The last week or so

I have an entire blog post in the works on a wonderful visit from my cousin Becky and her family last week, but until my next day off, let me offer you a series of photos from the past week or so as consolation for the delay. Enjoy! Have a great week!

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Back to work

I get asked a lot lately about how hard it is to go back to work; how much harder or easier it is to do this a second time around.

Well it’s a little bit harder and a little bit easier. Sometimes both in the same day.

The first time around, I didn’t think Zack could be OK without me as his 100 percent, all-the-time caregiver. And I certainly didn’t think I’d survive one hour or one day, let alone days or weeks or months or years.

This time, I know that no one will ever be as good of a mother to my children as I am, but I also know that we’ll all survive.

I know that no one’s kisses are more perfectly placed as mine and I know that my absence will make those kisses sweeter and better and much more appreciated on my children’s foreheads and cheeks and hands.

I know that I can tell the difference between a hungry cry and a tired cry and a bored cry and a pain cry, because I heard them in my soul long before I ever met either of my children.

I’m proud of the way that I can master two children, four loads of laundry, two letters, three phone calls, cleaning the downstairs and a blog post pretty flawlessly and yet there are dishes and dirt and dirty clothes around every corner when I come home from work.

I know that my mother-in-law is the best babysitter (cheap, too!) that we could have and that she loves her grandchildren so stinkin’ much, but I also know that she and I have different parenting styles especially when it comes to discipline and exercises. But after butting heads for more than a year, it’s just reached a point where I know I need to sacrifice a little bit of my control and some of my personal wishes for the loving environment my children get to have three or so days a week with her. As Zack and Addie get older, they will both probably see DayCare at least once a week. They need to be in an environment where they can run and play with other kids and do crafts and have some rules. Yadda, yadda.

Bottom line, I know my kids won’t love me any less or forget me any more because I work a few days a week.

(And if they ever give me any grief, I’ll just show them my C-section scars and remind them about three days’ of labor and months of postpartum blues and that ought to quiet them right up.)

A lot of it comes from a confidence in myself as a mother and wife and in doing what’s best for my family — a confidence I desperately wish I possessed half of in any other area of my life.

I want to give my children every thing they need, and sadly, that takes two incomes in our world. I want to have an adult conversation every now and then. I want to feel accomplished, proud, strong, needed. And I get all of that from being back at work. From trading in sweats and bare feet for suits and heels. From trading in lullabies, Backyardigans, walks and bubbles for computers, schedules, paperwork, greeting guests, solving problems and creating others’ happy moments.

But then there are the hard days.
The lump in my throat the first drive to work and the tears I had to hold back every time someone asked me about the kids.
Zack’s birthday when both kids decided to sleep in. I wanted to beg my mother-in-law not to wish him a happy birthday first and not to sing it to him, not to celebrate his coming into our lives two years ago. I bit my tongue and played it cool but couldn’t wait to scoop him into my arms that night.
The days I’ve stayed later than scheduled, missing an entire day of my kids’ lives — no Good Mornings, no meals, no snuggles, no playing and running and definitely no Good Nights. Those days are the hardest.
If I can manage even 30 minutes a day with one or both of the kids, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing my family for my work; I don’t feel like I’m going to regret one of these days or all of these days. All I feel are sweaty arms around my neck. All I smell is peanut butter and jelly and baby lotion. All I know is love.

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I sometimes call Scott pretending I need to ask him something or check on some task, but really I know that I’m praying for a cry or a shriek in the background, any noise at all to get me through the next hour or two.

Some of my coworkers have been beyond amazing. There have been gifts that mean the world with their thoughtfulness, e-mails and messages and hugs and yes, even putting up with the photo album I tortured everyone with my first days back to work.

But when I’m home, I’m home. I pull into that driveway, see my family through the glass, hear the familiar noises as I pass an open window. And surprises, so many surprises.

The quickness of Zack’s ever-improving steps.

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Addie sitting perched up in a corner of the couch. Or rolling over every chance she can get.

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More frequent babbles and giggles form our little girl. seeing her working so hard to try and sit up already!

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Watching Zack put more and more things together in his mind — more words, more coordination, more problem-solving.

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And the way the two of them interact. Zack is so in love with his sister now, it’s official. When she cries, he goes over to her, petting her hair and laying his head down on the pillow or blanket next to her. He tries to hug her and she smiles now. He still takes her pacifier, but she doesn’t seem to mind anymore.

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This one beautiful moment the other day, I was curled up on the recliner after feeding Addie. Zack came over and motioned that he wanted to come up. I scooped him up with one arm and for 10 or 20 minutes, I had both children on my lap, both happy and sleepy and content.

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I’ve been carrying that moment around with me. And it helps make the hard days a little easier.

Zack’s SECOND Birthday Party

We had ourselves a Par-Tay!

Zack turns TWO (!?!) on Tuesday (also known as Twos-Day, har har) and in his honor, we had some of our most special loved ones over to our house for a low-key, laid-back get-together. (Which means our kid had on no shirt and we had more beer than balloons — although Scott really sets the bar high when it comes to redneck party decorating).

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In typical Zook fashion, we did have some showers, but at least it waited until later in the day when most of the guests had already left.

Kids mingled, parents compared notes, hot dogs were eaten, presents were given, babies were passed and a lotta, lotta love shared. Not to mention one of my favorite cards EVER, from Zack’s Birthday Buddy Chase. (“Is Addie seeing anyone?”)

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Going into Z-Man’s second birthday party, Scott and I were in a totally different mindset than this time last year. (Below, 2011 versus 2012 Birthday Party Days)

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Zack is walking and was able to mingle a bit more with the other kids that were there. And cake wasn’t as much a reminder of his delays as a messy celebration of the past year’s joys and accomplishments.

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Actually, I didn’t find myself thinking much at all; I just found myself enjoying each conversation and guest as much as time would allow.

I had so many favorite moments.

Chalky hands and noses.

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Dirty bare feet.

Fingers and lips covered in icing.

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Unexpected and much-loved presents.

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Toys scattered across the yard.

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Scott’s hard work prepping, cleaning, cooking.

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And we had a very, very special guest. Aunt Alice (“Chochie”) hopped a train near New York City and traveled all the way out to spend this weekend with us. From the moment I saw her walking into the station parking lot when I squealed with excitement in the car to the moment I waved goodbye to a tunnel where she may or may not have even been walking, happy tears streaming down my face, were a million special seconds.

Loving up our babies with her huge heart, warm hugs and lots of chickey kisses.

Helping with and watching our day-to-day routines — baths, meals, night-nights and exercises.

Calling me her daughter and being the Momma figure I needed this weekend.

Getting along with all of our crazy Friends Family and their little ones, adjusting bunched-up shirts and handing out toys and drinks and finessing the tiniest details that made everything even better.

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I am so proud of our Little Man and so amazed at how quickly these past two years have gone. I love our family, our friends and yes, I love our beautiful journey.

Thank you to everyone who made it a special day.

And I have to say it, please forgive me, but our family would appreciate it if you spread the word about the National Down Syndrome Society and Zack’s fundraiser. We started raising funds for Zack’s first birthday and have already raised more than $3,300. I would love to see what we can rack up in the next 48 hours before Zack’s official birthday. Our fundraising page can be found here. Imagine reaching $4,000 or even more — what a birthday present that would be for our son!

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Happy early birthday, DUDE!

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