St. Lucia Day

The holiday season has me a little bipolar. On the one hand, I maniacally play Pandora’s Charlie Brown Christmas from Thanksgiving Day to the New Year and giddily envisage a snowy, cozy holiday, but on the other hand, I’m easily overwhelmed by the stuff of it all: the literal stuff that I want and don’t want at the same time; the emotional baggage that the holidays seem to extract; the way my expectations and reality are at odds with one another.

Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve felt the need to create my own holiday traditions with Jared and Lucia. Indeed, we’ve unofficially deemed St. Lucia Day a family holiday. Last year, as barely functioning sleep deprived parents, Jared and I spent the bulk of the day at BuyBuyBaby frantically seeking a mechanism to help Lucia’s reflux. We canned our trip to look at Christmas lights on Candy Cane Lane, but I somehow managed to make krumkake.

 

 

This year, I slowed down and relished the day with my family.  Jared and I were up before dawn preparing St. Lucia Day bread, the recipe for which we found in this gorgeous book . A mix of flour, butter, sugar, saffron, and raisins, and yeast this bread is both ordinary and extraordinary. There’s something about a yeast bread that forces you to slow down: the bread simply must rise; there is no rushing it.

While the bread rose, Lucia and I spent the morning out and about for errands, her flu shot (oofda), and storytime at the library. By noon, the bread was in the oven.

By 2 PM, Lucia was gleefully digging in after her afternoon nap.

This simple act of making bread made today feel ordinary and special at once. Now, Lucia is tucked into bed in her Christmas pjs, Jared and I are nestled on the couch, the Christmas tree is twinkling, and all feels exactly right.

November 9, 2016

Yesterday, I knew the kind of world I had to raise my daughter for, one that was imperfect, absolutely, but one whose dangers I had at least a basic grip on. I’d do my best to prepare her to face and combat things like climate change, sugar, mean girls. I’d nurture a love of the outdoors and a life where experiences matter more than stuff; I’d expose her to as many foods as I could, cultivating in her a wide palate that favors vegetables over sweets; I’d read books to inspire empathy in her and teach her “I statements” when conflicts arose.

This morning, I awoke, after a nearly sleepless night, to a bleaker world, one where, seemingly, fear has conquered. I feel utterly ill-equipped to prepare Lucia for the challenges that lie ahead of us. Hell, I can barely drag myself out of bed this morning.

But today is also Lucia’s birthday, and I am a mother, so get up I must for my Ricky Ticky, my Skinnamarink, my Rat-a-Tat-Tat, my Lucia, my Lu. Lucia Elaine is, as her name means, my “graceful, shining light” in this world. She has given me hope from the moment I knew she existed. On March 3rd, 2015, the due date of the baby boy Jared and I lost, I found out I was pregnant with her. Ten weeks later I learned I was carrying a seemingly healthy baby girl, one who even in utero forced me to confront my darkness to make space for her to grow. She came rip-roaring into this world in a perfectly timely fashion on her due date, a tiny 6 pound 14 oz, 19 inch healthy bundle of joy. Jared and I felt instantly in love with her, truly, and began what a minister at a wedding of friends termed a couple’s “second marriage”. The past year she has lived up to her name.

She brings light and joy daily. She has a smile that fills her from her eyes to her toes; her giggle is contagious. She loves nothing more than scooting up the stairs and waiting for Jared to chase her. Seeing Jared delight in being a father fills me.

On a literal level, Jared and I have seen more light in this past year, in the form of waking hours not spent sleeping when one should be sleeping hours, in the the form of is this a sleep regression or teething or is she just playing us why oh why can’t you sleep, fine i’ll feed her thank god she’s asleep hours.

She casts a blazing light on all the things I love about Jared that I see in her: curiosity, open-heartedness, brains, and his cute Norwegian face. She has made me love myself better and more strongly when I see echoes of myself in her laugh, in her playfulness, and yes, I’ll admit it, in her ski jump nose.

She has proven that years of putting the cart before the horse in co-parenting in the dorms at boarding schools has prepared me and Jared well for being parents together. He and I make a great team. She has shown a light on the strength of our marriage, as well as the effort that must be put into making it work. Jared and I struggle daily to find enough time for ourselves, for each other, for the house, for the pile of dishes, for our creative lives.

She has also thrown into stark relief the shadowy bits that still need attention. I work to be a kinder, less critical woman because I want to model that for my daughter.

Above all, she has shown me that love is our natural state. When I hear her sweet babbles, as I do even this morning, as she talks to herself in her crib, I know this. When she greets me with a big, wet kiss and a nuzzle in my neck, I know this. Further, I know that curiosity has roots deeper than those of fear when I see Lucia smile at a stranger behind us in line at the grocery store, or when she attempts to launch herself off the armchair and onto the floor or towards the table in relentless pursuit of whatever “not a toy” she sees: my phone, my car keys, Jared’s computer.

If love is our natural state, then lightness is an absolute truth in this world. Indeed, If Lucia has taught me one thing, she has taught me that there is always more room for love, that your heart can grow ten times its size in an instant. So, I will love harder for Lucia, for this world.

Happy One, Lucia.

