Category Archives: A Journey Through Fosterhood

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

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Happy 4th Birthday, Little Man!

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Happy 4th Birthday, Little Man!

It’s been a crazy seven months.  Unfortunately that has led to not much blogging lately.  So, I’m a bit behind.  I promise lots more updates to come, but today I want to rewind about a month, and celebrate Little Man’s birthday!  Here is my annual letter, interview, and some adorable photos!  Enjoy!!

Dear Sweet Boy,

I can’t believe you are four!  You are growing by leaps and bounds, in so many ways.  In the past few months you have grown two inches and gone from being able to wear 24 month clothes to wearing a 4T.  You are growing in so many other ways as well!  A year ago you had only been speaking for a few months.  Now you are talking up a storm.  You say the most adorable and funny things.  You make up songs, tell stories, and love to “read” all your books out loud.  It’s so adorable— you insist on always reading it yourself, and you open the book and retell the story for us.  You have learned to count, identify colors, and match.  I recently received your last school report and you had met several goals that you’ve been working on all year.  I am so proud of you!!

You are such a sweet boy.  I love seeing your heart and compassion.  Saying goodbye for you is always a big hug fest.  Every morning when you get on the bus we spend several minutes giving lots of hugs, kisses, and high fives.  When I pick you up from daycare, you always have a hug for your teachers, and all of your classmates won’t let you go until they’ve gotten their “Little Man hug.”  I love seeing how you cared for “Baby Sarah” when she visited.  You gave her your favorite toys when she would cry, hug her, hold her hand when she needed to go somewhere, and genuinely loved on her.  I pray one day I get to see you take care of your own baby sister.  We’ve been working on apologizing when you hurt someone and you’ve taken to initiating your own apologies when you make a mistake.  If you’re mad and intentionally hurt me, you hate to apologize, but when you’ve made a mistake or had an accident—even the smallest of things — you break out into this huge smile, run and hug my legs, and yell “I’m sorry, Mommy.”  It is the most adorable thing ever.

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This year you have tried so many new things.  You started your new school and have absolutely loved it.  You have such an amazing team of teachers, and you are absolutely in love with “Miss Carrie.”  She is so fantastic with you and I wish she could stay with you as your grow and change classes.  You tried soccer, and spent more time laying on the ground than playing, but you enjoyed being outside.  And you showed me you’re more of a football kind of kid— every time the ball (or a player with the ball) came near you, you felt the need to tackle them to the ground.  You took swim classes and have loved being in the water.  You took a dance class and loved it.  The week after it ended, you ran to the empty classroom because you didn’t want it to be over.  You got glasses for the first time, and we’ve gone through what feels like a million pairs, but you’re getting better with them all the time!  We have gone on some fantastic adventures together — apple picking, visiting Sesame Place, blueberry picking, exploring the Strong Museum of Play, meeting your new extended family for the first time, feeding animals at The Wild Animal Park, running around at Billy Beez, and so many other fun experiences.  I have loved watching you experience new things and places—you are always full of so much joy and excitement.

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You love music—when you love a song you always sing it at the top of your lungs, dancing around, and smiling with such joy.  You love to sing “Let it Go,” and whenever “Happy” comes out, you scream “That’s my song!” and start dancing.  It’s the cutest thing ever.  You have discovered imaginative play and I love watching you interact with your trains, Little People, Daniel the Tiger toys, and Elmo figures.  You have about a million stuffed animals which you absolutely love.  Over the past year I have watched as you’ve moved from reenacting violent scenes with them, to caring for them, patting their backs, taking care of them when they’re sick, and putting them in time out when they make bad choices.  Not only is it completely adorable, it is so beautiful watching you transform into a loving caregiver of all your toys.  It speaks so much about how far you’ve come, and how you are beginning to understand the role of family.  This makes me so happy for you, and so proud of your growth.

I am so proud of how far you’ve come this year.  During this year you received seven different diagnoses of special needs.  On top of all that, you were struggling to understand what was going on in your world and your family, and process the trauma you had experienced.  It’s hard to imaging have deal with just one of things—most kids with special needs only have one or two things they’re dealing with.  I’ve never met anyone who is struggling to overcome so much.  But you, my love, you are a warrior.  You are beating the odds, you are fighting to overcome the challenges you are faced with, and I am so proud of you.  So much of the time you are doing so well at fighting this fight that the people around you don’t even realize how my challenges you are facing.  And we forget sometimes how hard this is for you.  But you are amazing, and I pray that you keep up the fight and that you realize what an amazing, sweet, and lovable boy you are!

I am so very blessed that you are in my life and that I get to be your mommy.  You make everything worth it.  Over the past year we have faced some big challenges and tough times.  But you, my love, make everything worthwhile.  I can’t wait to experience the journey of your fourth year!  I can’t wait till next year when we’re celebrating that you are forever a family.  I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be!

