13 years

Dear Jess,

Until this morning you’ve had no free minutes to sit and think about the last thirteen years. Despite the pressure to use special days as a way to share the highlights and paint a perfect picture, you have to admit that year thirteen was in the top three for hardest years in your marriage. Ever the realist. It was hard and humbling and spent mostly in prayer and waiting for the work you and Aarik have put in to start benefiting your family. So, as this day approached, and you’ve been busy fixing leaks, and trying to rearrange your house yet another time to make it feel like seven people can fit here, and dealing with sick babies, you haven’t looked at year thirteen very fondly.

But, then this morning, sitting home with two coughing, yucky nosed little people you could see a little more clearly, the whole picture.

While it’s easy to just look back on the last year, marriage is best viewed as an entire picture. The journey, to date, rather than a mile at a time.

There are some really hard times; miscarriages, job loss, financial issues, extended family trials, losing family members, car trouble, depression, stress, anxiety, leak after leak, stomach bugs, and sleepless nights trying to find solutions to your problems, or your kids’ problems.

All of these things are heavy and can feel like they will break you, or sometimes your marriage. But, when handled together, if equally yoked, they in fact make you stronger. Stronger, together.

At some points in the journey it’s all uphill in mud, and somewhere along the way you look at the person carrying the load beside you and wonder if you even know each other. If you even like each other. You wonder if the other person is pulling as much weight as you; if they care that you’re breaking under the weight of the load you have created, together. They may do things that drive you nuts, or seem thoughtless. Maybe they don’t help when you need it most, or become distant when things are the hardest. Maybe you hate how loudly they eat chips, or how they load the dishwasher.

But, when you get to the top of the mountain you climbed together and look at everything you’ve carried to the top on your backs, you have the sudden realization that you couldn’t have done it by yourself. Or, with anyone else. That maybe God yoked you with someone who carried more of the load and just complained less than you. Maybe they hate the way you eat chips and load the dishwasher, but they hide it better because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or value peace more than silence and cups on top, only.

As you stand there, looking back, you can catch your breath and see that while climbing that mountain, and the ones before it, you made a lot of beautiful, perfect people and memories that you wouldn’t have had you just been crossing the plains, together. You grew in love with the person you’re with. Not a fleeting, too goo eyed, head over heels thing, but a strong, steady, dependable love. If it had been an easier journey, maybe you wouldn’t have held so tightly to one another. Maybe you would have removed the yoke, because you didn’t really need it.

Turning and looking forward to the rest of your journey and seeing that across the valley there are mountains to be climbed, as far as the eye can see, you can take a moment to realize that you are blessed to have a life that isn’t what you had pictured fifteen or twenty years (and mountains) before. That everything you love, all of your greatest accomplishments, couldn’t exist without this person. And you are so blessed to have been given the gift and privilege to know what it feels like to overflow your home with what is meant to be in a home; love and family. So many people will never know that gift. But you know it, together. And you can throw a bag of chips on top of what you’re already carrying, hide a few more for days you need the quiet, and remember that you’re totally capable of loading the dishwasher, your dang self.

Here’s to thirteen years of learning, building, growing, becoming, forgiving, and loving.

And, thirteen more. And thirteen more.

6 month pictures

Dear Jess,

If you could do nothing besides take pictures of your kids all day, you’d be one happy girl. Apparently, editing them is a little too time consuming and you’re over it at this point.

Graham is 6 months old and has found his voice; just like a little rooster. Hard to believe it’s been half a year with him here.

Five months

Dear Jess,

Graham is five months old today! These last five months have really flown, and little Byrd has really grown.

He loves to be naked.

He’s more curious than ever. Into everything, and you can tell he’ll be excited to eat real food, when the time comes because one of his favorite ninja moves is grabbing your dinner plate and jerking it off the table. His hair is still growing and his fingernails have to be trimmed multiple times a week. He’s just as smiley as ever, but much more demanding, and quicker to let you know if he doesn’t like something. He’s a happy, healthy, typical five month old. You’re blessed and you know it, but, coming out of the fourth trimester has been brutal and your days are all a blurry repeat of the ones before.

