Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Ride the Wave

I am sitting here nursing my new baby. Lately it seems I am always sitting here nursing my new baby. She is two days shy of two months old, her name is Mira Elizabeth, and she is wonderful. But she is also exhausting. Or rather, the combination of her + Dylan + cooking + cleaning + running a house is exhausting. I need to cut myself some slack but I don’t even know where to begin. My expectations of myself are high, what can I let slide when everything seems important? I have a constant searing pain in the back of my left shoulder, my body feels like it has no middle, and I’m hungry. Everyone says I’m in the hard part. No shit! Everyone says it will get easier. When?

Being a stay at home mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Partially because it is hard and partially because I make it harder than it needs to be. I recently realized that my to do list needs to be cut down by about 90% unless I want to walk around all the time feeling stressed and unproductive. I wonder, though, if that would even help, since I think I might have the personality type where you constantly feel overwhelmed no matter what. This is not a good fit for being a stay at home mom.

Lately I’ve been snappish and short-tempered with Dylan and I feel horrible about it. He is testing boundaries a lot, having tantrums, and is super emotional, all perfectly normal for his age but so frustrating for me, especially when I am trying to meet his needs and Mira’s needs simultaneously. Brian reminded me last night that we should protect and comfort our kids above all else. We are the people they’ll rely on to be their safe harbor, so when we are short-tempered or snappish or just straight-up mean, it’s the worst possible kind of transgression. I’ll admit I threatened to take Dylan’s stuffed animals away from him at naptime the other day. What was I thinking? To my credit I did say he could keep his favorite one, but seriously. Taking away the stuffed animals he sleeps with falls squarely into mean territory; that sort of behavior is off-limits for sure. I realized it right away and let him keep all his animals but I felt like a total jerk about it and still do.

At preschool drop-off this morning a mom who had her second child about five months ago asked me how it was going. I said, hard. She said, I know. She also said that one thing that helps her through the rough spots and long days is to focus on three things she is thankful for or that are making her happy at that moment. It’s kind of a no-brainer but that idea never occurred to me! So I’ll choose for now to think about how grateful I am that Mira is a pretty easy baby, that Dylan is communicative and potty-trained, and that Brian goes above and beyond to help me out and take care of me as much as he does our children. Something else that’s comforting is the knowledge that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. Things are always changing, getting harder, getting easier, more fun or less fun, and I am going to try a little harder to ride the wave rather than fighting against it.

The B+ Parent

The amazing Anna Quindlen strikes again! Came across this interview on Momfilter (a newish hip online magazine for moms) and am once again floored by how right-on her observations about parenting are. For example:

“I think having bright lines and boundaries really worked for us, that it made our kids strong and secure because they were clear on expectations and responsibilities. But I wish I had been better able to combine that with letting things go a little bit. Nobody really needs a bath every night. Nobody really needs a balanced meal for every meal. I should have let the freak flag fly a bit more. It’s hard to be a Type A mom. I wish I could have been a bit more B plus, for my sake and their own.”

A big part of my absence from this blog has been due to my desire to focus more on real life, on the tangible things that matter, like being present for and with Dylan. Not to say I’m giving up my own interests and shelving my creative impulses to be the best mom ever, but I’m making a lot of decisions lately by putting them through the “looking back” filter. As in, when I look back on my life, what do I want to see? What will matter? I have been trying really hard to just enjoy this time, because it’s going fast and someday soon it will be gone. So maybe that means I am not writing my blog, but maybe that also means that I am relaxing my standards a little bit and remembering that the purpose of life is to have fun, not to get to the end with a perfect grade.

The Good Enough Mother

I recently stumbled upon* the most amazing article. It was written by Anna Quindlen and published in Newsweek back in 2005 but is still so, so relevant. If you are a parent, or you want to be one, you HAVE to read it. It’s all about the recent emphasis on being the perfect do-it-all mom and how that is not actually what kids need or want. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, especially in my mothering, and this article both opened my eyes a bit wider to reality and also made me breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Maybe life really is about having fun.

* Thanks to Michelle for posting about this article!

