Archive | Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series

Goals for the Time in Between {Thoughts on Babies, Breastfeeding, and Biking}

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As of last week, I am not pregnant and not breastfeeding for the first time in over FOUR years. Gil stopped nursing, and therefore I am not feeding, supporting, or nurturing anything with my body on a daily basis.

I have my body all to myself!

It happened sort of unexpectedly. Gil had only been nursing once a day (before bed at night) for months and months now, and I kept dawdling about weaning him. We were about to move, and then we were moving, and then we were traveling, and then we were settling. The time was imminent, but not yet. And then last Saturday night he was so tired that he threw a tantrum, and I couldn’t get him to calm down or even nurse. I finally just put him in bed. He was asleep within seconds. And the next day he didn’t want to nurse, and I thought, “Can it really be this easy?”

And it was. Some aches for me and some distractions for him, but that’s it. No more Mama’s milk for my little boy.

Before I get all sappy about how that makes me feel, let’s focus on the fact that for the first time in three years (three years!!!) I have a completely “baby free” body. This is cause for celebration! What have I been waiting to do for three years that I’ve put off because I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding? What have I said I would do “one day when my babies don’t need me every few hours”?

Now is the time to do it!

And so here are a few things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Run a 5K. I used to do this. I used to run a lot in college, and once — very foolishly — I even ran the Charlottesville 10 Miler. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (even worse than birthing babies) because I am not a naturally strong runner and I hadn’t trained well at all. But 5Ks I did and I can do, and I’d really like to get to the point where I’m running regularly enough that a 5K is feasible and even fun.
  • Make a habit of rising early to read God’s Word. I mentioned here that I’ve started doing this — albeit sporadically as of yet — and it has been delightful and refreshing. I’ve wanted to do this but always had babies who slept with me or seemed finely attuned to wake up whenever I did. Now Gil really does sleep till 7:30 even if I get up. It’s finally time.
  • Bike around our town with my kids in tow. Shortly after moving here, Elliott and I found a great deal on a double bike trailer on Craigslist, and then we found an amazing blue vintage bicycle from the 1960s for me. All that was left to do was hook one to the other and take ’em out for a spin, and this weekend we did! The kids loved it, and so did we. But, I realized, this is my chance to use the trailer and the bike: before Lena wants to ride her own bike and before we have another baby (because babies cannot ride in bike trailers or bike seats until they are at least 12 months old). Let’s take this window of time and pedal everywhere!
  • Tone my six-pack abs. Juuuuuuuust kidding. This one might be the hardest to make happen, actually. Starts with a confession: I cannot do a sit-up. A traditional, lying-on-the-floor-to-sitting-up sit up. I also have soft, stretch-marked skin on my stomach that I hide from everyone, even the doctor. When I’ve confessed that I think my bikini-wearing days are over (not that I even want to wear one, I just want the option of wearing one), a couple good friends have suggested I try to tone my stomach muscles. See what happens. Maybe all that extra skin will tighten up over tighter muscles. What do you think?
  • Go on a big trip with Elliott. Just the two of us. Somewhere for more than one night. We’ve gone on a couple of getaways in Sicily and one in Paris, but they were always 24 hours or less. My dream (a lifelong dream of dreams!) is to go to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. With my outdoorsy, animal-loving veterinarian husband, I can’t think of a lovelier vacation. But I would be also love to go to San Francisco or Portland or even somewhere in Mexico (which is just 15 miles away!). Do you have any suggestions?

Did you ever set goals for yourself during a season of in between, like “before I get married I want to…” or “before we have our first baby we want to…”? It’s motivating for the time between, I think.

Or even if those things never happen — because being blessed with another baby is not a given, just like anything in life — there is joy in making the most of the here and now. And of thanking God for today and carpe diem-ing it like there’s no tomorrow.

