Turning the Corner

Time continues to roll by; days turn into weeks, weeks into months and now months are quickly turning into years. At some point in the last few months, the V5 turned the corner. One evening, they went to bed little squirmy wormy caterpillars and woke up beautiful butterflies. We have truly witnessed our babies’ metamorphosis into little people.


They are verbal and becoming more articulate; all can mumble through the ABC’s. Their coloring and writing skills are becoming more and more impressive; all can spell their names. Most often you have to rearrange a few letters but they’re all on the paper. They are becoming more independent with each day; all are day-potty trained. They are scary-mobile. I recall keeping them down off high equipment at the park and back from ledges knowing that their little bodies would keep them from doing what their minds were determined to do. But, now, now I just wince a bit as they jump from here to there, or climb as high as they feel comfortable and run as quickly as their legs will carry them. It’s amazing.

My favorite marker of growth, however, is the growth of their imagination. I love watching my children use their creative minds to make up games, stories and scenarios as they either play alone or with each other (rarity, but it does happen). Most of the time you’ll find…

Theo having some “boy-time” playing with his orange lam-bor-ghini and green tractor, heading off to Farm and Fleet.


Bella playing dress-up and hurrying off to church, the grocery store or the eye doctors. She has the most elaborate imagination and will keep herself busy in her creative world for hours if we let her.


Lily typically hovers around any and all of her siblings, wanting to play along or simply snatch the toy their playing with. It’s not malicious, only devious. She’s a little troublemaker. Her favorite scenarios these days are caring for her little koala (Uti) or mouse (Mousie) and helping them learn how to use the potty.


K-Mae loves to write, draw and color. You’ll find her at the blue table writing her name, drawing shapes or coloring little yellow bears and piggies. When she’s not practicing her penmanship, she’ll be running around with Bella. Since those two became roomies a few months ago, they have been nearly inseparable.


Ellie is a mover and a shaker. All of her imaginative play is as active as it can be. Her favorite games to play are “obst-cle” course and “bouncy house” where we rearrange the couch to be a huge square for her to bounce around in. It was a real treat when the Whitakers’ borrowed us their real bouncy house.

When Rosie is all tuckered out, you will also find her snuggled up with her entourage of stuffed kitties and a pink blanket.


It is ever so hard to believe that they will be three years old in two weeks. The transition from toddlerhood has been real physically, emotionally and socially. We have truly watched them turn the corner and are now excited to watch them head down the road to new knowledge, skills and adventures.





Taking On Two

Team Vanderwall remains in the first quarter of the 2nd year of life. The V5 have come out of the gate with some creative tactics, but Mom, Dad and Nana have proved to be resilient early in the game. This tough trio has taken on potty training, spoon skills, outdoor walks and even social gatherings. The quints appear to be a force to be reckoned with, and we don’t deny the mutinies that have occurred in the last month, but we remain hopeful.


Navigating the age of two takes creativity, patience and endurance. It is such a blessing that Frank, Nana and I have alternating schedules so we can stay “fresh” for the V5. They are so “hungry” for new scenes, new games, new words and new experiences. It is beautiful to watch them soak up life!

Along with all of these “news” have come an abundance of new words! I truly believe that communication is the key to surviving and is what transforms the terrible two’s into the terrific two’s. It is increasingly obvious that 50% of their frustrations come from lack of words to say what they want to say, 25% are from their inability to identify what they are feeling inside (emotions), and the final 25% is unpreventable provoking from their siblings, namely Lily.

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Our battle plan for the age of two includes…

Help them “use their words:” This includes teaching them new words everyday. Some times this happens by accident and other times it is very intentional. We also have to remind them to use the words they know versus collapsing on the floor like a giant puddle (Ellie) or screaming and running circles (Kali Mae), or even jolting around in your chair like your toes are in an electrical socket (Bella). You will note that Theo was note named. He honestly has very few tantrums, which I think is because his vocabulary and capacity to communicate are quite high for his age.

