Perfectly Imperfect

Perfectly Imperfect – The Dawning of New Era

As I sit down to write today, I am watching the rain fall along the panes of our windows. Cold, wet days often don’t bring the joy of bright, blue 72-degree weather but rather tend to slow many down and often times slow us down enough to see the muffled memories or quiet reflections in our mind. I have been pondering what, when and how of what I’d like to share in this post for several weeks. Today, I decided to simply put pen-to-paper or rather fingers-to-keys.

Today, my story is intended to empower families and caregivers in fostering mental healthcare in their homes and creating a compassionate space for each other. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened stress and brought about new stressors for all people. I often wonder how my children will recall these last few years. Will they remember the isolation sadly? Or will they recall the extra time each other and Nana has their second-grade teacher fondly? Will they recall the big feelings that they navigated with pride or remorse?

I recognize that their reactions and recollections are out of my locus of control but my response in the here and the now is. The last year and beyond we have navigated budding mental health concerns that we knew would eventually arise due to the prevalence in our genetic pool. At first, we sought out strategies to combat the stress. We tried T.I.P.P. breaks, individual and family therapy, breathing exercises, bedtime and wake up routines, more structure, less structure, lavender, diffusers, the list goes on and on. Scenarios would improve temporarily but then we felt like we were back where we started and often times in a worse situation.

We have come to realize that this approach is simply exhausting. What if we rather embraced the stress? And, while we’re at it, what if we also embraced that are mental and emotional wellbeing don’t have to perfect? It is freeing to own that fact that we’re perfectly imperfect!

How to Embrace Being Perfectly Imperfect

  • Don’t Combat Stress, Combat Stigma.

We begin with education and the opportunity to educate ourselves and others about mental health disorders using resources such as NAMI.org or the CDC. This includes being conscious of our language and labeling of others using mental health conditions as adjectives.

  • Separate the Person from the Condition.

People First language puts the person before their diagnosis and/or ability. It acknowledges that their identity is not in their medical condition or history but rather who they are.

  • Equate Physical and Mental Illness.

We don’t discourage people from going to the doctor when they are physically ill, but some think twice about pursuing mental healthcare. The brain is vulnerable to disorder just as other organs in our body. When we can correct disruptions or abnormalities in brain function with medication, equip a young mind for healthier growth, create a mental environment that permits therapies to “stick” and provide that individual with a tool to achieve more equitable experiences.

  • Own Your Story.

I encourage everyone to find time to reflect upon your story. Whether you choose to share it or not is up to you. Sharing our stories make us truly vulnerable. However, the reward from sharing with safe people can be greater than the risk. Human connections are made through stories. In our weakness, we become stronger.

Our Story

If you were to open the medical charts of our family, you would see anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and panic disorder. We are not strangers to mental illness nor the therapies that accompany them. I, personally, appreciate the fact that my parents exposed me to mental healthcare providers at a young age because I became comfortable and accepting of this resource. Years later, when Frank and I perceived that there may be more to the tantrums we were witnessing, the first place we looked for help was a LCSW. Even with our personal relationships with therapists over the years, when the psychiatrist recommended medication for one of our children we were a bit taken back.

I asked myself questions like… “is it really that bad?” “have we exhausted all of our alternative therapies?” “what will their siblings think?” “will they need to take it forever?” It was in this moment that I realized I was standing in the way of a potential solution for my child. Then, I looked into their young eyes and asked if they’d like to try it. They held their gaze and provided a confident yes.

Needless to say, we started the medication and while the story is not over, the chapter filled with fear, horrific bedtimes, concerns for self-harm, and words that belong only in parents’ nightmares is closed. We are experiencing a rainbow as the sun emerges upon our personal storm. With this dawn, we see restored sibling relationships, the return of a sparkle in their eyes and a little more peace of mind.

Rainbow At The Dawn Photograph by Edward Pacil

I would be remiss in a post like this to not offer immediate help for those who feel ready. If you or a loved one are seeking help, know that it is there. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. They can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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Exploring 7-year-old Wisdom

It has been quite some time since I posted. In all honesty, I didn’t have words or perhaps enough emotional energy to put my thoughts into words. The last 365 days have forever changed our lives. Rollercoasters of feelings as we witnessed a viral pandemic that sent us to our homes. It was hard to swallow the fact that for many their home may not feel safe or be secure.

