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did you know?

earlier this week, we were school-bound. i had one hand on the steering wheel, the other was gripping my morning coffee, and as i merged onto the interstate, Kenny Rodgers and Wynonna Judd’s rendition of “Mary, Did You Know?” came on our local radio station {Christmas music all the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas!}.

as my boys babbled and giggled and flapped and flitted their arms and leggies in their car seats in the back seat, i sang along to this song, one of my most favorite holiday tunes.

“what’s that noise, Mama?” L said.

“Christmas music, buddy,” i replied. “this is one of Mama’s favorite Christmas songs. it’s about Jesus’s Mama.”

“oh,” said L, and he went back to giggling at baby Q, who was trying to pull off his sockies as we drove.

since the joyful {and painful} moment that i became a Mama just three-and-a-half years ago {this week!}, and again just one year ago, i have heard this song time and again each holiday season, and have delighted in humming along. yet as i continued to drive along the snow-coated landscape to school that morning, i began to listen to the lyrics a bit more closely.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy…

i let the lyrics of the song wash over me, much like i wash the day’s grime off of my boys’ tender cheeks and bellies in the bath each evening. and what i found to be so, so stirring that morning, as i kissed my boys and wished them good days ahead at school, was this: do any of us really know what our children will become one day?

or, even more convicting: if we knew what our children would become one day, how would it change us today?

* *

i’m certainly not attempting to state that anyone’s child will be akin to that of Jesus, but my point still stands:

years from now, i’m certain that all of us mamas will look back at our days – at normal days, like today, even – and think, if i had only known…

it’s such a powerful phrase, if i had only known.

so much of what we do each day is about letting go of past transgressions, of mistakes, of choices that led us astray.

if i had only known that those words that i said, in a moment of rashness, would wound his little heart…

if i had only known that his quietness was hiding such significant pain…

but what about the good parts of life? what about the good things that, looking back, may have made all the difference?

if i had only known how much joy i get in seeing my oldest become a big brother…

if i had only known that his hands would care for the sick, that his mind would teach the young, that his words would inspire the masses…

it’s such a toggle, this relationship that we have with the knowing, or the not-knowing of things, as it tends to be so.

as the new year approaches, i’ve read blog post after blog post devoted to simply making progress, about not concerning ourselves with perfection, and as a recovering perfectionist {thank you, Brene Brown}, i so relate to that.

but how are we as mamas, as Christian mamas, to reconcile these dog years of motherhood, this the-days-are-long-but-the-years-are-short mentality of ours, with the greater truth of Jesus?

how do we reconcile this if i had only known with the certifiable fact that whatever we do on this earth – whatever possessions we acquire, how many dollars we have in our bank accounts, whatever awards we earn or accolades we receive, how many followers we have on social media, whatever our children become in this life – cannot be brought along, not in duffels or chests or suitcases, to eternity?

* *

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

i wrote in Q’s birth story that i have experienced two distinct moments in my life in which i truly saw God, in which i could feel His presence at the helm of my life, and both resulted in the birth of a beautiful boy. while i have long loved God as someone in great need of grace, never before in my life – not during times of worship, not in moments of stress, of grief, of complete joy or utter sadness – have i so intimately felt God’s hands around mine, and around those of my children, than in the moments in which my sons were born.

and like you, i’m certain, in the early days after each of my boys were born, i promised them the best of me – to be for both of them an indestructible, endless net of love and faithfulness, ever positioned so that i will always catch them. yet as i sit here today, i recall countless times in which i’ve fallen short of this promise, moments in which i’ve fallen flat on my face, fallen to my knees in prayer, begging God for a do-over, for another go at it, to be made new.

and perhaps, that’s how we mother in light of eternity: we give thanks for our children, and for Jesus, and for this gift of making us, each and every one of us fallible mamas, new.

* *

i’ve always loved that there is a Christmas song devoted to Mary, to this woman who, like the rest of us mamas, had no idea what to expect from this journey of raising a child.

and while my motherhood experience is quite dissimilar from that of Mary {no Immaculate Conception here}, like Mary, i’ve been made new through the births and lives of my boys.

Mary may not have known what Jesus would do one day, but i’m hedging my bets: as she looked into Jesus’s eyes on His birthday, Mary felt like all mothers do, and His birth certainly made her, and all of us, new.

merry Christmas, all. xoxo

life as a breastfeeding, pumping, working mama {one month in}.

