Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dear Ellie - Five Months

My dear Ellie,

Another month has passed and now you are five months old. It is possible that this past month has flashed by the quickest of them all so far. It was like I blinked my eyes, and suddenly you were five months old instead of four. How does that keep happening?

This month has been a wonderful one. I feel like so much of the uncertainty of your early days is behind us and we are all settling into our roles in this family comfortably. When I look back at your newborn pictures, I am struck by how, at that point, you were essentially a stranger to us. We barely knew you at all. We loved you completely and overwhelmingly from the moment you were born, but we just didn't know you. Now I feel like we know you. We know what you like and what you don't like. We know what makes you smile. We know how you like to move, songs you like to sing and games you like to play. We know your cries and we know your laugh. We almost always know what you need when you cry and we know how best to help you. It has been a pleasure getting to know you, little girl, and I look forward to getting to know you better every day!

You are just so much fun these days. This month, for the first time, I found myself silently willing you awake while you were napping because I just couldn't wait to talk to you and play with you again. Oh sure, your naps are still a bit of a mess, so I would never purposefully wake you, but when you sleep I actually miss you. I can't wait for you to wake up and look up at me with that precious smile of yours. It makes my whole day every time.

You have been very generous with the smiles and the laughs these days. Earlier this month you were cracking up at Achilles, and it was the greatest thing ever. I love that when something particularly pleases you, your nose crinkles as your face lights in up your biggest smile, and that little dimple shows itself on your cheek. I love the sound of your laugh - happy little giggles just bursting out of you. I love the way your entire little body shakes when you find something really funny. It's all just too, too good. No matter what else may be going on in my day, when you smile and laugh I just can't help but smile and laugh with you. And there is no limit to what I will do to make you smile. I think the fact that a new favorite activity of yours is dancing around with me while I sing "Ice, Ice, Baby" to you proves that point all too well. I am not above anything that will put a smile on your face!

You love to play these days. You have a few games that are your current favorites, including pulling Mommy and Daddy's glasses off our faces, and what we call the "Suffocation Game" - you put a cloth over your face, smashing it into your mouth and nose while you make gasping sounds and frantically kick your feet. After a few moments you pull the cloth away and grin at us. I have to admit, I am not as much a fan of this game as you are.

Another favorite of yours this month is your Jumperoo. You were lukewarm about it before we left for our Florida/Cleveland trips, but when we returned two weeks later, you were officially convinced that the Jumperoo is the greatest thing ever. You love to play with all the toys and you jump constantly and furiously, stopping only to find us in the room and flash us a smile. Your little feet just go to town and sometimes it looks like you're dancing a very complicated jig. Watching you in your Jumperoo has become one of our greatest sources of entertainment lately!

Last month you were just starting to blow raspberries, and that is one of your favorite activities now. You are also making new sounds all the time and have been very vocal lately. You especially like when we mimic your sounds back to you, and when I say "mama" to you. I'm really pushing for that to be your first word, so help me out here, baby!

I am still in awe of the way you constantly examine and explore your world. You have gotten much more coordinated with your hands, and are constantly reaching for and grabbing things. When you grab hold of something you turn it all around in your hands, inspecting it from every possible angle before stuffing it in your mouth. You have some toys you love (Pooh Bear especially), but you also particularly enjoy the television remote control and your mommy's cell phone!

As for your motor development, you still have not quite mastered rolling from your belly to your back, although I think you're getting closer. I'm still very anxious for you to master that skill because as of now we are still waking up often at the wee hours of the morning to flip you back over after you roll in your sleep and wake up angry about it. You are also making great progress towards sitting alone, and have actually sat up unsupported for a few seconds many times now! You're still pretty wobbly, but I'm very impressed. What a strong girl! You also are working on pinching and scratching, neither of which is particularly fun for me. You like to scratch the wall while I change your diaper (a sound that gives me the chills), and you especially like to pinch while nursing. I can't say I'm a big fan of that! You've also gotten a good hold on Achilles a few times now. He's very patient with you but I'm pretty sure he'll be glad when you are able to understand the term "gentle."