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24 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, Gil, thoughts

On Waking Up Before My Children

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For as long as I can remember, Elliott and I have gotten up in the morning with our kids. A little voice calling, “Maaaama!” is the signal that our day has begun. One of us stumbles out of bed, bleary-eyed, and brings that baby back to bed with us, and then the three (and eventually four) of us wake up together.

It sounds deliciously relaxed and cozy to start the day this way, but most of the time it’s really not. It’s whines of “I want breakfast now” and more fussing than seems fair and a general sense that the day has gotten away from you before you were ready for it to begin.

So this week… I started waking up before my kids. Ok, it’s Tuesday, so we’ll see if it lasts! But I knew this week I needed a little extra time to get my bearings in the morning. Elliott’s out of town, my dad is staying with us, and thus I’m facing a week of solo parenting. In order to parent and serve with grace and patience, I’ll need to know my limits and guard them carefully.

Thus far, by the time nap time finally comes every day, it’s all I can do not to dump the kids into their cribs and race for the couch with a good book and a tall glass of ice water (it’s been so hot here and we don’t have A/C). My soul craves that time alone without little voices, little messes, little tummies, little needs.

But I’ve felt extra strength and peace in the morning thanks to waking up an hour or so (or less…) before them. I make a pot of coffee and sit at the table and take a tentative sip. I’m sure many of you know how spectacularly delicious that predawn, freshly-brewed cup of coffee tastes. It’s indescribably fortifying.

And then I’ve been turning to the Bible, reading a few chapters according to the plan that Elliott and I do together. A great sense of peace comes not only from God’s Word itself but also from knowing that I have “tithed” this time, that I have set my priorities in order, that I have responded in gratefulness to the Father for all the good gifts He’s given me.

And then I pray, set the Bible aside, and dive for a few minutes into my latest library book, gathering my last pieces of reserve around me like a blanket to help me stay warm, stay strong, stay gracious for whatever the day might hold.

And then…

“Maaaaaama!”

And so it begins again.

What about you? Do you wake up before you absolutely have to? Generally Elliott and I stay up too late (eleven-thirty, twelve…) to make it feasible to get up early. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Or maybe I should be asking, “What gets to you to bed early enough at night?” Because I’ve got to do something about that next!

22 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

“But where’s the rocking chair?” + Reflections on a Summer of Transition

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It was 12 noon, and Gil was still napping. Lena and I had been moving from activity to activity: reading books, doing puzzles, coloring pictures, baking pumpkin bread to finish up cans of pumpkin before we move, etc. Now we were drawing hearts and polka dots in her notebook, and I could tell things were deteriorating.

“Why don’t you try some polka dots now, Lena?”

“Nooooo… I caaaaan’t. I just want to watch you do it.”

“It’s easy. Just like this.” I tapped the marker up and down on the page a few times, and then handed it to her.

She banged it angrily up and down, mashing the marker tip into the paper.

“OK,” I said, blowing out hard through my nose, “I think this is enough. Let’s put this away and take a break. Do you want to read some books?”

The last thing I wanted to do was read picture books out loud. I desperately wanted to walk away, look at my phone, read a novel, anything.

“Noooo!!!” she said, “I want to color. I want you to do the polka dots!”

This was going nowhere, so I stood up and began to walk away. “When you have a good attitude, we can do something else. We’re going to take a break for now.”

Behind me, her frustration escalated, and then the frustration gave way to tears. I heard her get down from her chair and walk through the house. She walked into her dark bedroom, and then I froze when I heard her calling out through her tears:

“But where’s the rocking chair? I want to sit in the rocking chair! Where is iiiiiitt?”

Stunned, I raced into the room and picked her up in my arms.

“The movers took the rocking chair, Lena, remember? They’re taking it to our new house in San Diego. You like to sit in that chair when you’re upset, don’t you? It’s ok, I’m sorry. Come snuggle with me.”

We climbed into my bed, with her resting on my chest as I stroked her back. As her sobs subsided, I felt close to tears myself.

