Sunday, March 1, 2015

In Photos—Newborn vs. 1 Year

Once again, my beautiful wonderful insanely talented generous and sweet sister took some pictures of my family. We thought it'd be fun to recreate the photo that forms the banner for this blog; the "zen" photo that looks so peaceful and happy and calm and, I mean, zen. 

We had some fun. The differences between then and now?

A year ago, we took probably an hour or more to set up and take the photos. My daughter was just a few days old and sleeping so much that I'd have to wake her (and keep her awake) for breastfeeding. I remember, when guests were over, running away to my bedroom to nurse her because I had to nudge her and play with her cheeks and move around so much to keep her awake to properly feed. And that's awkward when you're sitting next to your father-in-law, udder cover or not.

This year? It was not so zen. Hurry up, take the pictures before she crawls (or cruises, or takes a step) away. Hurry up and snap it before she...oh. Yeah, that's my mouth.

And my nose.

We did get some beautiful shots, though.

The main difference between this year and last? When we took those first photos, I thought I knew how this was going to go. I knew how I'd be as a mom and I was going to be great. I knew my baby would be wonderful and I would keep loving her more than I ever thought possible and all the answers to all the parenting questions in the world would come to me naturally. I wouldn't get PPD because I'm healthy and everything has gone so well and my life is wonderful. 

Some of those things are true. Some of them are not. But mostly, I'm happier knowing that I don't know shit. I don't know how I'm going to be when my daughter goes through the million phases that make up a young life. 

Another difference? My hair is a lot shorter and I'm no longer wearing a nose ring. Both consequences of my daughter's curiosity and need to grab everything she can reach. You do what you have to do.

I am not always zen. It's great to aspire to that, and maybe I am relatively zen, but the most peace I get these days is from knowing that I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm doing a good job. I get the most zen from knowing that my daughter is happy. Now she's waking up. Excuse me while I grab the coffee I left in the microwave an hour ago.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Happy Way to Be Sad About the End of the First Year

Though I was probably the most rested I've been on a work day in a long time, I had none of my usual makeup on, my hair was a mess, and I wasn't even sure I was dressed.

I may or may not have left homemade deep-dish pizza where my dogs can reach (and eat) it. My alarm didn't go off. My phone was dead. I woke up 50 minutes late. I had gone to bed almost 2 hours earlier than I usually do. I slept almost as long as my 1-year-old did. It was gloriously un-fabulous. Just needed.

I meant to write last night, before sleep took me. My husband encouraging me to just go to sleep is what really did it. It was hard for me to ignore the dishes in the sink, the dirty floors, the dinner unmade, the groceries in the car.

I meant to write about what a shitty day I'd had. I traced my mood back to shopping at Target. Great deals on baby clothes this time of year. I saw outfits in green with little white shamrocks on them reading "My first St. Patrick's Day."

And I cried. I cried because I already have my daughter's first St. Patrick's Day outfit, and especially because she's already worn it. Last year. I remember getting it as a gift from my in-laws and thinking she'd never be big enough to wear it. She's long outgrown it now.

I've never wished for a time back so hard; and especially not a time so recent. It was only 9 months ago. That makes me happy, a little, in that now my past consists of more things I'm proud of, more happy memories, more joy.

I wasn't myself with my daughter after that moment in Target last night. We were downtrodden. We had a rough day, both of us.

I gave people nasty looks in the parking lot and hurried as much as I could. I got home and fed my daughter dinner of blueberries and reheated deep-dish pizza. Mom of the year.

She laughed a little. She loves cheese. I got my saddest realizing that her first birthday marked the end of a year of firsts. She would never again have a first holiday; she wasn't my baby anymore, suddenly, and I could never get that time back. She then, like so many times in the last year, taught me something without saying a word. Her joy at tasting the pizza showed me that, if we're lucky, this is just the beginning. That though she's had her first Christmas, she has yet to make a list for Santa. Though she's had her first teeth come up, she hasn't had her first run-in with the tooth fairy.

And I smiled. It's easy to be sad about your baby's first year coming to an end, but it's better to be excited for so many firsts that aren't marked by a too-cute Target outfit. Better to be present for the little things, like a first taste of Chicago-style pizza. Better to hope that she has a lifetime full of firsts, that she's never too old to try something new. I hope she smiles every time like she smiled about that pizza.

