Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jonathan is 3

Dear Jonathan,

Last week you finally turned three. With all of your little friends having September birthdays, and my birthday being a week before yours, you've wondered when your birthday would come for a while now.

You began the day by running into our room, jumping onto the bed and shouting, "Surprise! It's your three-year-old!" At which point, the birthday mania began. All you wanted for your birthday was to have a "Cold Stone cake with the big boys" who live across the street from us. You love those little boys so much and they are a great example of kindness and goodness. Plus they think you are the cutest. So it's a nice setup.

Your "big boys" celebrating the number 3 with you
Evan, Luke, Alex

But of course, we couldn't do just that--because your dad is the "Funster" and your mom loves birthdays a lot. So we filled your day with birthday surprises, which included: blueberry pancakes, a restaurant that delivered our food on a train, indoor carnival rides, go-kart racing, bowling, and dinner of your favorite food lately (PB&J with carrots), and "skeprises" of course.

blueberry pancakes

All to celebrate your sweet little life, which is definitely worth celebrating! You are growing into quite the remarkable little boy. 

Anyone who knows you at all knows how much you've loved to suck your little thumb. It's how you fall asleep, how you comfort yourself when you're frightened or sad, it's what you do when you're bored. One day as the weather became colder, you noticed an "owie" on your thumb where it was chapped from you sucking it. You asked me where the owie came from, and I told you it was because you put your thumb in your mouth, and that when you stopped it would get better. There was absolutely no pressure, and not even expectation that you would stop--since you sucked it a LOT. I figured it would be the beginning of a long, hard withdrawal a year or so down the road. Imagine my surprise when you never sucked your thumb again after that moment. You thought about it. You missed it. You tossed and turned and struggled to sleep without it the first few nights. But never, not once, have you put your thumb in your mouth since. You decided it wasn't good for you, and you stopped. 

As a matter of fact, potty training wasn't that different. You decided it was better for you if you learned, and you never went back--even when it was hard or frustrating.

How I admire your moral character, my little one!

You have retained most of your passions, and added a few new ones. Your first love is still your airplanes, closely followed by helicopters. But you've made room in your heart for cars, firefighters, and construction sites. Your favorite movie lately is "Planes: Fire and Rescue" where Disney managed to combine planes, helicopters, bulldozers, parachuting, and firefighting into one, glorious feature film. Naturally, the toys from that movie are among your favorites these days, along with your fighter jets, of course. Which, by the way, you have an uncanny knowledge about these jets and their various capabilities and features. You gently, but firmly, correct me when I mistakenly refer to your F-15 as an F-18, or call your F-4 an F-16. And heaven help any poor fool who mistakes a fighter for a bomber--you will quickly take it upon yourself to educate them!

in a grove of "Jonathan" apples

You've embraced your new Wisconsin life--enthusiastically watching the tractors and combines harvest the corn around our house this fall. And you're always up for a nice apple-picking, cow-petting, or baby goat feeding trip to a local farm!

Your physical and cognitive capabilities continue to amaze your dad and I. You jump, roll, kick, and fall without missing a beat, and you shoot hoops with the best of them. Your sports coach just bumped you up to the class with the older kids so you would be more challenged, and you have loved being pushed to get better. You're especially good at the hurdles, of all things, out jumping and finishing faster than the 4- and 5-year-olds in your class. Your pain tolerance continues to surprise us and others, as you sat in the ER this summer with a bruised kneecap (bone, not skin) tear-free and telling the doctor exactly what happened.

Equally, if not more, amazing to us is your beautiful, incredible, sponge-like, mind. You know your shapes, your alphabet, your addition and subtraction of numbers one to five, and you have mastered enough sight words to begin reading simple books almost on your own. You count to one hundred comfortably. You know and recognize all fifty states and where they go on a map. You know seven presidents of the United States by picture, and exclaim to me in Costco as we walk past the magazines, "Mommy, it's George W. Bush! There! On that magazine!" You memorize scripture stories faster than I can teach them to you, and you know and recognize the entire first presidency and quorum of the twelve as well as all of the latter-day prophets of the LDS church. You have a particularly amazing gift for names and faces, lucky you, recognizing and calling by name our bagger at the grocery store the next time you see him, or the neighbor ladies you met three months ago and see at a restaurant.