 

A Meditation on Love

Lucia is lovesick. My heart alternately aches and swells for her. The object of her affection: the chrome handbrake at the top her Bob Stroller, or “Chromy,” as my husband and I have affectionately-cum-resentfully dubbed him, this shiny fixture who has stolen our daughter’s heart with no effort whatsoever while we toil away, blowing raspberries on her tummy, clapping ad nauseam, playing peek-a-boo, and singing Baby Beluga on repeat, to get her to giggle for us.

I remember the first day I discovered Lucia’s fascination with Chromy. She was two months old, and after a night of vaccine-induced sleeplessness, I was desperate for a shower. Fully expecting my shower to be curtailed by Lucia’s mewling, I popped Lucia into her carseat, clicked the carseat into the Bob in the bedroom, and high-tailed it into the bathroom.

At that time, my usual routine had me hopping out mid-soap to pacify Lucia, and then maybe, if I were lucky, I’d get to rinse off later, one arm cradling Lucia, in the sink.

That morning, I spent a blissful seven or so minutes in that shower. I even – GASP – shaved my legs and de-haired the drain. I heard nary a wail from Lucia, who was instead fully babbling with….the chrome handbrake? Indeed, it took me moment to figure who had unleashed the scintillating conversationalist previously dormant in my infant child. As I toweled off and dressed myself for the day, I observed my daughter. She’d babble for a full thirty seconds, the pitch of her voice undulating passionately, the syllables alternately staccato and pointed, largo and tantalizing. She sounded like that coy foreign exchange student who joined your class junior year of high school and invariably mesmerized your male (and female) classmates with her charmingly accented English as she sat, delicately cross-legged, her skirt too short to make dress code, across from you, your Midwestern cankles hidden underneath khakis, in history class. She was an indecipherable vixen. After a short break in Lucia’s speech, during which time her eyebrows playfully lifted as if daring Chromy to match her witty repartee, she would then launch back into conversation, punctuating her points with giggles and sighs.

She was as incandescent as Chromy was inanimate.

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Thus began Lucia’s first case of unrequited love. Observing this relationship unfold over the course of many weeks, I become increasingly worried. I note, for example,  Lucia’s effervescence juxtaposed harshly with Chromy’s containment, her gregarity with his resistence.

Indeed, Lucia is blissfully unresponsive to social cues. She gives abundantly of her love regardless of feedback or the lack thereof, in this case.

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I reflect, my cheeks flushing on cue, on my own naïve cases of unrequited love. Sigh. Pat O’ Connor*. How many times throughout elementary and middle school had I enveloped his initials in a heart in the border of my notebook? How many hours had I spent gazing at him, he who managed to make the white polo and navy slacks of the St. Robert uniform look spontaneous and cool, instead of the algebraic equation on the blackboard? Why did x matter to me, anyway? Now, of course, I see a clear link between my lack of basic math skills and my obsession with Pat O’Connor, but never mind that. In ten years of school together, Pat and I shared not so much as a hug. (As a side note, I’m almost certain Pat O’Connor actually became the firefighter he said he wanted to be in kindergarten. Le swoon.)

I remember also, my cheeks burning now with that peculiar mixture of nostalgic shame and retrospective acceptance, my first experiences of heartbreak. When my high school boyfriend and I broke up, I remember asking my best friend if she thought a person could, like, actually die from a broken heart. While emotionally eating my weight in mint chip ice cream, I’d fantasize about my sadness ushering in a new, traumatically skinny era, and that bright skinnier version of me somehow winning him back. I was a self-loathing narcissist through and through.

When my college boyfriend and I broke up, I spent hours – literally hours – scrutinizing what had gone wrong between us, more specifically what was wrong with me, certain that if I could just locate the problem, I could make it disappear. I’d alternately declare that I was “better off without him” and completely unworthy of him.

I recently looked at the the stream of emails written to him the summer after we broke up. Underneath the insouciant “how are you’s?” and “just writing to fill you on the news that I’m moving to Colorado!” pulsed the desperate hope that we’d get back together, marry, and of course, produce creative, musical children. He was a cellist, after all.

At what point, I wonder, does the joy of unrequited love morph into the shame of feeling unlovable, the curiosity about whether a match might be made into the unreasonable belief that you can will someone to love you back?

Heartbreak made me optimistic and mean at once. When a Facebook photo popped up of him and his new girlfriend, I deconstructed her as harshly as I had myself; I decided her forehead was too big and, then, like some quack phrenologist, made all sorts of assumptions about what highly undesirable qualities this forehead suggested.

I was uncharitable.

I want to protect Lucia from this sort of stinginess.

Indeed, Lucia is magnanimous. So, though I am weary of Chromy, I reluctantly take her cue and decide to love him, if not because she loves him, then at least for the pleasant shut-eye he provides us.

Over the past month or so, however, there’s been a subtle shift. Lucia’s cooled. Her conversations with Chromy are not effervescent but rather measured, punctuated by long stretches of silence, her furrowed brow equally present as her sweet giggles.

