Friday, May 30, 2014

This is Life as a New Mom

OK, Liz. Just because you packed a ton of candy in your lunchbox doesn't mean you have to eat it. All at once.

My husband's job keeps him on his feet all day, most days. Yesterday was a training day, though, and he was sitting for 8 hours+. It's like his energy gets all out of balance. He had to go for a run after dinner, feeling restless, and made me hide all of the candy I had in the house.

I hid it in my lunchbox. I brought my lunchbox to work, knowing that I hadn't packed any real food in it in the rush to get to work after hitting snooze for an hour.
Now the candy's hidden in my belly. I'm not beating myself up over it.


I didn't realize the importance of relaxation until I tried to hand-pump my breasts at a Dave Matthews Band concert.

I became a mom at 26, in January of 2014.

By day, I'm an editor at a food magazine. I'm a mom, blogger, home cook, reader, wine lover, wife, Pittsburgh-born and Wisonsin-living cheese lover and party animal. (Not really, no. Not that last one.)

Post partum depression hit me hard around 6 months after my daughter was born. I'm making it my mission to find the funny in therapy.

I try to make life beautiful for my family.

My husband and I have two dogs, who have fallen dramatically in the chain of command since we brought our daughter home from the hospital.

A high-school guidance counselor told me, when I was 15, that there was "something zen" about me. She then proceeded to give me career advice that I would never follow.

I believe motherhood is 100% the noblest of pursuits, whether you are able to pursue it full-time or not.

I do have a knack for being pretty chill, and I hope that that rubs off on you, too. Cause we all know motherhood could use some relaxation.

*Note: This blog not intended to be a substitute for a hot tub and a bottle of wine. But when those are out of reach, see me.

Let's talk: zenmastermama at gmail dot com.

This Is Not Your Mama's Blog Post

Because she didn't write it.

Seriously, what's the deal with that phrase? "Not your mama's..." I hope it goes away soon.

I have to admit that I thought it was cute at first, in some product names. "Not your mama's shampoo." Or something like that. It was fun.

And then my editor pointed out that it's rude. You should want something to be your mama's or grandma's. Mamas and grandmas deserve respect.

But really, I want to say today that you won't be just like your mother, but (in most cases) you will be lucky if you are. Motherhood is the most ancient of traditions, and the most personal. Unlike your childhood, you can make your motherhood whatever you want it to be. Wanna be a flower mama who wears long hair and maxi dresses? Do it. Wanna be a corporate mama in Hilary Clinton-esque power suits? I dare you. Wanna be both? You got it. Wear all the hats you want, all the outfits or uniforms that suit you, because you do a million different jobs. You can be it all. You can have it all.

Except for sleep. It's a waste of energy to even think about that.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Elephant in the Room—the Myth About Nursing and Weight Loss

I found myself reaffirming my love for my own body a la Jessica Simpson's Weight Watchers commercial. I love what my body has done, and I am so grateful for the life it created. My body amazes me and I am incredibly lucky to have such a healthy vessel that brings me so many blessings.

But then there's stupid me, who notices in the Target changing room that my arms are FAT. Those florescent lights don't help, but really, my body is not what it once was. Let me assure you that I'm not beating myself up over this (Moms, you get it. We don't have time for that kind of nonsense.) But I want to be strong, I want to be fit, and I am so damn cheap that I don't want to buy a whole new wardrobe and I look like a fool in most of my pre-pregnancy clothes.

So today I went to Target with my baby (and breastfed her in the changing room) and tried on different yoga pants and workout clothes. It must be like what I described here, where you've gotta be dressed for the part. 

I put on my new workout outfit, took some pictures (to hold myself accountable). Promised myself I would work out when my daughter napped, fed her. When she napped, I popped open a beer and relaxed on the couch. In my new workout clothes. 

Why do they have to make them so comfy?

Anyway, I don't know if you've had the same experience I have, but nursing has not helped me shed all of the pregnancy weight. In fact, for some reason, I feel like my arms are bigger even than they were when I was pregnant. So I googled this. And here's this terrible article:

Oh, yeah: "'It’s understandable for women who only gain those 25 pounds to be back in their skinny jeans two months later because you can lose 10 pounds in two months, whether you’re breast-feeding or not,' Zuckerbrot says."

Sorry, but no. I gained a healthy 30 pounds, and was at an ideal weight before pregnancy. No skinny jeans for me. I've been nursing for four months now. 

