Sunday 11 March 2012

Baby Grows Teeth, Big Brother Learns to Read

Blogs are like photos. They capture precious moments in time that might otherwise be lost. A child's life is full of incredible firsts: first teeth, first words, first steps, first time reading... but even the most priceless of snapshots get lost in the mile-high pile of photos that we call life.

And that's why I love our blog. Now if only I could get better at writing in it consistently!

Ow! These things hurt!!!
Since my last posting, Emma got her first teeth. The two bottom teeth came in tandem, and I first felt them break the skin on a Friday morning -- February 3rd to be exact. She was just under 5 months old when it happened and - considering I'm still breast feeding - it was a rather unwelcome surprise. No, she's not crawling yet, sitting on her own, or talking. But for those things she has plenty of time. Since she's definitely our last "baby", we're in no hurry for her to grow up! Finally I get that it's not a competition, and that she's not going to become the first female president of the United States just because she spoke one month earlier than most babies. :) OH! But she has started rolling on her own. I guess that's supposed to be a big miletone in baby developments. And on her 6-month-birthday (March 6th), we began a Mama-Baby class known here in Germany as "Pekip" (Prague-Eltern-Kind-Program... or something like that). It's all about stimulating the senses of the little ones through touch, sight, sound, etc. Emma loves interacting with the other babies! Lastly, at the end of Feburary Emma had her first ride on Mama's bike... it was on the first warm afternoon of the year (relatively speaking) - February 22nd! :)

Lukas' First Reading Adventure!
Emma's older brothers, who of course adore her, are in important developmental phases of their own. Though he still has a sweet lisp, Alex's stuttering went away on its own, and he's making a big effort to speak more English with Mama. Our oldest, Lukas, recently picked up a book and began to read. It happened on a Saturday morning. He got up at an ungodly hour (around 5:30 am), and I told him that - if we go downstairs - we won't be watching TV. Which, in turn, inspired him to pick up a learn-to-read book and start reading! He sounded out one word at a time, asking for help occasionally and - before I knew it - he had completed two pages! It was one of my proudest moments as a Mama, and I can say with great certainty that time is going by WAY too fast!
Alex - exhausted after February "Fasching" celebrations

So congratulations to each of our three kiddos for their latest achievements! Emma, for her teeth - Alex, for his speech (in Alex's words, "Ich bin schon groß gewachsen!", or "I've already grown big!") - and Lukas, for his reading!

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Hey, Baby Girl!

Precisely three weeks have passed since our latest addition, a precious baby girl, was born. Emma Sophia Kraft was born on September 6th at 6:22 pm; a healthy 9 pounds, 3 ounces. Emma was born in the Erlangen Frauenklinik, here in Germany, seven days after her official "due" date.

How did it go? Well, let me start by saying that, because each of our children has been born in a different country, we've had to learn as much as we can about the birth process time and time again -- once in America, once in The Netherlands, and finally - in Germany.

And just what are the differences? In a nutshell, American hospitals tend to hand out epidurals (or in Germany, "PDAs") on a silver platter. As a result, the average hospital stay is 2-3 days (they can't possibly send you home on the same day if you've had an epidural). And, unlike most countries, your personal obstetrician is typically the one who delivers the baby (as opposed whatever OB is on duty in the hospital). In our case this worked out poorly, as Lukas was a very large baby and my doctor could (and should) have been much better informed on matters of stitching-up.

Onto The Netherlands, where the majority of women try to give birth at home (but many end up being rushed to the hospital). And Dutch women are tough as nails. I'm talking the female equivalent of Ghandi walking on hot stones. Insanely tough. And the midwives call the shots. Want an epidural, but your designated hospital midwife at doesn't think you need one? Chances are you won't be getting one, then. Hospital stays are kept to a minimum, with many women returning home on the day of the birth. On the upside, you have "Kramtijd" and "Kramverzorg" for the week following the birth, which means strict nurse-like helpers will be at your home, cooking and child minding, and even doing your grocery shopping and dog walking for the week following the birth. And some strange organization comes to your house a couple times to make sure you're not abusing or neglecting your newly born child. They'll check the sleeping conditions and other miscellaneous areas of the house for any red flags.

