Thursday, September 30, 2010

Newborn pics

When Jo was born, we were desperately poor. Twenty dollars a week for groceries poor. You have no business having a baby poor. Clearly, we made it. But no, there was no room in the budget for anything extra. Heck, there was no room in the budget for half of the essentials.

I went through that amazing, God-sent pregnancy regretting so many things that I would have loved to experience. I listened to people talk about their little babymoon getaways, and plan out their elaborate nurseries, and pick up sweet little outfits, and my heart ached. I felt like somehow, I was missing out. Then Jo was born, and I realized that I could have been in a mud hut with nothing but a straw mat to sleep on and my husband by my side, my baby in my arms ... and I would have still been blissfully happy.

The only thing I walked away feeling like I would have liked to have done differently was the photographs of that time. Thirteen years ago, most of the public was still shooting film. It was the age of the awful point-and-shoot. Stand four feet from your subject, hope the focus is right, and hit the button. Sometimes you got the shot. Sometimes you didn't. You had no idea until the photos came back from the drug store--or, if you were poor like me, you had no idea until the relatives sent you their cast-offs ... and those slightly out of focus or badly lit images are what your memories are made of to this day.

This was a special tragedy to me because in college, photography was one of my favorite hobbies. I lugged my cheap, clunky Pentax with me everywhere. I spent hours in cramped darkrooms. I even entertained going to photography school for a while, but followed the advice of a dear friend who said, "Becoming a photographer was the best way to kill my love of taking good pictures."

Being dirt poor, however, meant no money to buy decent film. No access to processing chemicals. Nothing. Because folks, photography is a pricey hobby.

Things were better--both financially and photographically--with Atticus and Logan. I could buy our own film for our little point and shoot, and sometimes, I even got it processed. We got our very first digital camera when Logan was seven months old, and from there, things were, well--a lot clearer. From the moment we were placed with Oli and Mani, we've had decent shots. Eight years of digital. Woo-hoo!

But still, the newborn days were gone. And you know, I've been saddened by that on many an occasion. Mr. Blandings doesn't understand this pang, but maybe some other mothers will. The window of time when your babies are sweet, sleeping little peanuts is so short. You can never get it back. But, if you're blessed, you can at least look back on proof that the time existed. 

This time, I told myself that I would have the proof.

I started shopping for a photographer mid-way through my pregnancy with Seven. There are so many styles, so many approaches, so much to choose from. I decided that I wanted shots of just my baby, despite the obvious beauty of the lovely Momma and Baby themes, or even the Family and Baby approach. Along the way, I fell in love with Renee Bergeron's work. And, generously, she worked with me to preserve my memories of this beautiful, fleeting time with Seven.

Renee has posted a sampling of some of the shots on her photo blog, and I'm delighted to share them with you. I'm also happy to pass on a hearty endorsement of her as a photographer. Not only is her work incredible, but she's just a neat person all around--someone you want to sip coffee with and get to know better. If you're in the market for a professional photographer, drop her a line.

Trust me, you'll be glad you did. Memories are precious. But the photos to back up those once-in-a-lifetime mental images are just as priceless.

Friday, September 24, 2010


On Sunday, Jo will cross the line that separates girls from young ladies. She will, officially, be 13.

I keep shaking my head in wonder, awed at the fact that the little girl who once refused to wear anything but Snow White costume to the grocery store is suddenly borrowing my t-shirts, loaning me hair bands, and asking if she can make brownies for dessert since she has nothing else to do.

There's a certain sense of the surreal, too, with a newborn baby girl in the house just as Jo teeters on the  edge of growing up. Seven is a very real reminder of all that we've already walked through with Jo, from the late night feedings to the obsession with horses, from the trimming of tiny fingernails to the countless rounds of "Chutes and Ladders." 

Jo and Atticus at Fair

I can't believe it's all in the past, that that part of parenting my very first little girl has already slipped by me. And how is it that the knowledge that I was there for all of it somehow make it seem all the more bittersweet? I listened as she learned to read. I taught her to knit. I held her hand at the orthodontist's office. I have been a constant in her life. And yet, the balance of time she has left when she will define herself as someone's daughter first and foremost is shifting. Our relationship is changing. 

