Act Like a Two-Year-Old

Dear ZuZu,

You are now at the age adults refer to when calling someone (of any age) out for irrational behavior. “Stop acting like a two-year-old!” or “You’re acting like a two-year-old!”

While your strong-willed tantrums give me a front row seat to the two-year-old stereotype, there is a whole, vibrant person starting to emerge from your tiny body that makes this age – like every age so far – one I never want to forget.

The other day I saw a shirt with a smirking condiment bottle on it that read: Bet you can’t ketchup!

That shirt defines you at two; one step ahead of us and always traveling at top speed.

I will never forget you running down the cul-de-sac, leading the flying v of five older neighborhood kids chasing after you; your top knot bouncing in the wind.

Your toes are always dressed with a Finding Nemo bandaid and your knees scraped up or bruised, which makes me proud. It tells me you’re living.

We tried to keep you contained in your crib by putting you into a large sleep sack, but somehow you still found a way to fling yourself out like a gymnast on the pommel horse.

While I love how active you are, I don’t love that we’ve now lost two out of your three perfect leg rolls. You are becoming less and less of a baby everyday.

When you were first born and babbling nonsense, I remember wondering what your voice would sound like and what you had to say. Now that you’ve discovered some words, it’s as entertaining as I could have imagined.

I hope I never forget the cheeky way you say, “Oh my goodness gracious, that’s insane!”. I love that you confidently say, “Sooooo cute!” every time you get dressed in the morning. And your sweet I love you mama’s make you easy to forgive; even when I’m on the brink of quitting motherhood.

You ride the highs and lows of every day with reckless abandon, vulnerable to the present moment. 

Before becoming a mom, if someone had told me that their two-year-old was compassionate, I probably would have rolled my eyes in disbelief. Now I’m that mom because you are truly bursting with empathy and compassion, always making sure that everyone around you is okay.

So today, I say act like a two-year-old. Dig your hands into the sand, run around naked, drink the hose water and eat all the “popcorns” you can. You’re only here for another year, and then onto three. Might as well make the most of it!

I love you more than you’ll ever know.

xoxo
Mama

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The Time We Took Two Under 2 to Italy

“Would you do it all over again?”, asked my youngest sister. My mind quickly recounted slamming my hands into the mattress in a sleepless fury, while yelling, “I can’t do it anymore!”. And then I flashed to our self-guided nighttime walking tour through Rome, gelato in hand, engulfed by the romantic magic of a brand new city full of monuments older than Jesus.

Like life at home right now, traveling to Europe with an infant and a toddler was hard. And it was magical.

We had been planning for our Italian family reunion for the last year and also loosely planning our second baby around it too. September was our last month of trying where I wouldn’t be too pregnant or have too young of a baby to go.

As you might have guessed, I got pregnant. Our little seed of hope turned into a little baby girl and our family became four just two months before we would take off.

I was pretty anxious leading up to the trip; there were a lot of unknowns about how our independence-seeking, runaway two-year-old, and fresh into the world two-month-old would react in a new country. Germs, logistics, passports, schedules and other fear-based obstacles took turns making me question the plausibility of this trip.

There’s a Mark Twain quote that goes something like: when you look back over your life, you’ll regret more of the things that you didn’t do, than the things that you did.

So we went. For Mark Twain’s sake and for that vow we made to each other when we got married; to see the world together.

My mom dropped us off curbside at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. She kept saying how brave we were for going. Brave, or stupid, I kept thinking to myself.

I reminisced briefly on the last time I was in Italy. I wore an SDSU college sweatshirt, drank gin and tonics, and traveled spontaneously around with nothing but an oversized backpack. Here I was 10 years later, returning a slightly different version of myself. I wore Birkenstocks, drank beer (and also electrolytes) and traveled with four backpacks (and that was only our carry-on luggage).

We reserved the bulkhead seats and didn’t have too many annoyed eyes staring at us just yet.  After a few hours of airplane food, Daniel Tiger, Fancy Nancy and sticker books, Maisley reluctantly fell asleep on her makeshift bed below our feet. Coura took turns sleeping in her bassinet and wrapped to one of our chests. It definitely wasn’t relaxing, but also wasn’t as crazy as I had imagined.

We stayed in Rome for the first two nights and then took a NASCAR style ride out of city and into the countryside of Tuscany, settling into a farmhouse outside of the small hilltop town of Cortona.