Happy 4th Birthday!!

Each year I interview you on your birthday and celebrate all the special, unique things about you.  Last year I had share what my thoughts were, because you couldn’t yet communicate them.  This year we’re celebrating because you have come so far and can speak for yourself!!  ;o)

Mommy:  Do you want to get married when you grow up?

Little Man:  No.

Mommy:  Why not?

Little Man:  ‘Cause I don’t like it.

Mommy:  Like what?

Little Man:  Married.  I like Santa Clause.

Mommy:  Do you want to have kids one day?

LIttle Man:  Yeah!

Mommy:  How many?

LIttle Man:  Five!

Mommy:  What is your favorite thing about yourself?

LIttle Man:  I’m smart.

Mommy: What is your favorite thing to do at school?

Little Man:  Read books.

Mommy:  What do you like to do in your free time?

Little Man:  Play with choo choo trains.

Mommy:  What is your favorite thing about mommy?

Little Man:  That you play with me.

Mommy:  Who are your best friends?

Little Man: You’re my best friend.

Mommy: What is your favorite holiday?

Little Man:  Santa Clause

Mommy: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Little Man:  On a boat.

Mommy:  Where on a boat?

Little Man: All around the world.

Mommy: What is your favorite memory of last year?

Little Man:  Going to Sesame Street.

Mommy: What is one thing you really want to do this year?

Little Man: Go on vacation.

What is your favorite . . .

Toy:  My kitchen

Drink: Milk and Root beer floats

Food: Cheeseburger and McDonalds

Activity: Painting

Song: “Let It Go”

TV Show: Daniel Tiger

Movie: Frozen

Book: Pete the Cat, Rockin’ My School Shoes

Sport: Swimming

Ice Cream: Vanilla

Color: Red

Candy: M-n-M’s

Stuffed Animal: Minion

Game: Candy Land

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I Chose Loss

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I chose loss. I volunteered for it. Signed up and waited for my turn. I chose loss; but I never thought it would feel like this.

Four days ago I lost my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who had only ever known life in a NICU incubator. Four days ago I held her in my arms as she lay dying, trying to choke back the sobs as I whispered my love to her. It was the first time she had been cuddled to my side. Four days ago I lost the sweet child I’d been planning and preparing for during the past eight months. And I walked into an empty home filled with baby things I had hoped to fill with loving memories.

I kissed my baby goodbye and walked out of the small, dark room they use for these things, trying to hold it together long enough to get to my car. Long enough to get out before I completely lost it. But I couldn’t make it. Walking through the NICU halls I could see all these other beautiful smiling babies—success stories who had once fought for their lives in this same place. And I lost it, right there in front of the elevators, as I ran to find a bathroom where my sobs choked me until they turned out my breakfast. And I lost it again in the elevator. And the car. And pulling into my garage with its stores of baby goods. And when I finally climbed into bed and pulled the comforter over my head in a useless attempt to shut out the world.

I’ve lived in hiding for the past four days. Barely leaving my front door, other than a trip to the ER when the grief translated itself into physical illness. Today I had to get out. Not for me, but my sweet three-year-old son who doesn’t understand any of this. For my rambunctious love who has been trapped inside our small home for days as the wind chill dropped to -40 outside.   It seems a fitting temperature for death. But not for little boys. So we bundled up and drove to the mall playground. I didn’t want to go. I knew what would happen. But I chose this, and so I held his small hands as he jumped and played. And then the inevitable—we rounded the giant tree to find an adorable little baby girl sitting in her mother’s lap. I couldn’t breathe at first. I needed to look away, but that sweet little boy’s voice kept telling me “Over here, Mommy” as he ran right towards her. I tried to turn my back on them, to hold my son’s hand while looking in another direction. I kept catching glimpses of her mother—looking bored as she held this sweet baby in one hand and texted with the other. I wanted to run up to her and scream, “Don’t take this for granted! Pay attention for all of us who can no longer hold our babies!” But this would only make me look like a mad woman—reveal all the cracks that are breaking into my carefully held together mask.

I wander through purposeless days–throwing away baby shower checklists and registry cards, opening letters that were sent while she was still with us, hiding baby toys in a now forbidden closet. I try to focus on my sweet little boy and hold things together so he can experience some sense of normalcy. And I wait. I wait to find out the funeral arrangements, to learn if she will be buried or cremated, to find out if I will be allowed some small memento from her brief life. Just like I waited sleepless nights to find out if she made it through delivery and her first night, waited to meet her for the first time, waited to be allowed in the NICU.