She doesn't need me any less. I have to keep reminding myself of this as I see her balance so much more than I ever expected at this age. The peculiar thing about many homeschooled children is that they mature in terms of responsibility so much faster that their traditionally schooled peers, even as they lag behind in some of the more worldly aspects of life. Jo is clueless about most popular music and flavor-of-the-moment icons of her generation. It would never occur to her to ask for a cell phone or to "hang out" at a mall. But she runs a small, profitable rabbitry with a clear head and sets personal goals better than most adults I know. She is trustworthy, honest to a fault, and kind. These, I think, are the worthier things for a teen to pursue.

But yes, she needs me. My job is nowhere near done. Now is the time for coaching, encouraging, mentoring, refining. This is the season where I get to engage on a whole new level with the young lady my daughter is becoming. My Jo is turning 13. What a wonderful gift to celebrate!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I've had three beautiful, peaceful labors. Labors that left me glowing and feeling strong and empowered, even as I held my newborn for the very first time. Labors with little more than a shadowy memory of pain lingering in the background as I contemplate the hours spent bringing my babies into the world.

My labor with Seven was not one of those. Instead, it was the kind of labor that truly let me know why we use the word "labor" to start with. Birthing a baby is hard work, it turns out.

Seven was born just three hours and ten minutes after my ob/gyn broke my water to begin my official induction. It was a terribly long three hours and ten minutes. A terribly painful three hours and ten minutes. Three hours and ten minutes in which I finally folded and declared that while I'd been able to have three unmedicated deliveries in the past, I was no longer on board with the whole "natural childbirth" idea and would really, really like to meet the anesthesiologist. Alas, that was the time at which Seven chose to make her entrance. So ... make that four unmedicated deliveries--one under protest.

And yes, I'd do it again.

The moment of Seven's birth is blurry around the edges. Unlike my previous deliveries, where I was focused and alert and feeling every twinge of every moment, Seven arrived in the rush of an urge I couldn't control had I wanted to. No one was quite prepared; the doctor was out of the room, Mr. Blandings was at my ear, encouraging me that I was almost through, I was stretched out on the bed, praying that it would all be over. Then, suddenly, one gigantic red wave that I simply had to ride, and--

The nurse caught her as she rotated out of my body and onto the bed. Someone yelled, "Time? Time?" Through my absolute relief I realized Mr. Blandings was back by my ear, this time laughing and crying and telling me that we had a daughter.

She was gloriously pink and fuzzy haired and wide-eyed, looking for all the world as if she had somehow witnessed the entire breadth of human history before being born as an infant. She has been a quiet baby, a sleepy little thing content to nap and, on occasion, observe the goings on with interest. Nursing has been a challenge, and I've been grateful countless times that she's not my first and therefore I'm nowhere near as green and likely to give up. We've only heard her cry a handful of times, and each time it has been shocking to hear how small and dispassionate her wails are, as if she is only counting down the days until she can make requests in a more civilized manner. 

Every day, I have looked at my daughter and been amazed. Seven months ago, I was unable to comprehend what God's plan was in allowing this pregnancy. I was frightened, anxious, and unable to rejoice in large part due to my lack of faith. I remember seeing that tiny, flickering heartbeat for the first time, and daring--just barely--to hope. I remember feeling the first feeble movements and wondering if I'd ever meet this little one.

And now, here she is. Healthy. Whole. Here. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pictures of Seven!!!

The pictures of Seven you've been waiting for!

(Pictures posted by Benny - Mary Grace will post more later, of course!)

Saturday, September 11, 2010


... is here!!!
... came into the world at 6:21 this evening (pacific time).
... is 21 1/4 inches long.
... weighs 9 pounds 5 ounces.
... has already stolen the hearts of the entire Blandings family, even before meeting most of them.
... is a GIRL!!!
... is reported to look just like her big sister Jo did when she was born.
... 's Mommy is doing great - and is head over heels in love with her newest little gift from God.
... is very, very loved.
... is very, very blessed.
(Update brought to you by Mary Grace's friend Benny. Mary Grace will fill you in on the rest of the details herself when she gets a chance)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts before Seven arrives

•The neatest thing about pregnancy? You are never alone. Always, inside, you are carrying another person. It's a beautiful reminder to me as a Christian that I always bear someone else inside me ... and as obvious as it is to parade around town with a swollen belly, it should be even more obvious to everyone who sees me that I am honored to be a child of God.