Signs

the sign for
The sign for “Cooper”

Cooper
Cooper

We are teaching Dylan sign language. Yes, like actual real American Sign Language (ASL), not baby sign language. I figured it would be good for him to know real signs, and I wanted to learn them, too. It is a foreign language you know! We have started with the signs for “eat,” “milk,” and “Cooper.” The sign for “Cooper,” which I made up, consists of holding your hands up to your head, palms forward, like a giant pair of Cooper ears (see awesome Photo Booth photo above that I just took of myself after a sweaty walk and with no makeup on). Yes, I checked first to make sure that gesture doesn’t mean anything offensive in ASL. We started about a month ago and I think Dylan signed “eat” the other day during lunch. I expected “eat” to be the first sign he used since it is the simplest and the one we are most consistent with (side note: consistency is hard!). He does seem to understand the signs for “Cooper” and “milk,” though, so hopefully he will demonstrate them soon.

Apparently once the babes get a few signs down and have that lightbulb moment that signing helps them get what they want, they start learning new signs at warp speed. I am very excited about this since Dylan seems to have inherited a bit of my “I want what I want when I want it” personality and I have some concern that he could end up being a tantrumy little guy down the road. He already complains intensely when he doesn’t get his way, so I am hoping that being able to communicate his wants will help cut down on his frustration. Even more than that, though, I am just really looking forward to getting a better idea of what is going in that little head of his. Obviously he has ways to communicate now through facial expressions, noises, laughing, crying, etc., but I just think it’s really cool that I won’t have to assume that a certain cry or gesture means a certain thing since he’ll be able to tell me with ASL exactly what he wants.

2010 Resolution

Now that we’re a solid week into the new year I figured I’d better get my resolutions sorted out. Maybe some day I will be one of those bloggers who has their new year’s post, complete with previous-year-in-review and resolutions for the new year all ready to go on December 31st. Ha, whatever. I haven’t even done resolutions the past few years because, for the record, I am not a big fan of the idea. They generally turn out to be ridiculous lofty aspirations that are forgotten about by spring break anyway, and I think goal setting (and achieving!) should be a year-round activity.

That being said, this year I’ve decided to do resolutions because I am in the mood for goal setting! After an 18-month period that involved moving three times (twice over distances greater than 2,500 miles), getting pregnant, having a baby, and breaking my back I was just done. Tired, you know. Granted the moving and getting pregnant were definitely part of the plan, but going through all of those experiences in such quick succession did not leave me with the mental space or physical energy to live as consciously as I wanted to. But, Dylan will be seven months old this week and I’m ten weeks out from the back breakage, and I’m starting to get that itch again. That ambitious type-A only child itch to set some goals and achieve them! Yeah! I’m not one for letting the tides of life sway me, as y’all well know.

Without further ado, my new year’s resolution for 2010:

Be authentic, radiant, and fabulous.

Yep, that’s it. I initially started out with a little list of things that I wanted to accomplish this year and realized rather quickly that the list didn’t accurately represent what I was after in terms of self-improvement and transformation. I needed something bigger, grander, and all-encompassing. Now I know that a good goal is measurable, and I have not yet figured out how to measure this resolution, but it feels like a very accurate way to communicate the kind of change I want to see in myself this year. Let’s break it down:

Be Authentic. To me this means to be my authentic self. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the five definitions of authentic is “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character,” and I think that sums up my feelings exactly. Maybe you are one of those people who always behaves authentically in every situation. I generally do a pretty good job but could certainly do better. I’ve definitely let circumstances influence my choices more than they should have at various times in my life. (Example: working in a career I hate just for the money. So NOT authentic. For the record, my current job, stay-at-home-mom, rules and is very true to my personality, spirit, and character.) The gist of being authentic means to be my truest self at all times. The practical application, as far as I’m concerned, involves heeding my intuition and not sabotaging my gut instincts and true desires by being lazy or cowardly.

Be Radiant. This is just a fancy way of saying “look good,” which luckily I can accomplish simply by purchasing the correct beauty products. Ha! Just kidding! What this really means to me is to shine my light out into the world. To radiate my unique flavor of positive, uplifting, inspiring energy so that others may benefit. The practical application involves setting a good example in terms of my behavior, and being supportive of others rather than critical. That last part is what’s hard since I am very improvement-oriented by nature (that’s a nice way of saying I’m critical). A big part of sharing my positive energy involves giving other people the space to benefit from it in their own special way, and not trying to force a certain result. So I’ll be focusing on being a ray of sunshine for those around me and not getting caught up in the outcome.

Be Fabulous. Uh, does this one really need explaining? It means feather boas and glitter all the time, bitches! It also means having fun, making my own fun, making the best of things, laughing a lot, and being the best version of myself that I can be while forgiving myself for the many mistakes I will surely make. Technically the word fabulous means “of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature,” and I intend to have an incredible, astonishing, exaggeratedly awesome year. I want to look back on my year and be like “Day-am!” or “Wow!” I did it last year, so this one shouldn’t be too hard.