28 of Ryan’s Dutch, American and Russian family members ranging from ages 5 to 75 all met us there for a week of family bonding, site seeing and gelato eating.

The first few days were an adjustment. I had that “out of my comfort zone” pit in my stomach, coupled with jet lag, cranky babies not sleeping, and 4th trimester surging hormones. Things that helped me get through those first days: time, meditation and focusing on my breath, talking and connecting with Ryan, sleep, prayer and staying present.

We went on a few day trips to surrounding hilltop towns, organized a fun game of water polo with all of the cousins at the farmhouse pool, and ate countless pizzas, all under the 100-degree tuscan sun. 

Maisley had a blast playing and swimming with her dutch cousins.  She even learned how to say her favorite word in dutch: nee (pronounced nay). She can now refuse us in two languages!

Coura slept, cried, smiled and drank her way through our Italian adventure, seemingly growing from a newborn into a baby during our 11 days abroad. “Unique Places I Breastfed Coura” is probably a blog of it’s own, but two highlights were the refreshingly cool floor of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and hilltops with expansive views of bright sunflower fields. 

Ryan and I took turns losing our mind, so that at least one person remained positive and calm at all times. We were saved by kind people at the airport who lead us to shorter security lines, quiet drives with napping babies, afternoon thunderstorms, and an amazon fire tablet holding our mini savior; a tiger in a red sweater.

After 20 hours of return travel, we arrived home with thankful hearts and extra tired eyes. We asked Maisley to tell us her favorite part of the trip. She replied with, “Sleeping on the airplane.”

While neither of the girls will remember this trip, it will forever be part of their essence and one Ryan and I will never forget.

We gained far more than we lost on this trip, and I’d do it all over again every time (although probably waiting until all kids are old enough to hold their own head up before we go). 

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In Maisley’s Backpack:
Pipe cleaners
Painters tape
Under the Sea & Zoo Sticker Books by Usborne
Traveling pack of Fancy Nancy books
Moana doll
Buckle Toy
Amazon Fire Tablet full of Shaun the Sheep, Daniel Tiger and Moana

In My Backpack:
doTERRA – On Guard Essential Oil Protective Blend
No Jet Lag Homeopathic Jet Lag Remedy
Bach Flower Rescue Remedy Drops (for anxiety)
Lavender essential oils
Cozy airplane socks
Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder

Other Secret Weapons:
Mother and father-in-laws
Packing cubes
Family members who can calm your crying baby
Snacks, so many snacks

Loving My Second

“To fall in love you have to take the risk of changing yourself for that person. You have to let go. Let go of who you thought you were before you loved that person.” – Father Richard Rohr 

Sometimes the hardest thing about being a mom isn’t the long days or the sleepless nights.

It’s the love. A love so big and beautiful that it requires terrifying vulnerability. A love not conditional to outside forces; holding up fiercely to projectile vomit and tantrums in aisle 4.

My first love with Maisley was intoxicating, wild, unknown and full of firsts. After the shock of birthing a human had worn off, and within about 10 minutes of holding her on my chest, I felt this extreme rush of love. It was overwhelming and I remember bursting into tears, exclaiming to Ryan, “I just love her so much!” My emotions sat right at the intersection of extreme fear and extreme joy. My world was now her world. I carefully examined her every move, every inch of her teeny baby body and stared at her in awe most hours of the day.  It was innocent, a little like a first high school love (or in my case college, because God knows I only talked to boys on instant messenger, not in real life while in high school).

My second love with Coura has been slower, more mature. She emerged from the water and onto my chest completely at peace. With her warm, soft body tucked close to me, I felt immediately like we were made for each other. But our love story has been scattered in between making dinner, reading stories, tired tears, and the big one’s bedtime routine. It has come in quiet moments, not a rush all at once. It’s authentic and growing into a big love I could never explain in words. She loves to cuddle close and needs her mama in the sweetest way.

I sat in the shower the other morning feeling completely overwhelmed with now two incredible mother loves. My mind started wandering to worry…if something ever happened to one of them…

It made me want grab them, hold them and never let go. My worry, fear and anxieties came creeping in like a bad habit.

But big love is always worth the letting go and after seven weeks of sleepless nights, I could really use the makeover anyways.