You are the most flexible-eating toddler I have ever known of. You love carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, celery, green beans, quinoa, broccoli, and I could go on. You will try anything once without hesitation, and I can count on one hand the number of times you haven't liked what you tried. The other day I handed you the white root base of the celery to throw in the garbage while I chopped the rest for dinner, and you ate it instead. I asked you how it was and you replied, "Not too bad." You inhale the sample cod at Costco and ask for "more." You eat your apples all the way through the core and around until literally just the stem is left in your sweet little fingers.

You are confident and self-assured. You wish everyone in Target "Happy Thanksgiving!" and clearly tell anyone who asks your name "I'm Jonathan Paul Gaertner, and I'm three." You chat your pediatrician's ear off about airplanes and firefighters, you casually announce to me that you're "going to make apple juice today," and you order your own food at restaurants. And much to your mother's astonishment and admiration, you eagerly share the gospel with anyone and everyone. You insist on bringing your little scripture story book to sports class to show your coach, you ask the nurse giving you your shots to pray with you that you can be brave. You show your Jon-sized Book of Mormon to your little friends and ask them, "Do you have one of these?" If their answer is "no" then you say, "you can have mine if you want."

You are such a sweet brother. You are willing to do anything to help Ben or make him feel happy. You love to help with him so much, that you are crushed when someone else throws away a diaper or makes a bottle. You share your toys with him so willingly, even the ones you find hard to share with your friends. You even give him little Ben-sized bites from your ice-cream before we can step in. You are protective, fearlessly guarding standing between Ben and our Roomba vacuum which you genuinely think might get him because, "it sucks up all the little things on the floor." You cheer for Ben during his tummy time and worry about him when he's sick. You don't even mind when he spits up on you or your toys, simply saying, "Oh Mommy, Ben spit up. I'll go get a cloth." You tickle him and make crazy sounds, just to get a laugh; and when B cries, you are the first to say, "Oh Ben Ben, don't worry. I'm here. I'll take care of you. Mommy, Ben needs help." You are excited when he wakes up, even if it interrupts our rare mommy-jon times. You lay by him and patiently let him pull your hair and grab your nose, and our only concern for you two is that B will survive your deep and sincere love, manifested in hugs, nuggies, and snuggles, which you insist "he likes them, he told me." You simply adore your baby "cinna-Ben", as you have dubbed him.

You are forgiving, quickly saying "no big deal" if something or someone frustrates you or accidentally bumps into you. You are affectionate, showering hugs and kisses onto those you love. You are cautious, yet brave; tenacious, but still teachable. You yearn to please, but you don't hesitate stand your ground. You love goodness, and are so devastated and upset with yourself when you make a choice you know is wrong.

As I hug your tightly, and find a bony little boy body where there was once a chubby toddler, I find myself a little emotional sometimes. I continue to love every new stage you enter, but I do mourn the stage you leave--knowing that your skinny little limbs will just get longer. And as your mind and body develop and grow you will leave behind the little boy that occupies such a deep, titanic portion of my heart and self. Who you are now will forever be a part of who I will always be, and I long to hold on to your mispronounced words, the thoughtful look on your face as you learn something new, your belly laugh, and your hugs so tight they actually hurt. In short, my boy, I love you more than I knew a person could love.

you still love that red sweatshirt (which we have in several sizes now),
and I will always love those blue eyes

I am so grateful you came to my family and to my life, Baby Bear. Please always love goodness, learning, Ben, airplanes, and me as much as you do today.