Probably the coolest thing for me this month has just been getting the sense that you actually like me - that you know that I'm your mama and you want to be near me. For a while there I was pretty sure that you mostly just loved me because I am The Lady Who Brings The Food, but now I see you search me out in a room and light up when you spot me. I see you look to me for reassurance as you jump and play. If you are upset, you quiet as I come near you but if I walk away again without picking you up, you only cry harder (and shatter my heart into a million pieces). When I do pick you up, your crying stops instantly and you grab hold of my arm and lean your head down onto my shoulder, burying your face in my neck. A few times, you have also wrapped your other arm around my neck and squeezed, in sort of a little baby hug. Each time you do that, my heart grows three sizes (Grinch-style) and nearly bursts right out of my chest. I love you so much, sweet pea, and I so desperately want us to have a wonderful relationship as you grow up. I love to think that these actions are only the beginning of the great bond we will always share.

Sweet baby girl, I hope you know how much your daddy and I adore you. I hope you know that no matter where life leads us, no matter what changes or uncertainty may come our way, we are always here for you and will always take great care of you. You are our most precious gift, our most treasured blessing. You bring us so much joy and we love you so much.

Happy Five Months, Sunshine.

All my love,

* * * * *

Dear Ellie,

Are you really five months old? It seems like we just celebrated number four. I realize this is probably because it has only been 31 days, but it could be because you have not done anything major for the first time this month. Instead, you have been perfecting a lot of what you began doing earlier this summer. You smile constantly, laugh at least a couple of times every day and are getting really good at grabbing and holding things, which you do as often as your Mommy and I will indulge you. You are also starting to sit up and roll in all directions and, at night, you almost always eat and fall asleep within 25 minutes and stay asleep for around 9 hours.

If I had to describe you at five months old, I would say that you continue to be very curious. You almost always settle down when we pick you up and walk you around to look at things. You are constantly using your newfound hands to grab anything within reach, look it over, turn it around and taste it. Ellie, I really hope that you will always be like this (minus the tasting of things that aren't food). Curiosity is a tremendous virtue that can lead you to new and wonderful experiences and keep you from being too complacent in your own level of knowledge and way of thinking. I am going to love you anyway, but didn't figure it would hurt to make the suggestion.

At five months old, I would also say that you are a very happy baby. You definitely still get tired and cranky at times and have strong preferences at any given moment about what you like and do not like doing. However, the big difference between now and months two and three is that it is no longer true that everything negative is the worst thing that ever happened to you. As such, your cries now reasonably match your level of displeasure, which is a wonderful new development. Essentially, this means that your fussiness no longer threatens to distract from how happy a baby you are. You really do smile all the time and some of your favorite things this month are: being held up over my head ("flying"); watching me make strange faces and noises; being bitten on the cheek or legs; and good old Winnie-the-Pooh.

Finally, I would like you to know how much I love to watch you "blow raspberries." I would never have believed it and probably won't admit it to anyone in person, but it just might be my favorite thing you do. It is too adorable for words. I don't know if I like it because it is a complex motion and it makes me think of the real life things you are going to do as you grow up, or if I just love your adorable dimples and tiny tongue. Could be either.

Ellie, you and your Mommy are my favorites and I feel so incredibly blessed to share a family with you.

All my love,

Monday, August 27, 2012

No Greater Joy...

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
- 3 John 1:4

On Sunday, July 29, Ellie was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, Florida - the same church where Eric and I were married five years ago. We wanted to have her baptized in Florida so that all of our families could be in attendance, and the day ended up being so wonderful that I know that was a perfect choice.

The day started out kind of hectic. We had been up late the night before, preparing my dad's house for the post-baptism party. Then on Sunday morning, Ellie refused to go back to sleep after her early morning wake-up. We know from far too much experience that Ellie not going back to sleep after her early morning wake-up spells disaster (read: super grumpy, excessively meltdown-prone baby) for the rest of the day. Eric jumped to the rescue and put Ellie to sleep by bouncing on our exercise ball while I got ready for church, and then I took over with Ellie while he got ready. All that plus the arrival of out-of-town family members at the house (and all the hellos and such that come with that) meant we left for the church a bit later than we planned.

Getting Ellie dressed was a task in and of itself. She wore a family heirloom gown that has been in my family for over 60 years. It was worn by my mother and her siblings, I wore it and so did my sister and cousins, and now Ellie has worn it. It consists of a silky slip, followed by a starched half-slip that has to be secured by safety pins, and then finally the top layer is the beautiful white eyelet gown. She also wore a gorgeous white eyelet bonnet that, although brand new, was a perfect match to the vintage gown. She completed the ensemble with pink ballet shoes.

(Note: Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this post are courtesy of the wonderful Jason Angelini Photography!)