Navigating emotions: Anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, etc. all produce icky sensations inside and helping the V5 to identify these feelings, understand that they are all okay and deal with them in a productive manner is a huge undertaking. We have been trying to call it when we see it, or simply say “Mae’s scared, it’s okay to be scared.” We have noticed the more that we help them to process early on in the scene the quicker it resolves.

Once we have labeled the emotion, we move on to helping them deal with it. A few tips we have received and tried include:

  • Time out to chill out: We have designated certain areas on the couch called “nests.” These are the chill out zones. When someone needs to calm down they are relocated to the nest with a few of their favorite toys.
  • Shake it off: When we see that they are angry or sad, we try to wipe off the nasty feeling and then shake it off. You could even use a towel for a visual.
  • Time out for safety: If we are late to the scene and injuries have incurred, then we do often separate the quints to preserve their safety. They can be vicious and have been known to bite, hit, kick, pinch and nearly draw blood. Therefore, a quick 2-5 minute time out can help to restore peace in an effective manner.


Staying Fresh: This tactic is two-fold: it requires that Mom, Dad and Nana are taking care of themselves so that they have lots of love and energy to pour out to the munchkins and consistently coming up with new activities to help the V5 explore all that life has to offer and continue to learn, grow and play.

Frank is the best at coming up with new games. Check out his obstacle course, The Quint 500, below.

The kids also love to go to the zoo, play outside, go on “big kid” walks, and read, read, read!

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When Did They Grow Up?

I had a moment the other day, where I caught a glance of my son, and I thought when did he become a little boy? Theo was just sitting, calmly on the couch thumbing through one of his favorite books. I was speechless in both words and thoughts, honestly all I could think was… amazing. In pure amazement, I wondered when did my little 29-weeker NICU babes because little boys and girls? Then, I realized they have accomplished a lot in the last three months.


Bella Glamour



Ellie Rose

Potty Training Boot Camp

Ellie was enjoying camp way too much

The weekend of May 30th, 2015 will go down in history in the Vanderwall household. This was the week of potty basic training. Frank, Nana and I enlisted the V-5 and Elmo. We knew it was going to be intense, but did not know how exhausting it can be both physically and emotionally. We based the weekend off of Suzanne Riffel’s resource, entitled “The Potty Boot Camp: Basic Training for Toddlers.” We had to adapt it a bit, so one day I’ll released my own boot camp for multiples.

The schedule included four 4-hour boot camp sessions, where you spend 10-minutes off of the potty and 5-minutes on the potty. If there is an accident you have to perform drills, where you walk the child to the accident and then back to the potty 10 times. It is ideal if you can do it for 3 days straight, but we didn’t have the manpower to continue.

After Day 1 we had taken 130 trips to the potty, with 8 “Hits”, 17 “Misses” resulting in 170 “Drills” and 17 wet pairs of pants. Prior to day 2, we honorably discharged Theo and Kali. Day 2 resulted in 9 self-initiated hits, 13 hits and 10 accidents. Moving forward Bella was day-trained, Ellie was halfway there, and K, Lil and Theo were not ready physically. We were unable to sustain the schedule necessary to maintain the boot camp, so unfortunately Bella and Ellie relapsed. At this point, we are confident that they know how to use the potty and therefore when their bodies are mature enough we will all be ready. We are letting them take the lead from here.


First Trip to the Zoo


Our little munchkins love animals. They all have their favorites and are now able to call them by name versus the sound they make. Their favorites are:

  • Theo: Turtles, Rhinos and Dogs
  • Bella: Snow seals (unfortunately, this one still known as an “ar-ar”
  • Kali: Cats and Monkeys
  • Lily: Sheep and Dolphins
  • Elliott: Horses and Dragons

The zoo was an amazing experience for them. It was so cool to watch the expressions on their little faces when they saw how big, or heard, the animals in real life.