All my heart,


We love our neighborhood.

One of it's charms is Halloween, when the neighborhood has a party and as the sun begins to set all the children leave the party to go trick-or-treating together. They spread out as the hill our circle is on gets steeper, with the littler ones falling behind, but the whole thing is over by 7:30 and the candy mania is kept to a minimum. It's awesome. Tack on the fact that the fire department came last year with their fire engine and passed out candy and it was basically perfect.

The fireman's visit left such an impression on Jon that he's known what he wanted to be this year since July: "A firefighter, so when they come with their firetruck and give me candy I will be a firefighter like them."

So obviously Ben would be a dalmatian.

Jon was so sure he would see the firemen on Halloween that I dressed him up that afternoon and took him to the fire station, just to be sure since I knew they didn't go to every neighborhood every year. As we walked in the door to say "hi" to the volunteers on duty (they have an open door policy that any children can come and visit anytime they're not at a call), the fire chief walked past, saw Jon in his costume, and stopped to say hello to him. Jon was thrilled, and told the fire chief all about his costume: the walkie-talkie, the hatchet, and so on. The chief was so touched that Jon wanted to be a fireman for Halloween, and wanted to show the firemen, that he and another firefighter took Jon into the room with their gear, where he proceeded to put on all of his gear to be matching with J. Then he took him around to see the firetrucks and let him "drive" his favorite one.

And after I took a picture, they firemen pulled out their phones for a pic with Jon too. Then they filled all of his pockets with candy. And when I say all of his pockets, I mean all of them. And in a fireman costume, there are a lot.

Jon was so happy he could have been done with Halloween then and gone to bed completely satisfied. But we added trick-or-treating with all his neighbor friends, and it was basically a perfect day. One in which he went to bed a half hour after his usual bedtime.

I'm choosing to forget the fact that it was below 
freezing with a 30 mph wind the whole night.

It's days like these that I really, really, really love living in a small midwestern town.

Monday, December 1, 2014


My big and little boys really spoiled me this year--

I woke up to Jonathan climbing onto my bed at 7am, snuggling into the crook of my arm and saying, "Mommy, today is your birthday. Are you so excited? You get a birthday hug!" Then he gave me a giant squeeze and began his stream-of-conscious morning ramble on topics ranging from "good airplanes and bad airplanes" to "Quentin L. Cook" to kitchen fires. Love him.

I came downstairs to find a house decorated with birthday banners and my sweet, happy Ben already up with his Nay Nay who'd taken the night shift because she's an angel. We got everyone dressed, and challah french toast with creme anglaise and fresh berries at La Brioche was followed by a trip to a local farm and corn maze.

We went on a hayride, picked a pumpkin, and pumped water. In the barnyard, one of the baby goats escaped from the goat pen, and what followed was pure birthday magic: I caught him! All those hours of chasing a little boy paid off in an unexpected life skill.

That's right--I spent my 27th birthday sunbathing in Thailand, and for my 29th I caught a goat in a barnyard! The satisfaction of actually catching the evasive little bounder combined with the repeated "Mommy you got him!"s amazingly made both activities equally satisfying. I have fully embraced the "when in Rome" philosophy.

My beautiful beads necklace

 My loves showered me with a carefully-wrapped macaroni necklace ("beautiful beads" in J's words), dollar-store fuzzy socks, and...

Possibly the greatest gift ever: a Roomba! Or in Jon's words, "Mommy's robot, Gooey."

Gooey vacuums the entire house while I run to Costco or rock babies to sleep. My floors have never looked better because they get vacuumed every day. And Jonathan will tidy up any room for the promise of Gooey "waking up to clean". I marvel each time it finishes a floor of the house, sings a little song, and then scoots on back to mount itself on its charging dock. I seriously love our little Gooey.

