Happy Birthday (month), Dan!

To say that Dan likes to be the center of attention would be a bold faced lie. I think if there were to be a movie made about him, he would still push for his role to be secondary. The guy just isn’t into much fanfare when it comes to him. But I know he can get feeling forgotten in some regards over here. It’s hard standing out (as something to stare at or held up to observe) but not connecting completely…language and culture differences can do that.

But one of the best parts of being here is that we have befriended amazing folks, and they love celebrating and connecting and doing life together. And who better to make feel extra special and loved in the great month of March then the bearded man in our midst who shares a birthday with Chuck Norris?!? 
In the Harris home we celebrate a birthday for a month because how can you possibly fit all that quality time and all the potential new experiences in a day? In a week? Is it a bit overboard…yes, yes it is. But it’s also fun. And with a month you get to do all sorts of things that would usually be put on the back burner. It also just puts you in the mindset to just go with it for the next four weeks. And so things were planned, things were schemed and things were enjoyed!

He saw movies with friends who could stay quiet during a movie and truly enjoy the viewing experience. We would do surprise visits to his work and pick him up at the end of the day for random family outings. He went out with friends (The Revenant). We went out on dates. We stayed home and lounged. He pet llamas with Louis. He snuggled with Estelle. He drank IPAs with me (Paulaner Garden Restaurant and O’Glee). With the help of his coworkers and students, I threw a surprise party during his homeroom period (baked treats from On A Sweet Note). And the sweet nature-loving man chose a pool villa for me to whisk him away for on the last weekend of the month for us to be together as just a family in the quiet and peace of Khao Yai National Park (Kirimaya Muthi Maya).

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Letter to Estelle | Four Months

Hello, our strong little beauty.  

You are a go-getter. These past few weeks have gone from you realizing you had hands (it was so fun watching you watch your own arms and hands flap and twist about) to you now getting into a four point stance and try to scoot/crawl during tummy times. You apparently have things to do and people to see. We are pretty sure your number one target is your brother, who you get all googly eyed over and squeal extra loud for when he takes a break from havoc wreaking play to rest next to you.

And we are still googly eyed over you, Estelle! Even more, if possible. Oh my goodness…it’s admittedly a bit nauseating how much your daddy and I fawn over you. Your brother is even getting in on the action with his awwww baby greetings and bedtime mmmwah! kisses when we have family reading time. You are quite loved and lovable.  


You are also pretty tough. You have dodged many a stepping-on’s and narrowly escaped possible concussions, but have also experienced plenty of diapered toddler sits on your head or legs. Don’t worry. He knows to move quickly and dart off. Your squawks let him know that that is not acceptable. There is a mighty spirit that rests behind your mild mannered sweetness.   

The dichotomy of your personality is getting unveiled slowly but surely these days. As you find the power of your voice and the strength of your body, we are treated to more bursts of loud and silly and demanding and passion. It is fun. It is ear splitting and eyebrow raising, too, but it is fun. 

 
And you are fun. You are beautiful. You are watchful. You are strong. You are giggly. You are mellow. You are feisty. You are adored. (Oh, how you are adored.)

May we always celebrate who you were wonderfully and fearfully made to be. May we be graced with the wisdom, patience and creativity to nurture you as Abba’s beloved as you grow and learn and thrive. May we simply delight in just you, Estelle, in who you are.

  

Love,

Mama

  
 
    

Life on Pichayanan | A Neighborhood Tour

We live at the very end of a side street of a bigger side street off the main road, kind of like a cul de sac except not in a development. (It really doesn’t make much sense until you see it in person.) During the day, to get a bit of exercise and to get out of the house, we go on walks. One of the joys of having a toddler is that he is always ready to go outside. And one of the downsides of a having a toddler is that he is always ready to go outside…regardless of the time of day and the temperature of the day.

Favorite times outside in this wonderful country of heat and humidity? Before lunch and before dinner…when, you know, it’s cool and there’s a breeze [eyeroll]. But I love the boy, and despite all the sweating involved, I also love the feel of the sun on my skin. And Estelle? She is our wonderful youngest child who doesn’t get much say at this point. So please enjoy this compilation of a mini tour, as guided by Louis ตะวัน (and note that you don’t see any neighbors because they, in their great wisdom, stay inside when it’s this hot outside):

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Most of these walks end up in a neighbor’s house. As in, we walk onto another person’s private property and are welcomed because…why not? We’ve much to learn about hospitality from this country we currently call home. Anyway this is just our little corner. There are many other walking routes in and around many other neighbors’ homes. And many many many little critters and creatures along the way. Sigh.