I am crushed. Embarrassment and heartbreak are inevitable; far worse is a miserly heart. Now I prophylactically mourn for the day when she starts paying too much attention to what people think, when she takes the safer route rather than the braver one. I fear not her vulnerability but rather the self-preservation that inhibits the risk- taking that connection and love necessarily entail. I remember, for example, my first attempt at securing a date with Jared. It was a Friday afternoon in the faculty room at boarding school. Jared was checking his mailbox, and I was pretending to read the local paper while obsessing over the pros and cons of asking Jared out. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I remember thinking. Deciding that in either case this moment would “make a good story,” I faux-insouciantly commented, “There are a lot of good movies playing tonite.”

“Oh,” Jared said. “Nice.”

And then, as though I were the sort of spontaneous person I certainly was not I said, “I was thinking I might go see one. Do you have any interest in going with me?”

“Not really,” Jared replied, matter-of-factly.

His perfunctory answer stung, but it was actually the very detached nature of it that gave me to the courage to ask him out again, directly, so that my intentions were abundantly clear, a couple weeks later.

At twenty-four, I was both overly confident and absorbed by anxiety. I believed, despite the fact that during faculty introductions two of my three interesting facts about myself (“I once read Harriet the Spy thirteen times in a row; I can recite “Sound of Music” word for word) might also have been my icebreakers at middle school theatre camp), that I was really “adult-ing” for the first time in my life, and I was instantly smitten by Jared. At twenty-seven, he seemed impossibly worldly and adult. I knew he had studied in Israel, his longish hair was both boyish and devil-may-care, he had a real job, and his politics were obviously liberal. Plus, he paired J.Crew button-downs with his Carhartts, striking the perfect balance between hippie and prep.

We were not a perfect match right off the bat.

However, our connection has been forged, paradoxically, both because of and in spite of the sharing of our vulnerabilities. Jared has asked me to face my shadowy bits with courage and honesty, and I have demanded that he do the same.  Certainly there have been times where it might have been easier to throw in the towel and find someone else to love, someone less exigent, for example, but is precisely Jared’s insistence that I “show up” each and every day that makes me love him, and vice versa.

The greater risk is not that Lucia be vulnerable to pain but that she be impervious to vulnerability, to the joy that comes from bravely showing up.  

Thus, rather than bemoan her infatuation with Chromy, I egg it on. Like the stereotypical matchmaking grandmother, I try to showcase Chromy’s best features. I position the stroller so the light hits him “just so”; I cover him with Lucia’s favorite pink blanket and coyly coo, Peeka….BOO” as I whip the blanket off with a bullfighter’s flourish.  I, singing another round of “Baby Beluga,” press the handbrake maniacally along with the rhythm. “Chromy has got moves!” I enthuse to my daughter.

Nothing.

Lucia is as indifferent to Chromy as he is to her.  For several weeks, bedtime is fraught, as when in the midst of a sleep regression, Lucia will not go to sleep without my being in her line of sight. I wake up to her penetrating gaze. She reminds me, eerily, of the velociraptor from Jurassic Park. “Clever girl,” I think.

And then, this morning, just a couple of weeks past her six month birthday, something shifts again. Lucia babbles in her carseat for forty-five minutes after waking up. I manage to sneak downstairs to enjoy a full cup of coffee alone. Now, I peek in at her to see her alternately talking to her toes, and to Chromy. Her eyebrows playfully dance up and down as she emphatically states some point; she strings together sounds I’ve never heard from her before and then lets out a veritable guffaw of laughter.

I feel, first, the familiar flush of jealousy at Chromy’s easy evocation of Lucia’s delight, but this time it is coupled with joy, for if this is what it means for is that she love unabashedly, then so be it. I am grateful for this inanimate object that reveals Lucia’s wide open heart and permits her parents a little extra shuteye.

And then it hits me: this story is not about Lucia’s reckoning with unrequited love, of course, but my own encounter with the unknown, the inevitable heartache, the risk that comes in loving this little person over whom I have very little control, this little person who makes me want to be the very best version of myself, who asks that I face my insecurities to be courageous, who makes me feel, at once, more vulnerable and stronger than ever before.

I stand in the doorway observing Lucia flirting with Chromy and contemplate, anxious now about what, exactly, I’ve gotten myself into. This is the proposition of parenthood: to have control of your heart hijacked the moment that wailing tiny human is placed in your arms, to love someone fully and unabashedly while at the same time knowing it’s inevitable that one day she will look at you not with generous love but with judgment and disappointment, and perhaps, at times, if she is like most teenage girls, even hatred.

My rumination is interrupted by Lucia starting to fuss.

I’ve got no choice but to show up for this tiny, exigent, generous being who has filled in all the stingy holes in my heart. “Good morning, Lu,” I chirp as I kiss her forehead and pull her out of her carseat.  She kicks her legs gleefully and nuzzles my neck. “I love you,” I say, nuzzling back into her.