I wait because this was my choice. My sweet girl is not my biological daughter. And although I have anxiously awaited and prepared her arrival for the past 8 months, I have no legal rights to her—to see her in the hospital, to make the choice to end life support, or to plan her funeral.

I am a foster mom, and I chose this.

I chose to love children who were not my own. Children to whom I have no legal rights. Children whose futures lay in others’ hands. Children I could not love any more had I been their biological mother.

I met my son when he was two and a half—all questioning eyes and nervous giggles, as he tried to stow away toys and hide behind curtains. Over the past 11 months we have learned together what love and trust and family mean. I may have to get permission to take him out of the county or change his hairstyle, but he is my son. And we are moving towards adoption.

The precious little baby I lost was my son’s half-sister. From the time that the biological mom knew she was pregnant, I knew she would be my daughter. Nothing is ever certain in foster care, but according to the case worker, there was a 99.9% chance she would be placed in foster care. And because they strive to keep siblings together, as long as I wanted her, this beautiful girl would become a part of our family.

And I did want her. I knew from the time they told me that my son was on the track for adoption that one day I would want to adopt a little sister for him. Most people doubted my choice. I’m single and my son is overcoming a truckload of special needs as a result of his trauma. People questioned whether or not I could parent two kids. They asked if it was wise for me to take on more “work.” They wondered if it was in the best interest of my son to live with his sister. They doubted that the baby would be safe with a special needs kid in the home.

Once the time came for her birth, we realized the severity of her health problems and were told that she probably wouldn’t survive the delivery. A therapist told me it was better this way. And then she did survive delivery . . . and the first night . . . and the first week . . . and I finally confided to a neighbor what was going on. She told me to leave the baby at the hospital. That she wasn’t worth all the work and I had my hands full already. The doctors felt she’d never survive, that it wasn’t worth using extreme measures on a hopeless case. And since I wasn’t even the foster mother yet, I got to hear the news without any of the obligatory “we’re sorry” or caring bedside manner.

They meant well. They just didn’t understand that she was already my daughter. So I continued to fight for her and pray for her and stay awake nights hoping for a miracle. One week turned into two weeks. And just when I thought things might be more hopeful, I got a call from the caseworker—they expected her to die in the next few hours. I’d only seen her once, I’d never held her, and I had no rights to go visit her; but my baby was about to die. The sweet little girl I had loved and prayed for and stocked a nursery for only had a few precious hours left.

I lost my daughter. The sadness is unimaginable, and every day my thoughts are filled with her and the future that we were robbed of. I remember all the plans I had for our family, and it’s sometimes more than I can bear.

But I remind myself that I chose loss. I chose to be a parent whose child could be torn away from them at any moment. I am a part of a system where kids are moved on to different foster homes, placed with family members, returned to parents, and then come back into the system again. I am a parent in a system that asks me to love each child with every part of me—just as if they were my own—and then be willing to lose them. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I wanted. And though I never imagined one of those children would be lost this way, I knew there was every possibility that my heart would be broken. This is what I chose.

But I also choose love. I choose hope. I choose to believe she is in a place where her tiny little body is no longer filled with pain. I choose to believe that God will bring healing to our family. I choose to believe that this pain, and loneliness, and suffocating sadness won’t last forever. And I choose to carry her heart in my heart forever. I chose loss, yes. But more importantly, I am choosing love.

photo amaia

Your job, Mommy.

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I am working with Little Man to help him understand the proper role of a parent. This is an important job in foster care. So I have been teaching him that “mommy’s job is to take care of you.” Tonight at dinner I asked him to take something to the sink. “No,” he said, “Mommy’s job.” Well played Little Man, well played.

In other news, Little Man got glasses. He started wearing them about two months ago. His prescription is stronger than mine. A lot stronger. He is now on pair 6 or 7. Medicare won’t pay for flexible glasses, because they’re too expensive, but apparently replacing them about once a week is fiscally responsible. He’s been without glasses more than he’s been with them.

On one of our recent trips to get new glasses, the optometrist asked if he was an only child. When I said yes, he said “I can tell, only children always have such advanced speech.” Look at that, ladies and gents! That’s my non-verbal baby!!! Needless to say, I’m super proud!

My baby is sick.

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I got my first sick call from Little Man’s school today. They told me he had a fever which had quickly climbed to 101.5. I picked him up, gave him some Tylenol, and he’s been sleeping for close to three hours now. Poor baby.

By the way, he got glasses last week, and he is even more adorable than ever.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Little Man!

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So, this is a few months late in coming.  But I wanted to share.  I am totally ripping off an idea from Megan at http://www.millionsofmiles.com.  It’s a great blog that you should totally read.

Anyway, the idea I’m ripping off is a birthday letter which I plan to do every year for Little Man.  It also has a list of his favorites.  Hopefully next year he’ll be talking enough that I can actually ask him the questions, but for this year you’re just getting the mommy perspective.