Ellie Dragon

Upgrade to a Toddler Table

We laid to rest the amazing 6-seat daycare table. We knew they were ready when they were trying to get in and out by themselves. That doesn’t workout too well when the table is 3-feet off of the ground. Now, they not only are able to sit and stand as they please but, they enjoy helping to set and clean off the table. Unfortunately, this does allow them to take others’ food and we consistently have to remind Kali and Lily that it’s not a buffet…poor Bella often retreats to hide her food in the bookshelf so her hungry sisters can’t find it.

Learning How to Use Their Words

Silly Lily ponies

At times it feels like we live in a household of parrots. Theo and Lily are truly the best parrots, or perhaps its because they can be the loudest. Kali, Bella and Ellie tend to be very quiet and only talk when they are in small groups or one-on-one. Theo, however, will hold on a conversation with everyone from himself to the mailman. The development of their language has also allowed us to offer them choices and explain consequences of their poor decisions. I love being able to offer them two choices for a variety of decisions. I am confident we avoid a large number of tantrums this way. Also, their understanding of language at this point allows us to sit with them in a quiet place and explain why certain behaviors are wrong and thus warrant consequences and others are awarded. We are trying to use this approach more so than time-out. Time-out is now reserved for little ones who need to be removed from a situation for their safety or the safety of others. I have to say that Frank is awesome at helping the kids understand why their behavior can help or hurt others.


What’s Next?

It’s hard to believe that the V-5 turn two next month. We continue to practice a military-like schedule with lots of active play. We have figured out how to incorporate learning into these active times and as a result the kids have mastered:

  • Animals,
  • Modes of Transportation,
  • Colors,
  • The first letters of their name,
  • Numbers 1-5 (Theo knows numbers 1-9),
  • How to go up and down the stairs,
  • Drawing and Coloring.

We are currently practicing:

  • How to use the potty,
  • Shapes,
  • ABC’s,
  • Counting 1 to 10,
  • Matching like objects,
  • Opposites, and
  • Learning to be safe in the water.

Theo loves his hat

Bella Pony

Lily Cheese 2

Kali Cheese

Ellie Cheese

What are the V5 up to?

A common question I receive is, what are the V5 up to?

2015_04, Easter, LAgain too many week have passed without posting… our days continue to be filled to the brim with work, learning and play. It’s quite difficult to believe that in four short months we will have 5 two-year olds running around and attempting to run the place. It is clearly evident that they are bound and determined to learn and explore all that is in their world. This may go without saying, but this exploration certainly includes investigation includes Mommy’s and Daddy’s boundaries. They have become quite the experts at pushing Mommy and Daddy just far enough to see what will “get our goat.” Yes, the “terrible twos” are upon us. These days are characterized by the stereotypical symptoms of this dreaded stage of toddler development:

  • Mood swings (See Exhibit A: “Lily Light switch”)
  • Temper Tantrums (Exhibit B: “Kali go boom” in the local Target when the cashier needed to ring up our bananas)
  • Conscious defiance (Too many exhibits to mention)

It would be easy to stay “here” in this perspective, and honestly dread what each day may bring. But, I prefer to challenge my thinking and explore how this stage can become the “Terrific Two’s.” When I remember that I do not have five malicious monkeys roaming about my home, but instead curious children who are learning how to navigate emotions, social situations, and new passions it is easier to remain engaged in the process. I welcome tips on how strategies to help my kiddos through this stage.

Kali's 1st Ponytail
Kali’s 1st Ponytail

As we ride this theme of exploration, the Vanderwall 5 have started to explore potty training. Isabella and Elliott have shown clear signs of readiness:

  • Physical coordination to be able to remove pants
  • Can sit down on the potty for at least two minutes
  • Mental recognition of when they need to urinate
  • Great disdain for wearing a wet and dirty diaper
  • Intrigue and interest in others’ bathroom habits
  • Demonstrates a strong desire for independence
  • Understands simple instructions related to potty training

Theo, Lily and Kali are still in the “Exposure stage,” where they are interested but not ready. As those who have potty trained before know, this process is not for the faint-of-heart. We have thought about trying potty training “boot camp” for a weekend (read more here), but can’t wrap our heads around how that would be realistic for 1) kids at different stages of readiness and 2) from a public health safety and sanitation perspective. We will mostly have to increase the intensity of our training with Bella because it is nearly impossible to keep that cute little butt of hers in a dirty diaper.