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Twelve Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the Fourth Trimester…or Things People Told Me, But I Didn’t Understand Until Having a Baby, so Now I’m Telling You

“Pheoby, yuh got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God and they got tuh find out about livin fuh theyselves.” – Janie in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Lucia, 1 day

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Lucia, 3 months

 

Today Lucia is three months old. I could wax poetic about how quickly times is passing (and wow. sigh. is it.) and how magical Lucia is (and wow. is she), but instead I’m going to celebrate that we’ve made it through the “fourth trimester,” that frantic/beautiful/stressful/wondrous/horrible/unpredictable/life-making/earth-shattering/transitional period of time in which a newborn adjusts to life outside of the womb (and parents become parents!). The past twelve weeks, as Lucia has navigated life outside the womb and Jared and I have negotiated our new roles as parents, have been the most joyful in my life but also some of the most challenging. Before I had Lucia, I read at least twenty parenting books, I listened to well-intentioned advice, and I did my best to prepare for her arrival. But just as Janie tells her friend: “You have to go there to know there.”  So without further ado, here are twelve wise things other people told me about those early weeks of parenthood but I had to find out for myself and now I’m passing them on to you:

1.You will feel all the emotions. Buoyant with anticipation, I was basically flying high my entire pregnancy. Jared said he’d never known me to be so happy. Since Lucia’s arrival, I would say my underlying emotion is: joy, true and utter. But coupled with that joy is often despair.  My heart is made every single day. However, at the same time my heart is made, my heart breaks. Time passes too quickly for me. I find myself, at times, in the grips of anxiety. I wonder, “Am I doing this right? Is Lucia okay?” Dr. Google is at once my best friend and mortal enemy. When you have a baby, you are a soggy mess of emotions, all the time, and there’s research that says this is NORMAL!* The good news is that while your partner, as wonderful as he/she is, sometimes just won’t understand, other moms do…which leads me to point two.

* Postpartum depression is another story. It’s real and terrible, and it affects many women. Here are some resources on ppd.

2. It’s really important to have other mom friends for support. So, reach out! There’s no one quite so desperate (grateful) for a friend as a new mom. Everyone needs someone to say, “I get it. I truly get it. And you’re doing a good job.” You’ll feel especially raw and vulnerable those first weeks of motherhood. But guess what? Vulnerability is also the birthplace of love. Brene Brown tells us, “ We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” I can’t tell you how appreciative I am for the mom friends I’ve begun to make. And believe it or not, making a mom friend is relatively painless.

Here’s how you make a mom friend: “Hey, your baby is absolutely beautiful. What is your name? Let’s be friends.”

That’s it.

When you’re a new mom, you can be direct and honest about your desire to be friends. In between breastfeeding, changing diapers, managing your child’s needs, and riding the wave of your own emotions, there’s just no time for the delicate social dance adult friendships usually require. So, get out there and make some friends. Attend the new parents group at your hospital or birthing center, go to storytime at the library, get outside for walks, sit on a bench at the park, and introduce yourself to other moms. Exchange numbers, and then make a date for a walk or a simple chat at your house while you rock your babies. Take every opportunity you can to build connections, and talk, talk, talk.

 3. Sleep when the baby sleeps. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It disrupts basic biological functioning and makes you crazy and paranoid. It contributes to and worsens postpartum depression.  Sleep is essential to sanity, so when your baby sleeps, SLEEP. Don’t do laundry. Don’t make yourself a cup of coffee. To quote a wise book, ”Go the eff to sleep.”

I was riding the euphoric high of Lucia’s arrival, so in her early weeks, I did not do a great job of heeding this advice. And then one day, I hit.the.wall. A mean, hot mess, I could barely string a sentence together. When Jared told me I needed a nap, I broke down in tears, yelled at him for “criticizing me,” told him I wasn’t tired and that he was crazy, and then slept for six hours straight while he held the baby. I woke up feeling like a human again. My “human-ness” is directly correlated with the number of hours Lucia sleeps. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Period. End of story.

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4. Treat your body well, believe in its resilience, and know that one day vegetables will look appealing again. The Chinese tradition of “zuo yuezi,” a month-long period following labor in which the mother is expected to do basically nothing (no stairs, no laundry, no cleaning, nothing) except rest in bed and feed her baby, makes so much sense. Indeed, even though I had an active pregnancy and a relatively easy labor, I was depleted in the early weeks postpartum. I was absolutely starving all the time but had no time to actual fix myself a good meal. I was sore and tired, and if I stood or walked around too much, I would ache at night. But, I tried to listen to my body closely and trust that it knew what it needed (rest and lots of Annie’s Bunny Grahams, apparently). And Jared was a peach and did all the scurrying around to ensure that I wouldn’t. That rest was vital. Sure enough, around the six week mark, I started to feel markedly better; my energy was more consistent, and I actually craved the salads and vegetables that earlier I had to force myself to eat between nibbles of lactation cookies, teddy grahams, and chocolate. Now, I feel stronger, more energetic, and more balanced every day. When you’re sitting in gargantuan granny panties on an ice pack with a mewling baby in your arms, you have moments where you believe you will NEVER feel like a normal person again. Allow time to work its magic and rest.

5. Get outside for a walk. There’s nothing a brief walk can’t cure. I remember the doula who ran my childbirth class telling us to “walk as much as possible,” and now I understand why: mama and baby benefit. Lucia loves being outside, and the fresh air – however bracing – is energizing. I try to get outside for a walk everyday, even on – rather, especially on – those days where it seems darn near impossible to leave the house. Thankfully, we’ve had a relatively mild winter so far, and on the cold days, I simply put Lucia in her snowsuit, pop her in the Boba, and zip my fleece over the both of us. Getting out for a walk can seem like a herculean task in the early days, but it is always worth it. Fresh air is so good for the soul.