 

Letter to Estelle | Three Months

Dear Estelle,

It feels like we spend so much time together already but if these three months are an indication of how the rest of your first year is going to be then I need to start pausing more throughout the day. To pay attention to all your little movements and faces you make. To hold you a little closer and a little longer. Because it’s been a blink and you are now trying to turn over every which way, holding your head up during tummy time to take in your surroundings, waving your hands and kicking your feet.

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As you break away from the newborn stage and your personality pokes through more and more, I still get an air of mystery about you. Like there is still a sense of something about you we are only getting a glimmer of. You’re much different from your brother when he was your age; we could tell he would have a bombastic personality and time has proven that true. 

But you? You are…you. While we have had to learn to go go go for Louis, we are learning to move slower for you. We are learning to be more mindful of the small and quiet ways about you. Sure, you’ve got your big goofy grin and squeal that’s all gums and drool (which we LOVE to be on the receiving end of) but then you’ll gift us with one of your slow to spread like molasses smiles or give a one-eyed squint smirk. And it’s like you’re keeping a secret. Those looks are like promises that there’s more to come.

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But more what??? We are excited to find out. Will you be mellow and easy going? Will you be contemplative and curious? Will you be quiet? Will you be loud? Will you be mischievous? Will you be driven by emotions and outta the box ideas, like your brother (like your mama)? Or will calm logic see you more disciplined and more methodical (like your daddy)? 

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You’ll be a firecracker, we are sure of it. (You know how to demand attention and hold your own in this family.) Though Daddy and I think we are crazy for wanting you to have a bit of fire in your bones, our hope is that we can help teach and show you how powerful and courageous you are to grow and do hard things. We pray that we raise you in a home that delights in your strengths and loves in your weaknesses… and that it’ll all come together to paint a gorgeous picture of grace.

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This world groans for grace. For grace, for compassion, for mercy, for hope. May you light up the sky for folks to find the truth of these wonders in their lifetime.

Love,

Mama

International Love | Bpa Olay, Tao & Euy Leslie

Hey-o! We had family visiting in the fabulous month of February: my mom, my sister and my niece said “see you later” to the respective men in their lives and hopped on a plane to cross the great Pacific Ocean (side note: how brave is my 9 year old niece to fly for the first time on an international flight???) to spend 16 wonderful days in Thai suburbs with us. I would like to think they desperately missed me and Dan but we all know it was for the kids, as evidenced by the fact that upon their arrival they handed over their luggage and waltzed right in looking for Estelle and Louis. It was nothing less than expected 🙂

Despite the heat (“No, no too hot!”) for my mom and the smell (“Everything smells like poop.”) for my niece, we did get in a few random trips outside for walks (“There are flies. Do you know what flies do when they land???”) and drives (“It’s not that I don’t trust you driving, it’s just I don’t understand why that man seems like he’s trying to get into our car on his motorcycle.” and “Leslie Leslie Leslie oye!”) to different shopping centers. It was the exactly the kind of easy, crazy, boring, exciting and hilarious time I had been missing with these fine people of mine.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

   
    
    
   

Letter to Estelle | Two Months

My dear Estelle,

You are two months and two weeks old. You are sleeping away upstairs, probably with your thumb in your mouth, completely oblivious to the hoops and hurdles you had us jumping through, over and under to get you to dreamland.

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You, my beloved little lady, are not to be underestimated. With each dimple popping smile you are wrapping me ever so surely around your little finger. I would be a bit more indignant by this and really ought to fight back somewhat, except your daddy is in the same boat and we can’t get enough of your magic. Keep wooing us, Estelle, with your twinkling eyes and outrageous grins. Keep us giggling with your post-sleep cooing talks, frenzied arms movements and dramatic expressions — you tell the best stories.

When you wake up (ever slowly and groggily) there’s this moment when your eyes uncloud and your mouth eases into a slow, wide smile that transforms your face so completely from disgruntled gnome to mischievous elf. Oh, I do love that. I love when your eyes focus on me and you give me a look that promises quite the story. I can listen about your dreams all the live long day. And I hope you don’t quit telling me about your dreams. You, who embodies bravery and beauty, will surely dream big. I want to hear all about them. Don’t stop sharing with me, okay? I promise to listen to all the small, big and in between dreams because they will matter to you. And you matter greatly to me.