Inequities came to light. Racial and class tensions grew. Politics continued to polarize and many didn’t know how to process. “Flatten the curve,” “quarantine,” “new normal,” “coronavirus,” “COVID,” and “pandemic” are all words that were foreign over a year ago and may be everyday language now and forever.

As the country re-opens, people are emerging from a yearlong hibernation. Some appear scared, timid, and anxious while others are over-joyed and excited to “get back to normal.” In conversations, at home, at work, at the grocery store you hear people recounting what they’ve learned and what they finally took time to do. Habits and routines they worked hard to develop and don’t want to lose, Some open up to share how old, ugly coping strategies have returned due to periods of high stress in socially isolated homes.

While we didn’t choose to share all of the events that unfolded in the last year, I believe our children learned more than we sought to teach them. I continue to be humbled by their perspectives and learnings.

Most dinners, the kiddos chat about anything and everything while the adults take turns playing crowd control and wait staff. But, the other night we shifted the conversation to reflect upon how this Spring break was different and what they had learned because of the pandemic.

Theo shared that masks are uncomfortable and don’t feel good but they’re important because they protect others. We need to continue to wear our masks.

Lily echoed Theo’s sentiments about masks but shared how important she believes it is to be kind and put others’ first.

Bella recognized how she hadn’t been to a store to browse, dream or purchase everyday items. She shared her gratitude for online shopping conveniences which helped us to keep home feeling “normal.”

Ellie pointed out that not everyone had it the same. She is grateful that we always had what we needed. She also shared how good it felt to be able to spend a lot of time with her family.

Kali wrapped up the children’s contributions by sharing how more time at home created more time for each other and other activities.

We sat and smiled and thanked them for their wise words. As I sit here now, I continue to believe that my children will forever teach me more than I will ever teach them. For this, I am grateful.

It is my ongoing hope that we’re raising game changers. We aim to preserve their precious outlook on life, foster their imagination and creativity, encourage their curiosity and willingness to ask questions and the ability to know when to speak up and share their voice and when to be quiet and simply listen. Our home has privilege and I believe our children are beginning to realize this. It is my prayer that they will continue to share this power, dismantle imbalances, explore history and its implications so that we can have a more equitable and just tomorrow.

Offering Thanks on World Prematurity Day

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This week we honored world prematurity; Offering gratitude to those who walked with us, served us and cared for us on our journey from birth at 29 weeks and one day to four years old. We too easily recall all of the sad conversations that were had, scare tactics used and doubters early on. But, we also recall the reassuring love, guidance and strength which we heard much louder. Throughout the month of November each year, many draw their attention to the life-saving research, treatments and support that give every baby a fighting chance.

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Giving thanks to the one above!

We felt that the V5 were old enough today to participate in thanking those who were critical in their survival from Dr. John Elliott and his team at Banner Desert to the elite NICU staff at Meriter. We honored world prematurity day by perusing their memory boxes, watching their first year videos, visiting the Meriter NICU to offer our thanks and enjoyed a special lunch!

Another day to praise Him for our blessings and thank His angels here on earth!

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A is for Astigmatism

It was only a matter of time before the children of Harry Caray (aka Frank) needed glasses, granted my poor vision didn’t probably help either. In fact, researchers have found that if both parents are near-sighted, the child has a 33% chance of also being near-sighted. This is the case for Theo, Bella and Elliott. We learned at their latest eye exam that all are near-sighted and have astigmatism.

What’s Astigmatism?

Astigmatism is caused by an abnormal curve of the cornea, or the outer region of the eye. Technically, it’s a refractive error because the shape does not bend light correctly. Their optician stated that their eyes look more like footballs versus the normal baseballs. In order to see clearly, light needs to be bent by the cornea and the lens of the eye before it reaches the retina.

How did we know?

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Since the V5 were premature, we have been seeing an eye doctor annually since birth. The early examinations were quite medieval and used an odd contraption to keep their eyes open during the exam. Now, the visits resemble an adult visit where they complete a variety of vision tests near to the eye and far from the eye. Then, the eyes are dilated (takes 30 minutes) and the back of the eye or retina is examined. The dilation is necessary to evaluate astigmatism.