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6. Accept help when it’s offered, and ask for help when you need it. Jared and I are both fiercely independent people, but when we were absolutely drowning in the new responsibilities of a baby, we took friends and family up on their gracious offers to cook us a meal or to fold laundry. We felt so fortunate to be able to give most of our attention to our new baby, instead of to meal planning and cooking. However, far and away the single best thing I did post-delivery was to plan three home visits from a lactation consultant and postpartum doula (and Milwaukeeans, if you’re looking for a recommendation, Dawn Davis is bomdiggity!). Yes, I had a couple of good meetings with the lactation consultant at the hospital, but when I got home from the hospital, I was feeling near paralyzed by the weight of responsibility: the entirety of my daughter’s well being rested on my shoulders. The home visits were essential to my understanding the nuts and bolts of breastfeeding, latching, and pumping, but more importantly, these visits gave me the confidence to trust my nurturing instinct.

 7. Make peace with not being in control, and know that it gets easier. The first weeks of parenting are a completely chaotic, magical whirlwind. Everything is new, and there is so much to be figured out. And just when you think you have something dialed, everything changes, and you’re back at square one. When you’re in the thick of it – up to the elbows in explosive, yellow, seedy poop and you’re bleary eyed from lack of sleep and your little Houdini keeps escaping her swaddle and won’t go back down – it’s hard to recognize the ways in which everyday you’re getting to know each other better and that each and every day things are a little easier because of it. People will tell you over and over again, “It gets easier,” and, you know what? They’re right.

 Jared and I have been humbled over and over again these past twelve weeks, and, at the same time, every day has been better than the last. At week four, Jared and I were bone tired. The initial euphoria was wearing off, help had dropped off, Lucia wouldn’t sleep for more than 1.5 hours at a time, she was going through her first developmental leap, which made for one fussy chica, and the manic pace of the holidays was in full swing. I’d call my best friend in a sleep-deprived panic, and she’d tell me, “It gets easier,” the refrain I’d hear also from my parents, my parents-in-law, and basically every other human who has been a parent. Guess what? It does. It gets easier. By week five, Lucia had returned to her usual happy little self, we worked out a system for sleeping, and all three of us were better versions of ourselves. And largely, every single day has been better than the last; the more awake to the world she gets, the more fun we have together. The bottom line? As soon as you get used to one phase, something changes again. So, soak in all the sweet moments with your sleepy, cuddly newborn. Look at your baby for hours on end. Forget about the chores and all the things you “should” be doing, just for a little bit, for those sweet moments are just as fleeting as the sleepless nights and the fussy afternoons. Parenting is one big lesson about impermanence. And when it’s tough, know that it’ll get better.

8. Do you. There is no right way. Before I had Lucia, I read copious parenting books, and then once she came, I found myself resorting to Dr. Google at all hours of the day as well as soliciting advice – about breastfeeding, about sleep, about acid reflux, you name it – from anyone who would offer it. My head was swimming with conflicting recommendations, and in those early weeks, I sometimes cast aside my own instincts to try out something someone had told me. A very wise friend told me after an angst-ridden conversation about breastfeeding, “Sarah, STOP READING. Just trust yourself!” Indeed, there is a balance to be achieved between relying on time-trusted wisdom and following your own instincts. And there is no perfect way to raise a child.  Sometimes, you’ve just got to do you.

 For example, when Lucia was dealing with reflux (poor thing) and couldn’t sleep for more than an hour and a half at a time on her back, we tried e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g to help her – the swing, the rock and play, the boppy, an inclined bassinet – and nothing worked. Jared and I read anything we could find about reflux, and one morning, we drove to Buy Buy Baby and spent a ridiculous sum on an inclined chair specifically designed for infants with reflux. We were confident that all our research had led us to the magical, expensive fix. Welp, I tried for three nights to get her to sleep in that inclined chair, and by golly, my efforts were for naught. I called my dad to ask for his advice. “She only sleeps in her car seat or on my chest,” I wailed into the telephone. He paused and then said matter-of-factly, “So let her sleep in the car seat or on your chest.” “Really?” I gasped in relief. “I won’t be a bad mom for letting her sleep in her car seat?”

Long story short: my daughter sleeps in her car seat, in the Bob Stroller, next to our bed. She freaking loves her car seat and sleeps beautifully in it. She adores her car seat so much I’m afraid she’ll drag it with her to kindergarten, instead of the sweet, tattered lovies her friends stuff in their backpacks. The bassinet has transformed to a very expensive, raised laundry basket. Did I imagine this parenting choice? No, but we’re doing us. You do you.

 9. Celebrate your partner (because in those early weeks, sometimes you will hate each other). Jared is a natural father, and he is a generous and loving spouse; I don’t think my heart has been fuller. We share an abundance of joy. But.

 Sometimes, in the early weeks of parenthood, you can forget how wonderful your partner is. Like when he asks you one morning, “Honey, did you wet the bed?” and you have to explain to him how engorgement works and how lucky is it that he doesn’t have boobs and also how lucky he is that he manages to sleep through any noise your child makes. So, yeah. There will be times where you will curse your partner for not having breasts and he will curse you for being the only one who does, especially when he’s holding your screaming infant while you take a much-needed shower. But.

A kind word goes such a long way; all anyone wants in this world is to be loved and appreciated. There’s nothing that will make your partner feel like a million bucks more than a long hug and kiss, some kind words, and a thank you.

