Lessons learned

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Moments of quiet as a mom to two little ones are few and far between. But when I get them — usually right after Miles, 3, wakes up and snuggles into me while his brother Owen, 7 months, is either snoozing in my arms or nursing — I am struck, nearly to tears, with the realization that this intense, I-can-barely-breathe love I have for my boys is the same thing my mom had for my sister and me.

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Before I was a parent I knew my mom loved me. I knew she cared for me. I knew that my sister, dad and me were pretty much her entire world. But I didn’t really KNOW it; I didn’t feel it. And although that realization has washed over me countless times, every time it gets quiet enough for it to sneak up on me I still get a gush of emotions — every single time.

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That love, the love of a mom, you can’t explain it. I am the luckiest person alive because I got that love — I still get that unconditional love — from my mom.
That’s one of the most important lessons I learned from her, the power and significance of unconditional love. I know at times, more than either she or I probably want to recall, I wasn’t the easiest girl to love. I was a stubborn toddler, child and teen (I may just be a stubborn adult, too). I was what the parenting blogs today call “spirited.” Through all that though, she loved me harder than any little girl could ever hope for.

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There are days where my spirited preschooler, who can throw a tantrum like no other, makes things a little challenging. OK, let’s be real; he makes stuff downright insufferable some days. But you know what? Like my mom, I love him unconditionally. I love him so much it takes my breath away. He, his brother and my husband are my world — just like my mom.

Waiting for fireworks with grandma and Elmo in Vincennes 2013.

Waiting for fireworks with grandma and Elmo in Vincennes 2013.

There’s plenty of other lessons I’ve taken from my mom — how to sew, a love of all things crafty, the importance of finding a good deal, seeing the good in every situation, faking it ’til I make it, choosing which hill to die on and a funky sense of style. Heck, even choosing to enter the Peace Corps was something I can credit to her and my dad as the two of them always talked about doing it and modeled a life of service, planting that seed for my sister and me.

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Features staffer Leah Ward said the lessons from her mom, Jan Berry, were endless. An important one though, was patience, especially when it came to her children
“Always listen to them and put them first,” Leah said, recalling what she’s learned from her mom.

Entertainment writer Kelly Gifford said her mom, Kathy Gifford — no not that one — had an unusual way of conveying advice.

“In the flurry of raising five kids and running about to all of our respective sports, recitals, play dates and parties, she’d randomly exclaim something that would infuriate her and somehow we’d all heed the warning as something to avoid in our future lives.”
One example Kelly provided, a memory that vividly stands out from the rest in both its truthfulness and hilarity:

“We were driving along the winding country roads — the destination now a blur — and her cellphone started ringing. With all of us kids in the back, she had to reach for it herself, in a rush to answer fearful she forgot something at home or would miss an emergency. She answered, missing the call by seconds when she saw an oncoming car was heading our way. Being the jerk children we were, we screamed about how the car was a roller coaster and laughed at the bad situation. In that moment of pure fear and dread, my mother screamed ‘I hate talking when I’m on the phone!’ and then brought the car to a complete stop.

“Silence fell. Then she began laughing, and the car erupted. What she meant was, ‘I hate talking on the phone when I am driving.’ We all knew this, but at the time it didn’t matter what she meant. My preteen self made a mental note of that moment to not only remember the dangers associated with operating heavy machinery while under the influence of a cellphone conversation but to remember how my mother’s wisdom never fails to make us laugh as well.”

Meet my imaginary enemy, Mommy Wars

I’m in my fair share of “mommy” groups on Facebook. One is for area “crunchy” moms (AKA those ascribing to a more natural parenting style), another is a group of moms from all over the country (and a few international) who had babies with October 2014 due dates, another was started by a friend with the idea of “no censorship” and then there are a sundry of generic cloth diaper, natural parenting or attachment parenting sites I follow.