In the end, you will receive a “score card” describing the prescription for the right eye (“OD”) and left eye (“OS”). It starts with the “spherical error,” or whether the child is nearsighted (can’t see faraway) or farsighted (can’t see close up). A positive sign indicates farsightedness whereas the negative sign indicates nearsightedness. The higher the prescription the worse the vision. The “Cyl,” or cylinder numbers describes the astigmatism and the “Axis” indicates which way the astigmatism is oriented. Finally, the “Add” section is used for bifocals.

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Getting Gear

There are several companies that make child-proof glasses. Our insurance company covered Miraflex and after 2 weeks, they’ve proven their worth in not only correcting vision but withstanding some trauma. You can choose from a variety of shapes and colors. Of course, our 3 chose their favorite colors: blue. purple and pink; they’re true to their brands.

First Impressions

When trying on the glasses in the optical shop, we observed different reactions.

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Theo was excited for his new gear, Bella appeared quite upset and slightly confused and Ellie was unsure. I believe its important to recognize these feelings as simply feelings and help children to understand that glasses are just like medicine and they can help to heal your eyes just like medicine does for the body.

The first few days required a lot of reinforcement.

image3For example, Theo thought it made sense to hide his glasses in a tree in the yard for almost a whole day. Many thanks to Nana for tracking them down. On the other side of the spectrum, Ellie’s words after putting them on were,”I can see you Mom!”

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Bella has also grown to love her glasses and has come to recognize how much they are helping her.  While it first it was disheartening to learn of their vision problems, it warms my heart to see how much better they can see and thus experience life now.

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V5 at their Dental Appt with Dr. Cece and her crew

The Thrifty Gene

Do you have the thrifty gene? Not the “thrifty genotype” that’s another story for a different blog, but rather the innate desire to be frugal? I do and I certainly hope my children do, too. Signs that you have the frugal-kind of thrifty gene…

  • You maintain a minimalist wardrobe
  • You re-use Zip-loc bags
  • Forget about napkins, paper towels, Kleenex and other unnecessary paper goods with the exception of toilet paper
  • Use the library
  • Enjoy free entertainment
  • Cook from scratch and brown bag it daily
  • Seek to reduce water usage and electricity

These may sound like confessions of a cheap-skate, which perhaps it is, but it is also a list of habits and a philosophy that I hope to share with my children.

There is so much want, desire and greed in the world. So many people “thrive” and try to survive by chasing after the next big innovation, but what about maintenance? What about using what we have? Being grateful and counting our blessings. I, personally, believe life can be so much more when we live below our means and seek and savor the things in life that are priceless.

I know that my children will reap the benefits of frugality in mind, body and spirit as we continue to model ways to avoid waste by- not only preaching- but practicing the differences between “wants” and “needs” and being greedy versus grateful. At the ripe age of 3 1/2, I have already witnessed my children using this language and even discussing a need versus a want with each other; it makes my heart smile.

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What are the non-monetary benefits of frugality?

They include:

  • Creativity
  • Being green and friendly to the environment
  • Reduces waste
  • Keeps priorities in check
  • Fosters relationship and community
  • Keeps life simple

Those last two are what keeps me from drifting from my thrifty gene. The minimalist mindset reduces the number of choices, keeping it simple and crafting an environment where the healthy choice is easy. It also minimizes distractions so we can build true relationships that will last a lifetime.

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Quints 3.5

Quint 3.5 sounds like a new software program and is indeed a new reality. All in the Vanderwall-Turzy compound would agree that in the last few weeks the V5 have turned the corner. They have made great gains in not only their communication, personal insights, emotional intelligence but their physical aptitude.

Let’s take them one-by-one!

Communication

The V5 represent the spectrum when it comes to communication. When they are not imitating their favorite animals (A Roaring Dino, Hopping Bunny, Squeaking Mouse, Snorting Piggy, and Purring Kitty), they are conversing.