Theo’s 1st Hair cut

In other fun news, we are working our way towards the majority of two-year milestones.

Movement Milestones-

All of the munchkins have similar physical capabilities. All can walk, run, stand on their tip toes, carry several large objects while walking (toys, siblings and laundry!), kick and throw a ball, crawl up and down the stairs, and climb on and off of furniture. Yes, the five little monkeys jumping on the bed story is a reality in our home. We are still working on going up and down the stairs while walking with assistance.

Ellie loves beets!

Fine Motor Skills-

All are able to scribble spontaneously when they want to. Most prefer to explore the variety of flavors that come with each color crayon. We are still working on drawing a straight-line.

They are great at picking their toys up and building towers. They are also progressing in feeding themselves with spoons and forks (we are moving on from the feeding trough days and now are using bowls and silverware… oh, sophistication). We are practicing fine motor skills with a fantastic pinterest activity where you practice inserting pipe cleaners into a colander. The kids love it and it keeps their attention for 20-30 minutes. They are experts at building block towers, too.

Language Skills-

If you spend any length of time in our home, you may mistake it for a zoo. The V5 do not cease to amaze us in their acquisition of new words, especially animal sounds. They are able to recognize and impersonate over 30 animals. My personal faves are horse (ney ney) and fish (Kali has the cutest fish face you’ll find). They are able to recognize and point out a variety of objects and people by name. We aren’t able to say phrases, yet, but they can rattle off a variety of 2 syllable words and are quite the parrots and thus attempt longer words that they hear. When they can’t find the word, or the sign to communicate what they want or need they quickly resort to pointing and screaming… this staged-approach appears to be quite effective.


Cognitive Milestones-

The children are able to seek out and find hidden objects; this is a game they love to play with Nana B! They are great at sorting like objects and pairing shapes. We are still working on sorting by color. We even have a few who have begun make-believe play. Kali and Ellie love to sneak away into their fantasy worlds.

Social and Emotional-

As noted before, all of the kiddos are demonstrating an increased desire for independence and when they do not get it tantrums ensue. They don’t tend to show any signs of separation anxiety, but this is often because they always are with a primary caregiver, or each other. They love being with each other and recognize each other as separate from themselves.

2015_04, Easter, P

All in all, we are so very proud of how our five little miracles continue to grow, learn and develop before our eyes!

The Habituation Hypothesis

Christmas and New years have both come and gone, and 2015 is upon us. This holiday season flew by faster than in previous years, and I have closed the case on the vanishing holiday season. I have confirmed six reasons why the days seem to pass in the blink of an eye: Theo, Bella, Lily, Kali and Elliott. The sixth reason is a bit more scientific- the “Habituation Hypothesis.” This hypothesis is based on the fact that human brains use an abundance of energy everyday, and as we age the brain looks for ways to conserve energy. One way it conserves energy is by placing daily routines on auto-pilot; these may include emptying the dishwasher, driving to work, or changing diapers. This adaptation makes time seem like it is passing much more quickly since fewer unique moments are being recorded by the brain. When we are younger, everything is new; when you become a parent, everything is routine.

This realization made me want to slow down these special years by creating more unique moments, or “elevating our daily experiences.” The following are a few snapshots of cherished memories of this winter season…


Our Lead Nudest (video)-


Theo & Bella loving their new Teddy’s from Grandpa and Grandma-
Teddy Love
Kali’s rendition of Shake it Off and the V5 showing off there physiology skills (video)-

A sneak peek on how we keep our house so clean (video)-

Kali showing off her favorite Christmas present from Uncle JD- Pandy-
Kmae & Pandy
A very Vanderwall Christmas morning (video)-

Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving all of the V5 enjoyed the holiday fare!

Bella&Gpa_CheeseburgerWith a mouth full of choppers they enjoyed the feast, along with cherished family memories and their own rendition of football.