There’s a phrase and mentality that I rarely go a day without seeing it bantered, way too causally about — Mommy Wars. That statement, that concept really, is a monster, a Jabberwocky, created by US, fed by US and indulged by US!

I HATE, HATE, HATE when I see those words carelessly thrown about online. We can disagree. We can be “mommies” (but really, only my 3 year old calls me mommy, call me a mom). But why does that disagreement have to be characterized as a mommy war?Why can we not just have a disagreement, heck it can even be an argument or fight. But mommy war? Really?

We are all real quick to blame “the media” for things. Being a member of said “media” I usually swiftly defend said “media.” I do think though that blogs and more mainstream media sources have done a good job at perpetuating this concept. But us moms in these online groups, discussion boards or even in real life, we have been the real culprits flippantly referring to any debate as a Mommy War.

In a recent discussion in one of my groups where different opinions got pretty strong it wasn’t long before a woman in the group, a fellow mom, started calling the discussion a mommy war. “Guys, this doesn’t have to be another mommy war. Let’s all just calm down and get along.”

I wasn’t even one of the fired up moms; I had no dog in the fight. But that comment got my blood boiling. We all have opinions. We all judge to a certain degree (we have to use judgement otherwise we would NEVER make a decision, it is part of life.) No one was being hateful or ugly (which can at times happen). It was a pretty intelligent discussion where people had different opinions and were sharing said opinions.

There was a huge shout from the world wide interwebs a few months ago when a formula company released a viral video showing all different kinds of moms uniting to grab a stroller that had gotten away from a mom. It was this sugary sweet, over the top video where breastfeeding moms and formula moms, cloth diaper and sposie babies, baby-wearing mommas and stroller moms were all just loving life and each other. When the video was shared over and over again it came with messages like, “This should be the end to Mommy Wars” or “This parodies Mommy Wars” and even news stories with the headline “Similac wants to end Mommy Wars over breastfeeding.”

Sigh!

Every time a group of women, who happen to also be mothers, disagree on something we shouldn’t be shouting, “mommy war.” Instead, let’s learn to hear someone else’s opinion and either take it or leave it.

The end.

How pregnancy ruined me (not really, well kind of)

The tears, oh the tears today!

Like so many things, my emotions are still stuck on pregnant. I was never the type to cry over things I’d read or watch. It had to be something pretty darn emotional or something that was directly impacting me or people I loved to get tears, real live tears from me.

Because, cute kids

Because, cute kids

Not anymore! I see a cute little ant working hard to carry a giant leaf set to some inspirational power ballad and a cutesy “you can do it” quote at the end and I’m a blubbering mess.

It all started about four years ago when I was pregnant with Miles. Granted the serious surge of hormones that is standard with a pregnancy was accompanied by some pretty emotional stuff in my life — my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I moved across the country from my husband (for three months) and great friends (forever), got a new and kind of scary job and then, sadly, lost my dad all within the first seven months after marriage and first four months of pregnancy.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

So when people would say, “Parenthood is a great show but you’ll probably tear up a little.” What I would actually do was have a near mental breakdown during every episode before my husband, for my own good, deleted the show from the DVR. I wasn’t able to revisit it until just a few months ago. Guess what folks, I almost needed an intervention then too.

Because my emotions — like my internal thermostat — are stuck on pregnant.

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There’s this video that’s going all viral of little kids blindfolded sensing their moms. All of the tears! And seriously people, it was good and tugged at your heart strings, but tears, sobs, sniffles — it shouldn’t be a thing. But it was.

And then about 20 minutes later the Internet, or the source of the Kleenex industry, spits out another tear fest. There was a story about the three things you should ask your child before bed:

  • What is something that made you smile today?
  • What is something that made you cry today?
  • What is something that you learned today?

 

 

Fourth of July parade in Vincennes 2012.