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It is my understanding that there are several ways that families can do to promote solid communication skills and a vast vocabulary in their children. These include:

  • Have Grown-up Conversations with children
  • Giving them a chance to tell a story
  • Play Word Games
  • Listen to how they speak and correct with care. (This has caught on and now the kiddos correct each other with care; Namely Bella and Theo correcting Lily)
  • Imbed new words in an engaging story or activity

In our house, we celebrate a new letter each week and this provides a foundation for new poly-syllable words and new activities that start with that letter. For example, this week is “S” week so we…

  • Investigated the differences between sweet, sour and salty.
  • Allowed Theo to teach us all that he knows about the Solar System.
  • Explored the United States and who lives where.

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Personal Insights

We caught the nasty bug that swept and is sweeping through the Midwest. It appears to nestle into the respiratory tract and morph from virus to the next. This bug altered the kids’ appetites and taste buds for the first time in their young lives. I was blessed to have never had to handle a “picky eating” situation in my home until a few weeks ago. I quickly went to what I share with my families in clinic and I now know that I preach effective strategies such as modeling comfort discarding uneaten food, embracing their feelings/dislike in the moment but also demonstrating surprise and inviting them to choose and prepare the meal or snack. For example, Bella and Ellie were barely finishing any meals so; we would allow them to save the food they didn’t want/like for another meal or snack. When they determined they didn’t like the food, I would say that’s okay but that’s surprising because you really liked it yesterday; half of the time they would remember and finish their green beans. We also have been inviting them to plan and prepare meals with Mom; this has gone over really well.

I am so proud of these new insights and how they are becoming more aware of hunger and satiety cues. Now that they are feeling better, they will stop when they are sensing they have had enough versus stuffing it down like they had in the past.

Emotional Intelligence

What is EI? Emotional intelligence, or Emotional Quotient (EQ), is described as the individualized ability to recognize your own and other’s emotions and to discriminate between the various feeling while using emotion- and managed emotions- to guide thinking and behavior. Now, don’t get me wrong the kiddos are by no means little Dalai Lamas walking around, nor are they gurus in mindfulness, but I have seen great gains in their self-awareness in the last few weeks. They are accurately identifying their feelings and the feelings of others. If they perceive sadness or anger, they respond… usually with a hug. We are still developing skills to work through feelings like anger and anxiety. I’m fairly certain that these will forever be works in progress, or at least they are for me. The instant surges of fear and nervousness or even anger are treacherous waters to navigate for an adult, let alone a three year old.

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I have found that modeling healthy EI behaviors and providing a safe space for them to experiment and process their emotions are key. I have also witness the power of exercise and physical activity in emotional wellness. The V-sprouts are much more even-keel when they have moved. It reminds me of keeping a big dog- who loves to run- in a small apartment. If the owner doesn’t seek out opportunities for the dog to use its energy, it will start to cause trouble. It’s the same for my munchkins, if they have pent-up energy- or are bored- they will seek out trouble.

Physical Aptitude

When you are having multiples, especially high order multiples, the risks and warnings concerning physical disabilities and developmental delays are both numerous and alarming. Therefore, the way my children move will be forever a marker of God’s grace and their success in beating the odds. They all got their wheels (learned to walk) around 1 year of age and since then they have been off and running. I remember last summer being amazed at how they took on any and all playground equipment. Now, they’ve taken on water. We started swimming lessons at it is pure joy to watch them bob, swim and splash in the water.

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Kali Mae, who OT thought may need therapy due to suspected sensory processing issues, is at home in the water. I love seeing her so happy to move versus struggling. I believe this new mode of transportation is also improving their land motions. I’m eager to see how these gains will play out at the park this summer!

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So, what’s next? Well, believe it or not they will be four in a few short months and thus eligible for Sun Prairie’s Four Year Old Kindergarten program. We have been visiting programs, interviewing teachers and comparing and contrasting. They are very excited for this next milestone and we believe it will open a door to a whole new world for all of us!

Cabin Fever

There is a cabin fever epidemic in our household. We are quite thankful that Spring is upon us because we cannot wait to get outdoors!

We tried to make it outside throughout the winter, but the quints’ affinity for snow and cold varies on a wide spectrum. Ellie Rose took on Frosty and loves to galavant through the snow; she anchors the scale at the “love for snow” end point. Mr. Theo dislikes all that snow has to offer; thus anchoring the other end of the spectrum. Kali Mae is our mid-point; She enjoys sitting amidst the drifts catching snowflakes and munching on a snowball. Lily and Bella are a bit more free-spirited and can tolerate it for a bit, but then quickly want to go indoors. Needless to say, our snow experiences typically last about 20-25 minutes, or half of the amount of time it takes to prepare.

