of waiting to get on the schedule for surgery, so that is scheduled in a couple weeks, finally. And Ashton has been on what is basically a kids Prilosec, which will be re-evaluated after surgery.
I can’t wait until the surgery. It’s been nearly 6 months since this whole process started. I hate that Ashton has had to wait so long to get help. He was eating a peanut butter sandwich yesterday and didn’t want to finish it. It’s not unusual for him to not each much of sandwiches, chicken nuggets, things that are bigger or bulkier. He prefers fruit and yogurt (it makes sense, given his throat situation). But when I asked him why he didn’t want it, he finally gave me an answer that was more than just that he doesn’t want to. He said that it was hard for him to eat it. That it would get stuck in his throat and he’d have to drink a bunch of water with each bite to get it down. I felt even more terrible for him. That was the first time he’d articulated what his throat felt like for him when eating and even more of the things that he’d been doing made sense. Again, I can’t wait for the surgery and I’m so hopeful that it will change so many things for him. Sleeping, eating, etc.
Alright, so I’ll stop there. I could talk forever about our kids, as I’m sure most moms can. The bottom line is they are great. Typical kids that have issues at times, are learning and are wonderful. We love them like crazy. I simultaneously miss each age, but also love the next one. It really is such a joy to watch them grow, learn and mature. Just reading back over last year’s post and thinking about all that has changed makes me realize how much they’ve grown in the last year. Amazing.
Mom and Dad
As for the hubs and I, we are just doing our best every day. The busyness is real. It’s hard to keep up and we usually aren’t, LOL. We are always telling ourselves that things will settle down, but it doesn’t. If anything, it gets more crazy.
My mom and grandmother did move really close to us (like a few minutes down the road) back in November, which has been awesome. It’s great to be able to see them so regularly, and to have help when needed.
Work (this blog) is a lot of work. We seem to need more and more help and yet, still need more help. But we do our best. Working together has been good in many ways, but naturally can be challenging at times. It sometimes seems like we never leave the house, except to take the kids to school and go to the grocery store.
We try to soak it all in and stay sane. We try to keep priorities in focus and sometimes those shift a bit. We will hit our 15th wedding anniversary in May, which is crazy. The first 9 years were a lot simpler than the last 6, LOL. But we love this crazy life and are very thankful for it.
This brings me to the other big thing that happened this past year. I’ve mentioned in some of the old family posts that McKenzie was named after my friend Lauren, whose middle name was McKenzie. Lauren was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in 2016 (read more of her story here). After a long fight, she passed away in July. We were fortunate to kind of know it was coming. We’d been told many times that it might be the end, but this time was different. She called me towards the end of April and told me that it was coming and she wanted me to come visit. There was a lot going on, so we were finally able to visit the first week of June. It just so happened that one of our other besties was driving through town in the middle of moving from one city to another with her family and we all got to spend a day together. It was a really nice time. Despite her weakening body, Lauren seemed pretty good to me and I hoped to be able to see her again later that summer. We had a beach trip planned and a trip out to Arizona to see my father-in-law who also was going through cancer treatment, so it would have to be after all of that.
About 2 weeks later, we got a message from her brother that she was in the hospital and this was it. We were coming home the next day, so after getting home, I drove to go see her. I spent several days there and for many reasons, it was really hard. Even though we all knew this time would come, she didn’t seem ready for it. And looking back now, I realize that even though I thought I was, I wasn’t.
Anyhow, she’d surpassed expectations many times before so it was hard to know how it’d all go. She was given two weeks. If that timeline held true, I wouldn’t see her again. We were leaving to go visit my father-in-law when I got home and it sounded like she may pass while we were gone. It was hard to know. When I said good bye, it was so strange. I was kind of the first person to visit and have to say good bye. Neither of us really knew if we were saying good bye for the last time (and she could still text with me a bit). I could tell she was hoping I’d be back. But I also knew the timeline didn’t favor that possibility. So it was like we said good bye thinking I’d be back. It wasn’t really the good bye I’d wanted, but I didn’t want to force her into a good bye she wasn’t ready for.
And in true Lauren fashion, she held on for about 4 weeks. We got back from our trip and I could tell Lauren still wanted me to come back. So I talked to the hubs about it. We’d been traveling so much. But we decided that I should go and get that final chance to see her and a have better good bye. I texted my mom (who also knows the family really well, was local at the time, and had been keeping in touch to help, if needed) so she could put out feelers. I was trying hard not to interfere with what the family needed. We found out that Lauren had gone to sleep about a day before and hadn’t woken up. Family was coming into town because it was the end. So that was it. I was too late.