Holiday Traditions

Joe Strummer guarding our Christmas tree
(That’s Joe Strummer watching over our 50’s kitsch Christmas tree)

I’ve always enjoyed my family’s holiday traditions, and now that I’m a mom I am getting pretty amped up about establishing our own unique traditions. When I think about holidays growing up, I think about eating pumpkin pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas, too), watching The Nutcracker on PBS on Christmas Eve, and of course watching A Christmas Story on Christmas Day. This year, I did none of those things! And oddly, I didn’t miss them too much, I suppose because we are in Texas away from family and because so much of our focus right now is on just getting through the days with the whole new baby and broken back situation.

Ideally I’d like to continue most of my childhood holiday traditions as well as create new ones for our little family. Of course most of the possible traditions I’m thinking of involve food! Some ideas include:

  • Seven Fishes Christmas Eve Dinner
  • Board games on Christmas Eve
  • Driving around to look at holiday decorations before Christmas
  • New pajamas for the kids on Christmas Eve
  • Eating something other than turkey for Christmas dinner–maybe a beef roast or beef bourguignon
  • A special New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day meal. Or maybe I should just get to decide on the New Year’s Day meal every year since it’s my birthday!
  • New Year’s Day hike (I’ve actually done this several times when it’s been freakishly warm, but I’d like to institute it as an official tradition!)

I’d also like to get in the habit of making Christmas cookies each year. This is something I did a lot in my high school and college years, but stopped doing as I got older and more focused on healthy eating. I am still enamored with healthy eating, but I want to provide balance for my kids in terms of having some treats for special occasions. I mean, I grew up gorging myself on Halloween candy and Christmas cookies and I turned out okay! I like the idea of having “signature” cookies that I make each year, but I’m also given to experimentation in the kitchen so who knows. Some options I’m already considering for next year:

All that being said, the real purpose of this post isn’t to tell you about our traditions, it’s to find out what your traditions are. I love hearing about the special and unique things that people do around the holidays, things they look forward to and that really “make” the season. So spill ’em! What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Happy Anniversary

first dance

Today is our second wedding anniversary. In some ways that feels so insignificant since, in October, we’ll be celebrating 10 years together. 10 years! But, we always say getting married was one of the best things we ever did, and our wedding was totally kickass, so it’s definitely fun to celebrate.

For our anniversary I gave Brian a haircut that started out great, suffered a fatal mistake, and ended up with him getting a shaved head. In return, he gave me a mix tape (well, iPod playlist, really), and a link to the online application to be an extra on “Friday Night Lights”. We know how to do it up right!

Happy Anniversary Brian! You are the frosting on my cupcake, the marzipan in my ice cream, and the best friend a girl could have. I love you!

cupcakes!

Feelin' Groovy

I don’t want to curse myself by saying this, but I think I might be finding my groove. Sure, you say, Dylan is 11 weeks old now, of course you’re finding your groove. And while that makes perfect sense–I’m getting more experienced and Dylan and I have bonded and figured out how to communicate–I believe the main reason I feel better about this whole parenthood thing has to do with a shift in my perception. I beat myself up a lot in the first couple of months, thinking I would be a Supermom and Superwife and that everything would be just perfect. Like, even though I knew intellectually that that expectation was insane, I still held onto it deep down inside. I felt horrible on the days when I couldn’t manage to get myself fed and showered without help from Brian, even though I was doing a great job keeping Dylan fed and happy. I thought motherhood would mean that I would care for the baby and still manage to be dressed and put together everyday, prepare (and eat!) all our meals, run all the errands, and keep our house spotless. Those of you who have children know how crazy this sounds. And now, through the gifts of time and reason, I do, too. I am finally learning to let go of ridiculous expectations and all the “shoulds” that were piling up in my brain and making me feel bad about myself.

I think the other big reason that things are getting a lot easier for me is that I have made great strides in learning to accept things as they are. This has actually been a goal of mine for years, but as necessity is the mother of invention, I didn’t really start accepting things until I was left with no other option. Obviously it’s okay to want things to be a certain way, but if you hold on to that desire too tightly once you have a child, then you are quickly going to lose your mind. This is coupled tightly with setting priorities in your life, in the sense that your priorities suddenly become very clear when you have a child and it is pretty easy to look at everything that isn’t top priority and say, okay, you’re fine just the way you are. Who cares if your ability to exercise acceptance is borne of an exhaustion so extreme that it leaves you unable to care about so many of the things that you used to deem important? Exactly. For a perfection-minded maximizer like me, acceptance is like a muscle that gets stronger every time I use it regardless of the reason why I’m using it!

