Friday, September 29, 2006

A Typical Day with Two Little Ones

This is what a typical day is like for us.

I try to wake up around 6:30 or 7:00. If there is time and Andrew hasn't already left for work, we might try to squeeze in a quick breakfast together. Then I have my time alone with the Lord and nurse the baby. Afterwards, I take a shower.

A.J. wakes at 8:30 or so. I change his diaper and bring him to the kitchen to give him his breakfast and give Gracie her cereal (she just started eating solids a few weeks ago). It takes a long time usually for A.J. to eat his breakfast.

Around 9:30 or 10:00 is when I read to the children and play with them. We might have a snack.

At 11:00 A.J. has time to play alone so that he can work on his focusing skills. He's doing really really well with that. It's taken awhile, but he's really got the hang of it now. I choose a basketful of toys to play with and some of the books I've been reading to them for him to look at. You should see when I read to him Erik Carle's From Head to Toe. Each page, there's an animal that does a different thing. So for the first page, a seal turns his head. The second page a giraffe bends its neck. If you turn the pages for A.J. and read it fast, A.J. will shake his head, then nod, then shrug his shoulders, then wave his arms, then shake his hips. It's the funniest thing!

While A.J. has alone play time for forty-five minutes, I bring Gracie down to the living room where she plays quietly on a play mat in front of me. It's her version of alone time, where she doesn't see me behind her but I can see her. Then, I let her play either in her little car or with other toys, but she can see me. She smiles and stares at me. During this forty-five minutes, I get to write.

If we need to go to Costco or run an errand, I usually will take them after "alone play time," and just bring lunch with us.

At noon, we have lunch either outside if it's a beautiful sunny day (need to make the most of those here) or in the dining room. I nurse the baby again and feed her her cereal. After lunch, we might play outside or in their room.

At 2pm, the children take a two-hour nap. This is when I try to throw in a load of laundry and catch up on housework and take my lunch break. I already ate lunch somehow amidst helping A.J. with his lunch and feeding the baby, but it was by no means a break. I recently stopped giving myself a break and just tried to catch up on my never ending list of to-do's and cleaning, but after a few weeks, my body felt like it was breaking apart into little pieces, and one afternoon, Andrew had to send me away to take a break, upon which I fell onto the bed and wasn't sure if I had enough energy to take another breath. I suppose skipping my "lunch break" for several weeks caught up eventually.

At 4:00, the children wake up. I nurse Gracie in A.J.'s room, while he plays. Then I feed her her cereal. We go downstairs where the kids can play and I can fold laundry. Then, I might take them for a walk.

I prepare dinner, while A.J. might color, while sitting at his little table in the dining room, or I'll put him in his high chair next to me with some toys so he can watch me.

At 6pm we eat all together as a family.

Whenever we finish dinner, I put the dishes in the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen.

The evening are like this: on Mondays, we have a prayer meeting at our house at 7 p.m. People usually leave around 9. Every other Tuesday night is date night, and we have a babysitter for the kids. Every other Thursday, a couple we meet with comes over. Friday night is Bible study, Saturday is family day, and Sunday night we have evening service. In the midst of that, I feed the baby. If no one is over and we are home, Andrew plays with the kids while I clean up. He usually is the one who gets them ready for bed. The children go down for the night at 8:30 p.m. or so.

By the time people leave our house or we get home, it is past 9 or 10pm. If there's time, I try to straighten up the house. I shoot for 10:30 and when I get the chance, I collapse on the bed and go to sleep.

Basically, in the midst of taking care of the children's basic needs and all the chores, the real point of the whole day is training up the children in the nurture and discipline of the Lord. This is why I am at home with them. We really believe raising our children is such a weighty thing in this life. For instance, by the time a child is 5 years old, his personality is pretty much set for life. Emotional stability, an adult's vocabulary potential, and total muscle control are all established before age four or younger. Few impact a person more than their parents, whether for good or for bad; whether we give them the love and nurture they need or neglect them.

