Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear Jack: One Year, Four Months

Dear Jack,

You are a year and four months old! It's hard to measure the changes, but when I look back at photos of your first birthday, these four months have made such a difference.

You want to do everything big lately. You wrestle hard. You climb over baby gates. You steal people's silverware. You REFUSE to eat in your high chair--no, you must sit with Eliot at his table. You brush your hair, wipe your face, get your own shoes, and so much more. You have always been so independent.

I started looking out for the terrible twos when you were a year old. I braced myself, but they didn't seem to come. Then, one day when you were rolling on the floor screaming that I wouldn't let you spray yourself with the water bottle anymore, I thought to myself, "Oh. This is a tantrum. Oh yeah. I guess he has been in the 'terrible twos' already." It's just that I got so used to it all with Eliot that I barely even recognized it. Ha. Fortunately for you, whenever you throw a fit, I don't feel all of those judging eyes watching me in Target when you arch your back and cry to get a soda by the check-out line. I merely shrug. Did they expect something else? But, truly, your fits are not too bad or frequent. I remember dragging Eliot out of a Barnes and Noble when he was two and him screaming the whole way across the mall and to the car. Yeah, you're not there yet. And maybe you won't get there. (Promise me you won't?)

Your vocabulary is growing slowly but surely. You say ball (for both a ball and a dog), cat, duck, quack, moo for cow, and shoes. I'm probably missing more. If you want something, you make a sound like a siren. You pretend to talk on phones and are always trying to steal them from everyone.

Physically, you're doing great. You love to explore in the woods and can walk about a quarter of a mile before wanting to be carried. You kick the soccer ball and throw tennis balls for Abed-nego. You clap when you are happy, and make clicking sounds to call the pets and also when listening to music with a clear drum beat. You also love to dance by throwing your hands up in the air.

Last month was your second Halloween. Your were Godzooky (baby Godzilla) while Eliot was Godzilla. You didn't really understand why we were going door to door for candy, but you loved it and held your little bucket out. You two were so cute, even if some people did call you Barney.

Your temperament is so sweet and happy. You are always laughing and trying to play peek-a-boo. You think I'm hilarious. You think everyone is hilarious. You love dogs and cats, but seem to prefer dogs. You want to be involved in everything, but aren't afraid to go out on your own. Your favorite toys are dinosaurs and cars. You get whiny when you are tired or hungry, but go down for one nap at 10:00 am every day and go to bed at 6:30 pm. Then you wake up at 6:30 am ready for some strawberry milk and to tackle the day (and your brother).

You are about the age Eliot was when I got pregnant with our second baby--the one we lost; the one before you. I can't imagine trying for another baby at this point, so this age doesn't make me think about that. Instead, I think about how heartbroken I was back then to discover that I wouldn't be having that second baby after all. For months, I cried and dreamed of you. And then you were there growing inside of me. I was so thankful and so terrified. We kept you a secret--our secret--for a while. Every single day, I thank God for you. You are a miracle, Jack, and so very special. Sometimes when I put you to bed at night, I rock you longer than necessary. I hold you in my arms and think to myself, "Don't forget this. Don't forget this." I feel your little (but growing so fast) body against my own and your fuzzy, soft hair at my cheek. You brought me hope and healed my heart when all I could see was darkness.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Summer That Won't Stop

We're half-way through October and I have been checking adventures off of my fall "bucket list," but it still really feels like summer. We've been eating outside, working outside, and playing outside as much as possible. Kinda love it.

Eliot has just taken off in physical ability lately. Sometimes I know Eliot can do something, and, sure, he wants to, but he doesn't want to put the effort in. Then, out of nowhere, he just does it. In the past week, he learned how to swim, ride a scooter, AND ride his bike.  Whaaat? He just suddenly turned into a big kid.

He has had his cousin's hand-me-down bike for a while, but just could get the hang of it. The road we live on is a little bumpy and it had been too hot to run around in the street with both kids. Eliot picked it up the other day, though, and then his bike kinda crumbled beneath him, the chain wouldn't go back on, and a bolt came loose and went missing. I mean, it is about five years old, so we figured Eliot should get his own. The new bike seems a lot easier for him to ride, too. It's pretty cool.

