Happy Birthday, Little Buddy!

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You know what’s even better than your baby’s first birthday? Your baby’s first birthday AND 65 new baby chicks arriving at your house on the same day!

Somehow a year flew by and our little boy turned one on Monday. A few days ago I looked back at his newborn pictures. Even though he’s still so little, at 24 pounds now he looks like such a big boy compared to the sweet little newborn he was last year at this time. In photos I see that soft newborn skin and fine fluff of hair, those tiny little fingers and I just get choked up about how sweet he was. I just love new babies, fresh from the oven. Looking back at those pictures, I also remember the worry, stress, and uncertainty that clouded that time, being taken by surprise when we learned he has Down syndrome. I didn’t know what to expect.

I wish I could go back and tell myself then to not worry. A year later, I feel much more of a peacefulness about his life. I don’t know the timeline of when he will check off each milestone, I don’t know all the answers, but I do know it will all be fine.

We have so much joy with him in our life. His big brother’s bedtime prayer on the night before his birthday was “thank you for blessing us with Lars.” We have a baby boy with an infectious smile and an easy-going personality. There’s so much excitement, joy, and love that surrounds him on a daily basis. On any given morning when I carry him downstairs, I ask if anyone would like to hold him while I start getting breakfast ready. Every time, three or four kids shout “I DO!” and then squabble over snuggling him. Lucky boy.

And what did we do to kick off this baby’s first birthday? Why, I hauled him to his big sister’s dentist appointment first thing in the morning, of course. And then we ran errands.That’s how you roll if you are child number six in the family. We got a few groceries (just a full cart, not a heaping cart) and had lunch.

After lunch, excitement mounted when we made a trip to Fleet Farm. I realize that may sound sarcastic, but I’m dead serious. Walking around in Fleet Farm always gives me a happy feeling, being surrounded by all the things you need for getting work done and living a good life. I love shopping in a store where the guy ahead of me in line bought a bag of walnuts and some teat dip. Today’s mission: get ready for our chicks.

Heading to the back corner of the store with the animal feed, I pushed a cart with my two-year-old girl, and my 11-year-old pushed a cart with my birthday boy. A bale of wood chips , a bag of chick feed, a red heat lamp bulb and we had two carts loaded and ready for our new chicks. By the time we walked out of the store, I had a heavy baby boy sleeping on my shoulder, so I used only one hand to push the cart loaded with chicken feed and a crabby toddler.

As cumbersome as that is, with the sun shining, a baby’s first birthday to celebrate, and chicks to pick up, life felt just about perfect. I desperately wanted to check out the greenhouse in the parking lot and pick up some flowers, too, but I restrained myself from adding another project to the day.

By the time we got to the Rushford feed store to pick up our chicks, we were well past the time that my two-year-old needed a nap. The drive from Winona to Rushford was pretty much one long toddler meltdown. All of that evaporated, though, with lifting the lid off of a box of baby chicks. It’s like having the magic and wonder of Christmas morning on an afternoon in May, with peeping tiny balls of yellow and brown fluff.

The rest of the afternoon and evening evaporated in a flurry of getting the chicks situated in their new home, making birthday supper and celebrating. It’s been four years since we’ve had a batch of chicks at our house, a lifetime in a kid’s world. Seeing the other kids get off of the school bus and discover a box full of peeping chicks was one of my favorite moments in a long time.
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With chilly evenings for the week I decided to keep the chicks cozy in an old stock tank in the side room of the barn. Lots of small eager hands helped line the stock tank with wood chips, help fill up the feeders, and help take each chick and individually dip their beak into water to give a first drink. Throughout the whole process, my mind was right back in the time four years ago when we got 110 chicks and my brother Mike and his family came out and helped us get the chicks settled. Mike’s been gone now for almost four years, but to me at that moment I had the comforting feeling like he was right here again as we repeated those same steps that we learned from him.

Just as we finished getting the last chick a drink and settled in, my mom and sister arrived for our little guy’s birthday supper. I was surprised to see them already, since it seemed pretty early in the afternoon, and then I realized it was already after 5:00. Time to switch gears to birthday mode. With a day in town and taking care of new chicks, we had a kitchen table full of groceries, the living room wasn’t picked up, and with the meal we added a bunch of new dishes to the melee, but the birthday celebration comes just the same.

While I cooked in the kitchen, our lucky birthday boy received Grandma’s full attention while she built towers of blocks for him to knock over. For supper we ate our little guy’s favorite, spaghetti and sauce. My oldest daughter, quite the baker, whipped up her own creation of a banana blueberry birthday cake after his favorite flavor of baby food. The cake was awesome.

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Our little buddy opened a few presents, including a swimming suit, which prompted my daughter’s wisecrack “Hey Mom, let’s call this his birthday suit!” and some fleece hand puppets –the very sweet creation of my six-year-old. We sang Happy Birthday a few times and he smeared cake all over everything. Bedtime came a little later than usual, and he went to bed a very tired, very loved little boy.

When all of the kids were finally in bed, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out with a flashlight to check on the chicks in the barn. They all looked cozy and warm in the glow of the red heat lamp, so all was well with all of the babies for the night. One baby turning a year, 65 babies one day old, and a good day all around. Happy birthday, little buddy. We love you!