We study the Bible, read lots and lots of books, get lots of advice from godly people whose children bear the fruit of their parents' efforts, and listen to sermons on parenting to equip us for this overwhelming responsibility.

My greatest passion and desire for my children is to know and love the Lord with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to not waste their lives but to live it all for His glory. This is my continual and constant prayer for them, as I ask the Lord to bless my efforts, to make the water into wine.

All day long is training opportunity. Right now, we are laying the foundation. So, for A.J., we are always trying to teach him to obey our authority and have self-control. This is totally counter to what society preaches, which has such low expectations for the abilities of children. Self-control is the basic necessity that they will need in every area of life for the rest of their lives. It won't matter if they are the most talented people in the world if they have no self-control to apply themselves. Additionally, we do not want our children to be an excuse for not being able to minister to others. We want to be able to carry on conversations with people without being continually interrupted and distracted. Our desire is for our children to be a blessing to others. This is the process we are currently in. And I always need prayer to be consistent with them, which is a struggle for me.

I also need to take care of them physically. Feeding them takes a large part of the day. Currently, I am reading a book a friend gave me about how to feed my children healthy foods, such as whole grains, organic foods, lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts, etc. My children are forcing me to learn how to eat more healthy.

My next priority is helping them develop intellectually. I try to read to them everyday, play classical music, and give them toys that will help their coordination, creativity, and teach them to recognize shapes, colors, and letters. I feel that as their mother it is my responsibility to help them become the most enhanced versions of what God has created them to be. I want them to be all that God has called them to be and glorify Him with every ability and personality trait that He has given them.

Amidst all of this, it's so important to us to bathe all of this training in love, affection, and encouragement, lest we crush their delicate fruit.

Everyday I beg the Lord for His help and wisdom to be able honor Him with this. This will only be by a miracle of God in their hearts, but at the same time, God works through means. And He has not given us commands ("Train up a child in the way He should go," among many others) that He cannot give us the grace and the wisdom how to obey. In fact, He promises to provide it it if we ask.

My old college pastor, Rick Holland, used to say: "You guys think you're busy now? You don't have a clue what busy is until you have a family and children." He was not kidding (and all the parents out there know exactly what I'm talking about). I would say that as long as 3 days took to pass pre-kids is about how long 6 months feels post-kids. So it feels like it's only been 6 days when a year has passed. Once recently, Andrew said to me, "The baby is like four or five weeks old, right?" She was six months old. If I hadn't been calculating her age a few days earilier, I might have asked him the same thing.

Though it's an overwhelming task and very busy, I love being a mom! I love the challenge, I love the privilege of this responsibility, and I love the opportunity that God has given me to serve Him through this. Additionally, the Lord uses parenting to break me of all my pride and selfishness. Though I often complain in the midst of that, I am always so grateful in retrospect. And most of all, these children are the funnest things in the whole world! They bring joy, constant laughter, and sweetness to our lives. Please do pray for us!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bathroom Birth - All of Grace

By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise shall be continually of You.
Psalm 71:6

My birthing story was not supposed to be a bathroom story.

This was how my blog was supposed to begin, at least according to what had been floating through my mind the past several months:

I had never known what a midwife was before I moved to Washington. The most I could recall was that they had something to do with the Dark Ages. I had this vague picture of ladies dancing around a large black caldron in the forest...

Then I would continue that when we moved here, I quickly learned that as an alternative to a doctor, a midwife was actually a woman who was trained to deliver babies and could be quite skillful; and, that midwives still existed today and were well-respected. Several of my friends delivered their babies with Charlotte, who they all adored and and swore by. In fact, it often seemed that every time I met a woman, Charlotte was her midwife. And rather than the traumatic, nightmarish experience I had always heard birthing portrayed as, they described one in which childbirth was supposed to be a wonderful celebration, which a woman's body was designed to do. Though A.J. was born in a hospital, I chose to go with Charlotte for my second pregnancy. I was so eager to write about her, so that from my own experience I could attest to her giftedness and the amazing birth we had.