I didn't leave the pizza out like I'd thought; the dogs didn't eat it. I didn't have a terrible day once I looked at it a little differently, and once I took the time to be present with my daughter's smile. My hair is still a mess. I'm not sure what I'm wearing. Makeup? Ha. But I'm smiling, now, too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What I Learned: The 1st Birthday Party

My daughter's learning to use a sippy cup. She's cruising, says "hi" and generally freaks me out with how fast she's growing.

Baby's first birthday coming up? If you're like me, you're stressing 6 months before the party. Really.

But really really, your first child's first birthday party feels like as big a deal as your wedding. By the time that birthday rolls around, you may be a little (or a lot) more budget-conscious than you were at your wedding, which means you might want to take the easiest cost-saving measure of having it in your (or a family member's) home. If we could have 25 adults and 7 children in our 1300 square-foot ranch, you can do it, too. You don't need a big house.

Just make sure there's plenty of food, drinks, cake and birthday-baby fun. Here's what I learned. Hope it helps you as you plan!

#1: Have a lunch party. 
While you may end up providing enough food for a dinner, you'll likely stress a little less knowing it's not the end of the world if people don't leave up a pants size or two.

Besides worrying less about copious amounts of food, lunchtime works well for a couple of reasons: You can pick a time that works with baby's current nap schedule (if baby has one) and won't feel like you need to rush people out of the house to start the bedtime routine by 6:30.

It also means you can do a menu like mine, which consisted of snacks brought by great-grandmas, salad, pork in a slow cooker for sandwiches, deli meat for cold sandwiches, Split Pea Soup (from Taste of Home) and bread (also Taste of Home). Desssert, of course, is cake. Or cupcakes. Or whatever you choose to have your baby shove his or her face in after lunch. For all I know, you could choose a gluten-free quinoa muffin (because that's a thing).

#2: Save money on decor.
Here's what I spent:
Baby's breath—2 bunches at $1.99 ea
Spider mums—1 bunch at $3.99
Chalk banner—$4
Assorted disposable plates and cutlery—$10
I'm no math whiz, but that's not too shabby. You can feel good about not blowing cash on stupid decorations you're going to throw away. Also the flowers lasted until today. A week and a half later.

This is a good time to dust off (literally, mine were pretty dusty) your favorite platters because the food—and what it's served on—will end up in pictures. You want it to look good! I found the mason jars, bread basket and cake platters you see below in storage in my house. Can't find it in your house? Head to the thrift store...or even a dollar store. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to dress that cheap stuff up. Trust me. I am not crafty.

#3: What not to worry about:
Don't worry about games or activities. Your guests will be happy just to eat, drink, eat cake, watch your baby make a mess of cake, maybe watch the gift-opening and be on their way. It's probably all baby can handle anyway.

Don't worry about making your house completely spotless. I cleaned for, actually, months before the party because we were having houseguests arrive days before the party. But people are going to make a mess. If you're worrying about every little thing, you're not going to enjoy the day. Just do what you can, de-clutter and pretty things up as much as possible, but don't get finicky about it. This day is too short.

#4: Shop around for cake.
I got a bazillion and one compliments on the look and taste of the cakes I'd ordered, and they were made by my grocery store. Another local bakery had quoted me almost twice what I paid. Keep an eye out for cute cakes next time you're picking up donuts or a loaf of bread at the bakery. You might like what you see (and eat)!

Consider that the cake itself ends up part of the decor, so choose a cake that fits with your vision. Obviously at this party, your baby doesn't really get to choose. Take advantage of this. Cakes in years to come will feature neon characters and edible cars.

#5: An oversized cupcake is perfect for the Olympic birthday sport of cake-diving.
And it doesn't have to be matchy-matchy with your cakes, either. I didn't custom-order my daughter's cupcake. I just picked a pretty one when I went to pick up the cakes.

Oh, and the more icing, the better. Clearly.

#4: Take baby's clothes off before the cake eating, or else cover them with a damn good bib. A HUGE bib. It's gonna get messy.

#5: Hire a photographer. 
Hopefully, you have a good relationship with your wedding or newborn photographer, but if you don't, look into finding one. Saving money on decor, food and cake can help allocate a little more for this expense, but really, it shouldn't break the bank because you're hiring them for such a short time.

While my daughter was jumping mouth-first into her heavily frosted first piece of cake ever, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about whether the photos on my phone were turning out blurry. I'm lucky to have my talented sister (Melanie of Melanie Grady Photography) in the family, and she took all of the amazing photos you see here. She really made the day look much more put-together than it was, and she even got me in some of the pictures. How many families do you know where mom never appears in the albums? (That's by design, you might say, but I don't care what I looked like in these pictures, I'm just happy I'm in them.)