•I had no idea, when I had three little ones four and under, how much easier it would someday be to actually have a whole houseful with a couple of older ones in the mix. Those eager helpers are a blessing I can't be grateful enough for.

•You are, truly, never ready to have a baby. I believed this 13 years ago as I counted down the days until Jo's birth. I believe it even more now.

•How is it possible that I am actually realizing that I will miss my aching back and that slipping feeling in my hips? Oh, perspective changes so much in one's life. I am so thankful for the chance to do all this again--and to relish it, rather than wish it away.

•Seven will not want for love. I can't count how many times each day one of the older children--or a friend, or even just someone on the periphery of our lives-- bubbles over with joy when talking about how excited they are to meet this little one. God surely knew what He was doing with timing for this blessing!

•Every pregnancy only happens once. With Jo, we were so poor that many of the little things I dreamed of doing were out of reach. With Atticus and Logan, I was too caught up in the cycle of pregnant-baby-nursing-pregnant-wean toddler-give birth-nursing-repeat to invest in these treasured moments. This time, I'm doing my best to prudently give in to my whims. Money is always an object, but by golly ... I will have lifelong momentos and memories of this pregnancy, and of Seven as a newborn. It's worth it.

•I am not in charge. Not of my body, this baby, or anything else, really. God is. And that's far more comforting than anything else I can say right now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yes, I'm *really* pregnant

Someone complained that I haven't posted a single belly pic throughout my entire pregnancy. So sorry. I really didn't think anyone was that interested in seeing me in all my glory. Anyhow, here it is. Me, last week, as I hit the 37 week mark. Hope this satisfies any curiosity. :-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Got boys?

Logan, playing the part of "all boy" to the hilt.

I am always amazed by the way people perceive boys. Even a single, adorable little moppet of a boy sitting in the front of his Momma's shopping cart is likely to illicit a "Whoa! I bet he's a little troublemaker!" from a stranger. Making your way down an aisle with four of the little creatures, for some reason, makes people go bug-eyed.

"Heaven help you, honey," a well-meaning lady told me recently as I selected the perfect pineapple. "Tell me that one's not a boy, too." She motioned sympathetically toward my belly, as if it might contain yet another horrendous, messy, wild boy child.

In front of my four sons, mind you.


I have personally always been delighted by raising boys. Yes, yes, they contain little mysteries all their own. Why, for example, must they fixate on certain kinds of humor around the dinner table? Why, oh why, do they eventually want to learn to potty standing up? And why, most of all, do they ponder the most intimate gender questions aloud? In public? With the most volume they can muster? (Yes, there are stories behind this.)

None of these little idiosyncrasies give me pause in the thought of being the mother of yet another little man, however. No matter what bystanders think as they see us unload from our big white van ("Girl, boy, boy, boy, boy ... poor thing!") neither Mr. Blandings nor I has any aversion to Seven being a boy. Or a girl. Whatever he or she happens to be, we're simply delighted to see what God has in store for us.

That being said, I'm delighted to announce that whatever gender this baby is, the truth will be revealed September 11th at the latest. My doctor has given us an induction date based on the hefty size we're assuming Seven to be. If I go into labor spontaneously between now and then, so be it. If not, we'll meet our little one on 9/11/10.

Boy or girl. The wait is almost over. :-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Investing in daughters

Jo, decorating a cake.

Jo is, quite literally, growing up before my very eyes. Not a day passes that I'm not reminded of how quickly she is leaving behind "the things of childhood" and moving into the days of young womanhood. Part of me is terrified of all this change. I have loved and adored having a little girl to walk alongside me these past few years, and the thought of leaving that behind brings my Momma heart not a small portion of grief.

But then again, the greater part of me is delighted. As the trapping of girlhood slip away--as the dolls have a chance to grow dusty on their shelves, as the toy horses come out for a frolic less and less-- the woman that I'm going to know for the rest of my life emerges, bit by bit. I have the chance to fall in love with my girl all over again.