In her moment of need, she had forgotten that everything in our house was gone. Automatically, she had gone to a quiet place where she could sort out her emotions and take her own self-initiated time out. That peaceful place, I realized, had meant so much to her. The disorientation and despair had been clear in her voice.

How much more is she thinking and feeling inside? Since the movers came and went, both Lena and Gil have been cheerful, seemingly unfazed by our empty house and their altered surroundings. But so many objects of comfort — like the rocking chair — have been removed forever from this home, the only home they’ve ever consciously known.

Lena’s disorientation and sadness made me realize I’m not the only one who is going through a lot of emotional transition these days. These are big days for our family. There are so many goodbyes: the obvious ones to friends and church, and the more subtle ones to the quirky front door lock and the location of our clothes and the ability to navigate our bedrooms in the dark. It’s disorienting for all of us. Lena is just the first one to shed tears.

I know we’re not the only ones facing transition this summer. How many of you, staring at your computer or phone screen around the world, are also awaiting giant changes? There are new homes to be purchased, babies to be born, marriages to be made, books to be published, jobs to be finished, jobs to be started, and babies to be made.

At summer’s end, we’ll all be different people. You might be anticipating a lot of joy, or a lot of work, or a lot of goodbyes. The months ahead might be terrifying. Or wonderful. Or gut-wrenching. Or a relief. Or a trial.

So here’s to being aware. That’s a start. We’ll miss the rocking chair, and we’ll miss the ability to just curl up and be at home, and we’ll miss the old familiarity.

Hopefully this awareness will help us take better care of our husbands, our children, and ourselves. Especially after seeing Lena’s distress, I want to be more compassionate, patient, and sensitive. May we be rocks instead of adversaries (*cough*), a steady presence that our children and husbands can rely on as everything else changes.

And may we be careful to take care of ourselves, too, by being aware of our own limits. I want to be candid about my emotions, communicate clearly with my family, and take time outs for self-preservation when needed. May we be bold to seek closure, seek solitude, and seek rest.

For example, I have identified one thing I know I need to do to find closure to our time in Sicily. In our little town, I see so many familiar faces each day as I push the kids in the stroller to the playground, fish shop, gelateria, market, and panificio. I don’t want to just disappear one day. I love all those smiles, I love hearing “buon giorno!”, I love that sense of belonging that they give me. Before we go, I want to go to the owners of those shops and to our neighbors, give them a picture of our family, explain that we are moving, and say goodbye. (And I want to subtly pay back the man in the general store for the ten million chocolate bars he gave Lena over the last three years.) I know I’ll regret it if I don’t.

Ultimately, I want to draw strength from the Source. My own reserves are so shallow! So much has already changed, but there is so much more to come! I’m holding onto these words of promise:

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4

20 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, home sweet home, life lately, military life

37 Ways to Stay Sane at Home with Your Preschooler. You’ll Love #11, an old-school favorite!

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I’ve come to the conclusion lately that I’m just not cut out to be a preschool teacher. It requires so much energy! So much engagement! So much creativity!

Somehow I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

However, for this stage in my life, I have a preschool-aged child who loves any kind of activity I come up with, and the delight in her eyes motivates me to keep finding ideas.

I ascribe wholeheartedly to the notion that children learn in the school of life, meaning that most kids don’t need preschool to teach them anything. Learning activities do have multiple benefits, though, and I value these:

  • Keeping me away from my computer or phone (I mean, let’s be honest here…)
  • Entertaining the preschooler without screen time
  • Teaching basic life skills, like how to wash a dish, water a plant, hold a crayon, use scissors, measure a cup of flour, and so on (this is a very Montessori approach, in addition to being, like, true)
  • Instilling an appreciation for music, art, books, and nature
  • Training up a child in the way she should go (Proverbs 22:6)

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So what does “homeschool preschool” look like for us?  in my 2014 goals, I pledged to use my 17-month-old’s morning nap time as my school time with my three-year-old. So most weekdays from 9 to 11am, Lena and I do one or several small activities together.