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Life with Two Kids

Now seven weeks into life with two kids, I often get asked how things are going.  “It’s hard,” I reply honestly. “Two kids is no joke!”

We are in it.

Having two kids is the hardest honor I’ve been blessed with. Somehow two feels like triple the work and I feel like I should need less help than I do. But I need help, and it’s chaotic and sometimes in the middle of the night while rocking an inconsolable, crying baby I’ll swear I can’t do it. But then the sun comes out and Maisley crawls into bed with the three of us and all is somehow alright.

I shower at strange times like two in the afternoon and “morning” is an abstract concept. One handed diaper changes and bouncing while eating have become the norm. Chasing Maisley (also the name of my next novel) with a Coura bear wrapped on my chest while our dog escapes to harass the neighbors is my new workout routine. There are significantly more highs and lows and we often experience an entire day of emotions before 10 am.

Maisley and Ryan have been spending more time together.  Our relationship is changing and my attention is now split, but I keep reminding myself that the gift of a sister outweighs my absence at a few pool days and night-time routines.

It’s hard, but it’s the good kind of hard. The kind of hard that makes the good moments feel great.

Ryan and I are working as a team, more in sync than ever before. Rather than a zone defense against Maisley, we are now man to man. We zip around like two carefully trained soccer players, anticipating the other person’s next move (got the World Cup on my mind if you couldn’t tell). “I got the big one”, he’ll say.  “I got the little one,” I’ll say.  We each always have a job, ain’t nobody sitting on the sidelines.

We went to the park the other day and Ryan walked ahead of me with Maisley’s hand in his and a purple bubble wand peaking out of the back pocket of his Chinos. I told him he’s arrived as a dad. The other dad at the park chimed in, “I was thinking the same thing.”

Coura and I are as close as we could possibly be right now (aside from having her inside of me). She’s attached to me most hours of the day, but I sense that she’s enjoying it and needs me in a unique way. We both know it’s not forever, and I love getting to know her more and more everyday.

When Coura cries, Maisley comforts her saying, “It’s ok Coura Joan!” and sings her a special song: “Coura, Coura, Coura, Coura, I love you. I love you. You’re my little sister, you’re my little sister, I love you. I love you.” (Maisley also sometimes whacks Coura for no reason, but we’re focusing on the great moments in this half of the blog, right?).

We are in it. So if you need us, this is where we’ll be for a while (and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else).

June 1st

The four of us lay in bed. Sitting comfortably on a cloud of hormones and pure joy. We couldn’t stop smiling and staring at her, FaceTiming our families to share the happy news. I had thought a thousand times about what her birth day would be like. June 1st now held her story forever.

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My water broke on May 31st at 10pm; 15 minutes before we finished the finale of The Americans and two hours after my ferocious need to wash all of the bath mats in the house. Ryan and I both leaped up from the couch, too distracted to continue watching, and began the final preparations for our planned home birth of baby girl number two.

Ryan kicked things into high gear. He pulled out the hose to begin filling the Aquadoula tub, put the plastic sheet on the bed, and gathered all of our prepared birth goodie bags full of things like towels, a baby hat, washcloths, a thermometer and a cookie sheet (who’s purpose still stumps me to this day).

I walked aimlessly around our bedroom, trying to combat my intense anxiety and excitement with meditation and deep breathing.

Our birth flags strung across the wall, illuminated by the bedside lamp. Positive affirmations from the strong women in my life decorated each flag.

I am strength. A warrior. Courageous. Sunshine.

“It’s Go Time!”

“I can do hard things.” 

The bright, teal colored Aquadoula had been setup in the corner of our room now for two weeks, staring at me in anticipation every night before bed.

People kept telling me how quickly second babies tend to come, so when my water broke, my heart leaped out of my chest thinking I would go from zero to 10, fast. (Plus I had lost my mucus plug two days before and had been feeling “off” – extra emotional and crampy – since then).

The surges began around 10:30 pm, light at 10 minutes apart, then slowly building in intensity and closer together at eight minutes apart. We called our doula, Willow, to come over and my sister, Michelle, to watch our older daughter Maisley. All signs were pointing to baby launch 2018. She was coming!

And then after an hour, the surges started to slow down. 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes apart.

It was a sleepless night. The surges were just strong enough to keep me awake, not to mention my anxious mind begging unhelpful questions like: When will this labor get moving? Am I going to be pregnant forever? Can I even handle this again?