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Again, with the tears. These tears come from a place of, you guessed it, guilt. I can’t escape this five letter word. Miles, nearly 4, doesn’t get as much of my time as he deserves during the week because from the time I get home from work to the time he goes to bed I’m nursing his brother. The 20 or so minutes where that isn’t the case I’m fixing dinner or we are eating dinner. None of it is real quality, momma and Miles time. And I feel bad.

So when I read this I realized it is something I need to do. So to kick that guilt to the curb I’ve vowed to myself to incorporate this into our nightly routine. Even if I’m nursing his brother, Miles can snuggle into my other side and we can have this conversation — EVERY NIGHT

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So pregnancy, you win again. You forever altered my shoe size, my thermostat (yes, it is ALWAYS hot in here) and my whacky emotions. But I suppose my two little boys are worth it.

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Chicken-tastrophe, oh and that thing with our home’s roof too

 

Chickens, happy and peaceful in their coop before "the storm!"

Chickens, happy and peaceful in their coop before “the storm!”

The post-mortem in my house this morning can be seen as a little comical — I’d rather laugh than cry.

Me: “So I’m going to talk to Stephanie about what I should do about the coop and where the chickens can be in the meantime. That sounds like a good plan right? We have to figure out what we are going to do. My poor chickens.”

Him: “Yes, and there is also the matter of the hole in our roof to deal with. I got that.”

Me: “Oh, yes, that’s right.”

Sigh.

Back up about eight sleepless hours to our less-than-fabulous evening. I had checked on my chickens, tucked away snugly in their coop, around 10:45 p.m. There was a storm raging outside but the coop was a nice fortress and protection for the nasty winds, rain and lightning.

I finished up a bit of work, snapped my laptop shut and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. The wind was really whipping. I could hear it whistling through the windows and could almost feel the house shake.

We’d just gone through a nasty storm during the day Tuesday and unfortunately lost a huge section of our roof. It sucked! But the coop stayed strong. We spent a good 24 hours patting ourselves on the back for Michael’s stellar coop-building skills. And then we doled out several hundred dollars to fix the roof on Wednesday because now we are grownups and that’s the yucky stuff we have to do.

While brushing my teeth — I’m not one to really sit still — I wondered into the kitchen closer to Michael’s office where he was working on a story on his computer.

“Thesh sturm sheemz wurst thahn de least one,” I said through my mouthful of toothpaste and toothbrush standing on my tiptoes to see out the window to get one last check on my coop and little chickies.

It was dark and raining SO hard I couldn’t see the coop in the backyard from that window but I had a bad feeling. I moved to the dining room, peeking out the lower windows.

The coop was overturned.

Me, screaming: “My coop is upside down!”

I ran toward the door, toothbrush still in my mouth, pajamas and no shoes with Michael right on my tail.

It was raining SO hard, torrential downpour. And the wind; the wind was crazy. You couldn’t hear anything. It was kind of surreal. And I was in serious panic mode. My chickens — Mocalotive, Choo-Choo, Olive, Stella, Foghorn Leghorn and Chicken Little — these were my babies. They weren’t just some feathered things we were getting eggs from one of these days. I had grown attached.

And my coop, ah, my coop was so, so cute!

The completed coop

The completed coop

Me, now screaming at the top of my lungs and waving my arms like a crazy person: “We have to flip the coop over! Hurry, we have to flip it over.”

I was prepared to go all Hulk and just pick up this substantial structure and find my chickens safe and dry, chilling underneath.

We both got down on all fours in the mud and muck, rain beating down on us looking for any signs of chickens.

There were none.

Him: “We can’t just flip it over. We might crush them.”

Me, repeatedly, with more tears and even more manic: “No, we have to flip it over!”

Him, much calmer: “Let’s look for them.”

We continued to look through coop rubble and debris from trees but saw nothing.

Him: “Wait, I hear something.”

He points out one lone chicken hiding under a piece of the broken coop. I grab her, plopping her in the feed bucket nearby. But behind her is another chicken. And behind her another. Four chickens piled on top of each other. I nose my way farther into the broken up pieces of wood and find two more chickens.