I will say that nursing definitely helped me to get back into my pre-pregnancy "fat" jeans within six days. Your uterus is shrinking so rapidly because of the hormones released by breastfeeding that it literally hurts. Think menstrual cramps. 

Women's Health, let's stop with the articles like this about nursing and weight loss. Let's stop expecting moms to be "back" in any kinds of jeans. There is no back. There is only forward, and your body is never going to be what it used to be. It may be better, it may be worse, but the only thing for certain is that it's going to be a mom's body. It's going to be a body that your children lean on when they need you. It's going to be the body that carries sleeping babies in from the car and tucks them in at night.

My sister and sister-in-law, lucky ladies, told me that nursing helped them lose ALL of their baby weight. They only warned to not eat as much once you stopped nursing. Well, sorry, my body is holding onto some fat, apparently (about 15 of those 30 pounds gained). I want you to know that nursing doesn't guarantee a ton of weight loss, and we shouldn't expect or want it to. If you're nursing, you're still eating for two, so be healthy and be good to yourself and your baby. 

And feel free to relax on the couch when baby's napping. In your workout clothes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Maya Angelou Knew

She said, "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."

That can sound like nothing more than a platitude. A nice thought. Wouldn't it be nice if the world worked that way.

But I've been lucky enough to live that. My husband and I met in Costa Rica while we were both studying abroad there. We had classes together, were signed up with the same company for housing and tours and excursions and all that. He was from Wisconsin, where he was in his junior year in college, and I was from the Pittsburgh area, where I was also finishing up my bachelor's degree.

When I got to Costa Rica, I was engaged to someone else. I broke it off within a few weeks of being there. It was messy and confusing and I didn't have a reason other than the fact that I was happier without him. I knew it was time.
(People, please, it is my sincere hope that you never feel like you have to have some sort of concrete reason to leave a relationship that isn't right for you. Cheating, lying, abuse, anything like that doesn't have to take place for a relationship to be wrong and holding you back from your true destiny.)

I was made, by some, to feel that I was wrong and frivolous for leaving this relationship. Those who didn't express that feeling believed that I was lying and that I had cheated, or that I had met and fallen in love with the man who has become my husband by that point. Neither of these judgments passed by others felt good. It didn't feel good to move all of my things out of my ex's house. It didn't feel good to make him hurt so badly.

But it was right.

My husband and I had started dating in Costa Rica the last two weeks that we were there. It defied logic. When we were together, we would ask each other "Why are you from ___?" knowing that continuing our relationship would be pretty much impossible.

Pretty much. But not entirely.

We dated long-distance for two years, flying back and forth (luckily, flights were direct and under $150 round-trip then) every month or two to visit each other on our holiday breaks. We got to know each others' families, we fell deeper in love, we video chatted every night. We trusted each other. Major long-distance meltdowns were few and far between.

Mike graduated college first. He applied for jobs in both mine and his hometowns. He got a job in his. So it was his home state of Wisconsin in which we settled down, me finding work as well. We were both fortunate in the difficult economy of 2010.

We jumped hurdles, leaped fences, and penetrated walls to arrive at our destination full of hope.

And now we have a daughter. When Mike's more invested in whatever's on the screen of his iPad or iPhone than he is in me, or I'm in shit-storm of a mood because I haven't slept in months, I can remind myself that it's our job to teach our daughter Maya Angelou's lesson about love. If she doesn't find it in us, where will she? Will she at all?

I want my children to believe that. I want them to believe in a story like ours. Words like hers keep me civil when I just want to be a bitch. They keep me doing sweet things, buying my husband's favorite things at the grocery store even though they're not on sale. They keep me smiling as much as he does, when he brings home ice cream and says things like "I just love surprising you" and "Spoil Mommy Day continues."

It arrives at its destination full of hope.

I see it as our job as parents to keep that hope alive if in any way we can.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oh Hello, Heirloom Tomatoes!

I stopped at the grocery store for my husband tonight on my way home from work. I was embarrassingly excited about the heirloom tomatoes on display ($2.79 a pound) and decided that while he could eat the Velveeta shells and cheese he so craved, I was gettin' a tomato salad. Hell yeah.