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You were named Estelle (1) because we wanted an “older” name and naturally turned to the Golden Girls for inspiration, (2) we wanted your first name to match your middle name of Daokeo/ดาวเเก้ว and (3) after having a bruiser of a firstborn, we thought it would be lovely to have a delicate, calm child. Estelle, two out of those three things worked out. Can you guess which one didn’t go according to plan? Oh, my love, you may be seemingly delicate at first glimpse, but, man, are you a fighter. And why shouldn’t you be — why shouldn’t you have a loudness and fierceness to your voice that defies your little body? Why shouldn’t you fight for what demands attention? It may wear us out now, but it will also make us grin with pride one day.

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You will find that your mother is a person who reads into things and in between things. This is a blessing and a curse. You will surely roll your eyes at her more than 100x when she tries to dig deeper behind what you’re saying or meaning. But this “condition” of your mother also has (and will have) her praying over you, according to the meaning of your name. Our little star, our little Estelle: strong and illuminating, delicate yet courage-giving. In your brightness, may you be a beacon of hope to those looking up and out of dark days. In your bravery, may you be a refuge of tender wisdom to the weary of heart. In your beauty, may you be a harbinger of goodness and mercy and joy.

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You are another reminder to your daddy and me of how sweet grace is and how amazing second chances are. God is good, Estelle. I pray I can share with you the experiences of our family that point to the beauty of Abba in our lives. I pray that we can all dream big together. I love you, my strong and delightful and sweet girl.

Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | One Month

My beloved Estelle.

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You are one month and one week old. It’s amazing how much you have grown in the last month; you’ve gained 2 pounds since birth! Holy moly, roly poly…born at nearly eight pounds, you already feel much bigger. Your cheeks are plumper, your tummy rounder and your arms hint at the near arrival of kissable rolls. You have strong little legs that you straighten and use to push off my stomach when you don’t want to burp after nursing. You are so aware of your surroundings and can already keep your neck up as you try to soak in everything in sight. You are constantly looking around at the bright colors and tracking the very many noises in our home. I love when I get to see a dimple peek out when you give me one of your smiles. (Oh, baby, if that dimple remains…your daddy and I are in a world of trouble!)

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I have reached another level of purpose, frustration, joy, exhaustion and love all bundled together in sleepy hazed exclamations of oh my goodness my heart! So cute! I love her! Look at her! while being with you these last weeks. Your daddy is more than happy to gaze at you during these times of mushiness and declare his undying devotion for you over and over again. We are quite in love with you, beautiful one. You have stretched and taught us more than you’ll know in this first month of your life. Our hearts have grown and molded to contain all this love and delight we have for you and your brother. And though there are moments when we can’t help comparing you two, you are your own little lady and have made us very aware that we have entered a new ball game of parenthood with you.

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As much as things have seemed so familiar this first month, you have brought so much new into our home — from how we feed you to how we bathe you, from how we entertain you to how we put you down for naps, from how we change your diapers to how we carry you. New. All of it. You are teaching me every day, and while sometimes it’s hard and tiring, I love being the one you get to teach. The thing is, Estelle, I like being your mom. I like being the one who knows you the best and the one who was entrusted to protect you, to care for you, to adore you. I like being the face you smile up at when you wake in the morning and the one whose neck you snuggle against when you’re tired at night.

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Your daddy and brother? Cuddlers. Absolute cuddle monsters to the core. They could wrestle and roll around with each other all the live long day. They could lounge and laze against me every waking hour if I let them. But so far I had been able to hold my ground and draw boundaries for personal space. But you? You…oh, you, sweet girl…you. You have something magical about you that gets past my defenses and all I want to do is snuggle you. I want to hold you as close as possible and feel your tiny body against mine. I want to feel your little breath on my shoulder and have your head nuzzled at the crook of my neck. You’ve turned me into an unapologetic cuddler, Estelle. (Your daddy and brother will thank you for that one day.)

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I once upon a time fell in love with your daddy and thought it would never happen again. And then your brother came around and I lost my heart to him. No way I had thought can I love another like him. And then I heard your first, fierce cry on this earth and I saw your squishy face and met your steady newborn gaze…and, well, you have my heart, Estelle. And I so look forward to showing you and telling you how and why I love you. I look forward to sharing with you the great love story of our family and pointing you to Abba’s boundless grace in our lives. I look forward to watching you experience His deep deep love in our home. I look forward to watching you grow, to cheering you on as we experience all the firsts and the news of your life.

 

Love,
Mama

Letter to Louis: Big Brother Status

Louis, you are officially a big brother. What?!?

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How can you possibly still be my baby but also be just a tad over a year and a half and also an older sibling at the same time? You are no longer my tiny lumberjack but, instead, my lumbering toddler. Oh, I love you.

