Chapter One: How I met Your Father

Husband and I are counting down ten days until our 14th wedding anniversary! Yes, we were married on Valentine's Day. In Las Vegas. In 1999. We are so super cool like that. More about that later, though.
Right now I want to start at the beginning. It's time to get this story written down, for the kids. And for me. I'm a sucker for a love story. I have always enjoyed the story about how my own parents met {my mom, the roller-skating car hop taking my dad's order at the drive-in and falling in love- ooh-la-la}. It turns out I had the same work ethic of my young mom - flirting with a handsome customer at work {tsk tsk}.

Our story begins with me, working as a leasing agent at an apartment complex. I had been working there for maybe three whole weeks when in walked a tall, handsome young man. Only I really didn't notice that much because I was in my professional mode and trying to be all about the business.  I stepped out from behind my desk and introduced myself and we chatted about apartments and prices and all that boring stuff.  He took me up on my offer to show him an available unit {unit?  listen to me talking like an agent} and I drove him through the complex on a golf cart.  Awesome.  We chatted business a bit, trying to keep it formal, only I was not a very formal person, so it wasn't very surprising when I awkwardly blurted out that I had a three year old daughter.  Just so we're clear.  In case you like me.  Why did I just tell him that?  It didn't seem to phase him.  Good to know.  We entered an available apartment and I showed him around.  I was still totally professional.  This guy's going to rent this place, I know it.  We chatted some more and suddenly he asked me, "So, how old are you?"  Ummmmmmm.  I smiled.  I also felt my cheeks turn to red.  I told him my age, which led him to ask what there was to do in town for people our age {we were the same age!!!}, as he was new in town.  Handsome stranger.  This guy was smooth.  And I was buying it.  That's it.  I love you.  What's your name again?  Let's just go get married.  I'm sold.  

I swear it happened that fast.  He asked me my age and I fell in love with him.  Something just clicked. And so he said he wanted to rent the apartment, but he "forgot his checkbook."  He didn't really, but he wanted an excuse to come back and see me the next day.  Can't blame him.  So, we said our goodbyes.  I went home and told my mom "I met the man I'm going to marry.  And he's bald."  True story.  He went home and told his aunt that he "met the girl he's going to marry.  And when he came back the next day, he had his checkbook and we sat and filled out his rental papers.  And then I put my home phone number on his rental agreement, "you know, in case you need anything."

And you know what???  That boy waited THREE WHOLE DAYS to call me.  And when he finally did, we talked for three whole hours on the phone.  And then he asked me out.  Do you know what else??? He made me wait THREE WHOLE DAYS for our date.  WHAT???  But it was worth the wait.  Best first date ever.  And there were many more dates after that because we were inseparable.

One of my fondest memories of those early dates was when we took Elyssa {who was three at the time} to the beach.  It was the second time the two had met, but Elyssa clearly fell for this man just as fast as I had.  On the two-hour drive, he sat in the backseat with her while I drove and apparently they bonded because when we pulled into the parking lot and Husband {then, Boyfriend} offered to take her into the kite shop, she turned and said to me, "you stay here, mommy."  Oh, okay.  

A man who will love a child who is not biologically his own and who will do anything for that child? Now that's a real man.  How could I not fall head over heels for a guy like that?  And 14 years later, the best father ever, to all three of his children.  Yep, I knew he was going to be awesome!  

Chapter Two:  How I Met Your Father Part Two

When Husband came along, Elyssa and I were a package deal.  As a single mother, I didn't have a lot in terms of material goods.  But what I did have {and still have} was a very supportive family.  At the time of our meeting, I had temporarily moved back in with my parents, hoping to set money aside for a place of my own.  I had {one year prior} just come out of a whirlwind-stupid-mistake of a marriage, and had more recently quit my unrealistic job as a flight attendant so that I could find something more stable for my daughter {hence the leasing agent job}.  I had also sworn off dating, choosing instead to focus on being a good mom and getting to a point where I could provide for both Elyssa and I independently {not so easy these days without a college degree}.  I think I probably stuck to that "no dating" rule for about three weeks because when Husband walked into my office, all common sense went right out the door and I just knew this guy was going to go places.  And I was going to go with him.  