So I’m in a groove now where I don’t criticize myself too harshly, stubbornly refuse help that I need, or freak out when things aren’t going the way I thought they would (or should!). As it turns out, parenthood is a great learning experience and opportunity for personal growth. In true Jessica fashion, I used to think I would get myself just the way I wanted to be before I had children. As in, I’ll get rid of all my flaws and and become my ideal self and then I will be good enough and “done” enough to focus on someone else. Ha! I’m so glad I didn’t wait until that happened, because a) it wouldn’t have, and b) becoming a mother has put me on the fast track to becoming my ideal self anyway. The day-in-day-out of being a mother is helping me change in ways I’ve always wanted to but for some reason just couldn’t, and is, amazingly, doing so much for my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. I could go on, but you get the point: parenthood is helping me change in positive ways and as I make those changes being a parent gets easier and better. Ahhhh!

And now, because I know that as soon as you saw the title of this post you immediately thought of that Simon & Garfunkel song and I would hate to let you down:

(And sorry they are all old in this video, but it is late and I did not have the patience to go find another version!)

Days (and Nights) With Dylan

This morning I woke up to the sound of Dylan fussing. Not all-out crying, but making little fussy hungry noises, the kind that typically turn into crying if he doesn’t get fed pronto. They kind of sound like, “Eh! Eh! Uh! Eh!” but the “eh” isn’t pronounced Canadian-style, it’s more gutteral. I laid there for a minute hoping he’d stop, then rolled over and looked at him to see if he was awake or just making noises in his sleep. Totally awake. I sighed, pushed myself into an upright position, and gathered him up into my arms. I was so tired that I allowed myself a brief moment of, “Ugghhh, I can’t do this parenthood thing today,” before I settled in to feed him.

Then we got on with what is turning into our morning routine: after nursing, I change Dylan’s diaper and wash his face, hands, and armpits with a wet washcloth, then I make the bed and lay him on it to watch the ceiling fan while I get dressed and brush my teeth. At that point the routine sort of disintegrates. Sometimes he’s entertained by the ceiling fan long enough for me to throw in a load of laundry or start breakfast. Often, he is ready to be picked up after just a few minutes and then it’s a question of whether or not I can set him down, or wear in him the Moby Wrap, long enough to get food, or if he absolutely must be held in a specific way that prevents me from doing anything but that. This morning he cried almost the whole time I was getting dressed, so I held him for a while, fed him again, and was then able to set him in his bouncer while I prepared my breakfast and ate half of it. Then he started to fuss and I realized it had been almost two hours since he’d first woken up (yes, really–EVERYTHING takes longer with a baby around, somehow even things that don’t involve the baby at all manage to take longer because of baby-related interruptions) and that he probably needed a nap. So I changed his diaper, swaddled him, and nursed him until he fell asleep in my arms. Of course he woke up when I stood up to go put him in his crib, which meant another five minutes of walking him around until he fell back asleep. At that point I finally put him down for his nap and got to finish my breakfast and start a load of laundry.

Now I’m writing a blog post, catching up on email, and plotting my strategy for this afternoon. After lunch we have a few errands to run and Dylan will of course need more diaper changes, feedings, and at least one nap. And then there’s dinner, which, even though we’re sticking to easy meals, is often a big production because Dylan inevitably wants to be held while dinner is either being cooked or eaten. Evenings typically consist of playing with, cuddling, or otherwise caring for Dylan, cleaning up after dinner, walking Cooper or taking him to the park, and maybe sometimes even sitting down.

A couple of days ago I instituted a bedtime routine for Dylan that consists of a bath, swaddling, and nursing him to sleep in the dark. We begin at 9 PM–shutting off some lights and taking any noise down a notch–so that the vibe in the house is more low-key, and then proceed with the bath, etc. My hope is that the routine will encourage Dylan to wind down for the night earlier. Baths tend to relax him, even in the middle of the day, so that seemed like a good thing to start with. Monday night the routine worked like a charm and he was asleep by 9:30 PM (of course he woke up hungry just as I was getting in bed at midnight), but last night it took about an hour of alternately nursing him and walking him around our darkened bedroom to get him to sleep. However, he then slept a solid five hours! Even though Brian and I didn’t actually go to bed any earlier than usual the last two nights, things did feel a lot more relaxed with the routine in place. We really need to work on getting ourselves to bed shortly after Dylan falls asleep so that we can take advantage of any surprise long sleep periods–that will be the next task for us as we continue with this bedtime routine.