Fabio surprised me after dinner with Ella's other-worldly sour cream chocolate cake and coconut almond chocolate chip ice-cream. And that night, as cuddled my boys to sleep, I reflected on my blessings and my goals for the upcoming year while Gooey swept up cake crumbs off the floor.

Yep, 29 was a good birthday.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Sometimes there are people in your life that become soul mates--the kind you only have to talk to for a minute for both of you to know that you were born to be friends; the kind that make you a better version of yourself every time you talk; the kind when the hardest you laugh together is when no words needed to be exchanged at all. It doesn't really matter how long it's been between visits because you pick up right where you left off whether it was a couple hours or a couple years. And sometimes those friends surprise you with a week-long early-birthday-present visit.

And when they do, it's magical.

J was a little disappointed when she came off the plane and she wasn't "Daniel Tiger" (a cartoon character he loves and thought was coming--"Danelle" vs "Daniel" easy to confuse). But it didn't take him very long to figure out Danelle was way, way better; even if he did call her "Daniel" the entire time.

We, of course, washed down fried cheese curds with Sprecher's rootbeer.

We spent an afternoon at Lake Mendota, kicking back in Adirondack chairs while Jon played in the sand and threw rocks into the water.

We went apple picking, obviously...


And when we realized we'd pick WAY more than we could ever eat, we baked delicious apple-y things all day.

And then we ate them.

We stayed up late solving the world's problems and laughing at our own problems, and scheming elaborate plans for realizing our dream of being next-door neighbors someday. We cheered for Jonathan as he tackled his self-made "inja popsicle courses" (translation: ninja obstacle course). We snuggled Ben and diagnosed his reflux. 

And then we cried at the Madison Regional Airport when we had to say goodbye. 

But amidst all the fun, best part for me might have been sharing people I love with each other. It was so fun to watch Jon embrace and love Danelle and realize she is one of the funnest people alive today, and it was just as sweet to see her fall in love with the boys as Jon crawled up onto her bed or tried to share his food with her and Ben fell asleep in her arms.

It was a perfect week--but man, I already miss that girl.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Big Boy Undies

So this happened last month...

Yep, this is about potty-training. But I'll spare you the details.

One morning, as I changed Jon's diaper he looked at me and said non-chalantly, "Mommy, I don't wear diapers anymore. I wear big boy undies."

Inwardly I thought, "Hallelujah! Good for you, but I have a six-week-old baby and this is not really a good time for me to potty train with you."

Outwardly I said, "Great! Run upstairs and put your airplane undies on and I'll set a timer to remind you to go potty." (We had undies on hand from our last attempt, which obviously failed.)

He put on his undies, and within two days was basically accident-free. All the problems from the last attempt were forgotten. It was his idea, and so it was going to happen. That is Jonathan all the way, if he owns it, he will make it happen. Tenacious little guy.

I'd love to take credit and share all my "secrets" for easy, tear-free potty training, but it was all him. I really just reminded, pulled pants up and down, and cheered. I'm so proud of him for choosing to grow up and do something hard, especially during a stage when many children tend to regress. He is a really special boy and I am one lucky, grateful momma.

A side note: Benjamin did not find the potty training days that magical; being put down suddenly mid-bottle or just as he was drifting off. If it weren't for Nay Nay's well-timed visit Ben would probably have some sort of trauma from the ordeal. Thanks for playing wingman, Mom.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lucky Me

Fabio is an amazing dad.

Ben is bottle-fed, and Fabio takes more than half the middle-of-the-night feedings for me.
Just because.
He tenderly changes diapers, rocks to sleep, coos and plays, and suggests going out to eat when he can see I'm exhausted or overwhelmed.
Then he marches back to work, so I don't have to.

He rearranges his schedule to stay with the boys while I exercise, and never says a word about the state of the house--no matter what it looks like when he comes home from work!
He is generous with me and the boys to a fault, but also a firm and kind disciplinarian--teaching Jon to solve his problems instead punishing him.