Grief is a funny thing. Especially was it comes and goes over years like that. There were many times when we thought it was the end. She’d even been given two weeks before, but a clinic trial gave her years more. So I thought that I was ready. Ok even. I held back a lot of emotion, but one day shortly before she passed, I just let so much out. It was overwhelming. I was alone in my closet, because it would’ve been a lot for the kids to see. But when I thought I’d pulled it together and came downstairs, I lost it again as soon as Ian (the hubs) hugged me. He literally kept me on my feet as I cried. So hard. It actually made Brooks cry. But then I held it back in again. I think I let myself be a bit angry and a bit numb. It’s easier, you know?
Then one morning at church, when everyone usually greets everyone around them, we were told to introduce ourselves by name and try to get to know those around us that we sit next to all the time. Then, before the people on stage began to sing, the woman who was about to sing introduced herself. I’d never known her name. She said, “Good morning, my name is Lauren.” And it was all I could do to hold back tears for the next hour. But somehow it helped me get past a point I was at where I just tried to avoid thinking about the reality that she was gone. I’d think about her, but stop myself when I got to the recent reality of her passing. Since then, I still hold some of it in. It’s like a massive tidal wave I just can’t quite let go of. But I don’t push it all down so much and I don’t avoid the sadness as much. I let a little out every time. And I think about her all the time. So much reminds me of her.
She loved her family, her friends, being on the lake, having a tan, the beach. She loved Christmas. She loved Lifetime Christmas movies. She gave me her sweatshirt that said, “I just want to bake stuff and watch Christmas movies” and I wore it a bunch over the holidays and thought of her. I cry a bit (and hold back more) every time I think of her, but I’m letting myself feel it more now. It’s made me realize that I think I was kind of protecting myself from all the feelings for a while before she passed.
I miss her. I wish I’d been able to see her again, but I’m also not sure I could’ve said all I’d want to say. I could probably say it now, but I think I was protecting myself a bit in the moment.
We were friends for just shy of 25 years. We met the first day of freshman year of high school and she was my best friend. She was there for so much. From all the drama of high school, the growth during college, getting married. She always listened so well to the good and the bad. I was going through IVF when she was going through some of her initial cancer treatment and we’d talk about sticking ourselves with needles. No matter what she was going through, she was always there. So self-less. She was always happy for you and always wanted to hear about what you were dealing with, which would feel silly given what she was dealing with. But she never made you feel that way. And she wanted to know. She didn’t want people to stop talking to and confiding in her just because she was sick and it was hard. She was amazing.
During those last few weeks, she got to celebrate her 38th birthday. I tried to surprise her by bringing a cake I knew she’d asked me to make several times and thought she’d love, but when I showed her, she made it very clear that it wasn’t the cake she wanted, LOL. So I asked what she wanted. She said a funfetti cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting. I had none of my supplies with me and my mom has nothing, other than a mixer I bought her long ago. So I went and bought everything I needed and I made her that cake. She rarely asked for much, but she wanted that cake. So I made it.
I’m sure I could go on forever, but I won’t. If you’ve read all of this, I’m impressed. It’s a little bit cathartic for me. It was really important to her that she not be forgotten, and she never will be, but I like that I’ll have this final piece written here.
You may not know it, but she’s sprinkled throughout this blog in many ways. During one of her earlier remissions, when she wanted to work, but was afraid to join the world with her lowered immune system, she did some work for me on the blog. I’d just had the boys and didn’t have tons of time, so she helped with responding to some comments, updated some old posts and even kept up with changing the scripture in my sidebar. She had a very strong faith. She was actually with me at the exact moment I accepted the Lord into my life, and was a big part of the reason I got there. And you can even see her beautiful face in this Carolina Panther Punch recipe post. A few photos down is a picture of her drinking it while we were tailgating. She often tailgated with my parents, even when I wasn’t there.
I love her so much and miss her. From a very young age, I pictured us growing old together. Sure, I knew I’d get married one day and grow old with that person. But I also pictured growing old and being silly old ladies with her. I’d see silly cards of old ladies and think that’d be us one day. We probably even gave each other those cards at some point. It’s so painful to know that won’t happen. But I guess it’ll be ok. It’ll have to be. But I will forever carry her with me.