Most activities don’t last more than 15 minutes at at time, and some last five, and some are duds. I’m developing a repertoire of ideas, though, as well as a small stash of craft supplies. That way it’s easy to rotate toys, games, books, and arts & crafts throughout the week, adding a new activity every week or so.

I’ve especially enjoyed these resources (and want to give them credit before I go any farther!):

A lot of these wonderful blogs have Facebook pages, and I “liked” them in order to get photos and inspiration for crafty activities in my newsfeed. It’s an easy way to keep the creative juices flowing.

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Here are most of the activities and games we rotate during the week:

Arts and Crafts

1.  Coloring together: we like this giant Bible story coloring book and these markers and high-quality crayons

2.  Stickers on coloring pages/construction paper

3.  Glitter glue on construction paper

4.  Painting: watercolors, finger paints, washable paints

5.  Making necklaces by painting penne pasta and stringing it onto yarn/elastic cord

6.  Paper chains: great for working with scissors, tape, and patterns

7.  Creating artwork of some kind to send to family or friends, even something as simple as painting watercolors inside store-bought “thank you” cards to personalize them

8.  Blowing homemade bubbles (lots of easy recipes here!)

9.  Scrubbing coins in a vinegar/water solution to make them shiny

10.  Pom-poms stuck onto glue that spells out her name

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In the Kitchen

11.  Play dough: we’re old-fashioned around here and don’t buy Play-Doh. Lena and I make ours from scratch with this simple recipe. You’ve got everything you need in your kitchen, it takes 10 minutes, and it’s so rewarding to see your own play dough come together!

12.  Baking together, especially these cookies “because Daddy loves them”

13.  Making pretend meals in her play kitchen

14.  Tea parties with her wonderful tea set

15.  Washing the tea party dishes in a big mixing bowl with a small piece of sponge

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Interactive Toys & Games

16.  Block towers: we love our Father Goose blocks for babies, our colorful wooden ones for general play, and KAPLA blocks for more advanced structures

17.  Playing “doctor” with her baby doll and doctor kit

18.  A wooden game to teach weight and balance

19.  Sewing on children’s sewing cards

20.  Invisible ink coloring book

21.  Jumbo puzzles, especially this one

22.  Wooden farm set (although I wish we’d gotten the circus set because it’s so unique!)

23.  Spelling and reading with wooden fridge magnets or letter stickers

24.  Yikerz, a game of magnets that’s ridiculously fun for adults too!

25.  See & Spell wooden puzzle

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Personal Care

26.  Cutting her nails and watching a YouTube video, usually one about trains or animals

27.  Using the contents of my toiletry bag (lotion, lip chap, toothbrush, etc.) on me, and then me on her

28.  Doing her hair and telling her a story

29.  For a very special treat, painting her toenails

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The Grab Bag

30.  Reading together: she usually chooses a stack of books right after I put Gil down for his nap, and then we read those before starting other activities

31.  Reading practice, mostly with these beginning reader books

32.  Cleaning: she will clean windows/dust surfaces with a vinegar-and-water spray bottle and paper towel while I do heavier cleaning

33.  Listening to music: we’ve had this folksy children’s CD on repeat lately

34.  Tossing homemade bean bags into a basket

35.  Imagination games: “Simon Says” or “Red Light/Green Light” or “Follow the Leader” or “Hotter/Colder”

36.  Playing “school” by singing our ABCs, counting to 20, jumping jacks, etc.

37.  Watering our plants with a watering can

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Of course, in all honesty, there are many days when “Mama’s got to work” and so cleaning, laundry, making phone calls, or something else comes before these learning activities. I think this alone time — ie. “getting bored” — is equally valuable for her because she learns to use her imagination, play by herself, and do many of these same activities on her own.