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10. If you’re going to invest in two things, buy a wrap and Wonder Weeks.  We’ve got the Boba – and I can’t say enough good things! – but there are a million good wraps out there. There are so many benefits of babywearing, but the bottom line, real life reason to babywear is this: your baby will be happy, and you will have use of your hands. It’s the little things in life, folks. So, take a wrap class, ask around, and get a wrap. Done.

Secondly, get Wonder Weeks. Unlike other mammals, human babies are born with their brains largely undeveloped (otherwise, their heads would be too big to deliver vaginally!); babies are incredibly vulnerable. I could barely believe we were allowed to take our tiny Lu home with us from the hospital! The fourth trimester ushers in huge transitions and developmental changes for babies. In the cozy, safe darkness of the womb, their every need is taken care of, but once born, babies must suddenly contend with shocking light of the world; they experience hunger, thirst, wetness, and fear for the first time. Further, babies go through several developmental “leaps,” as they learn to move beyond simple reflexes like sucking, breathing, and swallowing, and wake up to the world of light, color, needs, and the joys (and terrors) of social interaction. This book sheds startling light on periods of rapid development (in the fourth trimester, these occur roughly 5, 8, and 12 weeks) and the accompanying strategies parents can use to help facilitate and ease the transitions.

So while Lucia generally needed lots of attention and cuddles during her fourth trimester, there were times when she was unusually clingy, fussy, and more attached than usual. Just when Jared and I would wonder, “Where has our dear Lucia gone?” we’d turn to the book for wisdom; invariably Lu would be smack in the middle of a leap. Get this book.

11. You’re the adult, sure, but your baby is your greatest teacher. In a fast-paced, hyper-connected, multitasking world, Lucia has given me daily lessons in slowness, in presence, in absorption. I feel called to a greater simplicity with her in my life. The wonder in her eyes at something so simple as her own fingers or a colorful pattern makes me appreciate the present, the beauty of the world we live in. The smiles she offers instruct in the abundance of joy. When your baby arrives, your world will be both grander and more myopic than ever before. Slow down, smile, and enjoy.

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12. Motherhood changes your life, and that’s the best part about it. As I’ve written about before, when you’re pregnant, you’re a magnet for all the horror stories about lack of sleep, about velcro babies, about everything you have to give up when you’re a parent. Some of these warnings are legitimate (sleep deprivation stinks — see #3), but what these well-intentioned tidbits leave out is the incredible heart-breaking, heart-making magical joy that is also motherhood. The moment Lucia came in to this world my entire life changed. My heart has grown ten sizes, and I have encountered joy in ways I never knew about before. I love Jared in a different and more profound way than before too. Not all mothers feel this way right away – and that’s okay. And sometimes the challenges of parenthood are overwhelming. But is it worth it? Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.

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Bottoms Up: DIY Wipes

Long before I got pregnant, my good friend and style/homemaking/creativity maven, Gilbo, told me that making your own wipes was super easy and had saved her children from diaper rash. “Think about all the chemicals in wipes,” she said. I filed that one away and have been making baby wipes since Lu was born. They’re SUPER simple to make, and while they might warrant an initial investment for the ingredients, they will save you the trips to Target where you, inevitably, walk in for “just a couple of things” and walk out $100 bucks poorer, with a tummy ache from the Moose Munch you simply had to open while browsing the makeup aisle. 

We use Water Wipes if we’re in a pinch, but I swear, these are magical. Lu almost always cries when I use store-bought wipes but veritably wiggles her tushka in glee with these. They smell great, they’re cheap, and they’re au naturale for le bebe.

Ingredients:

1 roll of paper towel, cut in half. Invest in the good stuff. We use Viva.

1 tablespoon of olive oil (or almond oil)

1 tablespoon of castile soap. We use Dr. Bronner’s lavender.

1 tablespoon of witch hazel.

15-20 drops of an essential oil of your choice. We like lavender.

2.5 cups of boiling water or so.

You will also need a wipes container or a tupperware container. We have use this OXO container.

Directions:

Bring 2.5 cups of water to boil and pour in a bowl. Add the olive oil, witch hazel, castile soap, and essential oils, and whisk thoroughly. Let the mixture cool.

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Meanwhile, using a bread knife, cut the paper towel roll in half. Fold one half of the paper towel roll (or double the recipe and fold both) Jacob’s ladder style. This is the most tedious part of the process and best left for type A husbands to do as they watch football games. Transfer the paper towel to your wipes container. Depending on how well you’ve folded the paper towels, your wipes may be a little bulky for a typical wipes container. Don’t worry: the wipes solution will help with that!

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When the wipes mixture has cooled, give it another good whisk, and pour over the folded wipes.

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Bottoms up!

Mama’s Milkshake: the Lactation Smoothie, an Alternative to the Ubiquitous Lactation Cookie

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Like many new moms, I spend a(n) (un)reasonable amount of time thinking about my breasts. I: marvel at how miraculous it is that I feed my baby from them; wonder how it’s possible for them to be at one moment porn star-worthy and, at another moment, to take on the quality of that lonely, semi-deflated balloon you find behind your sofa weeks after any balloon-inclusive celebration; guess at whether I can make it through a yoga class without breast pads; curse the amount of laundry I do now thanks to those leaking breasts; lament how different they look post-pregnancy and then fish for effusive compliments from my husband and then, when he gives them to me, act like he’s a pervert for conflating what is clearly, now,  a source of sustenance for our infant with a sex object.