I decided to keep it simple, let the beautiful tomatoes stand out. I grabbed a package of fresh basil, fresh mozzarella pearls (lotsa mozza), and some white balsamic vinegar to mix with the olive oil I have in my cupboard.
I mean, look how beautiful these are inside:

What's wonderful about not using a recipe is that you can make this exactly what you want it to be. Use four medium-to-large tomatoes like I did, with just one package of pearls, 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil and 1/2 Tbsp. vinegar, a light coating of salt and pepper, and just three large leaves of basil (about 1 tablespoon chopped). If you LOVE cheese, use one less tomato, or add another half-package of the mozz. Same idea: Basil lovers, go crazy.
I even liked the way it tasted without salt and pepper, but just a light sprinkling of each made the other flavors pop. The first time I made it, I sprinkled salt and pepper on top of the tomatoes, and the second time (cause I had to make it again, this time to share with the family) I mixed the salt and pepper right in with the vinegar and oil in a separate bowl before adding to the salad.
Lastly, if you possibly can stand it, let it sit for a half hour before eating. The dressing will soak into the mozzarella and coat the tomatoes nicely.

Another note: On 2nd making, I chopped the tomatoes a little smaller. Better for sharing. And for me eating less and creating a mountain of acid in my throat. Just sayin'.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

4 medium to large tomatoes, chopped
1 package (8 oz.) fresh mozzarella pearls
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 fresh basil leaves, chopped

It's as simple as mixing the ingredients in a medium bowl. Toss to coat; let stand for 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Do You Really Need a Childbirth Class?


Even if you've been religiously reading the emails that all those baby sites send to you (Your baby at 16 weeks: She's the size of a large rodent!), googling everything about pregnancy and signs of labor (you start eating like, that's been going on this whole time) and asking your sisters and best friends what their labor was like ("16 hours of hell." "I felt like I was dying."), you still have more to learn.

Even if you don't learn that much, even if it's just one tidbit from each 2-hour class that really makes you think or makes you feel better about what you're about to inevitably do, it's worth it. It's worth it, if not for any other reason, to simply spend the dedicated time at class thinking about your baby and your birth. Putting the mental energy toward your baby. You're away from distractions (ahem, the Internet), you're with a group of people who also want to learn about the labor and delivery process, and you're guided (hopefully) by someone who has assisted with countless births, a few of them maybe her own.

Even if the class, like any learning experience, leaves you with more questions, that's a good thing. It just means that at your next OB visit, you won't meet your doctor with that blank stare, looking back and forth at your husband and her, when she asks if you have any questions. Because now, you will. You'll have questions you didn't know you needed to ask, and she'll have the answers.

And in the end, you'll feel better about and more prepared for bringing your sweet baby into the world. Go ahead, sign up. You won't regret it.

Just take lots of snacks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Welcome, Beautiful Ruby

It's a girl! Another beautiful girl. I asked my husband if he'd be happy if we only ever had girls, because it seems that's all that my family is capable of having.

My third niece, Ruby, was born yesterday afternoon. My brother called while I was busy at work and left a message: "Hey, guess who's here?"

I called as soon as I could, and asked him to tell me everything. I could hear the new baby's cries in the background. He asked, "So does that sound like a boy or a girl cry?"

I answered, "Girl," not thinking that it would be borderline insulting if it were a little boy.
My dad is excited, but no doubt a little bummed that it's not finally the boy he'd been hoping for. Four grandchildren in two years, all of them girls. He wants someone to carry on the family name. He wants a little boy to teach his fishing and hunting ways while he still (sort of) can. 

I'm excited about this next generation of our family, a generation of strong little girls, strong future women. Maybe some of them will pass on their own names. 

My husband said of course he would be happy if we had only girls. Seeing photos of Ruby have me excited for our next baby. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that part of me wants to be like Michele Duggar and just have baby after baby for the next 20 years. But the sane part of me (read: my husband) says no.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When Family Goes to the Hospital

It's hard to focus today.

Life is beautiful. Our children are blessings. My daughter is so beautiful that I could watch her sleep for hours. (Which is why I wake up way, way too early in the mornings.)

At my in-laws' last night, while I breastfed my daughter, my husband told me that my sister wanted me to call her. She told me that both my dad and my sister-in-law were in the hospital. My sister-in-law is 38 weeks pregnant. My dad is 63. My sister-in-law's water had broken. My dad had seen blood in his urine.

I didn't have to try to be excited for my brother and his young family. This is their second child.

Since I'd handed off my daughter to make phone calls, she'd been screaming. As I spoke to my brother, I took my baby from my husband's sister. She calmed down but let out a wail every now and then. All I wanted to do was cry with her.

Blood in his urine. The only men I've known who've had that problem have gone home with a prostate cancer diagnosis. I almost don't want to type that because I don't want to acknowledge the possibility.