Q-19-Weeks

this week marks week no. 4 of my return to work after welcoming sweet Q into our lives in November, so i wanted to share a bit of a status report.

specifically, i want to spend time updating you all on a few things, including:

  • how i’m emotionally coping with my return to work;
  • how Q {and L, too!} have weathered full-time daycare;
  • and how pumping breastmilk + breastfeeding is working out for Q and i.

this is a doozy of a long post, so grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat!

emotionally, my return has been relatively wrinkle-free. my supervisor has been a complete dream, in that he’s provided a space in which i’m able to pump breastmilk multiple times each day {more on this in a bit}. my colleagues have been wonderfully supportive of my need to slip in and out of the “lactation lounge,” which is located in a separate room in the midst of a communal space of cubicles, at various times throughout the day to pump. lastly, my students have been, by and large, welcoming and accommodating as i learn their names {a task which feels so peculiar, given that we are already past the halfway point of our semester} and as i get my “sea legs” back as an instructor of English and communications.

personally, i worked hard to prepare myself for the emotional gamut of feelings as related to experiencing time away from Q. in the weeks prior to my return, i soaked up moment after moment with Q; we snuggled, we napped, we nursed, and i gave thanks to God each and every day for the time {nearly 16 weeks!} that i was able to spend at home with him. i also became obsessed with making morning and evening to-do lists, crafting a game plan to clean and sanitize my breastpump parts after each of my middle-of-the-day pumping sessions at work, and executing seemingly endless edits to my hourly work schedule and to Quincy’s nursing schedule. in short, i was obsessively, absolutely, totally FREAKING ready for my return to work logistically. and, apart from a few hiccups, which come naturally {and often} with a baby and a toddler in tow, things have gone quite smoothly.

what’s also wonderful: Q has adjusted quickly to daycare. he took to the bottle without much fuss {apart from a bit of an adjustment during his first feeding session on his first official day}, and continues to be a champion eater, both while he’s at daycare and when he’s at home – he’s even increased the amount that he eats at daycare from three to four ounces of breastmilk per feeding! by his third day at daycare, he was napping well {and napping anywhere, from swaddled in a crib to snuggled up in a blanket in a bouncy seat}. he enjoys being around the other babies in his “classroom,” and thanks to having an older brother who makes noise constantly, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble sleeping with other babies and children around.

Q-L-March-2015

L is also enjoying being back at school full-time. as a reminder, we continued to send him to school two days per week while i was on maternity leave, so that he could continue to progress and learn, and to continue building relationships with his teachers and his friends. plus, his days at school allowed me time to soak up Q a bit more, which was perhaps the most unexpected blessing of it all! now that he’s back at school every day, his vocabulary is continuing to blossom at record speed, and he’s demonstrating more and more that he’s ready for potty-training, a task that we plan to jumpstart over the long Easter weekend. he’s used the potty with much success as of late, so we’re hopeful that we can work on these skills over our four-day weekend and then send him to school next week in “big-boy pants” {Pull-Ups}. it’s our goal to have him reliably potty-trained by mid-to-late summer, so that he’s ready to go to five-day-per-week preschool in undies in the fall.

finally, i wanted to share a bit about my adjustment to pumping breastmilk at work. like i said above, my supervisor and colleagues have been amazingly supportive of my role as a working, breastfeeding mama. overall, i couldn’t be happier with what it means to be a working mama, both in terms of pumping breastmilk and in terms of continuing my nursing relationship with Q when we’re together.

i do want to say this, though: please know that i realize {and that i give thanks to God each night} for all of which i’m about to share. as a faculty member at my institution, i have privileged access to excellent care for my children. not only is the daycare center only available for use by employees and students at the college at which i teach and its surrounding school district, the center is located right on the campus on which i teach. Jord and i feel remarkably grateful for our children’s teachers and the daycare facility itself.

here’s what my work days look like, in general:

  • arrive at daycare with the children 30 minutes before i need to be in my office. at this time, i drop of L {typically without much fuss or objection from him, although sometimes he needs a little more time to adjust to the day}.
  • after i drop off L in his classroom, Q and i enter his “classroom,” and i nurse him at daycare before heading into my office.
  • after some office time, i teach one class that’s 75 minutes in length. this is where my schedule varies: two days per week {Mondays and Wednesdays}, i take my lunch break and pump breastmilk {and eat, of course}. but the other three days {Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays}, i spend my entire lunch break hour with Q, which allows me to nurse Q onsite {and eat, of course}. i’m sure that i don’t have to tell you how wonderful this is, but i did want to mention that i think this is what has helped me to have absolutely no problems whatsoever with milk supply. and yes, i realize how fortunate i am to have a robust supply; trust me, i don’t take it for granted!
  • after my lunch break and/or my time with Q, i teach another class that’s also 75 minutes in length. then, during my office time at the end of every day, i pump breastmilk again.
  • as my work day comes to a close, i return to daycare to pick up my children. i tend to pick up Q first most days, unless L sees me and excitedly runs up to greet me :) i often nurse Q at daycare before driving the boys and i home, to ensure that sweet Q doesn’t have an “i’m hungry!” meltdown on our 20-minute commute home.
  • on the days on which i don’t spend my lunch time with Q {Mondays and Wednesdays}, Q has two bottle feedings at daycare. on the other days {Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays}, Q only has one bottle feeding.
  • on Mondays, i teach a night class that’s three hours in length. this means that on top of the two bottle feedings that Q receives at daycare, he also has another small {i.e. 1-2 ounces} helping of breastmilk from Daddy while i’m teaching. this dinner-time feeding has actually been our only difficulty in adjusting to my return to work; Q doesn’t like to take a bottle from his Daddy for some reason, which is maddening for all of us {and for Q himself, as he lets us all know through his angry cries and his voracious appetite when i return home on Monday nights}. we’re still working through he’s refusing the bottle from Daddy and what we can do about it; our current thought is that he likens home with nursing right from the breast, so we’re exploring ideas of Daddy taking the boys to the park {or elsewhere} and feeding Q outside of our home to see if that helps.
  • when Q and i are together {in the evenings and on the weekends}, i nurse from the breast exclusively. in other words, we don’t give him bottles unless he’s at daycare or is with another caregiver {if we’re on a date, for instance}. this helps Q and i to remain closely bonded, and i’m sure it helps to keep up my supply as well.

Mama-Q-March-2015

i’m also incredibly pleased with my breastpump; it’s a workhorse! it is comfortable to use and comes with everything that i need {and more} to pump discreetly at work. i have this one, and it was partially covered by my insurance {i think that we paid $45 out-of-pocket for the pump, which is amazing, since it retails for $270!}. i had my doctor write me a prescription, and Jord picked it up from a medical supply store near the hospital after Q was born.

we’ve tried new baby bottles with Q as well. with L, we used these Avent bottles whenever we needed to leave a bottle with a caregiver {which was rare; as a reminder, i nursed L for fifteen months, and i was home with him for fourteen of those months and then nursed only at night for the final month, when i started my teaching job}. but with Q going to daycare so much earlier in his life, i wanted to try Tommee Tippee bottles for Q, since they mimic the shape and the feel of the breast more. we’ve been very pleased with them so far! we have this set {which we used when Q was little and was feeding more frequently and drinking smaller amounts each time} and this set, which we use exclusively now and LOVE.

i’ll post another update shortly, including what we pack in Q’s diaper bag for daycare each day {i searched and searched for helpful “what to bring to daycare” lists in preparation for my return to work, so it’s only fair that i share my own!} and what Jord and i do each morning and each evening to help the morning rush to work and school flow a bit easier. stay tuned!

baby Q’s birth announcements {from Tiny Prints}.

when sweet Lionel was born, we sent adorable birth announcements that i custom-designed with the help of this fantastic Etsy seller. here’s what they looked like, complete with a wallet photo of L’s newborn self, taken by Kara of Creative Kindling, our favorite photographer:

L-Birth-Announcements

L-Birth-Announcements

L-Birth-Announcements

L-Birth-Announcements

and for dear Q’s arrival, we worked together with Tiny Prints {see more of our collaboration on the boys’ shared bedroom here!} for a stellar birth announcement and Christmas card combo to introduce our newest boy.

i selected the Stylish Debut: Tropical design and customized it for our growing family. i also ordered black envelopes, matching gold + black dot envelope liners + wrap-around return address labels to add a little flair to our sweet baby Q’s official introduction to the world. we customized the announcements with photos from Quincy’s newborn photo shoot with Creative Kindling! i couldn’t have been more pleased with the quality of the announcements; we received SO many compliments on our sweet cards!

take a look:

Q-Birth-Announcements

Q-Birth-Announcements

Q-Birth-Announcements

Q-Birth-Announcements

many thanks to Tiny Prints for working with us on these fantastic cards – we feel so blessed to have introduced our sweet Q to our family and friends in such a stylish way!