The photo below is one of my recent favorites of Lena amusing herself: waiting for her daddy to come home from a week long trip. As soon as I announced he had landed at the airport, she went outside and waited quietly for 45 minutes until he came up the driveway and into her arms.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, and so I’d love to hear any ideas you have in the comments! Did you do many of these activities as a child? What are some favorite preschool learning activities in your house?

19 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series

Unplugging and Restarting Your Parenting Overseas (or Right Where You Are!)

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When I told my dad we were moving to a foreign country, he said: “I think this is so good. You guys are young. You can go away and establish yourselves as a family, work out your priorities, without a lot of family nearby and outside influences. This is a great, great opportunity for you, and I am so happy for you.”

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since we moved to Sicily three years ago. My parents raised my siblings and me overseas, so he spoke from a depth of experience. He knew that anyone who lives overseas has a choice. You will be isolated, you will be lonely, you will be overwhelmed, you will be foreign.

But.

You can use the isolation for your benefit. You can take advantage of the distance from the influences that affect your peers. You can reevaluate your priorities, establish new habits, build a foundation for your family. You can train the crew of your little ship so that when the world’s fancies sway this way and that, you can still hold steady to your goals.

For us, Sicily was where our parenting started. Lena was just three months old when our plane landed in Italy. Also, I quit my job when we left the States, and I couldn’t immediately find work here. (You can read about that difficult transition here.)

After I accepted my new status as a full-time mom instead of a full-time nurse, I sat down and thought about the kind of mom I wanted to be, especially as a stay-at-home mom. This move gave us a chance to establish ourselves as parents and as a family and to decide what our priorities would be.

These were the priorities we have established here:

We want to read.

A lot. We love to read, thanks to parents who raised us on a steady diet of great literature. My husband and I read an average of 50 books a year on our own, and we read at least four books a day to each of our kids.

One trick to reading a lot is to surround yourself (and your kids) with good books. There are [piles of] books all over our home, and I recently calculated that we have about 100 board books and 150 picture books. Plenty to keep both the readers and the listeners interested in the stories!

(Note to moms trying to build their home libraries: try library book sales. I’ve filled boxes with children’s books at library sales in the States and then shipped them back to us overseas with the super-cheap, super-slow Media Mail option.)

We want to cook our own clean, healthy food.

We live in a small town in rural Sicily, and we have to drive at least 30 minutes to get good ethnic (ie. not Italian) food. We enjoy going out to a restaurant once a month or so – usually for incredible wood-fired pizza in our town – but it’s stressful with little kids. So… in Sicily, if we want to eat, we kind of have to cook.

And cook we do! Thanks to dearth of restaurants and a cornucopia of produce, I’ve finally gotten the crash course in basic home cooking that I so desperately needed… oh, when I went to college. I do our dry-goods shopping at the U.S. grocery store on base, and then we try to purchase most of the perishable items — fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood — at the market or in town. Sicily makes this easy.

I’ve watched my friend Rachel beautifully transform the food culture in her home since moving here. Here’s what she said about living and cooking in Sicily:

“Not having the fast food option has helped me to learn to embrace cooking.  I’ve always enjoyed it, but having such easy (and cheap) access to incredible fresh ingredients has motivated me to search out ways to cook them. On top of that, I’ve loved having my kids in the kitchen with me!  … Mussels and artichokes are their favorites these days. (Isn’t that crazy?! We can’t believe it, either!) We love knowing that we’re laying a foundation of healthy eating for them!

We don’t want TV to be a big deal in our home.

By that I mean that we want to spend more time doing other things, and we don’t want our kids sitting in front of screens. For now, our family does not own a TV. Our kids don’t expect movies or computer time; we just fill our days with other activities. We don’t think this is a permanent choice (both Elliott and I grew up with — and loved — family movie nights), but it’s right for us during this season.

I’d like to blog more about this soon, but in the meantime, Amanda wrote an amazing blog post about living without a TV during their three years in Japan. I highly recommend it!

We don’t want to spend a lot of time on our computers or phones in front of our kids.