Well, the closest I ever got to Charlotte during our second baby's birth was when my cell phone dropped to the ground beside me and fizzled out in my blood, cutting Charlotte off the line.

It is 5:58 in the morning, March 27th 2006, and you are Charlotte answering your cell phone:

Charlotte: Special Delivery?
Grace: (calmly) Hi, Charlotte. This is Grace Mark. I think my water may have just broken. And I'm feeling - hold - on --
Soft thump as if cell phone drops to a carpet. Then, in the background, Grace screaming: Andreeeeeeeeeeew!!!
A moment.
Andrew: (calmly) Hi, Charlotte. This is Andrew...
In the background, Grace screams an excruciating wail calling out to God, shouting pleas to Him.
Andrew: (breathing as if walking, speaking a little faster but still calmly) Um, I think Grace is going into labor.
Charlotte: (Furrows eyebrows straining her ears to get an idea of where Grace is in her labor) Okay, now can you make it to the Everett birthing center?
Andrew: Um --
Grace: (full blast) IT'S COMIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!
Half-second of silence.
Andrew: Oh my gosh it did come!
Hollow thump as if cell phone hits tile floor. Silence.

Charlotte stares wide-eyed at her phone, then looks to her assistant, who is flurrying around the room grabbing her keys and bags. She looks at the clock. It is 6:03 a.m. A woman who has been in labor for the past 48 hours is laying on her bed in the background.
Charlotte: (eyebrows furrowed) They're going to call us back, right? We still need directions.

When's the Baby Coming?

Labor with our first child, A.J. awakened me in the morning with contractions that were unmistakably two-and-a-half minutes apart. As the hours wore on, and the pain increased, I wasn't sure how much longer I could endure. By the fifth hour, I stopped progressing and the doctor had to break my water for me. From being awakened by my contractions to giving birth, it was about six hours. He arrived a few days within his due date.

This time, the night before I gave birth, I had insomnia, not uncommon during my pregnancies from the second trimester on. I was feeling some sensations in my lower abdomen, but I've had stomachaches that were worse. I started to time the sensations, but they didn't seem regular. I sat down with my What to Expect When You're Expecting book and began to read the section on "How to Know When You're in Labor" repeatedly. Everything that pertained to me said that true labor could be a month away or an hour away. With A.J., I was having false labor a month in advance and was walking around at 5 1/2 centimeters (you want to get to 10 cm.) for a week-and-a-half. Since none of what I was feeling coincided with my labor with A.J., and the book was shedding no new light, at 3:30 a.m. I decided to take it's advice to go to sleep. Anyway, the baby wasn't even due for another three weeks. Don't worry, the book assured me, if you're truly in labor you won't sleep through it.

5:30 a.m. I hear the shrill cry of Andrew's alarm clock. My heavy eyelids creep open, allowing in only a sliver of dawn light. I am dozing and waiting to hear Andrew stir, so I can ask him if maybe he'll stay home from work today. I have a feeling the baby might come. I try to speak, but the heavy weight of sleep seals my throat silent. Helpless, I pray that God will thwart Andrew from leaving if I am right. Dozing. Again, the sliver of grey, morning light. A few feet away, the kind of heat that emanates from someone deep in sleep floats towards me--my love has not deserted me for work yet. Suddenly I hear - and feel - a "pop." A gush of liquid. Uh-oh, I think. That fits the description of what my mother-in-law said happened when her water broke (course she still had 13 hours to go of labor).

Suddenly, I am screaming. I'm not sure why I'm screaming. Am I in pain? Am I just panicking? Confused?

Then, just as suddenly, I stop screaming.

I get up from our bed and amble to the bathroom. I call for Andrew.

I start screaming. Andrew comes into the bathroom. I ask him to pray for me. The screaming stops.