Truly, motherhood is an amazing thing.

Sensing that this was a year that would bring many changes to all of our lives, Mr. Blandings and I sat down early this summer with a list of priorities--things we absolutely didn't want to let escape us in the hustle and bustle of life. Top among my things to purpose towards was investing in Jo's blossoming womanhood. Mr. Blandings was in full support of this, even though he had very little to contribute in the way of practical ideas. (What with not having the vaguest clue as to what it feels like to be a teenage girl and all ...) I did some research, wrote down some ideas, talked to my daughter, and came up with a plan.

Jo's main goal--aside from just having girls-only access time to me--was to learn more about cooking. She's a crack baker at this point, and adores any and all time that she gets to spend in the kitchen tinkering. She'd keen on expanding her repertoire beyond the basics, but in her own social way, would prefer to do it with a guide. I'm a much more solitary cook myself, so it takes me outside of my comfort zone to share my space and skills with someone else--something I've had to shove aside as I've committed to this journey together. If my daughter wants to learn to cook with me at her side, then you can bet I will be there, discomfort or no.

My main intent on spending time together was to purposefully impart some of the insight I've learned on the road to becoming the kind of woman I think God wants me to be. Much of this is simply taking the time to share Scripture, mentor, and ask deeper questions that will help me to stay in tune with my daughter's heart as she grows. But the ultimate goal is to help her to keep listening to God's will for her life. I know all too well that as the label "teen" is added to a child's age, society's voices can grow far louder than God's. I want to help keep the volume adjusted to the proper level, if you know what I mean.

Using these two desires as a starting point, I ended up buying Doorposts' Polished Cornerstones curriculum as a guide for what I hope will be memorable, productive, fun time together as Mother and Daughter.

It's based on Scriptural definitions of womanhood, but is also open-ended enough to be used even by those of us who don't always fit under the umbrella most often opened for our KJ-only sisters. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this character-building, life-shaping curriculum really does function as a "pick and choose" buffet for crafting meaningful times around many different learning styles and personality types. And all the while, the focus is on sharing and simply being together. How refreshing!

So far, we're off to a good start. Since the book isn't necessarily meant to be used in chronological order, I skipped ahead to the chapter on cooking as that was what Jo had expressed as her biggest interest. It took me just a few hours to go through the section, select some scripture to study together (the book offers several options for each chapter's theme, then allows the parent to choose what fits their daughter the best), and zero in on a handful of activities to pursue based on that lesson. I decided to give this chapter five weeks, with two days of study being pursued each week. I can honestly say that thus far, Jo has lit up each time she realized that it's Tuesday or Thursday--"PC day!"

From the extensive list of options, I selected those activities that seemed to be most likely to help Jo with specific skills or to delight her with a chance to show off her abilities. So far, she's gained a greater understanding of the cook's role in making sure everyone stays healthy by balancing food choices in menus, learned basic cooking terms (grill, baste, saute, fold, etc.), started her own recipe binder (just like Mom's!), and begun collecting recipes that she'd like to try her hand at. All the while, we've made time to cook together. It's been a total blessing ... to both of us.

The time I've invested in spending time with Jo will always be dear to me. Watching her joy as she assembled her own recipe binder was probably one of the highlights of my month. Seriously--to see the care she took in making labels for her dividers, thinking through how she'd like to categorize, watching as she decided what her first recipe to go in to the first page protector would be ... I was proud. I was humbled. And I was struck by what a fine young woman I had on my hands already.

I have no interest in producing a mini-me clone when it comes to raising any of my children, let alone my daughter. I am overjoyed that God created within each of them their own personalities, their own proclivities, and their own desire to walk with Him in their own way. But to be able to pause and pour into a growing, developing heart is a blessing that pays out to us as mothers a hundred fold. My Jo will not be "Mary Grace all over again." That's not the point. But hopefully she will emerge from this season stronger, more prepared, and well-loved, knowing that her father and I felt that her teen years were an important time. Not for the reasons that the world so often trumpets. But for the reasons that God outlines--that she should grow in knowledge and wisdom, so as to be an arrow for the Lord.