Don’t forget that this was the month you finally decided it was ok to go back to run group and his response was to go on a nursing strike which has you both pretty out of sorts and emotional.

He lives in the ring slings you felt guilty spending money on. You literally do not know how you would get anything done, or even survive a day, without them and you’re eyeing another because the brand is called Wild Bird.

No, really.

He is super mommy attached and sleeps well as long as he is on you or beside you, but those are your only two options if you want a happy Byrd.

The big kids adore him (still) and every morning when they wake up they run in to see him. Minus Coop, who’s already in your bed. Try to always remember their fresh sleep eyes, and baby talk voices, and the huge smile he gives them every time. It’s the best kind of morning routine. Don’t forget that without Mckenzie’s constant, sweet help you would shrivel up and die. She fills in all of the spaces where you fall short, at only ten years old.

Aarik enjoys this stage more than anything and melts for the toothless grin just as fast as the rest of the family.

When you look back and remember all of the sweet things, don’t forget how exhausted you and Aarik are right now while he works at least ten hours a day, at least six days a week. What it’s like to have no breaks. How you’re blogging from your phone while you sit in the kids’ bedroom floor with them on a Saturday morning; surrounded by Legos and a screaming two year old, with that fluffy baby on your lap and a diet mountain dew close by. One of two you can have all day without turning Graham into an angry maniac. You’re home alone with the kids during those long hours Aarik works, trying to run your home and keep up with everyone’s school. The house is always a mess and you’re always cleaning. Errands cut into the little family time you get. It’s lonely, and so many days have tears. After four years in this house, you still miss having friends and a close knit church community.

Don’t forget that, because one day you may be given an opportunity to love on and be friends with a mama who needs more than an obligatory smile in passing.

Remember that five months in to life with five kids everything is beautiful. And hard. You’re proud, and happy, and tired. Remember that Graham has brought more joy than you thought possible and you wouldn’t change it for the world.

Don’t Forget When Coop Was Dora

Dear Jess,

Just a quick reminder that at two years and seven months old Cooper Gray has turned into Dora the Explorer.

“What?!”, you may be thinking. What could these two possibly have in common? Well…..

For starters, they have the same haircut. And, they both speak English really well, but every once in a while they throw a word out there that you just don’t recognize.

Both wear the exact same outfit every day. Coop has now been wearing his PJ Masks t-shirt and a diaper for four days. After baths you try to put a different t shirt on him, but, he isn’t having it. Luckily, it’s Winter, he has a weird off and on cough, and you homeschool, so you haven’t had to bring him out in public like this just yet.

Neither Dora nor Cooper will go anywhere without their backpack, which they talk to as if it’s a person and carry around all of the random things in the world in. And chances are that whatever it is you need to finish whatever it is you are doing can be found in that backpack.

Coop had to take his backpack out in the snow. It has to sit in his chair with him at the dinner table. It waits for him on the bathroom floor at bath time. He carries it up and down the stairs all day long while he goes on his adventures, and if he can’t find it on the off chance he put it down and walked away, he will yell, “Where awe you bat pat?!?”, until he finds it. Also, everything is fair game to be put in that thing and Cooper is a climber, so if your stuff is missing you know where to find it.

Now do you see it?

It’s a phase you don’t want to forget.

What Recess Looks Like

Dear Jessica,

Your favorite way to decompress when having a tough day of school, or to get fresh air when everyone has been couped up way too many days in a row is to drive over to the park with the duck pond and the stage the kids love to play on. You have to time it just right with the kids finishing enough school, feeding Graham riggt before you leave, and getting Cooper Gray to let you put his pants on, but, it’s usually worth it.

Today Konnor hesitated, but then ran with them once before coming back to walk with you, and you want to remember what it looked like to see them all hit the clearing and scatter. And, what it felt like to have him just a few inches shorter than you with untamed blonde hair.

And what she looks like while discovering her own style and trying to be “cool”, but still also always being helpful and keeping an eye on her brothers.