As soon as we got in the car to go home, my husband made a joke that I now forget. I didn't laugh but instead snapped at him. He told me I didn't have to get defensive, and I responded, now crying, that all I wanted to do was cry. So I did. He couldn't do much from the front seat but ask occasionally if I was OK. He told me there was nothing to cry about yet; we can't jump to any conclusions. "It could be a million different things," he said. Only it can't.

I fed my daughter again when we got home. I cleaned the kitchen and got lunches ready for the week. My husband told me it would be OK and asked me if I trusted him. I lied on his chest and listened to his heart beat until I fell asleep.

I'm waiting on news of my new niece or nephew. I'm waiting on news from my father. He wants this baby to be a boy, saying it's his only chance of carrying on the Russell name. I want it to be a boy for him.

But I almost don't. Will he give up, stop fighting for life if he knows the name is going to live on?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

You're Doing Great

It's primal.
You rush through your morning, getting baby ready, getting yourself (as) ready (as you can). Pump bag, packed. Bottles, washed. Diaper, changed. Extra baby clothes, at the ready.
You stop long enough to think, "I didn't pack myself a lunch." And your mind is already somewhere else.
You take the gamble, betting that there will be SOME kind of food you can mooch at work. On some level, you know, like every mother, that you can get by. That your baby comes absolutely first, even when you're not thinking, when you're rushing, when you're late for work. Even in these tiny moments that don't mean anything.
They all add up to motherhood. They do mean something. They mean everything. You're doing a beautiful job, mamas. Happy mother's day.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


OK, so I take notes on my phone of thoughts and ideas I have for writing. It's convenient when I don't have the time to sit down and write, i.e., when my baby is screaming for me to feed her.

Yesterday, I looked at my notes and read "I really want to buy sleepwear. I really do. That's how much I"

That's how much I must long for sleep. Seeing a Groupon for sleepwear made me think, on some subconscious level, if only I bought the appropriate uniform, I could sleep again. Like there's a sleep bouncer who only lets you in the club if dressed to his standards. "Sorry, can't let you in. No oversized t-shirts you stole from your husband. And don't even THINK of coming in here with any of those milk stains."

I didn't have the time to finish that thought in my phone. I think that was it. I think.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Today is my daughter's second day with the sitter.

The top of my inbox reads: "FedLoan servicing: Your bill is now ready to view." 
Is this a sign that I'm doing the right thing by staying at my job? To save money so that my daughter doesn't have student loans, like me? Because I could really use a little confirmation.

My mother and I sat on the couch after I came home from work Tuesday night, talking. I went on about my favorite topic since going back to work: quitting my job. I talked as much to convince myself that we could swing our bills without my income as to fish for her opinion on what I should do. If I speak in paragraphs, they all ended with "I just want to do what's best for our family."

I don't know if that's continuing in my career, to show my daughter how hard work pays off and that you truly don't work if you follow your passion. That you can have a good work/life balance. That you can have it all if only you work hard. And don't sleep. 

I don't know if that's staying home with her, to give her the breast when she needs it and maintain a close physical and emotional bond. She's steady when she's with me; easy. 

I don't know if that's being home with her part of the time and taking her to a sitter when I need time to work on freelance writing, showing her in another way that you can live your dream and follow your passion and all that blah blah blah. 

I said to my mother, "You worked. And I don't feel like I missed out on having a mom." 
My mom said, "I did what I had to do. I was the dad in our family."
She didn't say what many single moms do, that she was the dad and the mom. She was just the dad. She was the emotionally distant, demanding, disciplinarian, breadwinner.
Moms are usually a shoulder to cry on, a soft place to land. She was that when I was younger. 

This morning, as I flipped my hair into a bun, my mom sat on my toilet seat with my daughter on her lap and she watched me get ready for work. She explained, "When you said I was frowning at the TV the other night, that's why I need to see the doctor. A lifestyle lift would do me some good. Bring those eyes up."
"You don't need a lift, wear your age with pride," I said, putting my glasses back on. "You should've smiled more. Then you'd have smile lines instead."
"I was married to your father," she said. "There wasn't a whole lot of smiling going on."
I told her that was harsh, not believing that it could have been all bad. 
"Have you met him?" she said.

She did what she had to do. I keep turning her voice in my head, saying that. It was so heavy. Loaded with unacknowledged regret. And what else was it? Anger?
We were poor. I believe your life is absolutely what you make of it. I was born into a house with caving ceilings, a furnace that didn't work. My sister slept on a straw cot in the corner of the room that the five of us shared. I was lucky, I got to sleep in bed between my mom and dad.