In Germany, they prefer to keep you for a few days after the birth. And - in typical German nature - risk is kept to a bare minimum. For those needing to be induced (our case with all three births), this translates into multi-day-long labors, beginning with the lowest amount of medication (known in the U.S. as pitocin or oxytocin), with incremental increases every 6-8 hours. We asked for double the dosage at the beginning, which resulted in our labor being (only) 9 hours. The Epidural / PDA was an epic failure, with a doctor-in-training practicing (poorly) on my spine for 10 minutes, followed by the lead doctor, who also failed to get the needle into the appropriate spot in my spinal column. They would have gladly kept going, but after 20 minutes I decided I'd rather do the birth naturally or with some other method of pain relief than risk a rare and unpleasant spinal column / nerve injury resulting from two seemingly clueless anesthesiologists. Shortly thereafter I
received something to calm my nerves in the IV drip, but it quickly faded away, and when I asked for more when the time came to press, the terrible truth was revealed. Pain medication is not usually administered around the time of the actual pushing, for fear that the woman will not feel when and how she needs to push. Sorry, but WTF?!? So the reality is, if you're having a non-cesarian birth in Germany, and you do not get an epidural, you will probably enounter excruciating, blood-curdling pain. Glückwunsch (Congrats!). ;)

With our first and second child, we immediately got an email out to friends and family to announce the birth. And then came number three... And a breast infection with fever and chills... And flooding in the basement... And two little boys with tonsilitis. And Lukas trying to light a fire in the garden. And Alex burning a hole in the floor of his bedroom (with a halogen reading lamp). The list goes on and on.   

So friends, family, and fans of our blog, consider this a very belated birth announcement of sorts. I hope you enjoyed my little segment on the joys of giving birth abroad. My experience has been - no mater where in the world you are - it is the most terrifying and wonderful day of your life all at once. But it's our nature to forget the bad and remember the good. And how could you not, when you find yourself holding an intricate little masterpiece in your arms? And nothing else matters...

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Wednesday 31 August 2011

On Turning 3, Anticipating a Sister, and Adoring His "Lu-Thas"!

Alexander. Our strong-willed, surprisingly witty, increasingly talkative, bilingual "baby" just turned three yesterday. The birthday party involved a ladybug Piñata created by a friend, a breakfast cake (made at midnight) by Papa, a chocolate cake baked by Oma, a cake ordered from the local bakery with Alex's picture on it (mine), a walk to feed some local deer (with Oma, while Opa helped build the new swingset in the garden), and a party with neighborhood friends and their children. Despite my being in the 38th week of this pregnancy, the party turned out halfway decent, and the kids had a blast.

If you ask Alexander, he'll insist that he's five (like his older brother) but we're pretty sure we're right on this one. And now that the "terrible twos" have passed, can someone please tell me why he woke up last night, angry that he couldn't see his balloon, and insisting that he be brought downstairs for a glass of water? Yes, he can communicate now, but his current demands are so absurd; so unlike those of his older brother.

Fortunately, one member of the family has a will that rivals Alex's... namely, his Mom. So yes, he most certainly will end up eating the red bell pepper on his dinner plate (last night's scene... we used a bit of honey), he will not throw all of the couch cushions onto the floor, and there will be no snatching anything he pleases from his older brother. There are some things that are a no-go. Alexander has a personality where, if not kept in check, will prompt him to walk all over anyone in his path. On a positive note, this very same will has him so determined to wear big-boy underwear that he was fully potty trained (for both the day- and nighttime - as of July) and "accident"-free within a few short weeks. We also suspect that he'll be riding a bicycle without training wheels 1-2 years earlier than Lukas.

In short, Alexander's sheer determination is both inspiring and exhausting.

When they're not fighting, our boys are giggling and chasing eachother around the house or garden. I love watching Lukas interract with his little brother. "Oh, you want me to push you on the swing? Okay!" And we've just reached a major milestone in sibling conflict resolution. Thanks to a bit of motherly advice, Alexander now understands that asking politely is far more effective than snatching and screaming. And Lukas realizes that if he provides Alexander with a logical answer (i.e. "Yes, you can have Buzz Lightyear in just a minute."), there's a good chance that he might ward off attacks from his little annoying brother. I feel like a U.N. Peacekeeper who's just completed a successful negotiation between two hostile nations. :)

In other news, for the past week they've been sleeping in their own beds... which is HUGE! When I tell most of our friends and acquaintances this, they tend to ask in all seriousness, "Well, where else would they have been sleeping?" Ummmm... in our bed? Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us, we have a king-size bed, but with the baby coming I was on a mission to get them used to their own beds. Lying horizontal in bed with your legs across your baby sister is never a good thing. So they now have a new bunk bed, complete with slide, and the walls of their (shared) room are lined with wallpaper and a border with a sea explorer / pirate theme. It's now a super fun place for them to play... and sleep!