It was a difficult 24 hours preceding the holiday celebration due to our first visit to the E.R. via ambulance. Poor little Lily’s nervous system kicked into hyperdrive during lunch on Wednesday. We learned that she has a pretty nasty U.T.I. and some of the bacteria may have snuck into her bloodstream. When this occurred her body sounded the alarms and all of her blood rushed to her central organs leaving our poor little lily-bug blue as can be and short of breath. This- apparently- is common response in preemies.

Gpa&LilyTrying to stay as calm as I could, I called 911 and our local Fire Department and paramedics were at our home in minutes. They asked upon entry if I needed to call any parents of the kids I was caring for (thinking they had walked into a home daycare); I kindly told them they were all mine. The other four behaved wondrously as we took care of Lily. Once Nana B arrived, Lily and I were off to the E.R. where Daddy met us. After one night’s stay and a big-dog antibiotic regimen, Lily is on the mend.

On a happier note…at their last check-up we learned that everyone has “caught up” and the medical team no longer has to adjust for their gestational age. The V5 are now just shy of 16 months and are all within in one inch of one another in height but vary in weights.

  • Theo is now 30.5 inches and 25 lbs.
  • Bella is 29 inches and 19 lbs.
  • Lily is 30 inches and 20 lbs.
  • Kali is 29.5 inches and 22 lbs.
  • Elliott is 29 inches and 20 lbs.

The latest milestone news is that everyone is now a bi-ped and are now walking!



Ellie Rose



Kali got her wheels about 2 weeks ago now and Lily just started walking this past week.


We are very thankful for good health, family and friends this holiday season!

Tailgate Pic V5

The V5 are 15 Months

The V5 are 15 months old and raking in the milestones!

Halloween Video (Click to view the video)

Time certainly is flying by and their minds are growing just as fast as their bodies. Our home is full of chatter, balls, blocks, cups, and various forms of transportation. The quints love the Chicco Walker, their new stroller and their activity table , which has been re-purposed (thanks to Kali’s ingenuity) as a walker. They also enjoy exploring all of the cause-and-effect relationships in the world, such as dropping toys from high places, bopping themselves and each other on the head and of course biting. I am very glad that the biting phase, which lasted about 2 weeks, appears to be coming to an end. The kiddos looked like they were covered in hickies during the worst of it. A few of the V5 continue to be quite aggressive. The most common reason for aggressive behavior in toddlers is their inability to express: emotions, energy and the fact that they are in pain. Knowing this has helped us to handle their outbursts much easier. The best ways to respond include:

  • Not reacting and staying calm,
  • Redirecting their attention and possibly removing them from the situation, and
  • Being consistent.

Three- Theo, Ellie and Bella- are walking and Lily has taken a few steps.

Bella’s First Steps (Click to view the video)


Theo’s First Steps (Click to view the video)


Kali, who has the strength, balance and coordination to walk, continues to choose to crawl, but will most likely just stand and take her few steps any day now.

Kali's characteristic head stand
Kali’s characteristic head stand

The two trends that are sweeping across the V5 nation are taking your clothes off and styling your hair with the day’s fare. Bella continues to be the ringleader of the nudist colony, as well as, the monkey that starts to put food in their hair. As those with multiple children know, it is a game of monkey see, monkey do.

All of their vocabularies also continue to grow. They all can say ma-ma, da-da, ba-ba and na-na, but I’m not quite sure they know what these consonants mean, yet. They also all can recognize the words:

  • Hi,
  • Bye,
  • Nose,
  • Ear,
  • Mouth,
  • Belly,
  • Baby,
  • Ball,
  • Diaper,
  • Good Job, and
  • Our favorite- No.

We are also excited to share our Halloween celebration as Pacman and his 4 ghosts: Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde.
Happy Halloween 2014

The adventures that lie ahead include learning:

  • how to climb up and down the stairs,
  • learning each others names,
  • learning hungry, full, and sleepy, and
  • learning how to color.