Chris and the boys have had fun swimming in the pool and soaking up the last days of nice weather. That's when Eliot just started swimming (which he said our dog taught him...). Wow... Today it was so nice out that I took the boys to the beach to play in the sand. I warned Eliot that the water would be too cold, yet he had fun wading knee-deep anyway. Jack was more interested in digging in the sand, and since I took them by myself, I stood somewhere between the shoreline and Jack's sand construction site to make sure no one drowned or choked on sand. Then we all compromised by feeding those crazyyy seagulls. Win for everyone.

I think Jack is finally stepping out of the world that was teething horror. The poor kid cut all four molars and an incisor. I think the one molar is still trying to break through, but he has been much happier lately. I know babies (and kids) are constantly changing, so he'll probably throw me for a new, crazy loop soon, but he has been back to his cheerful self lately. Now if only I could get the kid to EAT something.

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Month In: Looking Back at Pre-school

Eliot has been attending pre-school for a little over a month now. When Chris and I held him as a newborn, Chris said that it would just break his heart when Eliot goes off to school. And I worried so much about how he would do--how I could protect him if I weren't always around. But then I just knew I had to let go and allow him to grow on his own.

Starting pre-school wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. He was excited, but nervous. I think I carried a lump in my throat more than he did. After a couple of weeks, though, he started saying that he didn't want to go. He would complain before going to bed and whine in the morning. And when I dropped him off, he cried. I can think of many excuses as to why. This was an abrupt change, and I wanted to know what caused it. At the time, he was a little sick with a cold, so extra clingy. Also, he claimed he didn't want to go to the Bible class. I spoke with the teacher and she explained that he had gotten in trouble at the Bible class for not raising his hand. That stinker... Sometimes he gets his feelings hurt and holds onto it. Since I let the teacher know that he was bringing that up (which was likely just an excuse, really), she took extra steps to make him more comfortable. She did things she didn't have to. And now he loves it.

Eliot still says he doesn't want to go to school most mornings, but by the time we are ready to head out the door, he is fine with it. And as soon as he washes his hands in the classroom, he is excited to explore and play. And when I pick him up, he tells me how he had so much fun and wants to go back.

I don't want him to feel bad ever, and I don't want him to think he can't tell me what he is feeling. I don't want him to think that I am dismissive of his feelings, but sometimes I can't just let him quit simply because it is hard.

The same thing went for soccer. He was excited to play and did great at practice. I blogged about it before, but his first game was a disaster. He was full of tears and felt intimidated since everyone else seemed like they knew what they were doing. I did get him on the field eventually by holding his hand and running with him at first. By the end of the game, he was playing on his own, but it took a lot to get there. The next practice did not go well either. Chris said if he didn't play the second game either, maybe we should think about quitting. He is only three--and that is kind of young for soccer.

However, at the second game, he completely changed. He ran along, scored a goal, and was so happy to play. Ever since, he has scored at least one goal per game. He never cries or complains. He falls down and gets back up. He even is demonstrating some competitiveness, but not too much physical aggressiveness. He loves running and roaring like a dinosaur throughout the game. It's awesome that he is scoring some goals, but becoming a three-year-old soccer prodigy isn't my main concern. I always said that I had two goals to reach by the end of season: don't just cry the whole time and don't tackle everyone. Fortunately, after the first game, he has done great.

As a new parent, I wanted Eliot to be "advanced" and reach those milestones early. However, developing true character isn't necessarily when everything comes easy to a child, but instead how that child rises above and grows when faced with challenges--going further than he thought he could.

I'm proud of how Eliot is growing up. He is such a sweet, kind, happy kid. I know we have many challenges ahead of us--ones I can't even imagine--but we'll get there all in due time. Right now, I'm taking this one as a win.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dissertation: DONE

This dissertation process has been long, much longer than I anticipated. I am quite honestly embarrassed at times by how long it took me since I had hoped that it would only take a year. I mean, I finished all of undergrad in three years. How could a dissertation take that long too? I ran into so many snags along the way with my study and "life" happened, both good and bad. Working full time, raising two little ones, and finishing a doctorate is hard. No matter how long it took, the end result remains:  I made it through. Somewhere along the line, I had to reconcile the fact that I am no longer a 20-year-old without any commitments other than attending school. No, I had a family and a full-time job. If I were to do this and do it well, it would take longer.