Of course, I also have to mention that Alexander has recently taken to saying some things that are just adorable. Always fascinated with "buggies" (of every shape and size), he's forever "rescuing" (and often killing them as a result), saying, "Go back to your Mommy!" And when we ask him if he needs help with something challenging, his response is innevitably "Nein, ich schaff das!" ("No, I can do this!"). Meanwhile the standard things (i.e. using the toilet, unbuckling his seat belt, or simply getting out of bed) are accompanied by "I need help!" Maybe this is to be expected. Afterall, he knows his baby sister will be arriving soon, and is so fascinated by the two baby girls in the neighborhood that he'll spend 5 minutes at their side, just studying them, and bringing them various toys to hold.

And what about Lukas? Well, as always, he speaks super well for his age and continues to love languages, singing fun "volkslieder" (folk music - in local dialect!) this summer at a local town festival... in his Lederhosen (traditional German leather pants)! He's also an avid story teller, and his enthusiasm is obvious in the huge breaths that he takes before each sentence. Maybe this is typical of a 5 year old?

Well, with baby #3 arriving any day now, I just wanted to sum up what the boys were up to developmentally, and how proud we are of everything that they've accomplished! Let's hope they're as smitten with this baby girl as we're bound to be!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Goodbye Vacation - Hello Normalcy!

I've always found the transition from a long vacation to normal, everyday life to be a difficult one, and then we added kids to the equation. So you can bet that as our five-week vacation in the States recently neared its end, I gave much thought to how the boys would adjust to a life without daily trips to beaches, pools, theme parks, and restaurants.

Fortunately, the answer is surprisingly well! Though they certainly seemed to enjoy themseleves whilst on the road in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, New York State, and New Hampshire, 2-year-old Alexander's strong little personality did not fare well being in a new place every 2-3 days, surrounded by new faces.

Now that we're home, his strong will has proved to be a wonderful trait at last. Afterall, when Alexander puts his mind to something, he locks on like a pit bull, letting go only when it's been completed or accomplished. Which explains why, for a week now, he's been diaper free (during the day) and using the potty on his own accord!

In other news, it appears as though Alex has begun managing the people around him at the wee age of two. A month of having to speak only one language did wonders for his ability to express himself, and he loves dishing out orders now that he can talk. While on a walk a couple days ago, Alex reacted to his brother running up ahead, shouting "Lukas stop!", "Lukas GO!", and "Mama, walk!"

Less than a week after we arrived back home, Alex underwent an adnoid operation, where his adnoids were removed and tubes were placed in his ears. This meant a week without the trampoline, Kindergarten, running, and other normal toddler behavior.

Of course, this didn't stop he and his brother from having an adorable dance party in the living room, and even seemed to fuel his imagination, prompting him to experiment with make-believe play, asking things like "Crocodile bite me here?", followed by a giggle.

As for Lukas, I've carried him to bed a couple times recently (since he often falls asleep in ours), and have wondered "When will he be too heavy, and when will it be the last time I carry him before he's 'all grown up'?". Now that he's mastered swimming (to a certain extent), Lukas' biggest milestone has been learning how to ride his bike. This explains why he stared at me in deibelief when I swerved on my bicycle after nearly dropping the kids' lunch bags. Seeing this prompted the question, "Mama, did you forget how to ride a bike?", which made me smile.

Other sweet moments that I'd like to remember include Lukas reading to Alex, me walking around our (big) block with Alexander and Felix - and Alex walking the whole way (not asking to be carried once) - with him removing the dogs leash occasionally, as he saw fit (I seemed to be tagging along for fun's sake!), and the new weekend -- better known as "Papa do it!" time. I better not even think of helping him eat his meal, buckle up in the car, or get dressed. If Papa's home, he's the parent of choice. :)

As for the pregnancy and my ever-growing belly, the boys are excited about the fact that they'll soon have a little sister. Alexander giggles when he feels the baby kick in my belly and wonders if he has a baby in his belly, too. So, so cute. Soon it will be time for a photo shoot with the boys and my disproportionately large tummy, which I dare say will be the last of its kind for our family. But most of all, we're all looking forward to meeting the little girl who's turning and twisting and kicking inside me. August can't come fast enough, and yet we sure are enjoying these last couple months with the boys and the boys alone! :)

Friday 1 April 2011

The Everyday Moments That Take Your Breath Away

One of my favorite quotes, by an unknown author, is "Life isn't measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away." Though I've always loved it, it took on a very special meaning for me yesterday, during a spontaneous dance with my 2-year-old.