{all photos by me; photos used in both L and Q’s birth announcements by Creative Kindling}

{NOTE: Birth announcements c/o Tiny Prints.}

quincy august {a birth story}

Quincy (KWIN-see): A name that we found when Lionel was just a wee baby; we held this name – and the dream of another son – in our hearts. (French): estate of the fifth son.

August (AW-guhst): Our second son’s middle name was chosen to honor Jordan’s eldest ancestor, August Gillis, who immigrated to the United States from Belgium. (Latin): revered, exalted.

* *

Quincy-Newborn

Dear Sweet Quincy August,

The contractions started as our lips kissed your big brother’s cheeks, nose, lips, head, our little family’s nightly ritual of story books, songs and snuggles finished for the day. This was the second time this pregnancy that I felt those familiar little currents of tightness run through my belly – the first labor scare came at nearly 34 weeks, which was too soon for this mama, too soon for the doctors, and, thankfully, you decided, after two rounds of medication to stall my contractions, it was also too soon for you. Yet, just 2.5 weeks later, on a Wednesday night in mid-November, I grabbed a glass of ice water and tried to rest as I assured your Daddy that this round of regular contractions was just practice, just a warm-up exercise, like last time.

Because your first attempt at making your debut left me dilated two centimeters, the nurse’s voice on the phone that night was a bit more strained than I expected once I told her my symptoms – regular pains, seemingly coming one on top of the other, for an hour. “You need to be seen,” she said to me. We called your Grandma Patty to stay with our slumbering Lionel, and after brushing his cheeks with a few quick kisses, your Daddy and I left in a flurry for the hospital.

I remember your Daddy testing the validity of my contraction pain on the way to the hospital by offering to procure a variety of food items for me. Certainly, he remembered your brother’s birth, when I wasn’t permitted a single taste of “real” food for nearly 30 hours, and while his offers of pizza and ice cream and cake and red wine were laughable and adorable – two words that aptly describe your father – these favorite foods of mine did not seem even slightly appetizing to me. This, I’m sure, perked up your father’s sense of what, as we would shortly discover, you had in store for us that Wednesday night – well, rather, that Thursday morning.

I remember feeling grateful that since our last trip to the labor and delivery triage unit just 2.5 weeks prior, I felt more at ease upon entering the doors of our local hospital that night. Perhaps I was simply feeling relieved that your Daddy didn’t turn on the wrong road en route to the hospital this time. Or, maybe I was feeling hopeful about being sent home again, allowing you to remain inside of me a little longer. Or, yet another possibility, perhaps I was comforted because I had packed my hospital bag and readied your room, as well as your little haven in our bedroom. Even still, I lifted up prayer after silent prayer to God, begging Him to be present and to hold tightly to all of us as we made our way to the hospital, and as you made your way to our world.

After a quick admission process and some time spent monitoring my contractions, which were coming about 2-3 minutes apart, the medical staff checked my cervix, which hadn’t changed from two centimeters dilated. Fortunately, your heartbeat continued to be stellar throughout all of the contractions and monitoring, which was a relief – just like your brother who came before you, we felt so blessed that we didn’t have to worry about you during the birth process. The nurse midwife on call – who I liked a lot, dear boy – then decided to give me a dose of terbutaline to attempt to slow my contractions. I had already experienced how this medication made me feel when we visited labor and delivery 2.5 weeks earlier, so the next hour went by without much surprise. I didn’t dilate any further during that hour of monitoring, despite the fact that I was still enduring contractions {albeit with more space between them}, so the nurse midwife gave us two options: since I didn’t dilate any further, there was no medical reason for them to keep me, so option no. 1 was to go home and rest, and return if my contractions intensified. Option no. 2, on the other hand, was something called therapeutic sleep, which involved staying at the hospital and electing for medication, including morphine and vistaril, a muscle relaxer, which would work together {while I got some much-needed rest} to help my uterus – a muscle – to determine its course of action {either to continue contracting or to relax}. Because I was still experiencing contraction pain, I elected for the therapeutic sleep option. At this point, we were moved to another room, and I was given medication to begin the therapeutic sleep process. Your Daddy quickly took up camp on the pull-out couch in the room; he was as eager himself as I was for a restful few hours of sleep.