That was my initial thought about Husband, during our first dates, that he was on his way.  He was confident, he was intelligent, he was a gentlemen, and he was motivated.  He had lived so many places and experienced so many things in life, yet he was so young.  I should have been intimidated, but I wasn't.  He made me feel important, even though in my mind, I was just some single mom who lived with my parents and should have finished college.  He never judged.  He told me everyday that I was a great mom.  He noticed that I got down on the ground to play with Elyssa, even in my pressed work clothes.  He thought that was the coolest thing.  And while he was taking the time to notice those subtle things about me, you can bet I was watching him too, especially with Elyssa.  Like when the first time he met her, he brought her a rose.  Like when the two of them held hands across the street, to shop for a kite.  Like how he gently pushed her on a swing at the park and then squeezed his tall body down a tiny spiral slide because she asked him to go down with her.

Husband never included my daughter to impress me.  He just included her because he wanted her to be with us.  The three of us were such a natural thing.  And if you ask Husband today, he sometimes forgets that Elyssa is not his biologically.  The bond between them is beautiful.  He is her dad and we have raised her together for 14 years.  He saved us, when he walked into my life that gorgeous summer day, all those years ago.  And I was right about him going places.  I was also right about going with him.  Darn, I'm impressively intuitive.  

And just so you know, Husband and I did go out on plenty of dates alone.  Grandma and Papa were awesome sitters, so we had time to get to know each other.  On our first date, I took him out for steak and let him know right away that "I put ketchup on my steak so you better not have a problem with that}.  On another date that comes to mind, Husband and I were really trying to impress one another and so I took him out for lobster {and spent more money than I should have}.  We ate it all up and looked like we enjoyed it, until we both admitted later that we both hate lobster.  What a laugh we had over that one.  Then the whole thing happened again over an apple pie I baked.  If there's one thing we've kept over the years, it's our ability to laugh at ourselves {even as we are shaking our heads}.

Chapter Three: How I Married Your Father

I'm fascinated by love stories that begin in ways like, "We were married after only knowing each other for three months. We just knew." Perhaps it's because it takes a fair amount of throwing caution to the wind kind of bravery to engage in such an activity.  It certainly suggests more than an adequate amount of trust, passion, lightheartedness, luck and yes, even stupidity. I mean, come on, making a decision to spend the rest of your life with someone you barely know? It seems like a dumb idea. It's not something I would recommend to my own children. Yet here I am. Happily married to a man who walked into my life 14 years ago and whom I married after 7 months of knowing.  We just knew.  Plus we were pregnant, and well, that moves things along now, doesn't it?  Regardless, it's the best quickest decision I have ever made.

After meeting in July, Husband and I had a beautiful, romantic summer together to fall head over heels.  I fell hard.  I was the first one to say "I love you," after doing cartwheels on the beach.  No kidding.  I was also the first one to reach right up and kiss that guy.  I don't waste any time, I guess.  I admittedly was also the first one to break wind in front of him, but that was totally unintentional and completely embarrassing.  Did you hear that?  Anyway, I probably should have been more careful with my feelings, but I wasn't.  My heart was just open and free and I wasn't afraid to put myself out there.  I couldn't help myself with that man.  He made me giddy.

The marriage proposal came fairly early in our courtship.  It almost came earlier, but I blew that one big-time.  The missed-opportunity-marriage proposal was supposed to occur during intermission of Broadway's musical Rent.  We were all dressed up, feeling fancy, and out on the town.  We had just watched the first half of the musical and we were sitting in our seats when Husband asked me over and over again if I needed to use the restroom.  I turned him down repetitively.  I have the bladder of a camel.  I don't have to go.  Well, my loss because that man had planned to propose to me out there in the lobby.  I was crushed when I found out.  I thought I missed my chance.  That would have been romantic, I'm positive.  If only I'd had to pee.  Poor Husband too.  Obviously, I had another chance at a proposal.  That man stuck with me in spite of my stubbornness.  A couple weeks later we were at my apartment, we weren't dressed up, we had no audience when he proposed.  It was perfect.  It was a promise that came at a time when I was really going to need him.  I was pregnant.