So, life with Dylan isn’t hard, per se, but at this point I feel permanently sleep-deprived and hungry, and caring for him is so all-consuming that it’s hard to get anything else done. Things in general are just busier than they were before, sort of like when we first adopted Cooper only multiplied exponentially. If I remind myself that I all I really need to do is care for Dylan and make sure I’m fed, and not worry about all the other things that need doing, then I feel okay about the situation. But when it’s noon and I still haven’t eaten, or I realize there is something on my to do list that really needs to get done and I don’t see how it’s possible I freak out a little bit. Brian is working a ton but has managed to help out a lot with food preparation and keeping the house livable, in addition to pitching in with baby care at night and on weekends. We are slowly finding a rhythm and figuring it all out, day by day (and night).

How We're Doing

I just wanted to drop in with an update about how things are going with us. You’ve probably correctly assumed that we have been crazy busy caring for Dylan the past six weeks, and that is why we haven’t been posting here. I can’t believe Dylan is already six weeks old. While those first couple of days feel foggy and far away in my memory, it also feels like time is passing so fast and I can’t keep up.

We are all doing great. Brian and I are harried and tired, but happy. Dylan has not been a particularly difficult baby as far as we can tell, but neither of us has ever been around other babies so we don’t really know. He cries when he wants something, but is not a bad crier–he settles immediately once he gets what he wants (figuring out what he wants sometimes takes a bit of time, but we are getting pretty good at deciphering his cries). He wakes up a couple times at night to nurse but rarely fusses, so I’m usually only up for about 30 minutes with him each time and then go back to sleep. He’s starting to sleep for longer periods, so I think soon I will be more well rested. I’m just starting to see the emergence of little patterns as far as his sleep goes, and am hoping to start some routines that will help him wind down at night. Right now he doesn’t really settle down for the night until 11 or 12, which is really late for us!

In the past couple of weeks he’s been awake more and he has a great little personality that is really starting to emerge. Just in the last week he has started to smile and giggle in response to stimulation (we’d seen him make smiley faces since birth but he was clearly just moving his face around–there wasn’t an obvious emotion behind most of his expressions). We’ve enjoyed him from the very beginning but now that we can interact with him more it’s becoming a lot more fun. He looks at us and is clearly interested when we talk to him or show him his toys or objects in his surroundings. Just this past weekend he was awake in public for the first time and it was great–he was so content to just look around. He now feels like a little person to us rather than an alien being. We are all, including Cooper, totally enamored with him.

So, things are good–hard but starting to get more manageable. I’m realizing that we need to be more disciplined in terms of priorities and time management in order to make things easier. Like right now, for example–Dylan is sleeping, so I should be taking the opportunity to eat something, start laundry, and/or take a shower, but instead I’m writing a blog post. Probably not the smartest time management decision, but I weighed my options and decided that doing something for my mental/emotional health right now was worth the sacrifice in terms of other things that need to get done. We haven’t had any discernable routines or schedules since Dylan was born–we have really let him run the show–but I think if we can set up some routines for ourselves and stick to them as much as possible it will be helpful. Stuff like eating dinner and going to bed at the same time everyday, that sort of thing. Not scheduling Dylan, but setting up a few anchors in our day so that we don’t feel like we are totally adrift and ruled by the whims of our baby.

Aside from all the love, joy, and laughter, one of the benefits of parenthood is that we are learning and growing so much. I had never changed a diaper before this little guy arrived (and I don’t think Brian had either) and now the diapering is no big deal. Baby poop and spit-up don’t phase me now. I had only ever held a baby one time before Dylan, but quickly figured out how to handle him and now feel like a pro at picking him up, putting him down, changing carrying positions, the whole deal. We’re learning how to read his cues and decipher his cries, which means we don’t feel so helpless or confused anymore. All of these little achievements add up to me and Brian feeling like we can really do this. I’m really surprised and delighted by how confident we are as parents. It’s the most wonderful thing to feel like I can provide my baby with whatever he needs and that I am better at caring for him than anyone else could possibly be. There were moments when I was pregnant when I would think, “Oh, I hope I’m as good a mother as my mother-in-law,” or, “I’m going to have to be taught how to be a mother–I don’t know anything!” and now I realize that my lack of confidence was unfounded. So far, spending time with our baby and getting to know him, and doing whatever comes naturally to meet his needs, is working really well for us.