~ Luci ~

Half deflated balloons drag and bounce across my carpet, propelled from the humming air conditioner.  My house looks like a bomb exploded in it, and I'm pretty sure half my family caught pneumonia last night.  But Luci is 5 years old.

I study her little sleeping face next to me.  Examining her features, searching and searching for any hint of "toddler" left.   Most of it's gone.   The stubby toddler fingers, her round buddha belly, and wild wispy hair are all quickly being replaced by a growing girl who wants her brother to stay out of her room and draws a line of clear distinction between "her toys" and her sisters "baby toys".

Her princess dresses that she wore faithfully for 2 years straight hang quietly in her closet.  Disturbed about once a week for fun, but usually overlooked and passed by.   Picked over in favor of a Justin Bieber t-shirt or a pair of fancy shoes that match a purse.

Her maternal instinct has been in high gear since she was born.  On days she leaves me to go to Maw-Maw's house, she comes to me with a handful of her "kids" for me to watch for the day, with instructions for each one.   Who needs to take a nap, who is hungry, who has dance class.   And when she comes home later that afternoon they better not be in the same places she left them or she will have a melt down.  So I carefully place them: "Madden" in a high chair, "Baby Boo Boo" taking a nap,  "Cleo" watching television, etc…

She comes home, searching the house room by room for her "kids" with a prideful smile and tells me what a great job I did watching them.

It's exhausting, like having a damn "Elf on the Shelf" times 50.  

Her actual birthday was a week and a half ago.  We celebrated with pink cupcakes for breakfast and a trip to her favorite hair salon for a trim and some toenail painting.

But her party was this past weekend.  

I always prefer birthday parties right here under my own roof, but Luci has been begging for a swimming birthday party for 2 years, so we went with it.

Almost everything that could go wrong, did.  

I plan things very far in advance.   I knew she wanted a "Rapunzel" party based on her favorite movie, so I pre-ordered some floating Chinese lanterns (like the floating lights in the movie) months ago….and then we had a drought.   After tossing and turning over it for weeks, I just decided that it wasn't safe and I didn't want to risk burning down someone's house over a birthday party.

I thought I hit jackpot when I found pink LED light up balloons.  They were perfect and we would release those instead.   So I bought 40 of those, and rented helium tanks to fill them with,  but they lost their helium after about 2 hours and wouldn't float anymore.

The custom CD we burned for the party -with her favorite songs and a personalized princess song- was a bust because the CD player at the pool wasn't working.

And then it started raining…at a swimming party.

I took one look at my girl, who was looking at me to take the lead.

I remembered how badly she wanted to go down the waterslide but was too short.  I also knew the manager of the pool was named "Jake" because I dealt with him when booking.  

So I grabbed Luci's hand and led her up 4 flights of wet stairs and told the 16 year-old lifeguard, "Jake says she can go down on my lap because she is the birthday girl."  The life guard nodded, and down we went.

She giggled the whole way, so loudly, and she yelled to me "I thought I was too little for the slide"  - Not today I said, it's your birthday you can slide all day.  "I love my swimming birthday party" - she shouted.  And that, made my night. 

The rain stopped after about 5 minutes and the water wasn't as bad as we thought.  And heck, the kids didn't care.  They would swim in ice water. 

The people who mattered the most were there, they showed up, swimming their butts off in the rain, because they love my little girl.   I couldn't stop thanking people.   They could have stayed home on a rainy night, huddled on the couch,  I'm sure alot of them wanted to.   But they were there to celebrate with me 5 years with a little girl who makes all of our lives a little better just by being in it.  

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I love my village, every single one of you.

In the end she couldn't decide between a Rapunzel or Justin Bieber party so we went with both.  And yes that is Luci's head photoshopped onto all those photos with Justin :)
Somewhere throughout the silliness of the night someone violated poor Rapunzel. 
We blamed Uncle Michael but the real culprit was my own son and his cousin! 

Happy Birthday Luci, you are loved more than you will ever know.   Thank you again to those friends and family members who made the extra effort to celebrate with us.  I will be forever thankful. 

~ Kaitlin & Jordan ~ MARRIED!

Kaitlin is the girl who makes everyone laugh, she is loud, and vivacious and lights up any room she is in.   She had me laughing all day.   I secretly wanted to sneak in the bathroom and slip into a bridesmaids dress and join the other girls.   Jordan is handsome and caring and compliments his new wife like the cherry on top of an ice cream.   They are so happy together that they pull others into their joy just by being around them.  This wedding day went by so fast because I was having so much fun shooting it.
They are so beautiful together.  I absolutely love all these photos. 