Lukas was at a birthday party, leaving Alex with plenty of Mommy-and-me-time. On the satellite radio, the song "Mr. Bojangles" (the fabulous Robbie Williams rendition, seen here on youtube) began to play. I scooped Alex up, telling him how much I liked the song, and began to dance with him. As we twirled around, he tossed his head back and laughed a gorgeous laugh, prompting tears of joys to well up in my eyes.

I began to think of life as a series of snapshots, ones that we might not be able to physically take with a camera, and that might well fade with time, but snapshots nonetheless. I wondered what other moments that day fit this description - the way the boys began to tickle eachother when they woke up in the morning, blowing on eachother's bellies - the way Alexander greeted the dog when he woke up, as if to say good morning to an old friend - Lukas running into his kindergarten, anxious to go inside, his little brother trailing in his footsteps.

Yes, you could make a photo album of just a single day, and it would be a meaningful one.

Instead, we have to commit all of these special moments to memory, wishing that they'd stay forever, but knowing all too well that they'll one day be replaced with knew experiences and mental snapshots.

And how about the spontaneous sound bites? I'd commit to memory Lukas telling his self-conscious (and increasingly pregnant) Mom, "No Mama, don't change your shirt. That looks pretty!" Or just the way Alex says "LuTHas". And then there's Alex learning to count, Alex learning the Alphabet song, and so much more. I guess we need to be doing more videos!!!

Perhaps what makes me saddest of all is the fact that Alexander, like his brother, is growing up quickly. Soon, there will be a new baby in our family, and Alexander will be the big brother. In a lot of ways, I suppose we've wanted that sweet little guy to stay the baby (which explains why he's still not potty trained). But he certainly is determined to grow up, and the amount of times that we can twirl around with him in our arms - giggling - are indeed numbered.

As I write, Alex has decided to join me in the living room (first thing in the morning), PJs and sunglasses on. Yet another snapshot. Just what memories will we capture today?

May today bring you many moments, or mental snapshots, that take your breath away.

Friday 25 March 2011

Boys Will Be Boys and Mothers Will Be Mothers?

Boys. They get bloody a lot. There are bloody knees, bloody lips, bloody elbows, and bloody hands. In the first 2 years of being a mother to boys I tended to overreact. From my response, they picked up on concern and fear, and naturally mirrored those emotions. Now in my fifth year of being a mother to boys, I usually act as though nothing has happened for the first few seconds. Next I look for some cool water and, after rinsing the wound, evlauate how serious it is -- all the while acting as though it's nothing more than a bump or a scratch. Once I know how serious it is I try to soothe them and ease the pain in some way. Surely this plan will fail at some point, should one of our boys ever get a serious head injury or break a limb... but I am proud of the progress I've made thusfar.

My tactics came in handy when Lukas ran into the bathroom this past Tuesday, saying loudly, "Mama, PLEASE! You have to help Alex. He's my brother and he's HURT!" How cute that Lukas (pictured here holding his brother back during a Karneval parade) is now the protective older brother, just as I was the protective older sister. My heart melted in that moment. He truly is a "Goldstück" (not to be onfused with the sarcastic use of the word, which actually means "he's a handful")!

With Alex, though we've taken to using the expression more sarcastically, he really is a treasure - just not an obvious one. Like that show where people bring their old stuff in to be evaluated, often walking away with the realization that their "stuff" is worth a fortune, Alexander too, is a treasure in disguise. Why? He loves to bring his brother joy - be it in the form of chocolate, a glass of water, or a hug and a kiss. He laughs marvelously from deep in his belly, and is especially tickled by his latest discovery -- the whoopie cushion. He loves the harmonica and seems to play it well, as we discovered last night before bed. He dances wonderfully silly and adores music of any kind, just as long as it's loud.