I remember wondering who you would be that afternoon your dad and I found out that you’d be making us into a family of three. We were sprawled across our bed, fingers laced, laughing through tears (I’m really the only one who had tears) and praying and making jokes and coming up with all sorts of what-ifs for you and for us. When I was pregnant, I would pray that you would be strong, shine bright and be a fighter for good…yes, we are those types of parents that named you very intentionally. I would also pray that you would be happy, funny and not be boring. I figured that we would be spending a lot of time together and was pinning my hopes that most of that time would be filled up with smiles, laughs and crazy ideas. There were probably better words to use and better things to pray for, but those were the ones that made the most sense to me. And, man, were they answered in the affirmative.

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You, Louis, you. You. You are the one who burst open my heart with a wild, unlimited, mama bear love that can make me feel like I am simultaneously floating and drowning at any given moment. Hormones and heartstrings — thanks for that phrase, Hilary — are no joke. You turned me into a mom. You’re the first one to make me choose to actually forget myself, to choose to put somebody’s need above mine time and time again. I mean, in theory, Daddy was the first person…but you made it so that I could NOT choose myself first. Such a helpless baby. Daddy just pretends to be helpless in the kitchen and I can ignore him when that happens. You? I can’t ignore you quite yet (at least not until you’re in the double digits).

You’re the only kid who knows what it’s like to have the full attention of me and Daddy. We had over a year to be a trio! Our schedule, our plans, our trips were arranged and thought out with you foremost in mind. And now there’s another little to think about. (But how do I ever stop myself from thinking about you???) We are two weeks and some odd days into this transition of being a family of four. Daddy is back at work full time, and our days in these newborn weeks have you, me and sister hanging out together a lot. Your first meeting with each other was less than Hallmark holiday movie worthy — your whole body radiated “awkward” and she was crying her head off to be fed — but you have warmed up to her by leaps and bounds. You don’t like it when we ask you to kiss her or say her name, but the moment we stop prompting…you run over to say HI! and try tickling her toes. (Your terms, always on your terms.)

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And even though you will no longer be our only child, you will always be our first…our first newborn, our first infant, our first toddler. You’re our tinkering explorer who literally pulls us by the hand every day into something new. You’re in our thoughts and dreams and prayers. (I once upon a time never imagined a future with kids but now you are wrapped up in all the hopes of my future.) So when you’re feeling frustrated because I’m nursing your sister instead of chasing you around the house or because Daddy is saying Gentle. Caaaareful. and Wait, please. on repeat when all you’re doing is trying to have a little fun or because we can’t pick you up right away for a cuddle session since we’re trying to calm away sister’s fusses by carrying her…please know that there is more than enough love for both of you in our hearts. But how is that possible?

Because you. Because you, Louis. When the mere news of you exploded into our lives, Abba created an ever-expanding place in both my heart and Daddy’s heart that shifts and grows and remolds itself every moment of every day to love bigger and better than we could ever will ourselves into doing. There is and always will be plenty of love, laughs, cuddles and nonsense to go around in our home.

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Also, I can’t imagine your sister will ever be bored or lonely with you as her brother. I can’t wait to watch her watch you.

Love,

Mama

 

Life on Pichayanan | Mini Tour (round 1)

Ahhh…our daughter is going to join us earth side in less than a week! Her big brother is over a year and a half old now. Dan is scurrying and prepping and planning like a mad scientist for end of semester activities and getting things set up for paternity leave. I am…heavily pregnant. Just so heavily pregnant. Swollen with child. I get it. I got that phrase with the first kid, but man do I get that phrase with this second kid.

Louis is napping. I should also in theory be taking advantage of this time and napping as well. Or resting. Or whatever. I happen to be housing a very exuberant little girl who has been trying to join her family way too early for the last 10 weeks. She is not down with resting or napping at this point. So I finally dusted off my laptop and uploaded pictures from “the big camera” of our home. Well, the downstairs portion of our home. The next two floors will have to wait because I’m pretty selective of how often I go up and down those stairs these days.

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I love our downstairs. It’s where most of the partying happens. It’s where life is lived: where books are read, where goodies are baked, where meals are shared, where friendships grow and where kids run wild. There are challenges, obviously, in adjusting to things outside the comfort and convenience of the school gates. (Dan has an interesting walking “commute” that he’ll have to document and share — in short, he is crash learning/using Thai a lot and is the only farang in our neighborhood…so no pressure about first and second and nonstop impressions, right? I am being challenged with preconceived notions of my identity/worth in my current role as a quasi-work at home mom and could wax philosophical about that for ages.) But we are loving our home and are coming to embrace life on Pichayanan more and more.