How Parker always tries to dress in all green everything. No matter what the result looks like. And, how he’s rarely still long enough for you to get a decent picture of him.

And, although you’ll always remember how hard this kid has been, but you just might forget how insanely adorable and tiny he was while terrorizing your days

How the four of them look while watching fish and turtles

Snow Day

Dear Jessica,

Southern snow days are a real treat-especially when it snows AND it sticks AND you get more than an inch. When you live in an area that gets so little snow you really make the most of the handful of magical days when Winter is more than gray days and sicknesses.

You always take and share way too many pictures and videos when y’all have snow and the kids head outside. Usually you layer up on pants and tall socks and as many sweaters as you can fit under a coat, but this year Target had all of their snowbibs 50% off one day, and with the prediction of more snow than normal you felt justified in buying them for $10 a pop. Just not having four loads of laundry after a day in the snow has been worth it. The snow today was super wet so you didn’t last long but got a few cute pictures of the kids playing.

Cooper Gray had to wear his back pack out to play.

The big kids got in lots of sledding, and you actually got to join in for a few minutes between nursing a baby and dressing and undressing CG as he went in and out.

And Graham enjoyed lounging inside and practicing his modeling.

You had hot chocolate, and cider, and snuggled under blankets after finally coming in. The truck couldn’t get out of the driveway within an hour of being parked, so it looks like Aarik will be home tomorrow, and you’ll get to finish the deep cleaning you started. The brightness of the snow day helped you see some things that desperately needed to be done.

You love being snowed in together, and how it allows y’all to slow down and spend time together, and see the world with a fresh pair of eyes.

Snow days in the south are magic, that way.

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky-unbidden- and seems like a thing of wonder.” -Susan Orlean

Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life…you make it.

Dear Jessica,

You’ve now been a mama for more than twelve years.

That seems impossible, but it’s the truth.

You’ve been pregnant eight times, and all of those times didn’t work out the way you’d hoped, and the last two are bonus babies, so the age spread is getting toward vast. But, having kids who are twelve, ten, six, two, and newborn, respectively, gives you this whole other perspective on motherhood and childhood.

The last twelve plus years you’ve spent documenting all of the “firsts” that make life beautiful.

First born, first breaths, first days of life, first times eating solids, first times crawling, walking, talking, running, going new places, doing new things, meeting new siblings. All of these moments in life that without thinking about it or being told you know are special and memorable. You’ve been told how to document, and what to look for, and around what age they should hit certain milestones.

You’re still getting to have those experiences and you’re taking it all in, with more joy than ever before.

Every blessed minute.

But, there is another side of parenting that we never think about, and often passes us by before we realize that it even happened.

As your babies are getting older… they are having their “lasts”. Maybe it’s just you, but when you hear someone talking about the last time they did something with someone you always assume it was because the other person died, or someone moved away and it’s sad and dramatic.

But it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, when Konnor turned twelve this last year he had already gone to primary for the last time.

You didn’t take a picture to mark it, like you did with his first Sunday, because when you realized it, it was already the Sunday after and you were busy documenting him being your first to age up and get the priesthood.

Mckenzie has been obsessing for a while now about showers rather than baths and so she takes her showers now and washes her own hair, and you don’t remember when the last time was that you helped her wash her hair. It isn’t like when you and Aarik gave her her first bath in your first little apartment a few days after she was born. Just like that, the last time you washed her hair came and went without you knowing.

And, what’s worse, the little boys want to do all of the things the big kids do! So now they are taking showers. Cooper Gray is only two!! Did you miss his last bath, too???

There was a last time that Parker went sans pants when you had guests. He had done that his whole life! One day you might not remember how people reacted to seeing a thick, rough and tumble little Parkey in his t shirt and undies every time they came over.

Right now, Graham is smiley and soft and wants to be in the sling, close to your heart, all day long. It hurts your back, but you love it and realize this stage will pass, all too quickly.

You’ve left behind the last year some of our kids believed in Santa, which is kind of sad. No one was around to tell you that the next Christmas you’d have one less believer. Nobody writes books about What to Expect when these years hit. You don’t get the month to month playbooks.