I laid in bed on my side, with a pillow between my legs, lightly clutching the rosary my grandma had given me when I was a little girl. Grandma Joan, our baby’s middle-name sake.

Ryan laid next to me, dosing out a unique level of comfort and encouragement that only he could provide.

Inhale calm, exhale surrender.

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The sun came up on the first of a new month. It was a peaceful and warm morning, not the kind of day you imagine to match the intensity of labor. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, questioning my body and wondering when I would meet my baby girl. 

Willow continued to reassure me that this off-and-on early labor was very common for second-time moms. “Nothing is wrong. Everything you are experiencing is normal. You are doing great,” she calmly reminded me. She massaged my shoulders and guided me through the Miles Circuit to help get things moving. Willow went home to recharge and told us to call her when things started to intensify.

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I continued to rest in bed and then around 9:00 am I noticed a change in my body. One strong surge came and I knew it was the beginning of many more to come.

Between breaths I whispered to Ryan to call the midwife and have Willow come back as soon as possible, trying not waste any bit of energy on logistics. He was working so hard to not only help me through each surge with the support of his hands and shoulders to hang on, but managing all communications and making sure I had everything I needed; food, water, chapstick, cold towels, music, essential oils, etc.

At the peak of each surge, I felt like I had a choice; to let the pain consume me and take over, or to ride with it, be active in it, stay present and breathe deeply. Instead of being afraid of the intensity, I embraced it and welcomed it with every ounce of my mind and body (different than my mindset for my first labor and it made ALL the difference).

I was squatting next to the bed, breathing and making deep groaning noises. I moved to the toilet to labor and I could feel my body releasing her down with each surge.

The urge to push came on at around 10:15 am as I was laboring on the toilet.  That undeniable and familiar deep pressure in my pelvis was here. I had been saving the water as my final comfort during transition and was now instinctively ready to move to the tub.

I hung over the soft edge of the warm tub, in an upright child’s pose position. It was here that I experienced the hardest moment of labor so far. The moment most laboring women talk about where they feel like they can’t do it. I wanted out. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. The pressure and burning was so intense, I felt like my body might break apart.

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When Willow arrived she strung cold essential oil-infused towels over my neck, poured water on my back and took turns with Ryan holding my hands and guiding my breath through each surge.

The midwives arrived at 10:30 am. Thank you God, I thought. No unassisted home birth today. They took my blood pressure, monitored baby and as one of the assistants asked if it was okay to check my dilation, I just shook my head and said I’m ready. There was no need, I could feel her coming soon.

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Ryan faced me, looking into my eyes with belief and whispering words of encouragement. He helped me to remain present and enjoy the peaceful moments between surges (which to my surprise was actually possible).

I began bearing down when the uncontrollable urge to push came over my body. On my third full body push, I groaned, “She’s coming!” and as her head emerged, I flipped over and reached down to feel her beautiful head. I was so shocked that she was here. There was no “ring of fire” feeling and I was only pushing for 15 minutes!

With one final push at 10:59 am her body was out and I felt the sweetest release. Ryan stood next to the midwife, delivering our baby girl and bringing her to my chest.

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I yelled out sighs of relief and joy, in disbelief by the continual miracle of birth. We did it. Everyone was safe and healthy.  Ryan and I held each other’s gaze, relishing in what we divinely created. She was so warm on my chest and was covered in thick, white vernix. She exuded a calm, peace and contentment I had never seen before. 

I almost thought something might be wrong because she wasn’t crying, but the midwives reassured me that she was doing great.

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I could feel deep in my heart that we were made for each other. That and so much gratitude for her life and the empowering experience we would forever share. 

Coura Joan Nienhuis. Born 7 pounds 2 ounces in the water, at home. My courageous girl had forever changed our life. 

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The Bookshelf

It was 9:30 at night. My insane need to nest, coupled with my husband leaving for eight days on a work trip (three days after our big move), had me a little furniture assembly happy.

I’d been staring at that white kids bookshelf online for two weeks before I purchased it, so when it finally arrived, I was beyond ready to bring my kids corner vision to life.

The directions read: one hour assembly time. We both laughed thinking we were smarter than everyone else who sets up furniture. There was no way it would take that long. Half way up and an hour in, my husband muttered under his breath, “I think a divorce attorney designed this damn bookshelf”.