I dial my midwife on my cell phone. "Hi, Charlotte. Um, I think my water broke."

I return to our bedroom. "Hold - on -- " I drop my cell phone onto the carpet and stride into the hallway shouting at the top of my lungs. I walk into the hall bathroom, place my palms onto the counter, lean on it, and cry out to God. "OH LOOOOOOORRRRRRRD!!! I CRY OUT TO YOU!!!!!!!!!! I CAN'T DO THIIIIIIIIIIS!!!!!!!!! PLEEEEEESE HELP MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!"

I don't know what's going on. My screaming seems involuntary and is so intense I'm not sure if I am in pain or just confused. Perhaps the pain is so profound it is like sticking your hand under water so frigid that for a moment you're not sure if it's scalding or freezing. If you had asked me then if I was in pain, I probably would have told you I didn't know. Suddenly, I feel the urge to push. Oh, I better not push, I think. The book said if you feel the urge to push, don't, because a baby might come.

Then, just as quickly as it had started, in a moment, perfect calm.

No pain at all.

I'm talking to God out loud. Suddenly it starts again. Unlike a normal contraction in which one can describe how it feels and where, this just feels like my entire body is about to explode all over the flesh-colored tiles of the shower and walls. "ANDREEEEEEEEEEEW!" I scream.

It is as if my body has cracked wide open with three massive contractions.

Andrew is in the bathroom with me now. I am facing him. "Okay, Grace. Okay," he puts his hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye. Relaying what Charlotte is saying, he says, "Now just breathe." For a moment, I think I'm wrong. Perhaps I am just in the breathing-through-my-contractions stage of labor that Andrew apparently thinks I'm in. I blow air out of my mouth: Puh puh puh like the nurse had instructed during A.J.'s birth, trying to delay me while the doctor sat down to prepare to catch A.J.. Eyes wide open, I'm trying to focus on Andrew's large eyes. But the urge to push is like a locomotive speeding down the tracks. I realize, there is no way I can "puh puh puh" twenty minutes or more until my midwife arrives.

Then, for the first time this entire experience, I recognize a feeling that is similar to labor with A.J. -- the baby's head pushing to slide down. I realize Andrew does not understand what is really happening. I feel an enormous urge to push. "IT'S COMIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!!!!!" I scream at the top of my lungs.

It is as if I can see what is happening in my birth canal. First the head, then the arms, then the legs bent at the knees. The baby shoots through me like a massive bullet.

It happens so fast that what I had anticipated to be the most excruciating part--hadn't even hurt. "Oh my gosh it did come!" Andrew drops my cell phone onto the floor and picks the baby up. By God's grace, he remembers what he had seen the doctor do at A.J.'s birth (and a Rescue 9-1-1 episode from his childhood), and begins to lightly tap the baby on the back and clear her mouth of any fluid. He delicately helps her open her mouth to get the baby (gender still unknown) to take her first breath.

From awakening to birth, probably no more than 15 minutes has transpired.

Lying on the Floor

Charlotte tells Andrew on the phone to have me lay down on the floor. Now, after you give birth, your body starts pumping adrenaline. So, I am thinking clearly at this point: Okay, Grace. Now you have to stay alive and the baby has to stay alive, so stay focused, and no matter what happens, don't pass out, and make sure the baby doesn't start turning blue.

Andrew is not one to panic, but once the baby starts breathing, he stares quietly at the wall. He gently pats baby's back, occasionally looks at baby, but mostly just stares at the wall. Maybe he is in shock. So, in check-off list fashion, I tell Andrew what to do:

Call Charlotte back to give her directions. There's blood on the floor. Tell Charlotte there's blood on the floor.

She says to call 9-1-1.

Andrew leaves the bathroom to grab the landline in the kitchen and dials 9-1-1, while Charlotte is on his cell phone.

My legs are convulsing. Tell her my legs are convulsing.