Check out my sister's full blog post on the party and her beautiful photos of more party details and adorable babies here.

#6: Take all the help you can get.
I'm not saying you should hit up all your friends for food and drinks and professional services, but when someone offers to help you, for the love of your child, take the help.

The other night, I tried giving my daughter her first sippy cup. I told my sister, "This is definitely my kid. She will not let me help her. She's all about figuring it out on her own." My point? I fought and resisted my mother and mother-in-law and grandma-in-law's attempts at helping. I took a break from breaking down boxes in my basement at 9 p.m. to tell my husband's grandmother, "No, we don't need you to bring anything. No, I don't need you to pick anything up from the grocery store tomorrow."


Not everyone's going to offer to help. Take the offers you get. You'll feel no less accomplished at the end of the party than if you'd done every little thing alone. In fact, you'll feel better. If you're lucky enough to have family to help, don't be a jerk like me and wait until the last possible minute to say, "OK. I need you."

She'll learn to use that sippy cup. I'll learn, too.

Are you planning your baby's first birthday party? How many months in advance? How do you keep a cool head about the whole thing?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Happy Year

It's still strange to write "15" as the year.

Work is not going wonderfully. I feel I'm floundering a little in the career department. I'd had it figured out--a path I liked at the magazine and work I could do well and be happy doing. Until I was miserable. We've talked about this before.

I'm not sure what my work purpose is--or if I have one outside of taking care of my growing family. What should I be? I'm trying to be open to what the universe has in store for me. But maybe I have to decide what I want for sure.

Tonight was a night where I had to peek in my daughter's room as she slept. I still hardly believe that a year ago she was in my belly, and we were counting the days til she'd arrive. She's more that I'd ever imagined, and sometimes I have to see her--at exactly that moment--to know for sure that she IS.

I'm just grateful. I can be something else in the morning.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Moms and Cupcakes

I sat in the planning meeting with some brilliant women, only two of us having young children. The other younger mother said, "We should do cupcakes because schools frown upon bringing a whole cake as a treat...all the cutting and serving. Moms do cupcakes."

I'd been at the food magazine for about two years and my daughter was just over six months old. I hadn't known that about moms and cupcakes.

The conversation continued along the lines of guessing at what moms make and want to make for their children's birthday treats.

I didn't contribute much. All I could think was, "I don't want to be here talking about what moms do, I want to be at home doing those things."

I couldn't shake it.

I have so much to tell you.

I can't believe I haven't blogged about it at length yet, but I left that job. I was an editor, and oh, man, was that fun. It just wasn't right anymore. It didn't work with my life as a mom.

It wasn't a job I could leave at the office, which is funny, because it wasn't like I was saving lives. I was providing entertainment (and recipes) to the masses. But every time I cooked, every time I thought about or talked about or ate food, I thought of work.

That didn't work with my life as a mom.

Everyone at the magazine was so supportive of my leaving. I was shocked. Many said, "You're so lucky to be able to work part-time." And this is true. And while I have a hard time taking credit for some things, I have to allow myself the credit of being brave enough to leave a full-time paycheck for a part-time one. I have to allow myself that because part of me still feels a little like I failed at being a working mom.

Just before my last day at the old job, I confided in my sister. "I'm scared. I'm worried about money. Would I be a better mom to bring in more money and security for my daughter or a better mom to be at home and spend more time with her?"

My sister laughed and said, "Don't even worry about it. If the math works out, you'll adjust. You just can't shop at Anthropologie anymore."

(I have to tell you that I only used to shop Anthropologie SALE items, but yeah, I have cut that shit out.)

I know some women who define themselves as stay-at-home moms who happen to have a part-time job. I know some women who work part-time and define themselves as working moms.

It's been said before because it's true: Every mom is a working mom. Yes, some have it harder than others. Single moms who detest leaving their babies every day and work through postpartum depression without a father in the picture have it incredibly harder than moms who choose to work because they recharge at work and feel they add value to their families and the world at large by working. And the mom who stays at home and doesn't have to work because her husband makes a lot of money and abuses his family? See? It's pointless to compare experiences of motherhood. I'm sick of even writing about this.

I'm making my life–and my motherhood–what I want it to be, or it least it feels like that today. And today, I'm going to hold onto that and I'm going to be happy.