All were safe!

I run them inside into the garage checking them over again, my breathing returning to a little more normal pace. I go back outside and with Herculean effort flip the coop back over assessing the completely smashed roof.

As the wind continues to try to knock Michael and me over, we decide the coop isn’t safe out there. So we walk it around the house and with the strength of sheer adrenaline I lift my end over my head so we can clear Michael’s car, getting it safely inside the garage.

I got my teenager chickens inside the house, dry them off and gave them a little snuggle before putting them to bed in the basement, in the space they once occupied as chicks.

In the meantime, my responsible, normal, non-chicken-obsessed husband is checking out the house to see if it sustained damage. And of course, it did.

Another section of roof had blown off.

Sigh.

So, here we are, less than eight hours later trying to make sense of the crazy night before.

The roof guy, the same one who replaced a section of the roof on Wednesday, is coming back Saturday to do another job. And while he has an important job in fixing our roof, I’m going to ask if maybe he can fit a reroof of my coop into his busy schedule.

It’s the important things…

Easter memories

There’s a saying in my family, if it happens more than once it is a tradition.

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Well folks, we have an Easter tradition. Michael and I had just moved into our new home just before Easter last year and had my mom, sister, brother-in-law and nephew over for a meal and an egg hunt in the back yard. We did the same thing this year.

A tradition was born.

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There’s nothing fancy or extra special about it, but maybe that is what makes it special. It was a quiet (well can anything be quiet with a 6 month old, 2 year old and 3 year old… NO) low-key day but so much fun.

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Miles, 3, and Charlie, 2, boys played and hunted eggs in the back yard while my mom snuggled Owen, 6 months. Sarah and I “hid” eggs throughout the yard as Michael grilled and Chris, Sarah’s husband, helped wrangle the kiddos.

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This year we added some chickens and a new baby to the mix but it was pretty similar to last year’s celebration.

I loved it!

And Easter Sunday we followed a tradition too. Last year we attended Aldersgate United Methodist Church with my sister and her in-laws. Michael and I and the boys started regularly attending the church a few months ago and returned again this Easter Sunday, this time feeling a little less like strangers. It was a nice service and Miles, shockingly, was able to stay quiet throughout the more than hour long service.

The church has a tradition of its own, the children "flower the cross" at the beginning of the ceremony. Miles helped.

The church has a tradition of its own, the children “flower the cross” at the beginning of the ceremony. Miles helped.

I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to create and make memories and form our own traditions with my own little family and my extended family.

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Hope Easter was a great one for you too!

So the boys took a little trip…

… and forgot to take the rest of us.

They started out small and decided to go visit their Ema in Vincennes and stopped by the George Rogers Clark memorial.

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Owen wasn’t too impressed so they moved on to visit with their buddy Abbey Nickel in Ohio.

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After hanging out on the farm, they wanted to check out something a little more exotic. They asked me about my past travels and decided to head over to Bangladesh to visit some of my old friends.

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There were a few too many people, and they were looking for something a little more metropolitan so they hopped on a jet making their way to Paris where they checked out all the sites and museums (my kiddos are so very cultural.)

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Having enough of the actual Eiffel Tower, Miles suggested they check out the fake tower along with several other sites and take in a little gambling, so the boys hit the Vegas Strip.

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The trip was a little much for Owen, so he asked Miles if they could maybe go take a break at their MeMe and PawPaw’s house in Louisiana. But you know 3 year olds, they can’t skip a parade, so of course the two stopped on Bourbon to take in a little Mardi Gras magic. “Throw me something mister!”

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The saying, “What happens on Bourbon Street stays on Bourbon Street” isn’t always true. They had to give me a call to bail them out.

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These earthly adventures were fun and all for the Doyle boys, but they had a yearning for more. They knew some where out there more adventure was to be had…

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After travelling back in time and participating in the moon walk, Miles and Owen thought they should go check out their momma’s namesake — Abbey Road.