She says it's because of the adrenaline.

I'm cold I'm cold I'm cold. I'm soooo cold. Blankets. Blankets. Blankets. I need blankets.

He covers me with a blanket while he is giving directions to Charlotte. He wraps the baby in a towel and places her on my chest.

I'm cold. I need blankets.

Another blanket.

I'm cold.

Another blanket.

I'm cold.

A space heater and a blanket.

Finally: "Where's the ambulance?" I ask.

Twenty minutes from the call, the ambulance finally arrives. We later find out all emergency workers have just left to put out a house fire. EMTs from the next town, ten minutes away, have to come instead.

I had pictured giving birth at my midwife's birthing center in a jacuzzi birthing tub surrounded by women. It was supposed to happen at night and candles would be lit all over the room. Plop, the baby would come out and the warm water and my midwife's coaching might make me feel no pain. Afterwards, I would make my way across a few feet of hardwood floor and lay down on a king-sized bed. Things had gone as I had pictured it my first birth. I thought, other than the painless part, everything else might come true.

Well, rather than women, I am surrounded by big EMT guys who look like they would be more comfortable at a fire. Rather than a king-sized bed, I am laying in my blood on a cold, tile bathroom floor.

My midwife's assistant, April, arrives just after the ambulance. She helps me deliver my placenta (a half hour has already passed and I am running the risk of getting an infection if I don't deliver it soon) and stays with me in the hospital until the doctor is done working on the baby and me.

I am so incredibly thankful Andrew was there when this happened. Normally, he would have slipped out as early as 5:15 a.m. without waking me. But by God's grace, he overslept. I am so thankful that nothing can thwart the will of God. I don't like to even imagine what I would have done if he hadn't been there or if something else had gone wrong. There is God's sovereign plan and only God's sovereign plan. It can go no other way - Praise God.

While all of the surrounding circumstances went wrong - an unexpected birth, a late ambulance, and a midwife in the middle of delivering another baby (which almost never happens. After a 48-hour labor that baby was born an hour after mine), the Lord allowed our precious Grace Olivia and me to be perfectly healthy.

God was so gracious to us also in how our church was such a comfort to us. As soon as they heard what happened, a bunch of people came over, cleaned our bathroom and our whole place, decorating our room with our first baby girl things, trying to make our home as warm and welcoming as possible for our return. A constant flow of visitors kept us company in the hospital. And since the baby came sooner than expected, they sent meals daily to our home the three weeks until my mother was scheduled to come.

Olive Grace
Originally, we had chosen "Madeleine" if it was a girl (my favorite childhood author was Madeleine L'Engle). We had discussed naming her Grace, since my mother's name is also Grace and I wanted to pass on the tradition, but had decided to wait until the next daughter.

When this happened, however, I wanted her name always to remind us of how kind the Lord had been to us. "Grace" is a gift of God, though we deserve the opposite. I wanted to constantly be reminded of how God's grace had brought her into this world and kept her alive. I also wanted to remember that even though it wasn't what I had wanted, it was God's grace that I didn't have enough time to get to the birthing center. God's grace had caused Andrew to oversleep and allowed her to be born safely; He was fully capable of allowing me to know I was in labor sooner, but this was His better plan.

A.J. and O.J. ("Olive Juice")
I wanted her name to mean something like, "Grace All-sufficient," or "grace abundant." At the hospital, we were listening to a song by a friend of ours called It’s All of Grace (Click to listen)>. In all seriousness, I said to Andrew, "We could name her Olive Grace. Get it? Ol-ive Grace!" I relayed the story to my sister, Gayle, the next day and said my hormones must have been doing crazy things because that was like a bad knock-knock joke. (Like "Orange. Orange-you glad I didn't say banana?") Then Gayle said she always liked the name Olive, because an olive is a symbol of abundance and plenty. She then read me Psalm 128, which included: "...your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:3-4). So, All-of Grace, or Olive Grace meant exactly what I was going for - both ways! Andrew then suggested the name Olivia. We settled upon Grace Olivia Mark as her full name.