Written May 23, 2017.

 

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What a Difference a Year Makes

Written April 2, 2012.

One of the best side benefits of children is the way they mark time.  After I passed my highly anticipated 21st birthday, the weeks, months, and years began to fly by.  One holiday blurs into the one from before, and another birthday passing doesn’t feel much different than any other.  Christmas rolling around sometimes feels like a burden when it seems like just yesterday I was shopping for last year’s gifts.
With kids, though, time matters in a big way.  The passage of a week is monumental when it marks the first tooth finally coming in, each changing season is magic to a preschooler, holidays take forever to arrive, and birthdays are important enough that our son tells his age in half-years, “I’m four AND A HALF,” because that extra half means a lot when you’ve only had four full years out in the world.
The significance of time is on my mind because this week, on April 2nd to be exact, our sweet little baby girl turns one year old.  Like any parent, I look at my baby, and just yesterday I saw her for the first time, a brand new pink, wriggling bundle of dainty arms and legs.  Then somehow, I blinked, and a whole year went by.  And like a typical mom, a part of me feels a little sad, because even though she still wakes up to nurse at night, I can foresee a not-too-distant day when she’ll be pulling out of the yard to head off to college.

One year ago, our baby boy held his new baby sister for the first time when she was just a few hours old.

Maybe her first year feels like a blur to me because it truly was.  Her first year of life marked all of the typical baby milestones, and it marked a series of monumental changes for us as a family.  Tallied up, in her first year, she lived in three different houses, logged 5,000 highway miles crisscrossing between MT and MN, and learned to feed herself and crawl in the midst hundreds of discussions about long-term family plans.

Last year in March, just weeks before she was due, we sold our little log house in Broadview, Montana.  “Nesting” for our fourth baby involved not decorating, but packing up the nursery.  We listed our log house for sale in anticipation of a move to Osseo, WI, where we had a signed purchase agreement on a business property.  At the time it seemed like an almost done deal, but we faced roadblocks at every turn, and the deal in Wisconsin ultimately dissolved.  So when we finally sold our house in MT, we no longer had a specific final destination, although we knew we wanted to find something near my family in MN.

Just two weeks after our daughter was born, we packed up and moved out of our log house.  It was an easy move, distance-wise, just across town to rent the church parsonage in Broadview, MT.  The hard part was the long-term uncertainty.

Spring 2011, then, was a blur of newborn baby care and moving boxes.  Moving chaos, a new baby, and living in limbo as a family of six sounds like a perfect recipe for post-partum depression, but that wasn’t the case.  We were thankful to find a home to rent in our tiny town, especially with month-to-month lease flexibility.  Grandparents just across the street and a neighborhood full of friends for our kids made the rental house a great short-term home.

Summer months sailed by with a baby on my hip and three kids to chase.  Our newest addition spent the summer nursing and growing a nice, round tummy and plenty of rolls on her thighs for the swimsuit season.  We played outside, visited Grandma and Grandpa, our kids shared backyards with neighborhood friends, I cooked constantly to keep everyone fed, and fought the sometimes losing battle of keeping the kids and house clean (barring chocolate syrup disasters).

As fall began, our baby began feeding herself solids, and we made a visit to MN that led to a signed a purchase agreement for what is now our home.  School days mixed with months of stress and more uncertainty.  We submitted literally hundreds of pages of financials to banks, made countless phone calls, and waited.  Babies don’t care about any of that, though, and she happily endeared herself to all of her family in Montana, willingly accepting hugs and kisses from her adoring  fans: grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

Just two days after our little girl’s first Christmas, we got the best gift of all, closing on our house in Minnesota.  We barely noticed that the winter snows never really showed up this year in the blur of making moving preparations.  As I packed boxes, she gleefully learned to unpack them, scattering the contents on the floor and then abandoning them in search of a new conquest.  Stealthily crawling into the bathroom and unrolling the toilet paper in the holder with smooth, efficient swats became one of her favorite skills as I tried to clean the house to move out.

And now spring is here again.  One year ago our family in Montana helped us moved across town to a short-term rental, and now, a year later our family here in Minnesota bowled us over with not just moving help, but painting, wiring, plumbing, repairs, cleaning, and filling our wood burner while we were gone, all totaling up to countless hours that we appreciate beyond words.

Last week, just shy of our baby’s first birthday, we finally moved into our house here in Minnesota.  Showing up unexpectedly last Sunday, we still had a yard full of cars with family eager to help us get settled in our house.  On two hours of sleep after driving through the night, I walked through the house in an exhausted astonishment at seeing much of our house already unpacked by family who had unloaded a trailer load of our things a month before.  Our kids played in their yard for the first time, chasing their cousins across the green grass in the warm afternoon sunshine, and our baby took her first nap in her new bedroom.

The little birthday girl, surrounded by her favorite entourage in their new house.

On our fourth child’s first birthday, we will create a sibling-decorated cake, and observe the sacred first birthday ritual of letting her smash and smear cake all over herself.  We will celebrate not only the joy of a beautiful, healthy, fun baby, but the excitement of beginning a new phase of our life in the home that we will “never move out of,” as our six-year-old proclaimed to her aunt in Montana.

 © 2012