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The guys weren’t too talkative just mumbling about some record they had to get to work on. John did flash a peace sign before they took off for their next adventure — Hollywood.

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“If we can’t make it in Hollywood, well then we should go to the beach,” Miles said.

OCEAN

 

I hope Michael and I can join them there soon. Cool blue oceans!

 

 

Managing expectations

I was editing something for a non-profit I’m involved in, Project Reveal, this morning about expectations and it got me to thinking about my own.

The woman we spoke with talked about how she’d built her life up around expectations but that she only was able to enjoy life when she let go of them and really experienced her world free of them.

That’s a pretty powerful concept. We all have these huge expectations. And expectations can come in lots of forms: hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations… While it is good to have goals and things we want to work toward I think the position we often, well let me stop there and just start speaking for myself, I often find myself in is that I lose track of working toward a positive goal and instead start criticizing myself for not meeting that expectation.

It went from a goal of, “I want to be a more engaged and present mom in the evenings after work” to “I am failing at being there for my boys because I answered those work e-mails and took that phone call.”

Having a plan and a goal is a wonderful thing. I LOVE a plan. But I’m still working on letting go of it if things don’t work out or go as planned — from the simple things such as having a meal out where my kiddos don’t cause a scene to the bigger expectations of being meaningfully engaged in my family, at work and in the community while still having time to breath, I need to loosen up the expectations and give myself a little grace.

Let go of the expectations and gain a little peace.

One day at a time!

I used to be so much fun

There’s this app on my phone called TimeHop, it allows you to see what you were doing this time one, two, three, four, etc. years ago.
I both love and hate the thing.
Sometimes when something pops up from six years ago, I sigh and say, “I used to be so much fun!”
The features department is a small group and two of the four of us are in their early to mid-20s. They are a lot of fun still. And when I hear stories about all their weekend antics I’m like, “aww man, I used to do stuff like that.”
We rented a water slide for our "pre-rehearsal" cookout and did it without the water.

We rented a water slide for our “pre-rehearsal” cookout and did it without the water.

Bounce house for my 28th birthday

Bounce house for my 28th birthday

Seriously guys, I was a lot of fun. Here’s a few examples — for my 28th birthday we rented a giant bouncy house for the backyard for me and all of our friends. For my now-husband’s birthday (also the same night he proposed to me) we rented a giant inflatable water slide and played on it ALL night long with about 30 friends (dish soap even got involved.) We had parties for nearly every occasion, and my crazy friend Jodi usually ensured that fireworks were a part of every celebration. I even hosted a 1920s-themed murder mystery party where I transformed my house into a bordello.
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The squierrel I rescued and had to keep with me and warm until the wildlife rehabber could get him. He even went with me on a few assignments.

The squierrel I rescued and had to keep with me and warm until the wildlife rehabber could get him. He even went with me on a few assignments.

The antics didn’t stop at parties. I’ve kind of always been a bit eccentric. I had a pair of full-sized mannequin legs rescued from a department store that I’d transformed into a lamp complete with high heels and fishnet stockings. I had a room devoted to my accessories, yes a room — my shoe room. I had the space (a three-bedroom house for just me) and it was just silly enough to be something I’d do. I had an entire large Rubbermaid tote filled with adult dress up clothes (there were occasions). I went to “Rocky Horror” dressed up. We had mock fashion shows and photo shoots in the middle of the night. I could always find a reason to wear a boa.
I rocked those socks.

I rocked those socks.

My funky style still is showcased on special days.

My funky style still is showcased on special days.

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Michael and I used to do all kinds of silly things. He, of course, rolled his eyes through most of it but I know was having a great time. We “borrowed” an old office chair from the newspaper we worked for and stayed up until 7 a.m. reupholstering it before getting a greasy diner breakfast and then sleeping until 3 p.m. the next day. I forced him to go on plenty of adventures, including an alligator hunt where I ended up kissing a gator. Outings often included a picnic lunch. One date even ended with a tow truck — that’s a story all by itself.
Late night chair redecorating.