So they're still both sneaking into our beds on most nights. So what? Soon enough they'll be doing sleepovers with friends and insisting on sleeping in their own beds, and we'll wonder where the time has gone.

Of course, we will have to free up some space in our bed by the end of August. And whether baby 3 can compete with these two incredible little boys remains a mystery (at least for another 5 months). How will Alex respond to the challenge? Will he be jealous, or will he adore being a "big" brother, like Lukas? Only time will tell, but until then we'll savor (nearly) every moment we have with our "Goldstücke", trying to write more about their milestones, developments, and adventures, as they come. 

Friday 11 February 2011

Where, Oh Where Did January Go?

The month of January marked the beginning of Lukas' 6th year, meaning he's now - and this is hard to write - FIVE!!! Where has the time gone? Where's the baby who flat-out-refused to take any form of bottle - who hated car rides - who smiled nonstop and insisted that someone lay down with him in order for him to go to sleep? (Okay, these last two are still pretty prevalent, which we love).

As usual, the lucky duck had several parties -- one in Kindergarten featuring a pirate-ship cake (made by Tobi and I the night before), one at home with family featuring self-made sushi (his choice for dinner!), and one at the Tucherland kids paradise (in Nuremberg) with friends.

He's definitely growing up quickly, quite literally, at a whopping 112 cm, or 3' 8". Within the past half year of his regularly attending Kindergarten, his mastery of German has overtaken his once perfect english. And he's a lovey, sensitive boy. We adore that about him. When I tell him that what he's said may have hurt someone's feelings, he really takes it to heart. He loves to help his little "baby" brother whenever he can. He hugs and he kisses a ton, especially at the dinner table  in an effort to avoid eating his meal. And he is (still) a big cuddler at bedtime. 

Alex, is the opposite. While he can be cuddly, at heart he's a little firecracker. He needs sparks. While older brother Lukas hates anything loud, Alexander is capable of making an insane amount of noise. And while Lukas loves TV (which we have to limit to 1 hour a day), Alex can't sit still for more than 10 minutes. Yin and yang. When they're not provoking eachother, they create the perfect balance in our little family. Which is, incidentally, about to get larger...

Now in the 12th week of my third pregnancy, I told Lukas a few days ago that I had a baby growing in my belly. Since we were on our way to visit my in-laws, I asked that he let me tell them. Only my mother-in-law was home, and while she handled the news quite well (having three children in Germany is considered by some to be a sure sign of insanity), I wasn't quite sure how I would relay the message to my father-in-law. Lukas solved the problem by running up to greet him when he arrived, and blurting out, "Mama hat ein neue Baby in Ihr Bauch!" (Or "Mama has a new baby in her belly!"). Kids. :)

The new baby will be here at the end of August, meaning this Christmas will be an exciting one for a number of reasons (three, to be exact)! Prior to August we have a room upstairs to get in order, tons of boxes downstairs to sort through, a insanely full garage to organize, and a new (and very fun!) bunk bed set that we want to buy and put together. In the meantime, Tobi is working to finish his masters degree in the evenings and on weekends, and I'm planning a big trip to the U.S. for the April/May timeframe. Never a dull moment!

In our latest adventures, the kids and I just returned from a weekend in The Netherlands. Yes, it's 650 kilometers, and yes, it takes us an average of 7 hours to get there, but it was so worth it! Since we don't do the trip often now, I was afraid it was going to be a terrible commute. It wasn't! Other than Lukas now asking "Are we there yet?" every 20-30 minutes, they were the perfect little travelers (though I was admittedly armed with Ipods, snacks, drinks, and Dutch childrens' music). We were there from Friday evening to Monday morning, and the kids felt right at home. Other than Lukas' unfortunate loss of the Dutch language, it was as if we had never left. It was very cute to see them connect with their self-adopted Dutch Oma and Opa, their old friends, the farmhouse that we once called home (along with the pot-bellied pig, chickens, and horses), and tiny village of Oudelande.  

So now your caught up on our little "wandering family". We're still wandering, but just a little bit less, which means that the children have friends, relationships, and commitments. They're learning to swim (Lukas just completed two laps in the pool without any help last month!), ride bicycles & scooters, and do (simple) gymnastics. I think we're close to discovering our perfect balance. But hey, if you have the time, I'd sure love to hear about yours!    

Safe & Happy Travels,