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.