Mostly, I feel enormous gratitude for being able to sustain my daughter and nurture our bond through breastfeeding. Indeed, these days I devote the attention I once paid…say…my eyebrows or bikini line to maintaining my supply. I’ve consumed copious lactation cookies in the past nine weeks, but after the holidays, I’ve been craving lighter, simpler foods. Enter the lactation smoothie. Deliciously sweet and nutty and packed with lactation-promoting ingredients, it’s a breeze to make and keeps me energized all morning long.

Ingredients:

1 serving of chocolate protein powder (I use Tera’s Whey Organic Grassfed Chocolate Protein Powder – it’s not chalky and has ingredients you can feel good about) 

about 1 cup of coconut milk

a handful of ice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons Brewer’s yeast ( You can read about the benefits of Brewer’s Yeast and supply here)

1 tablespoon flaxseed

1 banana

**On days when I’m particularly ravenous, I like to up the healthy fats with a scoop of nut butter or a tablespoon of coconut oil.

Enjoy!

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On Bodies, Motherhood, and Daughters: Rambles at 38 weeks

Growing up, I believed that Santa Claus concerned himself chiefly with children’s oral hygiene and proper undergarments.  Every year, amidst the red and green Hershey Kisses were, invariably, the multi-packs of Crest whitening paste, toothbrushes, floss, altoids, and Trident sugar-free cinnamon gum that formed the bulk of my Christmas stocking treasures.  My brothers’ and my stockings were always a little differentiated: while Hunter and Nelson pulled jumbo packs of tube socks and boxers from the depths of their stocking, I excitedly tore open packages of practical white underwear and pale pink socks with bows on them. While my mother put the finishing touches on gifts downstairs and my father brewed an extra large carafe of coffee, my brothers and I passed those early dawn hours before we were allowed to open presents chomping Hershey kisses, donning our new socks, and then jamming several pieces of gum into our mouths.

Christmas at the Hoffman house was over-the-top, my mom tending with her photographer’s eye to every last detail: the perfectly whimsical curls of the ribbons atop the brightly-colored packages; the tiny twinkling lights she strung up on the dollhouse she built for me when I was six, the home’s family room a mirror of ours, with a tall tree and packages spilling across the floor; the holy sounds of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir balancing out the greedy glee of her children. My mom did Christmas magnificently; even institutionalized, she somehow managed to pull off a Martha Stewart-worthy affair. She’d send moving boxes of gifts weeks in advance of the holiday with special instructions for my dad tucked inside on the Christmases she was too sick to travel, or she’d arrive to Milwaukee with three overstuffed duffles and spend her two-day visit alternately doped up on Valium or maniacally decking the halls.

By the time I was ten, the contents of my Christmas stocking reflected a subtle shift in Santa’s concerns for me. Joining the multipacks of dental floss and underwear were jumbo boxes of Jolene Cream Face Bleach, for example. It’s true, I had a mustache, but this inclusion sparked a deeply-rooted idea that real women didn’t have excess hair. This belief became pathological in the early years of my adulthood when I developed a paranoia that I suffered from an undiagnosed endocrine disorder and, in more obsessive periods, that I was a well-disguised, but certain, hermaphrodite.  When I started seeing an OB-GYN as a teenager, I’d pepper her with questions about hormone regulation and facial hair and insist that she run a full hormone panel. “Are you sure I’m normal?” I’d implore at the end of our appointments, screwing my unibrow into a furrow. Rather than refer me to an endocrinologist, she wrote me a script to see a therapist. I finally cashed in this referral when a reading of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex for an undergraduate course sent me into such a tailspin of research about intersexism that I had to ask for an extension on my paper.

One Christmas in my late middle school years, a paperback copy of The Atkins Diet was shoved into the bottom of my stocking, making this otherwise cozy sack of yarn full of sharp edges. While the boys stuffed themselves with chocolate and candy canes, I learned about the ways I should change my body. Skinnier was better. But of course, it wasn’t from Santa I learned these messages of unworthiness.  Opening packages of Gap Kids skirts that year, I told my mom, “Um, these aren’t going to fit me.” “Really?” she replied, “I’ll take them. They work for me perfectly.”

In addition to schizophrenic, my mother is anorexic, subsumed by a decades-long eating disorder that has left her with a hollowed-out body and a mind that, already plagued by psychosis, is muddied further by nutrition deprivation. I’ve seen my mother destroy her body and mind. As a child, I watched her refuel from a ten-mile run with a light yogurt and eschew the beautiful Thanksgiving meals she prepared in favor of a single serving of frozen squash. As a teenager, during a painful family therapy session at the institution where she lived most of my growing up life, I’d angrily cry,  “Why can’t you just pretend to be trying to get better, at least while we’re here?” I’d scoff when her placid Freudian therapist would ask, “Holly, how does your daughter’s anger make you feel?” I’d glower as the social worker tentatively suggested, “Holly, instead of water, could you put skim milk on your bran flakes tomorrow morning?” My mom wouldn’t respond, instead setting her jaw and then spewing back, “You run too, Sarah. How much do you weigh, Sarah?” In the past year, my mother’s weight has plummeted to a historic low, a weight I haven’t seen on my own body since, perhaps, fifth grade, and my mom hasn’t managed to stay out of a hospital for more than a month or so at a time.  In a recent conversation I told her, “Mom, I’m waiting for the phone call that you’ve died of this eating disorder.”