Late night chair redecorating.

Kissing a gator

Kissing a gator

The date that ended with a tow truck.

The date that ended with a tow truck.

I was the fun one at the office, making cake for everyone’s birthday, the center of every laugh fest and just the general goofball whose goal was to make everybody have a good time, especially when they were having a bad day. I did things like make silly kid crafts (with pom-poms and googly eyes) with a co-worker and then leaving one for every single person in the office in the middle of the night so they could be surprised the next morning. Or picking out a “spirit animal” for all of the people in the newsroom and leaving a stuffed version of it on their desk.
Birthday cake!

Birthday cake!

One of the infamous tots.

One of the infamous tots.

There were stuffed tater tots that lined my desk, which often were the subject of various kidnapping plots. I remember packing my car to the rooftop with supplies for ONE night at a friend’s cabin and my dog coming along, barely room to turn around.
Gear for one night camping and the dog.

Gear for one night camping and the dog.

Enjoying gumbo after having a drink at 9 a.m. during a traditional Mardi Gras celebration in South Louisiana with my mom.

Enjoying gumbo after having a drink at 9 a.m. during a traditional Mardi Gras celebration in South Louisiana with my mom.

Writing out all of this makes me wistful for those crazy days filled with silly antics. We had some epic times.
But, while I miss many of those things and would love to repeat many of them, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for my “crazy” times today. I LOVE being a mom. I loved being the center of my social circle throwing fun parties and doing silly things, but being the center of my boys’ world is so much cooler.
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And you know what, the other day Miles crawled up into my lap and gave me a giant hug and said, “You’re my best friend!” I just about melted. He was SO excited because I was going to be with him “all night long.” He tells me all the time that I’m the best and so much fun.
Miles painting in the nude.

Miles painting in the nude.

Swinging at the park with Miles and Owen.

Swinging at the park with Miles and Owen.

We do things like have dance parties in the middle of the living room rocking out so hard to “Yo Gabba Gabba” that we make the breakables on the mantle jingle. We make scented play-dough from scratch. I let him paint using his fingers! We go for bike rides. We laugh until our bellies hurt saying things like “poop trash” and “home” for still-unknown reasons. With less than 24 hours notice, I booked tickets for Christmas Eve at an indoor water park. I let him eat the occasional marshmallow and chocolate chip. I ride the spinny rides with him. I listen, I snuggle, I care.
Spur of the moment Christmas trip.

Spur of the moment Christmas trip.

Climbing in the tunnel with Miles.

Climbing in the tunnel with Miles.

We sing silly, crazy songs. We try to have mini-adventures each weekend doing things like going to festivals or the museum or digging around in the backyard. We are raising chickens, just because.
Unplanned swimming adventure.

Unplanned swimming adventure.

Playing in the dirt and rain.

Playing in the dirt and rain.

I am still that same old crazy, eccentric, giggly gal. When asking Michael to help me think of some of the silly things we did in the “old days” and some that we do today, this is what he said (cue waterworks):
“Just being quirky and off-center in general, that’s one of the things that first struck me about you, that you were willing to put yourself out there and not be afraid of looking goofy or whatever. It is one of the main reasons I love you. It’s still there, you just don’t have as much time and energy to show it off as you used to. That is to be expected. But that is what draws people to you. One of the things that first attracted me to you is your laugh, and the reason I fell in love with you is because you were a lot of fun and got me to do and experience things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
Awww! I don’t think I can top that. So yes, I guess I am still fun, it just looks a little different.
See, we can still have fun, even without the kids!

See, we can still have fun, even without the kids!

Family photo

Family photo

How has your “fun” changed with kids over the years? How do you make sure that you keep that fun still alive when things get crazy busy?​