We’ve had a few days like that in the new house, where nothing can go right. Hanging a bookshelf feels like attempting to summit Everest and drywall is public enemy no. 1 (second to my husband). 

We’ve also had a few days where everything goes right. The new rug matches perfectly, our front porch swing serves as a happy waiting place for Nonni to arrive, and we share a special quiet moment with all three of us laying in bed, looking up at the new walls that will hold our memories over the next years and welcome us into a family of four (five including Sammie pup).

Every time we pull into the driveway Maisley exclaims, “new house!”, in her high pitched voice that almost has a hint of a dutch accent.  She has embraced her new space without an ounce of reservation. She runs around outside in the backyard any chance she gets, two continual stubbed toes to prove it.

While I had laid awake the first night in our new house clinging to my emotional baggage about change and the move, she slept soundly and innocently. I want to be more like her in this new phase of life.

Worrying less about the bookshelf (which will probably become a pile of broken wood after two kids use it as a jungle gym), and more about running freely, living for the things in life that make us feel good; swinging, playing, drawing, reading and giggling.

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Pic cred: Jordan “Gigi”, Nanny & BFF

New Home // Home Birth

I strolled into Home Depot with my checklist scribbled into the notes section of my iPhone. Maisley sat in the front of the cart, casually along for the ride and intentionally preoccupied by her Trader Joes cheddar rocket snacks.

I’m never above asking for help in that giant store, so I flagged down the first orange vest in site. “Excuse me. Are you able to tell me where I can find a cheap garden hose, a sprocket to attach the hose to a bathroom sink, large storage bins and two smoke detectors?” I asked casually, without explaining why.

I felt like I was plotting for something big. Like I was an incognito, athleisure-wearing, mom-version of Walter White from Breaking Bad gathering supplies for some illegal debauchery.

Substitute the meth for some oxytocin, and our new home and home birth prep was underway.

The Home Part

After a year of searching, the magical combo finally struck at week 32 of pregnancy number two – we fell in love with a new home and our offer was accepted. A home still in San Diego county, but just far enough away to bring out waves of that uncomfortable feeling that happens with big changes or when you’re just about to take off on an airplane to somewhere unknown. A new grocery story, new network of friends and new everyday life.

Maisley will finally have walls on her room and Ryan and I won’t have to use our bluetooth headphones to watch TV together at night. We will have a backyard where our kids can expel their endless energy and most importantly, our own mailbox in which I can paint in any way I please (a dream I have always had). 

Despite everything that feels right about our new home, it feels bittersweet to leave our town home – the first home we bought together and the only one Maisley has ever known. It’s only been three years, but three big years of growth and change from newlyweds to parents of almost two.

Nestled into the middle of my third trimester, I think I’ve actually been relatively useful during the moving process. My pointer finger is stronger than ever and new directives are popping into my vocabulary everyday. Only time will tell if I am still married after our move-in date and furniture assembly. 

The Birth Part

Nothing like welcoming ourselves to a new neighborhood with a home birth. Placenta cookies anyone?

After having an unmedicated hospital birth with Maisley, our first daughter, I was pretty set on trying for a similar process with our next daughter, “sissy” (despite the intense memories of labor that still make my stomach churn with anxious butterflies).  But a planned home birth was never really in the plans. It always seemed a little too “crunchy” and out there. Was it even safe?

As it turns out, choosing to do a home birth wasn’t really something I chose. It was a feeling, an inkling, a deep sense of curiosity that slowly bubbled to the surface during my first few weeks of pregnancy. I think she chose it.

We went about the process of interviewing midwives to educate ourselves and see if this new type of care felt right. We found someone that we loved and were 90% certain about our decision – the last 10% was made on a leap and a prayer.

This new form of prenatal care has been empowering, informative and full of research.  Everyday fluctuates between excitement and fear about sissy’s birth, but I can’t wait to hold her and see how her birth day will unfold.  

Ryan will be the tub setter-upper. A lot of people ask about the tub. Will she be born in the water? Where will it go? Does it have a recirc pump to keep the water warm? (per my handy-man Uncle). If I’m feeling it in the moment, master bedroom and yes.

While I’m overwhelmed and sometimes panicked about the weeks ahead, my gratitude level is simultaneously peaking. Change has a special way of making me feel alive.

That and boxes. So many boxes, which unlike birth, won’t be spontaneously unfolding on their own.