Engaged, pregnant and suddenly sicker than a dog {thank you, morning sickness}, it made sense to exchange our separate apartments for one larger apartment to share.  So we did.  And in February, on Valentine's Day, Husband and I eloped to Las Vegas and very nervously {but mostly excitedly} tied the knot with an Elvis look-alike as our master of ceremony.  It was cheesy.  It was fun.  We had no idea what we were doing, but we didn't care.  We just held hands, smiled and jumped in.  I knew I was going to be alright, as long as he was with me.  There are some things in my life that I'd love a chance to redo, but not our wedding.  It was just us, doing our own thing in a rented tuxedo and an inexpensive dress from JC Penney.  It was a morning ceremony at the Excalibur, a lunch date at Hard Rock Cafe and a day spent walking the strip in our wedding attire.  Doors were opened for us, strangers congratulated us, and Cher's Do You Believe seemed to be playing everywhere we went.  It was awesome.  It was us.  And oh my gosh, we look so young!

If you missed the first two parts of the story, part one here and part two here!

Chapter Four:  How We Became a Family

We just look so young!  I can't get over it.  Husband looks 15 without facial hair, doesn't he?  Those dimples.

Much of our courtship is a blurred memory of morning sickness {which for me, was all day sickness}.  We met in July, were el-pre-go in September, and were wed in February.  I was sicker than a dog September through February.  On top of nausea and vomiting at all hours for those months, my mouth had also developed some rare ability to produce truckloads of saliva.  Truckloads.  I had to carry around a washcloth for the constant drooling {even at work}.  I couldn't swallow it all, it was so much.  Gum helped, but nothing completely stopped it.  I would wake up in the morning with my face pressed against a soaked bath towel on my pillowcase.  So gross, I know.  Thank goodness the drooling died down toward the end of my pregnancy, but I became a constant gum-chewer as a result.  Plus I constantly had a Diet Coke in hand to stay hydrated.  I can't even imagine the hot mess I had become.  There's that pregnant girl who looks 15, smacking on her gum and sipping on a Diet Coke.  Picture of health, I'm sure.   Husband had to have been praying silently that his once-cute, non slobbering wife would someday soon return to her original human form.  If he had been praying though, he was doing a darn good job of hiding his worries and just being completely supportive.  He worked, he took care of Elyssa and me, and he brought home fried shrimp & red sauce from my favorite Chinese food restaurant whenever I had a craving {pretty much every night}.  He stayed by my side through it all.

Once the nausea finally lifted and the weather warmed, we were able to get out and enjoy life again.  I was back to my semi-fun-usual self.  We spent time outdoors, we learned to cook a bit more, we shopped for baby stuff.  We were so excited for the new baby!  Husband and I both continued to work, while Elyssa continued at her preschool.  We formed our routines and worked to balance and juggle all the little things that happen when growing a family.  Husband and I got to know each other very quickly and honestly and humbly.  There are just things a pregnant woman can't hide or control {like an unfortunate laugh experience in an unfortunate squat position that led to an unfortunate wet carpet whilst Husband was watching}.  Yes, what I'm saying is that I was squatting down, playing with Elyssa, having a little too much fun, when I laughed and peed on the carpet.  While Husband was watching.  I think I even said aloud, just for good measure, "I'm peeing."  

Oh my goodness, there are so many stories!  Horrible, funny, embarrassing stories that I cannot possibly share.  Could not should not possibly share.  Pregnancy is so fun, isn't it?  It must be.  I did it three times.  Yet, as embarrassing as it was at times, it brought about a certain vulnerability that allowed me to be open and honest enough that I couldn't do this thing by myself.  I needed my husband.  I relied on him.  And he came through every time.  We got real close real fast and I sorta kinda knew everything was going to be alright.  I'm pretty much the luckiest I found that guy.

It's a chocolate chip.

Chapter Five:  How Our Family Grew from 3 to 4

Back in the days of tucking t-shirts into belted baggy jeans and sporting ball caps, we thought it would be a grand time to turn our family of three into a family of four.  And so Jackson was born.  We did the very hip, modern thang - we scheduled his birth.  I had been bedridden for two weeks, dilated too much too soon and so once we were in the clear, our doctor offered to schedule in the birth {unless the baby came earlier of course} and that way everything would be all organized and prepared and no surprises.  That sounded very nice and so we took doc up on that offer.  And then on our scheduled day, the doctor called us to reschedule because everyone had decided to have their babies that day.  Two days later, we kept our new appointment and drove to the hospital for delivery.  It was downright weird.  In my first experience with labor, when Elyssa was born, I had contractions and I hurt and I knew it was time.  With Jackson, I walked into the hospital room feeling very much like I was not going to have a baby.  I felt normal.  A little heavy in the middle with constant back pain, but normal.  Just a few hours after walking into the hospital though, out popped a very healthy baby boy!  And he was beautiful!

