I have slacked alot over the last year on my personal blog.  Despite having SO many things I want to write about constantly, when I have time to write I always write to Ritter.  I have a separate blog where I write just to him…to share funny stories, life lessons, memories, etc.  I have very little from my own childhood.  Only a handful of photos, no videos, no keepsakes, etc.  And my mom has a horrible memory…ha…so asking about specific things from my childhood doesn’t always prove fruitful.  I don’t have any idea when I did certain things, accomplished certain milestones, etc.  I don’t know what I was like except for the vague memories I have.  So…I maintain a blog to him so that he has those things.  He can see what he was like and read about it from my perspective.  It’s also a place to talk to him about things that happen so that he can look back and understand our perspective at the time….losing Jackson for instance.  Or when we have to make tough parenting decisions that he might not understand…I can write to him about it for him to read some day.  I have no idea when I’ll turn this over to him…18, 21, ?  Who knows.  Maybe I’ll have it all printed and bound for him.  It’s something I’m proud of.  I started it when I was pregnant and I’ve kept it up for over 4 years.  That’s an accomplishment given how crazy our life has been since he was born.

Anyway, all that to say… I have barely written on this blog over the past year.  Between work and moving into the house and Ritter, I have rarely had a free moment to write.  So now that he’s 4 I thought we were due for an update.  They change SO much in a year as babies and toddlers, but the changes from 3 to 4 seemed like such a huge leap mentally.  Verbally, socially, developmentally, etc.  He has truly turned into a little boy.  And he’s SO independent.  Also…so much of this might not seem relevant or interesting but my blog is how I chronicle everything for myself…so alot of what I share here are things that I don’t want to forget.  As our kids grow they change SO much and sometimes it’s hard to remember what they were like at a certain age or when they did certain things.  This blog is so important to me for that reason.

Nothing really prepares you for how fast it all goes and how quickly they become little people.  Every morning Ritter wakes up to a little kid alarm, turns on his lights, turns off his sound machine, turns off his humidifier, goes potty, gets dressed, puts on his shoes, turns his lights off and comes downstairs for breakfast.  ALL BY HIMSELF.  I literally don’t even go upstairs in the mornings anymore.  And if I even think about going up there he yells “no mommy!!! I can do it by myself!!!”  And he definitely can.  How did we get here?  Just yesterday I was going into his room and leaning over the crib for those early morning baby smiles.

He also wants to order his own food at restaurants and does an awesome job of it too! And he is very independent with his play.  He orchestrates these elaborate scenarios, makes up games, role plays, etc.  I LOVE seeing his crazy imagination at work.  And socially he is branching out too.  He wants to make friends everywhere we go, wants to introduce himself to people or ask them to play with him.  And he LOVES to make conversation.  It makes me so proud.  I have said this before I’m sure, but, it’s always been so important to me that Ritter be socially confident and socially independent.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or where you come from… it’s the kids who have good people skills who thrive the most.  And who feel the greatest sense of competency and self efficacy later in life.  That’s what I’ve always wanted for him.  To know himself, to be comfortable connecting with others, and understanding the value of interpersonal skills.  When we meet people or talk to people on the phone he always wants to come up with things to ask them….and he does an awesome job most of the time of asking relevant questions.  Sometimes he’s a normal 4 year old boy and blurts out the occasional burp or fart reference, ha, but most of the time he’s quite the little conversationalist.  He’s on cloud 9 when we have people over.  He wants to talk their ears off and entertain them.

His independence has also led to more responsibility and alot more opportunities for him to be proud of himself.  He is able to help out around the house more, clean up his playroom almost completely by himself (instead of me doing most of it and him just putting one or two toys in a box), help empty the dishwasher, put away clothes, help prepare meals, etc.  He loves to help and he’s really good at following directions.  I’m very grateful that he feels so much pride in being helpful and productive.  Let’s hope that sticks!

Music is a HUGE part of our lives.  Sometimes we go days without even turning on the television…but there is music in our home constantly.  And when we ride in the car we are always jamming.  Ritter, not surprisingly, has developed an amazing musical palate already.  We listen to everything…so he does too.  He loves classic stuff, old school country, pop, blues, rock.  We have tried to expose him to as much as we can.  He really loves The Band, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Miranda Lambert, Michael Jackson…and I’m currently working on getting him into Neil Diamond..eeeeek!!! He used to be pretty chill with whatever we were listening to but lately he’s got to have a say…not surprising.  So we take turns in the car… Ritter’s pick, mommy’s pick, daddy’s pick, and so forth.  And some days he just wants to go drive and listen to music with the windows down.  And most of you know that’s literally my most favorite thing in the world.  Ah it makes me so happy.  And he LOVES to tell Siri what to play.  He speaks super clearly into the phone… “Hey Siri play Wagon Wheel by Old Crowe Medicine show!”  And she does!!!  And sometimes she doesn’t understand him so he does it until she gets it.  And when she gets it on the first try he’s SUPER proud of himself!  He’ll just walk up to my phone randomly at the house and be like “Hey Siri play The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert.”  And she does.  It’s hilarious.