Let's go ahead and give Kait a style award for her vision and execution with this Bridal Party.  The boots, the bowties, the flowers.   She pulled everything together perfectly.

Did I mention the ring bearer?  His name is Oscar, he is the loving pooch of the bride and groom and he is better behaved than all 3 of my children combined.  He hung out at the reception all night, weaving in between dancers, going table to table looking for snacks, getting a head rub every 5 feet.  It was definitely Oscars day as much as it was Jordan and Kaits. 

~ Rocky ~

I haven't eaten biscuts and gravy in almost 8 years.   I know this because Rocky is almost 8 years old.

It used to be one of my favorite breakfast meals, my Dad always liked to make it for us growing up.  I used to be able to smell it from across the house.   Now I smell it and want to throw up.

I guess that's what happens when a Doctor tells you your 3 day old baby has a 50% chance of survival and if he did survive, he would likely sustain serious brain damage...and then in the next breath, order you to the cafeteria to eat something.

My husband and I hadn't eaten a thing in about 2 days.  The head neurologist had just sat down and had a very "real" talk with my husband and I on the outcome of Rocky's situation when a very sweet nurse at Cardinal Glennon reminded me 10 minutes later that even though my baby was sick, I was still a breast-feeding mom.   In order to keep up milk production -and pumping and storing my milk- I absolutely, positively had to go eat something. Anything.

The downstairs cafeteria was serving biscuits and gravy.  My husband and I sat in stunned silence as we ate.  I don't remember what he had.   But forcing down food when you are so wracked with grief was simply awful.  I now completely understand the pavlov's dog theory.  Basically, the very smell of biscuits and gravy makes me sick to my stomach…it takes me back to that dark, dark time.

But the opposite of dark is light.

So if biscuits and gravy are my dark, this song is my light.

It's a cover, recorded by the Goo Goo Dolls, that can instantly put a smile on my face on even the worst days.

When Rocky was officially released from Cardinal Glennon and sent home a healed, healthy baby, I couldn't hide the smile from my face.  I don't think I walked out of the hospital, I skipped.  I was wearing my favorite hot pink sweatsuit with a black tank top underneath that proudly read "Mama" in hot pink letters.   I had my hair in my favorite style- pigtail buns -and I hauled his little Graco pumpkin seat out to the car and fastened him in the backseat of my Saturn.  It was a gorgeous October day, the sun was shining and as I pulled out of the hospital parking lot that song happened to be on the radio.

Oh the happy tears were pouring.  I called my husband who was stuck at work… I was barely making words through my tears.  "Do you hear this song?"  I yelled as I held the old Nokia phone up to the speakers.   "This song will always remind me of driving home with our baby!  This is the happiest day of my life," I squealed.

So if biscuts and gravy make me wince with pain like the wounds were made yesterday, the Goo Goo Dolls make me want to dance with happiness and drive down the highway with the windows down-  arm stretched out, feeling the wind on my hand and thanking God for whatever beauitful day he has created- everytime I hear that song.

Rocky had an awesome summer filled with a lot of baseball.

I talked a little bit about his homerun derby here.   But now here is an update!

The Derby was a blast!  He got to spend the morning with Matt Holiday and David Freese.

Cardinal Glennon approached me a couple months ago about doing a story on Rocky and his journey from the hospital to the derby.   First it aired on Fox Sports Midwest, and now they've done a second piece to run on their website, which you can also watch here.  (This was filmed before the weight loss, pardon the fatness)

We are always proud of Rocky.

His dance card is pretty full these days.  The opportunities he has coming up in the next few months are truly fantastic.  I'm not going to go into too much detail, but let's just say even I'm going to get tired of seeing his face everywhere, LOL -

He's also making us proud off the baseball field, as he's starting 2nd grade.

We went to "Meet the Teacher" day at his school.  Rocky kept making this dumb face for all the pictures and Luci kept photo bombing all the pictures.  We were a mess.

 On one hand I was mad because I have a photo of him every year with his teacher, and this year Luci is in it.  But on the other hand, it's truly hysterical.

 Literally, the only one who cooperated was Libby Lu, and that's because she was strapped to a stroller and we shoved a sucker in her mouth.

But his teacher seems lovely and we adore his school, so we are looking forward to an awesome year in 2nd grade.

Look for updates on the other 2 Manno kids later this week.


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