On that night, circumstances changed dramatically as my nurse walked out of the room after administering the medication for therapeutic sleep, as it was then that I felt a marked, pulsating pain ripple through my abdomen. Believing wholeheartedly that the medication just needed time to kick in, I breathed through the contraction, just as I had been doing throughout the night thus far – except – oh, the inevitable “except” – except the contractions didn’t stop coming: they intensified. For the next ten minutes, in the muted light of the middle of the night, inside a birthing room that I never anticipated being mine until early December, I endured contraction after contraction, with little more than thirty seconds of rest before another wave would hit. A quick glance at the ever-noisy machine that was monitoring my contractions showed me numbers in the high nineties, and that was all that I needed to see to know that what I was feeling was, indeed, for real. As I hit the call button on my hospital bed, I informed the nurse {who calmly asked via intercom, “How can I help you?”} in an exasperated hiss of urgency that my contractions were coming so hard, so fast, and that this was not what I was expecting out of therapeutic sleep.

Two nurses came running fast into my room, one of whom I recognized as the nurse assigned to me; the other introduced herself as the head nurse on the labor and delivery floor and proceeded to check my cervix for further dilation. I was now dilated to three centimeters, so the nursing staff attempted to contact the nurse midwife who had prescribed the therapeutic sleep process earlier in the evening. In the meantime, I awoke your Daddy and begged for his hand to hold as I continued to battle intense, fast-moving contractions.

By the time that the nurse midwife arrived in my room – perhaps twenty minutes later – I was dilated to five centimeters. She looked me in the eyes and said the words that I didn’t think that we would hear that night: “You’re having this baby.” My mouth dropped open in surprise, and as the nurses began moving faster and faster to ready me for a repeat c-section, my eyes, anxious and fearful, scanned the room for your Daddy’s. In his eyes I found the same anxiety and fear, yet he concealed his emotions with an air of composure that I simply couldn’t muster in that moment.

Quincy-Daddy-Lionel-Newborn

“I’m scared,” I told him. “It’s too early. I’m only 36 weeks and 4 days along.”

“Everything will be fine,” he told me.

“I don’t want things to just be ‘fine,'” I replied, my voice making known the panic that I was feeling inside.

“Everything will be great,” he said, emphasizing the word “great.” “We’re going to meet our boy!”

At some point, another nurse introduced herself as the nurse who would be attending to my needs during the c-section. She was unbelievably kind as she informed us that all births at our hospital are attended by the NICU staff, regardless of the baby’s gestational age, but that their hope was that you, our baby, wouldn’t be in need of their services. She asked what felt like a million questions about my pregnancy and birth with Lionel, about my current pregnancy, and about our reasoning for a repeat c-section, and I barked out answers to these questions as I breathed through contractions that seemed endless.

I remember asking your father to contact your grandparents to check on Lionel, who was, of course, fast asleep, as the clock ticked away the first hours of November 13. After some time, I remember someone throwing your Daddy some scrubs, and I remember giggling when he asked for bigger booties to cover his size 12 shoes. The giggles gave me a quick respite from the nerves that I was feeling, so I asked your father to snap a few pictures of me, scrub cap and all, to mark the moment before my bed was wheeled down to the OR, where we would finally, yet prematurely, meet you, our second son.