T.I.K.L.E. at One Year

The stages of infancy fly by, often times I don’t recall specific days, but rather specific moments. It is these moments- these memories- that still give me goosebumps and have left footprints on my heart. Milestone stages at 3 months, 6 months and 12 months give me a reason to reminisce.

How do we spell love? T.I.K.L.E.

T is for Theodore

Theodore Joseph

T is for theo2

I is for Isabella

Isabella Marie

K is for Kali

L is for Lillian

Lillian Grace

L is for Lily

E is for Elliott

E is for Ellie


Another special thank you to Hayley for the beautiful photos that she took of our children at 3 and 12 months. She is a very talented photographer. Her talent and patience are divine!  Be sure to check back at her homepage for more Photos by Hayley.

First Year Stats

The numbers are in! The V-5 tolerated their one-year check-up like champs.


fam photo


Here’s how they weighed in…

Theodore Joseph- “Theo”

  • Birth Length: 14.5 in
  • Current Length: 28.8 in
  • Birth Weight: 2.87 lbs
  • Current Weight: 23.2 lbs

Isabella Maria- “Bella Bean”

  • Birth Length: 15.7 in
  • Current Length: 27.6 in
  • Birth Weight: 2.49 lbs
  • Current Weight: 17.5 lbs

Lillian Grace- “Lily Bug”

  • Birth Length: 14.6 in
  • Current Length: 27.9 in
  • Birth Weight: 2.69 lbs
  • Current Weight: 17.8 lbs

Kali Mae- “K-Mae”

  • Birth Length: 13 in
  • Current Length: 28 in
  • Birth Weight: 2.29 lbs
  • Current Weight: 20lbs

Elliott Rose- “Ellie Bellie”

  • Birth Length: 14.9 in
  • Current Length: 27.6 in
  • Birth Weight: 2.41 lbs
  • Current Weight: 18 lbs


The kiddos also were featured on Madison’s local NBC station (WMTV-15). Check out the story and video at:


Declaration of Independence

What better way to declare your independence then by eating all by yourself?!

On Monday morning Mom was preparing breakfast for her five beautiful children and decided that their traditional oatmeal and yogurt needed a splash of color. While apples and bananas are favorites they weren’t bright enough, but berries certainly would do the trick! Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries turned the dreary oats into a bright purple surprise! Little did Mom know that today was the day that her children were going to exercise their right to feed themselves! DSC02414 Kali was the first to say, “No thanks, Mom, I got this.” Of course, she chose not to use her words, but rather to swat the spoon from Mama’s hand sending it flying onto Bella’s lap. She then proceeded to raspberry her raspberries all over the table and her brother, Theo, sitting 2 seats over. Theo thought this was hilarious and joined the raspberry spray fest. Of course once the spoon hit Bella, she, too, caught on, and soon Mom had a mutiny on her hands. While I would have appreciated a subtler request to learn how to feed themselves; the message was nevertheless received. DSC02407 I am eager to celebrate this milestone with my children. I won’t be packing away the Baby Bullet just yet, but now that four out of the five have at least 2 choppers we will be discovering the quints’ finger food faves! DSC02412 Their new meal plan that embraces their new found independence and celebrates their 11-month milestones is as follows: Breakfast:

  • 5-6 ounces Milk (Breast Milk with Goats Milk)
  • Banana OR Cooked Pears, Peaches, Fig, Plum or Apple
  • Cheerios OR Oatmeal OR Oat-based Teething Biscuit


  • 5-6 ounces Milk
  • Cooked Carrots, Peas, Summer squash
  • Ground Meat (Beef, Chicken, Turkey) OR Flaked Fish
  • Cooked Potato OR Spiral Whole Grain Pasta

PM Snack:

  • 5-6 ounces Milk OR Water (Will switch to water after 1 year)
  • Avocado OR Chopped Hard Boiled Egg
  • Cheerios OR Oat-based Teething Biscuit


  • 5-6 ounces Milk
  • Cooked Carrots, Peas, Summer squash
  • Cooked Beans (Chick peas or Kidney beans) OR Soft Cubed Tofu

Evening Snack:

  • 6-8 ounces Milk