Many of the neighbor kids are junkies, living in the ghetto of a town it is now. My mom put everything she bought us on a credit card. She's got debt because of it. 

She's getting ready to retire, and I'm happy for her. That's the one smart financial thing she's done, leaving her pension intact and having an egg for retirement. Now my mom will be middle class like she should be.
I hope she'll smile more. I hope she smiles more because of her grandchildren. Maybe that's why my siblings and I had babies as soon as it made sense for us to. Maybe we wanted to give her something back. I'm just starting to understand the love she has for us, because I never was able to. She's an enigma. But she did everything she could for us.

I stopped in front of my mirror yesterday, looking at the way my eyes are starting to pull down at the edges. I'm 26. But sleepless nights age you faster than cigarettes and binge drinking, or at least they do in my case. Turns out they're a lot better, though, when you're sober and happy and smiling at your daughter.
I smile into the mirror, reminding myself of what my mother said. Hoping my lines will be happy ones.

She did what she had to do.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Nice to meet you

Hey. I'm Liz. I started this blog as a series of emails back and forth between me and. myself. Yeah, I'm that nervous about putting myself out there like this. I'm pretty reserved, I guess. 

Firstly, this is a blog about motherhood. The name for it came from my mother, and I became a mother just 3 months ago. I had planned to NOT have my mother in the delivery room. Here's what made it nearly impossible for my mother to be there as my daughter entered the world:

1. My mom lives 600 miles away and works full-time. It's super hard to plan a trip around a baby's arrival, unless you plan on being away for a month. Seriously. Let's all agree that a due date is a rough guess.

2. I didn't want her there. I thought it was weird that she was there when my sister's daughter was born. I imagined her seeing...things...

And here, respectively, is why she was there: 

1. My daughter came pretty much exactly on time. Not only was she born on her due date, she was here in time for dinner. What a good sport.
My mother was planning to come here on my due date, and she had about a week and a half off, so if the baby was late, she would still be here for his or her arrival. My mother was driving while I was at my doctor's office for my 40-week checkup. I had the doctor strip my membranes for the third time, since I had been having contractions (and dilating) for a solid week. I called my mother immediately after, while my husband and I were going through the drive-through car wash (why wash your car when a baby is a-comin? Your guess is as good as mine) and I could no longer speak through contractions, and they were making me cry. This was about 10 am. Our Ladybug was born 8 hours later.

2. Another baby being born while I was laboring had a very. LARGE. family. I mean, there were at least 40 people waiting in this lobby that was built for maybe 10. Nowhere for Mom to wait. While I was pushing, one of my nurses told me my mother had arrived and that they were going to find an empty room for her...somewhere. At that point, I said, just let her in here and stick her on the couch. As long as she's not staring down my birth canal.

So Mom arrived, looked at me and scooted to the couch. Bridesmaids was on the TV. It was the very end, when they're all singing Wilson Philips or something. 15 minutes later, my daughter was born. It was relatively quiet in the room. I think I grunted at the very end while she was crowning (because that shit hurt) but otherwise, the doctor quietly coached me through. My mom called it the Zen master birth, so here we are.

It took me a while to realize how important my concept of Zen is to me as a mother. 3 months, I guess. While we've been extremely fortunate with both our daughter's health and temperament, we've had tough moments. But the most important and foolproof parenting tactic for us has been to refocus ourselves and make sure that the energy we are giving to our daughter is good and calming.

What spurred me to own this whole zen master idea was nursing my daughter on the couch last night. We were side-lying, and she was screaming in between gulps, because she was tired, I figured. So I started going, "shhhh" as much as I could, but it was riling me up to have to do that. I instead focused on my own energy and thought (no joke, yes this is a little weird, but) "Be a pillar of calm to her." My muscles relaxed, my eyes closed, and—my baby stopped screaming. They feel it. They feel you. It's easy to ignore your own energy and focus on what your baby is doing, but if you can be that pillar of calm to him or her, everything else will fade away and the world will be a safe and soothing place. Isn't that what we all want?

Anyway. I won't pretend to have answers. I just want to share the joy and the frustrations and the love that comes with being a new mom with others, and I hope you'll find this a place of community and connection.

By day, I'm an editor at a food magazine. Going back to work has been hard but wonderful. I'm trying to juggle it all and find a balance that works for my family. We'll get to know each other better, I swear. Thanks for being here.