On a side note Ritter asked me where Siri lived the other day and I had to go down this whole rabbit hole about computers and programming …but I think he got it for the most part.  It was a pretty funny conversation.

We’ve also started taking Ritter to some live shows and he attended his first music festival this summer…SlossFest.  He stayed with my mom and stepdad all weekend and they just brought him to the festival for a few hours on sunday and came back and got him.  He was able to see a couple of local bands but the highlight was being up front for Judah and the Lion on the big stage.  They are such a fun and energetic band and he was enthralled!  He loved the whole festival vibe.  All the people, the food, the music.  We also did an iron pouring.  We carved our names in this sand block thing and they poured hot iron into it  and cooled it and now we have this neat commemorative paper weight!  The whole experience was perfect.  And I’m so glad we tested the waters with just a few hours rather than trying to take him for the entire day.  I’m excited for when he can finally do the whole thing though.  I see alot of festivals in our future!  Here’s a link to the whole album from the show with pictures and videos.

Mr. Rogers…
We don’t let Ritter watch much TV.  We watch it when he’s sick, when the weather is extreme and we’ve been cooped up for days, or when traveling. That’s about it. I totally don’t judge people if their kids watch tv…I feel the need to say that because apparently when I talk about things I do, some people think I’m judging them if they don’t do them also. I’m not. This is just what we do at our house for a multitude of reasons. So anyway…he doesn’t watch much TV.  Typically he gets one 30 minute show a week or so.  And when it IS time for TV I try to make sure that what he watches is quality.  So I started going on YouTube and finding old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood from the early 80’s.  And, to my delight, he LOVED it.  I can’t even tell y’all how special this is for me.  And since Ritter has gotten so into Mr. Rogers I’ve been reading up alot on Fred Rogers personally and he was a super special and fantastic human being.  I always knew that he talked with kids about how to deal with feelings, tackled difficult issues on his show, and was a huge advocate for children…but I’ve learned so much more about him and it makes me so proud that Ritter loves him so much.  We will be driving down the road and he will just start talking about him…like they are buds!  

Okay so the other day I am cleaning up the kitchen from breakfast and Ritter is playing in his playroom.  I notice he goes upstairs and brings down some things.  Then I hear him in his playroom singing the Mr. Rogers theme song.  Then I realize he is actually performing an entire episode.  I try to video him and he clams up and stops.   Of course.  So later on I was able to set up my camera on the tripod and get some good video of it.  But basically here’s what he did…  He got several shirts and jackets from his room and hung them up in the playroom closet.  He comes in singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and goes to the closet and changes out of one jacket or shirt and into another – just like Mr. Rogers does – then he changes his shoes – just like Mr. Rogers…. Then he goes over to his bean bag, sits down, and starts talking to his “television neighbors.”  He would talk to them and show them things and explain what things were.  Then, like in each Mr. Rogers episode, he went to the land of make believe.  And he created these scenarios there where certain things were going on with the make believe characters.  And he basically narrates this whole thing for his viewers.  I had to just turn on the camera and let it record and walk away because if I was watching him he clammed up and wouldn’t talk.  I hope to go edit all the video down to a short clip and put it on my YouTube channel eventually.

Losing Jackson…
Most of you know we lost our sweet Jackson on July 14th.  2 weeks to the day before Ritter turned 4.  I was going to share a little about that and how Ritter handled it all but it would just be easier to link to the blog I wrote to him about it.  It says everything I would want to say about the situation.  But overall…Ritter handled it beautifully.  I hate how many people hide death from their kids or lie about what happened to their pets.  It’s a part of life and something they will experience alot if they are animal lovers.  It’s a completely appropriate thing to share with them and my belief about that was only reinforced by the way Ritter handled it.

I wanted to mention a few other little things because I don’t want to forget them as he grows….

We have had the same bedtime routine since Ritter was a newborn.  The times have changed, but our routine is basically the same.  He’s a creature of habit and, like his mama, sleeps better if he has his whole bath/bed routine.  We occasionally skip bath but it’s rare – he always sleeps better when he’s clean.  Anyway, we always do bath, lotion, pjs, reading, hugs, prayers, and a song.  One night maybe a year or so ago, Eric referred to our “family hug” as “Ritter sandwich”… then this morphed into referring to our Ritter sandwich with other food references… “Ritter hot dog,” “Ritter taco,” “Ritter panini.”  You get the gist.  So now every night when Ritter is about to go to bed and we go to do our big family hug, it’s this contest to see who can come up with the funniest Ritter food reference.  We laugh and laugh and laugh.  It’s literally his favorite part of the night!  If we are in a hurry or try to skip it he’s like “no mommy we have to do Ritter hot dog!”  Here are some of my recent favorites.. Ritter poptart, Ritter toaster strudel, Ritter biscotti, Ritter roll up, Ritter quesadilla, Ritter sushi, Ritter biscuit…the list goes on and on.  I know one day he won’t live for our sweet snuggles and nighttime hugs like he does now.  I’m savoring these precious little moments!