Ellie's baptism gown

Her sweet little pink shoes

The gown and bonnet

Because I didn't want to stuff the very delicate gown into her car seat if I could help it, I dressed her in her slip and shoes at the house and then we finished things off with the eyelet layer and her bonnet when we arrived at the church. 

Trinity Lutheran Church on a beautiful Sunday morning in July

We arrived at the church a few minutes after the service was supposed to start, but I am positive they actually got started a few minutes early. The baptism was the first thing after the opening hymn, so as soon as we arrived we rushed down to the front pew just in the nick of time. Actually, as soon as we sat down they called us to the front, but my sister (Ellie's godmother!) had driven separately and had not yet arrived! As we were walking up to the front I saw her coming in from the back of the church and was frantically motioning for her to hurry to join us. All this drama, all thanks to a baby trying to refuse a morning nap, am I right? I felt so terrible that we were late. But hey, if I know anything about Ellie, I know that she likes to make a leisurely-yet-dramatic entrance!

Eric carrying our baptism baby into the church at the very last minute

Heather! Hurry up!

When we were all present and accounted for, Eric, Ellie and I were joined at the baptismal font by Ellie's godparents: our good friend Jeff (who so wonderfully flew down from Washington D.C. for the occasion!) and my sister Heather.

Love Ellie looking right at the camera. The girl is a ham, what can I say?

And so the baptism ceremony was under way. Ellie did a fantastic job - she didn't mind the water at all (I didn't think she would; the girl loves a bath), and only fussed slightly when the Pastor put his hand on her head. Otherwise, she hung out, chatted a bit, and just looked around. She also looked so beautiful in her gown, although the silky underneath layers sure did make her slippery!

Inside the church

The bulletin

Ellie being baptized

Marked with the Cross of Christ

Ellie was very interested in the flame on her baptism candle!

Her baptismal cloth and cross

It all went so fast and was very surreal. I could hardly believe I was standing in a church, the same church where I was married just a few years ago, baptizing my daughter.

Because it did go so fast, I was very thankful that my mom recorded it on video. If you're interested, you can watch the whole five-minute baptism below.

VIDEO: Ellie's baptism

After the baptism we took our seats again, where Ellie proceeded to "talk" through an entire responsive reading. We will definitely have to work with her on appropriate church conduct later, but for now we all just found it very funny and very cute.

Family at church

The talking soon turned to fussing, however, as our "I Must Be Constantly Entertained" baby grew tired of sitting in the same old pew with the same old toys. So, she spent most of the rest of the service walking around with her daddy.

Ellie in Daddy's arms

Kisses from her Nonnie

Greeting family during the sharing of the peace

Sleepy girl

At the end of the service, we led the recessional out of the church and stayed in the narthex to greet people as they exited.

The end of the service - well done, Ellie!

After the church cleared out, we did some portraits with Ellie and the Pastor, her grandparents, her parents and her godparents.

With Pastor Tom

Ellie and her grandparents

Ellie and her godparents

Ellie with her proud parents!

Although she was getting tired, Ellie really hung in there, and even gave us some smiles!

My doll.

As soon as we got in the car, however, she crashed.

So much excitement for one morning!
(personal iPhone photo)

Back at the house, it was party time! All of our preparations came together quite nicely. For decor, we used streamers and fun tissue circle things in the trees outside. Inside, I printed out Bible verses and placed them around the house with pictures of Ellie. There was also a set-up on the desk in the family room with more pictures of Ellie, a photo album of pictures of me as a baby (including pictures of me in the same baptism gown), and the book I made of my pregnancy and birth story blog posts. I also made a "God Bless Ellie" banner to hang in the doorway. We had Sonny's BBQ for lunch and a cake from Publix, plus brownies and fruit salad. Everything was perfect.

Details of the reception

We took a few more portraits of Ellie before she changed out of the baptism gown and into her party dress. She was pretty tired and hungry by that point, so she wasn't super excited about this plan, but she sure did look gorgeous in that gown and bonnet so I am glad we got a few more portraits of her.

Pretty girl

Left: Momentarily distracted from her dissatisfaction by the possibility of eating her gown
Right: Never mind. Gown-eating aside, now she's just mad.

For the party, Ellie wore a short white dress with eyelet trim, white Mary Janes and a white flower headband. I must say, she looked pretty cute.

Kisses from Daddy


The party was very laid-back. We didn't have much of an agenda, just eat and relax and have a good time. At one point Eric gave a very nice speech to thank everyone for coming, and we cut and served the cake.