Andrew calls her "Gracie" and I call her "Olivia." It took a few months before we settled on A.J.'s nickname afterall. We figure Olivia's nickname will also just come.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We went to California!

So, our new baby is due to arrive within the next few weeks. The official due date is April 9th, but I think it's earlier. They used to say the due date was in late March, but when the baby was small in the ultrasound, they pushed it to April 9th. I just think the baby is probably little.

Sometimes, we like to just jump in the car and see where it takes us. Well, when it took us to Seattle a few weekends ago, we thought: "We should go to Northern California." Both of us were craving the sunshine, food, the feel of home. After considering it for a moment, we realized we probably couldn't just take off right then. So we waited two weeks, and the three of us drove the 12 hours down to NorCal the first weekend in March. Since I was so pregnant, we thought we'd have to stop a lot and it would take us longer to get there, but we did it in one shot and arrived Thursday night. We drove back Sunday but got stuck in Redding till Monday morning, because the 5 closed on the pass through the mountains, which is extremely unusual, due to the snow.

We visted my brothers and their families and had lunch with Jaime Kong.

While we were in California, my 3 and 5 year-old nieces held A.J.'s hand and helped him to walk all over their house. By the end of the weekend, he was full blown walking all by himself. He's a big boy now.

It was great to see my brothers and their families. Both their wives are pregnant also, though my brothers are 14 and 15 years older than me. One of their babies is due right about now.

I love the sun, all the different kinds of food that are so accessible, and all the different kinds of people and cultures there are in California. It's such a stimulating place. My brothers have lived there since I was a kid and I have been visiting them for so long, that California seems almost as much home to me as New Jersey is. I love how the two places are so extremely different though, almost like different countries. We also got to get some really good boba with Jaime Kong. I'm not sure the trip would have felt complete if we hadn't. Andrew had to wait in line for it for a half hour, but it was worth it.

This pregnancy has turned out to be much better than the last pregnancy. (Thank goodness!) But since we've been back from California, I've been feeling extremely tired. Prior to that, I was feeling so good, I didn't feel in a hurry to go through the birthing process. But I am so uncomfortable nowadays, I am ready. I am so excited for the baby to come. I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A.J. after a Year

This month marked A.J.'s one year birthday. I thought I would share some of the joys of having him.

AJ at 3 minutes old
- I love holding him in my arms on the chair in his room while he drinks his milk after he wakes up.
- I love when he come to me, rests his head on my shoulder or my lap, then inserts his thumb into his mouth.
- I love hugs from him.
- He's so sweet when he eats and is so hungry. He sits there quietly as he shovels the food into his mouth and stares ahead as he concentrates on chewing it.
- I love training him, watching him grow and make progress, seeing his little victories, keeping track of them, and rejoicing with him as he grows in independence. Like when he first fed himself with a spoon. He would look up at us, his eyes wide, his lips turned up, and mouth open, waiting for us to say: "Yay, A.J.! You did it! That's right! You did it!"
- He's so fun and energetic. He smiles all the time and laughs these great belly laughs.
- Seeing the fruit of training when he eventually obeys, just when it seems like it's never going to happen and I feel just about ready to give up.
- Seeing how he can understand when we talk to him.
- Reading to him and showing him the world, especially when he finds the book appealing, like The Hungry Caterpiller. After reading to him daily for a year and him being mostly indifferent, he's finally beginning to seem really intersted in books (other than just The Hungry Caterpiller). Just this week, he even started picking them up himself and looking through them as he sits on the floor. It's so cute. Or you should see him stick his neck out and try to look at the Bible I'm reading him while I'm sitting across from him and he's in his high chair.

We are so thankful to the Lord for giving us precious A.J. We are overwhelmed by His undeserved goodness to us.

AJ's first birthday