 

My dear sweet boy,

Although I’ve only known you a few months, you’ve already stolen my heart. I remember the first day you came to me. I found out you were coming just a few days before, and had a chance to meet you twice. When you were dropped off at my home, you ran around the house playing with the few toys and books I had and then trying to stuff them in your tiny backpack. I’m sure you thought you were going to leave soon, and you wanted to take everything with you.   And that was when I fell in love with you.

You are a big three years old now, and you are so fiercely independent. Maybe because you’ve had to be in your short life, but my, are you so willing and insistent on doing things yourself. And you’re very good at it too. You want to cook the food, pour the milk, turn on the bath, open the packages, and turn on the car. You’re even trying to change your own diaper.

You are so smart! Sometimes, I swear, you’re too smart for your own good. In the short months you’ve lived with me, you have come to learn where we live and how to navigate there from any direction. You remember when bridges are coming up, and when we’re going to go underneath roadways. You have such an engineer’s mind—always taking things apart to see how they work, and then putting them back together. You can figure out every child latch invented (or break it open with brute force). And man, are you strong. You love to push around heavy things and haul gallons of water to the porch to water the flowers. Although, sometimes your strength gets you in big trouble when you get mad.

Ooo, and how you get mad sometimes. You go at it with everything in you, and you can have such a hard time calming down. I think you might hold the world record for the longest temper tantrums. But you are learning and growing every day. And you get mad props from me, baby. You have to fight every day to overcome so much. You fight to push past special needs and developmental delays. And you fight to overcome the chaos and confusion of growing up in the foster care system. And you fight to communicate and learn language. I am so proud of you for fighting to overcome these things. I know you can do it. I’m here for you, and I’m cheering you on!

When you first came to me you only spoke a few words, but you have come so far baby! You are talking up a storm! And though we’re still working on being able to understand all your words, you have come so far in just a few short months. Every day you’re learning new words and sentences. And everyone is in love with your voice. Seriously. You’ve got this raspy, jazz singer voice. It’s a voice that sounds a little out of place coming from your adorable little three year old body. But it’s entirely endearing. I’m so proud of you and all your hard work, buddy!

You can be so thoughtful—you get concerned when other kids are sad or crying. You’re always saying “Oh no!!” and running to me to help them out. Or running to them and trying to give them a hug—even if they don’t want one. And oh, how you love to hug! Everyone—even strangers you just met, is likely to get a Little Man hug!   Everyone loves how affectionate you are. And you’re always trying to help out—whether it’s welcoming a new kid, trying to serve me food at dinner time and make sure my plate is never empty, or cleaning the house (and I seriously love that you love cleaning so much, please always stay this way!!!)

I love you and I am praying for you every day.   And I’m not alone. There is an army of people who are madly in love with you and praying for you. People who are always demanding to know where you’re at and when they’ll get to play with you again. You make people fall in love with you so easily! I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you! I believe in you, and I know we’re in for a great adventure together. I’m so glad God brought us together—I’m so lucky to be your mommy, and you’re teaching me so much. Your third year is going to be so amazing! I can’t wait for the journey!

Love,
Mommy

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Favorite Toy: Elmo doll

Favorite Drink: MILK!!

Favorite Food: Waffles. Oh. My. Word. You would eat waffles for every meal if I would let you. And you are always wanting food—even if you’re not really hungry. You wake up (about six times a night) and the first thing you always say is “Eat. Eat now.” Sometimes you will wake up from a deep sleep, start drinking milk or going to the kitchen to scavenger for food which you will eat, and then fall back asleep.

Favorite Activity: Driving mommy’s car and playing at the park

Favorite Song: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Whenever it comes on in the car you gasp, scream “My song!” and then start dancing. Most adorable thing ever!

Favorite Cartoon: Little Einsteins, or as you call it “Rocketship!”

Favorite Books: I’ll Love You Forever, Pat the Bunny, Go Dog, Go

Favorite Lullabies: The song from I’ll Love You Forever, “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins

Favorite Sport: Swimming, although I’m sure you’d be in love with tackle football if you could play it.

Favorite Ice Cream: Chocolate

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Sleepy Adventures

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Another thing you may have read on Facebook:

In the past two days I have watched Little Man wake from a deep sleep and

A) pick up his milk, drink it, and set it back down;

B) join in right on cue with the applause at a concert; and

C) walk to the kitchen, open a bag of muffins, grab two and head back to bead where he proceeded to eat them.

All of this was followed by him falling immediately back to sleep. I’m wondering if this could tell me something about why he wakes up so often every night. Any ideas? Does this sound like sleep walking type stuff?