More than anything, he completely head-over-heels devoted to his little team.
Even in his reviews on RateMyProfessor, his students mention that he "really loves his family."
Yes. Yes he does.

I don't know how I got so lucky.

Monday, September 8, 2014


I'm really crazy about these two.

Jonathan is so good to his baby brother. He loves to help make the bottles, throw away the diapers, and sing songs when he's said. He is gentle, loving, protective, generous, and playful.

In Jonathan's eye, the little boy that pushes Jon sometimes at church isn't allowed within five feet of Ben (and neither is his baby sister, just to be safe). Jon cautiously stays between Ben and the two firmly stating, "No. No. Not my Ben." until they leave.

Jonathan kisses and hugs Ben tenderly, and prays for him every night.

Ben seems to love his brother's affection. Jon likes to rub B's hair, and when he does, Ben's whole body relaxes and his eyes get sleepy. Every time. He doesn't complain about the loving noogies and squeezes, either.

Ben loves to watch Jonathan run around the couch, dance, and be silly. Jonathan often offers for Ben to hold one of his toys while he plays (and is a little disappointed when B drops it). When I put B in the crib, Jonathan dutifully follows, climbs up the side, and sings to Ben--while B kicks and coos with delight.

It really does a Mommy's heart good to see two of her very favorite people in the world be so good to each other, and so loving. May it always be so...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Fabio!

Fabio loves ice cream cakes,
but he doesn't eat sugar.

So I made one using sugar-free brownies, ice cream, and cookies.
I got up early or added layers after midnight feedings so he wouldn't know beforehand.

It was worth it--because he love, love, loved it, and he was so surprised!

It was a little gesture for a great guy, who I love a whole lot.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


In a stroke of serendipitous destiny, it just so happens that one of the world's largest air shows is in Wisconsin. So we really had no choice but to make the two hour drive north to Oshkosh so our little airplane boy could see the formation flyers, aerial stunts, and the hundreds of airplanes on display on the ground.

"He did a corkscrew! Did you see that, Daddy?
And that one did a falling leaf! Wow! That's amazing!"

What we didn't realize, is just how thrilled Jonathan would actually be. It turned out to be a kind of Disney World for him, where he got to meet in person the characters he'd grown to love in shows and books. He ran from airplane to airplane saying, "Mommy! B-17 is here! It has four c'pellers. And there's B-25, he has 2 c'pellers." Or, "Daddy, can we see the Corsair? Pleeeeease??" Or, "There's the Ospry--it's a helicopter and an airplane."

As we walked up and down the rows and rows of airplanes, Jonathan gasped and exclaimed, "It's DC-3! It's DC-3! Mommy, DC-3 is here! Come, Mommy! Hurry!" DC-3 is one of his favorite planes, he has a little one that he sleeps with sometimes. I looked where he was pointing, about 500 yards away, and it kind of looked liked his little plane. So we walked over, and when we got there I looked at the sign and realized it really was a DC-3! He had recognized it from so far away, and to me it looked like any other 2-prop plane.

And they were giving tours. We climbed in and walked up and down the aisle. The owner was there, and I pointed him out to Jonathan. J said, "Thank you so much for letting me see your DC-3." 

When I told the owner it was J's favorite airplane, he laughed and said he needed a picture of the little guy. After posing for the picture, the owner suggested J sit in the cockpit, which was roped off. He said, "I don't let everyone in the cockpit, but for a fellow DC-3 lover, I'll make an exception.

It was a dream come true for J-man. He couldn't believe his good luck.

We also saw another of J's favorites: the Stearman, which he also spotted from far away and could differentiate from the rest of the bi-planes.

When he saw an airplane he didn't recognize, he'd ask us, "What's that airplane's name?" Of course, we had no idea, and we wished Dap was around to tell us! Maybe next year...

But it didn't matter. Jonathan had an amazing time, and so we all did too.

Including B, the ever-supportive little bro, who slept almost the whole time.