Husband did very good during the birthing process.  And whether or not I poopooed on the delivery bed, he will never say.  That's a true gentleman right there.  He didn't pass out or anything.  He took pictures {sorry kids if you ever run into those}, held my hand, breathed with me, and then very bravely cut the umbilical cord.  I did very well too, all things considered.  My epidural had run its course and there wasn't time for the second dose to take affect, so I felt EVERYTHING.  I admire women who want to be all like natural, med-free and stuff, but that ---- is crazy.  You don't get anything extra in life for going all-natural and enduring all that pain.  You get pain.  That's it.  Go for it anyway though, I'm just saying.  :)  Anyway, after Jackson was born I felt nothing again.  Darn epidural.  Actually I did feel something.  I felt tired and hungry.  Oh my goodness, was I hungry!  Sandwich please!  It's a lot of work, having a baby.  A lot of wonderful, emotional work.  It just doesn't get any better than when that little life you created is bundled up in your arms for the first time.  Although taking a first bite of a sandwich right after delivery is a close second.

After squeezing every last drop out of our allotted hospital stay, we took baby Jackson home to our little apartment, where I wouldn't get any sleep for the remainder of my life.  That's what it felt like.  And that Mr. Husband Guy could sleep through anything, so he was of no use most nights.  Love that man, but it's true.  Zzzzzzzzz.  Fortunately, I was able to take time off of work so I could sleep while the baby was sleeping.  Joking.  I still had Elyssa, remember?  Sleep, shmeep.  Seriously though, I loved getting out and about with my two children in tow.  As a family, we were always on the go and both kids were so easy to take anywhere.  And Elyssa just adored her little brother and was always very helpful.  I found having two to be pretty easy and pretty wonderful.  Ever since I was little, I knew I would be a mom.  I just love the fulfillment it brings me.  I have not always known what I was doing, but I've always tried my best.  I'm not proud of every single moment of my motherhood {I'm human}, but I do feel like I must have gotten at least some things right because my kids are amazing.  Like in the most amazing kind of way.  And I can't take all the credit because that Husband is pretty amazing too.

*Jackson is now almost 14 years old and is a proud, self-proclaimed geek who loves to talk anyone's ears off about science.  He is currently translating anything and everything he reads into elvish language.  He wants to attend college at the University of Hawaii, even though he is a little skeptical of island life.  When you're in Hawaii, does it feel like you're on an island?  He would like to study astronomy and later go into space.  If that doesn't pan out, marine biology is a close second and he'll spend some time in Antarctica.  For now, he spends his time doing homework as quickly as possible, and getting basketball practice out of the way, so he can concentrate on video game playing.  I love this kid.

Chapter Six: How Our Family Grew from 4 to 5

Forgive me please, if I completely botch this part of our story or make things up entirely.  I seem to remember a little girl and a wee baby boy.  I know indefinitely that I loved them so much I wanted to gobble them up whole.  I remember clearly, my lips to their chubby cheeks at all times possible.  I remember moving from our first apartment to our first condo to our first farmhouse.  I remember spending all day with the kids and going to work in the evening after Husband came home from work.  I remember bubble baths and I remember stinky bean sprouts growing out of the bathroom sink.  I remember we had a similar phone number as a local company {one digit off} and so I answered their phone calls all day long.  I remember a first minivan and strollers and carseats.  I remember poor little Jackson screaming his lungs out because a fly had landed on him in the back of the car and I had to pull over and soothe him.  I remember painting the kid's ceiling like a cloudy, blue sky and a wooden kitchen set that took up almost their entire room.  I remember a little dog who ate my favorite shoes.  I also gladly recall a trip to London and a trip to Australia at this time, and being thankful for grandparents who loved watching the kids.  I also remember being very tired and just trying to juggle everything, hence not being able to remember every single thing {or most things}.  Our children were so easy and fun though, and we could take them everywhere.  And so that's what we did.  I remember lots of love in our home.  And lots of wonderful naps.