As I have researched and written, these boys have grown up. I don't say that in a way to lament missing out because I was pre-occupied with writing. For the most part, they rarely saw me write. I made time for them, and sacrificed my sleep when I needed to meet a goal. Maybe I could have finished faster if I hadn't put them before my work--no, I know I could have. Instead, I tried my hardest and worked my fastest and most efficiently while also loving on them and giving them my all. And that's not something I'm embarrassed of.

Now that it is done, I don't suspect too much will change. I have a job in my field that I love already. I get to change my email signature. All this time, I have felt a dark cloud hovering over me, especially at night, reminding me that I needed to finish this thing. Sometimes, I needed to write. Sometimes, I just needed to wait for feedback. Now, though, that cloud has lifted. And even though I don't specifically know how finishing my doctorate will directly benefit me right now, it was a goal of mine. And, you know, if you are an instructor at a university, it probablyyyy isn't a bad idea to get a doctorate.

I didn't blog much about the process because I figured it'd be pretty boring and jargon-y, so I thought I'd sum up the three-year journey, even if it's just for me to remember.

In September 2011, I took my comprehensive exam and was officially a doctoral candidate. My Chair suggested that I change my study from qualitative to quantitative, so I had to re-think my project and re-write my entire prospectus. Eliot was about eight months old.

In June 2012, I had finished and received approval for my prospectus, but had trouble getting access to one of the instruments I planned to use. I was supposed to just contact the author. As it turned out, the author was dead. ?!?! I tried contacting the university she was affiliated with. I couldn't get anyone to respond to me. I felt lost and devastated. Around this time, I had a miscarriage. Both my grandmother and Chris's grandmother experienced health issues with their Alzheimer's disease and breaking their hips. It was a very tough time.

In December 2012, I felt like I was so behind. I had wasted so much time looking for this instrument without getting any responses. We moved back to Chesapeake. In the middle of the night while laying on my parents' futon in the guest bedroom (in between houses with the move) with Eliot and Chris sleeping, I found another instrument that would work. It was time to move on.

In February 2013, after we got settled in the new house, Chris would take Eliot on runs, do yard work with Eliot, and take Eliot on special adventures to the zoo and Busch Gardens to give me time to write and work on further developing my literature review to meet the 30-page requirement (an additional 15 pages, I think, from the prospectus). Eliot was two years old and I was four months pregnant with Jack.

In May 2013, I finished my proposal and answered my committee's feedback. My research consultant, though, asked questions that I didn't know how to answer. I wasn't sure if my study could even work. I gave birth to Jack in June and allowed myself a small break. I honestly wasn't sure if my study could go on. I would lay awake at night worrying about my dissertation and feeling so utterly lost. I needed to ask questions. I needed to ask for help.

 In November 2013, I figured out the issues and answered the hard questions. I turned my proposal back in for further review to my research consultant.

In January 2014, Eliot was three and Jack was six months old. I had worked out the kinks and addressed the concerns with my study. I defended my proposal successfully. We went to Disney World! I worked on my Institutional Review Board application at night when the boys went to sleep.

In March 2014, my study made it through the Institutional Review Board (the ethics committee), a process that takes at least a month. From there, I worked on getting trained in Qualtrics in order to collect data with my instruments.

In June 2014, as Jack turned one, I collected data. I did not get enough responses at first (I needed at least 30), so I had to reach out to a larger sample. In the end, I got 39 responses. I was finally able to run my analysis.

In July 2014, I determined a relationship between the variables with a Chi-square and wrote my conclusion while I was supposed to be relaxing on vacation at the Outer Banks.

In September 2014, I received the OK from my committee and research consultant. At the end of  the month, I passed pre-defense (which is like a mock defense).

And here, October 2014, we traveled to Lynchburg for my defense. I presented my project to my committee, answered their questions, and (after I sat in the hall for a few minutes) they congratulated me as a doctor and gave me a few very minor revisions (like shortening the title). It was finally complete. After ten years of schooling after high school, I was a doctor.

And then I paused for a quick selfie in front of DeMoss.