Maybe it’s just too heart breaking to write about.

At the park the other day, when you and the kids went for your walk to get a break from school, Konnor didn’t run through the open field with the others. He stayed back and walked along beside you and talked. You love his company and always want him beside you, but, this one hurt a lot because just a few days before he had been running right along with them. What if that was the last time?

Time is such a sneaky thief, and you are always so busy with the things that we’re required to do. Working, laundry, cleaning dishes, paying bills; these things that we have to do, but that deplete your time and energy resources. You’re wondering what other moments you’ve missed and don’t even know it yet.

With that in mind you decided that you need to be better at blogging, rather than random pictures or posts on social media. As a form of record keeping and memory preservation. If that’s what you’re doing, then you need a blog worthy of being used for that. SO… new blog, new name, and rarely, if ever, will you post the link since most things you’re posting will be stuff most people don’t care about. You’re starting an Instagram account specifically for keeping up with the pictures that you’ll attach to the blog (chatbooks!!)

You only potentially have six years left to have all of our babies under one roof.

You’ve had this post all written up for months, waiting for the moment that you would get a nicer camera and set the blog up to be beautiful to look at, but then President Monson passed away. He was a man that you had grown to love so deeply, and your heart has felt a longing to hear him speak one last time, and again you thought about this blog that he named without knowing. Sitting and waiting to document this life that you’ve been blessed with. The things you were missing out on writing about, waiting for things to look a certain way.

The name of this blog came from a talk he gave in September of 1977, called Faces and Attitudes. Everything about that speech struck a chord with you. Your life has never gone the way you wanted or planned, and you have often found yourself wallowing in disappointment and discouragement because of it. You laugh, often, at how you’ve become almost everything you swore you never would. There have been times that it has bothered you, and other times that you rejoice in the blessings you didn’t realize you wanted until you had them. A few things he said then really stand out now.

First, because motherhood was the last thing you wanted out of life until you became a mom, and then you realized that it is actually your life calling, there’s this one:

Now I ask you, what does it mean to magnify a calling? It means to build it up in dignity and importance, to make it honorable and commendable in the eyes of all men, to enlarge and strengthen it, to let the light of heaven shine through it to the view of other men. And how does one magnify a calling? Simply by performing the service that pertains to it.

It’s your goal to perform the service pertaining to your calling, in an effort to magnify what you previously felt was a menial, obligatory work. You realize now just how grand and important motherhood truly is, and you want to help others see it, too. What could be more important than rearing and teaching the future generations?

And, because you want to have a happy life, but have often been frustrated that it appears to fall into the laps of so many, and be just out of the reach of others, this:

The happy life is not ushered in at any age to the sound of drums and trumpets. It grows upon us year by year, little by little, until at last we realize that we have it. It is achieved in individuals not by flights to the moon or Mars, but by a body of work done so well that we can lift our heads with assurance and look the world in the eye. Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life … you make it.”

With the people you have been given to love, the love they give you in return, and the blessing y’all have to know the gospel of Christ, you can MAKE a happy life.

You want to use this blog to document all of the little works that are helping you to do that. They will be things that no one else will likely appreciate. Not flights to the moon or Mars, but, to you, they are the important things. The things that you won’t want to forget, but may not always remember.

Like, how Graham looks, all snuggled up in his sling

How Parker is so into his cowboy boots and wearing a suit, right now

How library trips are life

How any time the little boys are beside each other, Graham has to touch Cooper Gray. It’s like he remembers Coop and loves him so much and is so excited to be with him again.

And how Coop hates everything, and almost everyone, but totally reciprocates with G Byrd.

How Konnor is insanely handsome, but just can’t quite handle posing for a picture (totally the awkward 12 year old stage)

How Mckenzie is the sweetest, most thoughtful, helpful, artistic little free spirited fashionista. But not in a basic fashion girl way. Always the unexpected

And, how you’re so overwhelmed, but so much happier in the midst of your chaos than you ever thought possible

Making A Happy Life