I wrote more about my decisions to limit my iPhone usage here. (Elliott doesn’t own a smartphone right now, so it’s a lot easier for him!)

I loved my friend Sarah’s comment on that blog post because it shows how Sicily has helped her unplug and restart her parenting as well:

“Since moving to Sicily it has been very freeing to be in a different time zone where social media is not buzzing in the phone…. I have found that also I get frustrated with my kids if I’m distracted by my phone because they’re not allowing me to “focus.” I have noticed that and have now made a point to only check FB and email in the mornings, nap time, and the evenings…. It allows me to be a mother and wife who is present.”

Amen to that! I only wish it were more true of me.

We want to explore alternative employment.

I sell handmade crafts, do copy editing work for my dad’s organization, and blog… and earn a few dollars a month. ;) It’s ok; earning money is not my primary focus right now. I’m enjoying this chance to explore other fields besides nursing during these years so that I have a better idea of my skills and interests (and so I keep developing both of those!) whenever I re-enter the workforce.

Elliott has also enjoyed “building a platform” that might lead to another career down the road. He established a website and podcast while he was here called “The Uncommon Veterinarian.” He also is almost finished with his first novel, a monumental feat of dedication.

We want to stay connected to family back home.

We Skype with family on weekend afternoons, and my blog is a big way to stay connected to our family and invite them into our lives. We also love it when they visit us here!

We want to open our home to visitors.

We love having family and friends come to stay, and we’ve tried to make that a priority in our lives by always having an available guest room, a pretty open schedule, and a welcome invitation to anyone who would like to come.

This year we’ve had week-long visitors every month since October, and we try to open our home regularly for dinners, play dates, and game nights, too. It’s all a part of our life-goal of making room… hence the name of this blog!

We want to spend time outdoors.

That’s why we chose a house that had a whole green valley for a backyard. Except in the summertime, we take the kids on a hike about every week. Often Elliott will take the kids for a walk as soon as he gets home from work and while I’m cooking dinner. They meander down to the piazza and come back with fresh bread and wine to accompany our meal, or sometimes they walk farther to a farm near our house.

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For those of us in Sicily – or living anywhere overseas – this is a rare opportunity. Living overseas is an adventure, and there are definitely extra challenges with the distance from family and smaller community and resources. But don’t forget that the community is (usually) ready-made and eager to welcome you; resources are often plentiful and free; and you live in a beautiful-in-its-own-way, once-in-a-lifetime location.

Of course, unplugging and restarting your parenting — or your life! — is important to do wherever you are whenever you need to do it, whether you’re in Bahrain or Boston, Iceland or Indianapolis, Venezuela or Vancouver. Certainly there are more resources and more diversity when you’re in a major Western metropolis. I want our family’s priorities and goals to be something we constantly remember, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize no matter where we live.

Now it’s your turn! Before you had a family of your own, how did you picture your family? How did you envision yourselves spending weekends, evenings, and holidays? What did you think your priorities would be?

If you’re single, how did you picture yourself at this age? Are your priorities in the right place?

And now: what baby steps could you take to help yourself get there? Here are some suggestions (most of which I could really apply to my life!):

  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier to pack a healthy lunch for yourself, or to get a shower in before the kids are up. (I didn’t do that this morning and wish I had….)
  • Going home next weekend to spend time with your parents.
  • Finally making a budget and sticking to it.
  • Reading one book this month that you’ve always wanted to read. Maybe a short classic like My Antonia, or a beautiful memoir like The Dirty Life, or a great piece of new fiction like What Alice Forgot.
  • Making a meal plan this week (just four meals, and use the leftovers for other meals) and shopping for the ingredients.
  • Setting a goal of something to do with your kids today, like reading one book to each of them, or building a blanket fort instead of letting them watch TV, or making homemade play dough in fun colors.

OK, enough talking. What do you think of all this? How can you unplug and restart your parenting right where you are? You guys inspire me! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

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25 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, Italy, military life, motherhood, Sicily, thoughts

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