To be clear, my mom is a generous, thoughtful, artistic, kind, and funny human being. She possesses strength and resilience that astonishes me at times. Further, I have been blessed by many women in my life who model strength, nurturing, authenticity, vulnerability, and self-acceptance, and my father raised me with selflessness, kindness, and unconditional support. I am unequivocally lucky.

And yet,  my mother has passed down to me a deeply-rooted belief that thin is better. I have witnessed the destruction caused by this belief, and still this ideal of thinness is intrinsically wrapped up in my experience of my worthiness as a woman, and, more generally as a human. For much of my life, and like many women, my self-acceptance has been mediated, at least partially, through my body: how fat or thin I feel on any given day. I have read basically every diet book published. I can recite the calorie count of any food, without looking. Up until two years ago, I could count on a single hand the number of rest days I took from running in any given year.  I have devoted an embarrassingly large part of my brain to obsessing about my body. And I have experienced the embarrassment and shame that all this thinking doesn’t manifest outwardly as thinness.

Two years ago, when Jared and I first began talking in earnest about starting a family, Jared pointedly asked me, “Do you really want to pass this baggage on to your child?”

I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. In pictures from my early childhood, I am almost never without my babydoll Elizabeth in my arms. On trips to the mall, I’d make my mom stop at the central fountain so I could breastfeed Elizabeth, who rode in an extra car seat on our outings. At age six, I authored a two-part baby-rearing book. Part one outlined rules I felt essential to parenting, like, “Give the baby a birthday,” “Make sure the dad does not smoke,” and “When you go outside, put baby galoshes on the baby.” Part two was a list of baby names A-Z, plagiarized directly from The Baby Name Book.  I was fascinated by all things mothers. I’d sneak surreptitious peeks at my mom’s edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves and ogle the black and white close-ups of the vagina during delivery. Conflating my stomach and my vagina, I’d stuff Elizabeth underneath my dress, squirm underneath my bed, mimic Kirstie Alley’s Lamaze techniques in Look Who’s Talking, and practice my vaginal-cum-C-section home birth.  I requested dolls for Christmas at the same time my peers were asking for makeup and tube tops for the middle school dance. I said I wanted to be a mom when I grew up until long after it was socially acceptable. “Err, I mean, I want to be a lawyer,” I corrected myself during an early conversation with my freshman year roommates.

In preparing to have children, Jared asked me to confront my shadowy bits, to abandon the ideals by which I judged myself and replace them with unwavering self-love. Two years ago, I began an active campaign for a whole-hearted embracing of myself. If this sounds self-helpy, it is. I gave up the daily running habit I started at age twelve and immersed myself in yoga. I donated over forty diet books at the used bookstore and bought a copy of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, which I’ve read at least four times. I started seeing a body-centered therapist who, with equal parts empathy and exigence, forced me to cast a blazing light onto the system of worth I had set up, whereby my assessment of myself as a woman, my ability to love myself and to receive love from others, was measured by thinness and beauty.

As any pregnant woman can attest, pregnancy is open-season for commentary on the female body. Strangers will offer opinions about how big or small you’re carrying and warn you about the hemorrhoids you’re sure to get on delivery. “All I have to say is Frozen. Witch. Hazel. Pad,” a woman shared with me sotto voce in a grocery check-out line. Well-intentioned family members will tell you, “I knew weeks ago that you were pregnant.” According to their assessment, you developed the mom pooch at conception. Best friends will say, “Enjoy those boobs now.”  After I announced during a family reunion that I was six months pregnant, a distant cousin (male, obviously) replied earnestly, “Oh, thank God.  I thought you had just let yourself go.” So yes, I’ve had moments where insecurities have boiled up inside me.

When I found out at ten weeks that we were having a little girl, I was totally undone, excited beyond measure. I also felt the weight of responsibility, a desire to be the type of woman I’d want my daughter to model. Pregnancy has literalized for me the connection I know exists between the way a mother treats her body and the development of her child. For the past nine months, I’ve inhabited a space – my own body –  in which expansiveness is the ideal, not smallness. I’ve have felt stronger and more beautiful than I ever have before in my life. I’ve watched in appreciative awe as my belly has grown to accommodate this little person inside me.  Generally someone who avoids being seen in a bikini, I have taken (and shared) belly pictures left and right. I thank the strength in my arms as I gracefully maneuver my heavier body through a chaturanga in yoga class; I appreciate the muscle of my legs as they carry me through a miles-long autumn walk. I laughed the day I realized my private parts had become private even to me.

As I write this, I am ten days out from my due date, and I am equal parts excited and scared about becoming a mother. Mostly, I feel gratitude for the way this person, my daughter, has already changed me; she has given me the space to be a bigger, braver, more loving version of myself. I hope I can give her the same gift.

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