Now, I'm working at a nonprofit balancing two departments on a part-time schedule. It's been working out great. It's closer to home, it abuts a nature conservancy which just brings peace to my heart when I look out the windows and see grassland and water and turkeys. And today, I heard back about a posting my new company had made seeking a proofreader. It seems they're all on board (fingers crossed) with my taking on proofreading responsibilities, which is oddly fun for me. It looks like I may be able to shape this job into something I love and am really good at. (I'm great at proofreading except when it comes to blog posts. I swear. Don't judge. It's a blog forcryingoutloud.)

I haven't made cupcakes since I quit, but I've been playing with my daughter, managing our budget, grocery shopping with the elderly in the afternoons and baking lots of bread and cookies. Does that count?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sleep. Family. Turkey. Sleep.

I should be sleeping. You probably should, too.

I'm both alone and awake for the first time in over a week. I'm drawn to write. There's a pretty good chance I might currently be on The Walking Dead as an undead extra.

My husband, daughter and I traveled to see family all last week. I'm an introvert who lives 10 hours away from her family. Generally, it works. Long visits can be hard. I drink deeply of both the spirits and the intoxicating laughter that comes from being around my blood relatives. I stay up too late. I try to squeeze everything I can into our time together.

And then, I crash. I've never crashed this hard. I've never taken a 10-month-old on a road trip and then continued the family visiting with my mother with us on the way back, either. It's been so, so wonderful to have this extended time with family.

Gratitude is on everyone's tongues, if not their minds. I am grateful. But perhaps this Thanksgiving meant less to me because of the gratitude I try to practice every day. It's not a perfect practice but it is ongoing and it is intentional. I have the most to be grateful for this year out of any before, and I feel it so deeply. I feel it deeply every day.

My daughter was happy yesterday at my husband's family's Thanksgiving, for the most part, though overwhelmed by all of the new faces, all of whom wanted to meet her and squeeze her and make her laugh. My mother and I had to take her for a drive to get her the nap she needed so desperately.

The break from work has been so wonderful. This isn't to say anything bad about my work, but I have been defining myself too much by what I do (or don't do). I left my full-time job over a month ago and have been working at a new one part-time. It's been great for my personal life, but I'm still trying to define myself professionally. This long time off has reminded me to not define myself personally by what I do for work. That is a really, terribly hard thing for me.

How do you do it? How do you find balance between work and family and turkey and gratitude and relaxation, if any?

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend. Hug your family, for me, and try to get at least some sleep.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Feel Grateful for Everything You Have

Yep, I'm talking about material things here.

Maybe you're like me and you feel grateful pretty regularly for the things that really matter: your loving husband, your healthy children, your ability to laugh through the shit and baby food flung around your used-to-be-clean house.

And maybe you're also like me (and the rest of America, I think) in that it's never enough. I'm talking material shit here, people. There's always something more: the next piece of jewelry that's just classic and essential and why haven't you spent at least $1,000 on your solitaire earrings yet? The next wardrobe piece that you'll want to drop $350 on because you'll wear it, like, forever, with anything, but you won't because let's all agree you can find a knockoff deal somewhere. The next stainless steel appliance. The next tablet or iPhone or smart watch or whatever the hell they're inserting chips and internet connections into now.

I've found (sadly, this is revelation-quality shit to me right now) that I'm so much more appreciative of the things (people I'm being shallow today so get over it) I have when they're clean. I can knock off the voice that wants more when I appreciate everything around me.

The one stainless steel appliance in my kitchen looks awesome when it's not covered in tiny fingerprints and milk drippings. At least I think it's milk.

The 1998 Corian countertop still looks pretty bangin when it's glistening-white (when the lights are dim I can pretend it's quartz).

The proportionately large bedroom (large compared to the rest of our home) feels like a luxury retreat without the piles of laundry and diapers and wipes and books and hangers lying around.

The office/guest bedroom feels cozy and cerebral when the focus can be on the stuffed bookcase instead of on the piles of papers and holiday gift bags and envelopes I cleaned out.

Secret: I clean like a pro when I've had a glass of wine. Whatever.

It's all the same underneath; no major renovations up here on the main level. It's just clean. Appreciated.  Taken care of. It took me days of sneaky-quiet cleaning while my daughter naps to get to this point. It's not easy when you're responsible for a little person (or two or three) sharing your home, but it's worth it. I promise it's worth it.