Now that Ritter is getting bigger and so much more independent, we are traveling with him more and it’s SO much fun.  He’s so easy going and since he’s always been a rockstar sleeper he can sleep anywhere.  So we recently took him to Florida to visit my dad (his first time flying), then to the Bahamas, then to the beach with friends, and then to Tennessee for the Eclipse.  We made some of the BEST memories this summer and I can’t wait for more Craig family adventures.  We are taking him to his first SEC football game in a couple of weeks and hope to work in a camping trip before it gets too cold.  These kinds of experiences only reinforce my decision to have an only child. As he gets older he’ll want to bring friends along on our trips and that’s totally cool. But for now I so enjoy it just being the 3 of us and all of the special memories we are making as a little family!

He’s still sleeping 10-11 hours a night and will still nap 2-3 hours if we let him.  However…we are able to push bedtime back later now and he can finally handle it!  This has been awesome because we’ve been able to take him to do more stuff now that we don’t have to rush home for bed time.  We’ve taken in several Barons games this year and it’s been so fun.  And about that nap… we’ve tried skipping it altogether about 2 times and that was rough.  He’s awesome at the actual time of nap…seems to blow right through it without any problems.  But once we go to get ready for bed later in the evening he’s SO overtired that he just melts down.  So…now I’m focusing on getting him used to less daytime sleep.  The school has shortened their nap down to only about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.  At home he was routinely sleeping 2-3 hours at nap.  So now I’m trying to cut nap at home down to about an hour or 1.5 hours so that he can, hopefully, handle no nap soon.  We are taking him down to Auburn for a game in a couple of weeks.  There won’t be a chance to nap and we will be getting home late…so everyone pray for us!

One of the other big changes I have noticed over the last year is Ritter’s ability to regulate emotion.   I noted in my 3 year update how much he had grown in his ability to talk about stuff and process feelings.  That has grown even more and now he seems to regulate his emotions and behaviors so much better.  There are just less and less meltdowns and tantrums.  He’s always recovered very quickly from them and responded well when we go back to talk about things.  But recently he just seems to be better and better at this and I’m over here like “praise jesus!”  I’ve heard from SO many moms though that 4 to 4.5 was rough.  I think there might be something developmentally that happens around 4.5 that causes some angst in them. We shall see.  But right now I’m enjoying how fun and easy going and happy he is!  He has his moments…but they are few and far between.  I also work really hard to give choices and allow natural and logical consequences to play out.  As always, even if he doesn’t like something he tends to respect my limit or boundary once I explain my reasoning.  It takes a bit more effort but I’m grateful for an inquisitive and independent thinker.  Listening to his gut and asking questions and challenging the status quo are super positive traits that will make him successful some day.  I do everything I can to respect his desire for understanding the reason/logic behind something.  I don’t want him to just do things because people tell him to.  And..he respects me more when he understands the “why.” I challenged authority alot as a child and it was something that many teachers tried to break me of.  But…I had so many teachers that welcomed it and used it as a teaching tool.  Ritter will have to understand that not everyone is going to stop and explain their reason for things to him.  However, when things don’t make sense to him or seem unjustified, I don’t want to squelch that natural thing in him that questions.  Listening to your gut is a skill that many people don’t have.. and I want to strengthen that in him as much as possible.

Now for some of my favorite photos from the last few months…

Spring family shoot at the botanical gardens.

New Years Eve at an old plantation in Louisiana

Ritter LOVING his first music festival. He’s got the bug!

Such a big kid!

Ritter with his bestie Harper at Urban Air

Ritter’s 4th Birthday jam session with his favorite musicians!

Ritter’s birthday party was such a blast. We were so happy so many of our friends and family could join us!

Hanging at the park back in the spring… he’s changed so much in just a few months

That smile!

Love this!

A hot sticky afternoon in Montevallo…post pool and nap hair…but that pose is on point!

We are loving our golf cart adventures.

Our flight back from Florida in March.

Bedtime family time is our favorite!

Our sweet sweet Jackson. Oh how we miss him.

This is the best!

We love our Starbucks dates on Fridays.

One of my favorites from our trip to the Bahamas in May.

I love this shirt…and he does too!

So much fun at the Barons this summer!

My sweet sweet boy!

We love the creek!

Neighborhood ice cream shop for the win!

More SlossFest fun!

He was so proud of his wristband.

Lots of pickin’ and singin’ on the porch these days!