Eric thanking our guests

Cutting the cake

It was just so nice to have our friends and family over to celebrate our baby girl. I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to do this in Florida, and that so many people made the effort to be there - both our Florida friends and relatives, and also all the out-of-state people who made the trip. We felt so blessed to have everyone there to celebrate with us. Ellie is so lucky to have so many people that love her so much!

Friends and family at Ellie's party

By the end of the party, the Girl of Honor was officially wiped out.

Cuddled up with Auntie/Godmother Heather for a little nap
(personal photo)

It really was a great day. Thanks again to everyone who helped make it so wonderful for Ellie and for us. We are so blessed that God has entrusted this beautiful gift to us, our sweet baby girl. It meant the world to us to give her back to Him and to have so many loved ones there to share the day! We all love you, dear Ellie!

Our Elizabeth Alice

Jesus, Gentle Shepherd,
Keep this child close by your side;
Let your light be her companion
And your love her constant guide.
Hold her hand throughout life's journey,
Be her friend and guardian too;
Teach her well and bless her always
As she follows after You.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lower Lip

Just this week Ellie has started sucking in one or both of her lips on the regular. I don't know if maybe she's teething and it feels good on her gums, or if she just discovered this talent and thinks it's super fun, or what. All I do know is that it's pretty cute.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reunion, Day 5: Leaving

By Monday morning, most of the Hesterman clan had already said their good-byes and left the reunion. The only people left were my family (the three of us, plus my mom, stepdad and sister) and my cousin Molly, Arturo and Santiago. We spent most of the morning loading up our car, and by the time we were finished Molly & Family arrived at the house after checking out of their hotel.

When Molly, Heather and I were kids, we were proud members of the Cousins Club. We were basically inseparable and staked out a little cubby hole in Molly's basement as our club headquarters. We played down there for days on end whenever we were together. We even had a Cousins Club flag, pledge of allegiance and logo. This past fall, Molly shared with me the great news that she was pregnant by mailing me a onesie for Ellie with the Cousins Club logo on it. When I called her to tell her I received it, she oh-so-casually mentioned that she had ordered one for her baby, too! It was a very fun way to share the news, and I was so excited for the day when our babies could wear their matching Cousins Club onesies together. Well, that day came on the last day of the reunion! And so, we set up a little Cousins Club: The Next Generation photo shoot. Ellie was especially excited.

Santiago in his onesie, accessorized with his trademark stripes, and Ellie in her onesie, accessorized with her trademark yelling.

Ellie, now you're just scaring poor Santiago!

Hey, she may be mad on the couch, but it's nothing a little change of scenery can't fix!

Hanging on to Aunt Molly's finger

Come here, cousin, let me give you a hug!

Holding hands

It just melts my heart. They're going to be great friends, I just know it!

And of course, we had to get just a couple more group shots, because we really didn't take enough family photos over the course of the weekend.

Cousins Club Charter Members, and Generation 2

With the birthday boy!

And then it was time to officially say good-bye. Eric, Ellie and I hit the road again in attempt to make it back to NYC in time to pick Achilles up from his 17-day stint in the kennel that night (spoiler alert: we didn't make it), and Molly & Family left after lunch, followed by my sister that afternoon and my mom and stepdad that evening.

Bye, Cleveland! Bye, family!

Our ride home with Ellie was a little bit rougher than our ride there, as she did her trademark "No Napping In Cleveland" thing so she was completely spent and not happy about it. I did my best to keep her entertained (read: distracted), and we did ultimately make it (and it was not nearly as bad as our return trip the first time around, back in June). Actually, as soon as we entered Hoboken, she turned into the World's Happiest Baby. This girl just loves to be home!

I may have tried one or two toys to distract her.

Quick driving lesson at a rest stop

A glorious, glorious car trip sight

I had to snap this picture because I feel like it really says something about the previous four months of my life, or something: the exercise ball (the one thing that always calms Ellie down) rides shotgun.

And so, the reunion officially came to a close. We extinguished the torch, to make an Olympics analogy. It was a fantastic weekend. I feel so blessed to be a part of such an incredible family, made up of so many amazing people - people who all put forth the time, money and effort to get together with each other to celebrate a great man's birthday. It was so wonderful for me to not only be there myself, but to take my baby girl to her first Hesterman reunion, a tradition that has been so important to me for my entire life. Thanks so much to all of you for making this reunion weekend so memorable. I hope we will be seeing all of you again very soon! Love you!