Life as a family of four was cake.  If you think about it, the world is set up perfectly for a family of four - the comfortable restaurant booths, vacation packages, car seating, shopping carts.  It's a wonderful thing.  But who can stop at just two children when having them is so much fun?  And if having two children has already tightened the finances, it seems as good a time as any to throw another child in the mix, right?  And that was our thinking exactly.  

Actually, the true story is that Husband and I were in bed one evening and we looked at each other and decided we wanted to have another baby.  And so it was super hilarious and awesome to find out that I was already two weeks pregnant when we had that conversation.  We are such good planners.

Enter in, this hot piece of work...

Chapter Seven: How We Grew from 4 to 5

There you have it, the last photo of our family of four, before our McKenna was born!  We were so ready to meet our new baby girl!  I remember my biggest fear was how I was going to manage all three children, especially in the early days - getting them loaded into the van, getting them dressed, feeding them, getting them to sleep, making enough mommy time for each of them, showing them each how much I love them and how important they are to me.  I knew Elyssa would be my nurturing helper, by nature she was that way, but I wanted to make sure she was playing and having fun too.  I knew little Jackson might have the hardest time, suddenly forced to become a little more independent and having to share my attention with a baby.  I didn't want him to get lost in the mix.  And although I had my worries, I knew these two kids, with their loving, sweet, and caring personalities, would also be excited to meet their little baby sister.  I was a mom though, and so I worried about these things.  Two is such an even number, but three?  Three means someone gets kicked to the back of the van.  Three means someone sleeps in a downstairs bedroom.  Three means someone doesn't get to ride in the grocery cart. Three also means, will I ever shower again or wear something other than pajamas?  Will I ever get any sleep?  Will I ever have enough energy?  

But then your third sweet, little baby is born.  And you realize it all doesn't matter.  It will all get done, as it always has.  All that matters is that your little ones are healthy and loved and well, yours.


And our little McKenna was loved from the very start.  And somehow, as if by magic {because I remember being a walking zombie most of the time}, life went on.  We all woke up and managed to get dressed and fed and bathed and loaded into the van {Elyssa happily in the back}, and off to school for all or part of the day.  We managed to get to Girl Scout meetings and indoor soccer practices and to the grocery store.  Life went on.  And it was fun.


We even managed to get our nap times in...

McKenna added so much to our family.  She was happy and content and eager to watch and do what her older siblings were doing.  She was a forward thinker, always working toward that next step.  She had no fear, which was actually perfect for her older brother, who was apprehensive about most things. For example, that darn tunnel slide at McDonald's.  Jackson would never go down on his own.  He didn't trust that he would come out safely on the other end.  But one day his little sister decided to go down it, fearlessly.  I don't think she gave it a moment's thought, as we watched her.  And that Jackson, he had to go down right after her - to save and protect her.  He learned it was okay.  That was their young relationship in a nutshell.  McKenna doing things daringly and Jackson doing those things to protect her.  It was lovely, really, with big sister Elyssa watching over them all.

There was a short time, after McKenna was first born, that I remember telling people that "if you can do two, you can totally do three."  I don't know, maybe I was on a roll.  Looking back, I don't think two is anything like three.  Some people might actually find three children to be a little bit more of a challenge.  But three is for me.  It's hectic and zany and busy at times, but boy is it wonderful.  Sometimes the moods are contrasting and bad days do happen, but when it's good - it's the best thing ever.  McKenna came into our lives and added a splash of sass.  She's the kid who can do anything.  And I think that's partly accredited to an older sister and brother who showed her the ropes.  When she was two, she wanted to whistle so she blew and blew for weeks on end until she could whistle.  When she was three, she wanted to cartwheel, so she stumbled and fell and tried until she could finally do a cartwheel.  She just doesn't give up, even now.  But as tough as she is, she is just as cuddly.  Even at 11 years old, she's not too big to wrap arms and feet with on the couch.

I rather like our party of five.  We've been through so much, but have been blessed with such rich lives, in the ways that really matter.  I feel like we've all been growing up together.  I was certainly still growing up {still am growing up}.  I feel like I was so young when I began this journey.  I learn from these kids everyday, probably more than they'll ever learn from me.  Whatever the future holds for us, as we continue to grow up so fast {why does it have to go so fast?}, I will treasure all of these times we shared and all the joy and humor these people bring to my life everyday.

I am truly blessed with a loving husband and three amazing children.

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