How we are treating cabin fever and getting our crazies out…


Everyone, however, loves to be outdoors when it’s warm. We trekked to the park in our neighborhood the other day for the first time. It was very cool to watch our 29-weekers climb the play structure with ease, run around the park, swing on the swings, and best of all get dirty! The V5 are not, typically, fond of getting messy. If they have a drop of water- fondly known as a Dibble-dop – on their clothes, they demand a new outfit. But, when we left the park, everyone had dirty hands and mud stains; it was a true milestone! We look forward to many more mud pies and grass stains in the future.

V5 in their Spring Gear

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Lily and Turtle

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Ellie and Her Kitty

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Bella, Nana Bear and Mr. Walrus, fondly known as WusRahl

 

The quints also made their first appearance at Sunday School last week and loved it. They learned a new song, made new friends and didn’t shed a tear. We are very excited to watch them grow in their social skills, as well as, learn about God’s love. They were also very excited to get dressed to go to church!

 

The V5 in their Sunday Best

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Ellie, K-Mae, Lily, Bella and Theo

 

We (Dad, Mom and Nana B) continue to try our best to stay a step ahead of our crew physically and mentally. It is evident that our bunch needs consistent challenges that stimulate them intellectually and outlets to get their crazies out physically. We welcome suggestions for challenging the V5. Right now, we are:

  • Reading like book worms
  • Practicing writing our names, numbers and shapes
  • Singing songs
  • Learning our ABC’s and 123’s
  • Building towers and puzzles

 

Theo reading the “Dot Book” to Lily

We plan to start:

  • Practicing with scissors and making more necklaces to improve fine motor skills,
  • Gardening to foster a love for getting dirty, and
  • Getting out and about to increase opportunities for social interaction.

 

Mom’s Everyday: Consider the 3 P’s

Mom’s Everyday- Madison asked me if I had any advice for parents. I encourage the three P’s for all parents:

  • Planning
  • Priorities
  • Perspective

Check out the interview at:

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Article:

Cassie Vanderwall is a dietitian, personal trainer, diabetes educator, blogger, and most importantly, mother of quintuplets. Her five kiddos just happen to be two months shy of two years.

She offers her advice on how to stay sane with the three P’s: Planning, Priorities and Perspective.

Planning: We all know that kids benefit from schedules and routines, from short term to long term planning. Where are they gonna go to school? When’s the next meal? What’s for dinner? All of those questions are important to answer ahead of time so we can be present with our kids every moment.

Priorities: We often as parents pour into our children and end up running on empty. But Cassie believes we have a lot to learn from airline safety. Put that air mask on first. Keep your emotional and physical tanks full with monthly dates with your partner, a quick workout in the morning and healthy food throughout the day.

Perspective: We all have those days where we throw back our heads and say really, really did that just happen? Feel free to fill in the blank with your latest and greatest moment. And it’s at those times you should remind yourself that you’re blessed with a beautiful family.

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.

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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.

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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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Look Who’s Turning Two: Theodore Joseph

The V5’s second birthday is just around the corner. Join us in looking back at the many memories and how they’ve grown in the last year.

Mr. Theodore Joseph

Our firstborn. He truly is growing into his big brother role. While he can moan and groan with the best of them, he truly is a little gentleman. I think he takes role call as much as Mommy does; to be sure that all his sisters are present. He allows all of them to go outside, go inside, or up the stairs before him. Even when they get into little scrums, he rarely hits back.

This little guy is truly our boy genius. He is now able to carry on a conversation and is the most articulate member of our household. He can rattle off 3 and 4 syllable words with ease; his favorites being watermelon and helicopter.

His stuffed dog, brown bear, Nana and the color orange all hold a special place in this boy’s heart. He is looking more and more like his handsome Daddy everyday, especially with those striking blue eyes.

I am so proud of you, Mr. Theo! Happy Birthday!

Theo’s Second Year…

If you really want to turn back the clock, check out Theo’s First Year…