I remember the nurse anesthetist greeting me as I was wheeled into the OR, and I remember thinking how kind he was as he cracked jokes with me while we waited for the anesthesiologist to arrive to give me my spinal. I remember meeting my surgeon and thinking to myself how calm she seemed in comparison to my desperate desire to jump outside of my body for the next few minutes, like one of those creepy Jack-in-the-Box toys that children play with. I remember looking off to my right side at the baby warmer and thinking about you, the little boy that I was about to meet, and how in just a matter of moments, you would be placed in that bassinet, newly in existence in our world. I remember thinking, at every moment, from the instance that I jostled my body from my hospital bed to the surgical table, that this experience – this opportunity to be conscious and awake for your arrival, for the birth of my second child – was quite awesome, and, at the same time, was unbelievably overwhelming for me, precisely because I didn’t have that opportunity when Lionel arrived.

A few moments after your Daddy entered the operating room and took his place by my side, I remember feeling the odd tugging of pressure, a sensation that was new to me because I wasn’t able to be conscious during Lionel’s birth. As tears flooded my eyes and slipped down the sides of my cheeks, I remember feeling surprised, embarrassed and a bit shameful about my reaction to actually being able to experience your birth, for by the time that the surgeon peeked around the curtain, her gloved hands holding you, a tiny baby boy, pink and beautiful and boasting spiky hair and not making a single sound, my tears had morphed into sobs.

Quincy-Newborn

With every ounce of strength that I had, I let out a sigh of relief upon seeing your little body, your sweet face cradled in the surgeon’s arms. Between sobs, I begged your father to be by your side as the medical staff checked you out. Your father looked so proud to stand by your side as you experienced your first moments in our world; I had missed experiencing these first moments with your brother, and I felt so overwhelmed with the emotion of seeing your father as a new {again} Daddy.

The nurses announced your weight – five pounds, eight ounces – and another heaving sob escaped my throat; I couldn’t believe how small you were. Your little lungs needed some help at first, so after a few minutes of oxygen, you finally let out a wonderful burst of noise – your first cry – and I dissolved into a sobbing mess once again.

“He’s so small…he came too early,” I choked out between sobs to your Daddy, who was still by your side.

“He’s perfect,” your Daddy said. The nurse anesthetist echoed his sentiments, too, to try and ease my worries as the surgeon continued her work on me.

My sobs only continued when your Daddy finally brought you over to me. You were swaddled tightly in a blanket with just your sweet plump-cheeked face greeting mine, and I stared and stared at your little face through my tears, begging you to be okay, to be strong, to be healthy.

I know that people always say this about childbirth, and about children in general, but it became clear to me, as my eyes met yours for the first time, that I have experienced two distinct moments in my life in which I truly saw God, in which I could feel His presence at the helm of my life, and both resulted in the birth of a beautiful boy. While I have long loved God as someone in great need of grace, I realized that never before in my life – not during times of worship, not in moments of stress, of grief, of complete joy or utter sadness – have I so intimately felt God’s hands around mine, and around those of my children, than in the moments in which you and your brother were born. Oh, to feel His love realized in the form of a baby, my baby; yes, as I looked at your sweet face and promised you the best of me – to be for you, and for your brother too, an indestructible, endless net of love and faithfulness, ever positioned so that I will always catch you – I was able to glimpse how immense our Father’s love is for us.

Quincy-Mama-Newborn

As tears continued to wet my face, I asked your Daddy to bring your cheeks close to my lips so that I could kiss you, just like I do to your brother countless times throughout each day, just like I will do for his, and for your, entire life. When my lips finally brushed your skin, an act of love that left evidence of my tears on your sweet face, my sobs finally calmed, and I relished in the joy of your beautiful, unexpected arrival.

xoxo,
Mama

{all photos by Creative Kindling}

welcome baby quincy!

in the wee hours of the morning just one week ago, Jord, Lionel and i welcomed little Quincy August Gillis into our world. he has quickly charmed his way into our hearts, and we couldn’t be happier to have him in our family!

his early arrival {2.5 weeks ahead of his scheduled c-section, at just 36.5 weeks} granted him a short {36 hours-ish} stay in the NICU due to issues with maintaining his blood sugar levels, but {all thanks to God}, he rebounded quickly, and we were able to come home together as a family this past Sunday.

here’s our youngest boy at birth; he came to us at 3:39 in the morning, arriving at 5 pounds, 8 ounces and 17.25″ long:

Quincy-August-First-Photo

and with his big brother, who {thus far} has been incredibly kind and gentle with his baby brother:

Lionel-Quincy-First-Meeting

that’s all for now – birth story to come. xoxo, Sara, Jord, Lionel and Quincy